A Memorial Plaque in honour of the Slovak KFOR soldiers was unveiled today

A Memorial Plaque in honour of the 42 Slovak soldiers who lost their lives at an air crash accident ten years ago, while returning home from their KFOR Mission in Kosovo was unveiled today in Prishtina.

Erection of the Memorial Plaque for Slovak soldiers, at the Prishtina City Park, was made possible with the initiative of President Jahjaga.

Unveiling was carried out by President Jahjaga and Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign and European Affairs Minister of the Republic of Slovakia.

Ceremony was attended by representatives of the central and local institutions, Ambassadors accredited to Kosovo and other guests.

At a speech held on this occasion, President Jahjaga said:

We have gathered here today to remember the forty-three Slovak soldiers who, 10 years ago, at the conclusion of their KFOR Peacekeeping Mission in Kosovo, lost their lives at a tragic air traffic accident, which at the same time marks the greatest loss of this NATO mission in Kosovo.

It is on this 10-th anniversary that the Republic of Kosovo wants to acknowledge the individual sacrifice of   43  Slovak  soldiers  for  peace  and freedom, and that of Slovakia as a nation for its commitment  to  sowing  the  seeds  of stability  in  the Balkans by deploying its soldiers to keep the peace  in  Kosovo.

The 42 names we have engraved here in this memorial, in  this  Pristine place in our capital, will become the everlasting reminder of the values and ideals that bring us together as nations and as peoples. For something larger than everyone of us. For humanity.

They, and generations of their fellow soldiers deployed from 29  contributing nations of KFOR over the span of nearly two decades, have much to be proud today as they see a country once engulfed in a war, now a master of its own fate, charting its own path toward prosperity, toward the European Union and  NATO.

We are dedicated to building of a prosperous state, a Kosovo which is a factor of stability in the region and beyond, and despite all the sacrifice which we had to make in order to rebuild our lives, and many challenges of our democratic traversing, with the help of our strategic partners, we have moved forward, convinced in our Euro-Atlantic ambition, without turning back.

As this memorial and many other in all parts of Kosovo atest, freedom requires many sacrifices. It comes at great price, and its price is ever higher. And so it is our duty to safeguard it. For it is the fundament of peace.

These forty two peacekeepers and thousands of others, who served in Kosovo, are an inseparable part of our recent history. Kosovo will always be grateful for their contribution and this sublime sacrifice.

Deputy Prime Minister Miroslav Lajčák also addressed the present who stated:

Today, we have gathered here to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the greatest tragedy in the history of the Slovak armed forces.  Exactly 10 years ago, on January 19th, as many as 43 Slovak members of KFOR, fulfilled with honour and respect their duties in Kosovo, and they were on their way home, to finally embrace their spouses, children and parents.  But, very sadly, they never made it.

42 of them died when their plane crashed. They found their destiny in Hejce, a tiny Hungarian village, just off our common border. In the end, only one single serviceman returned to our country, he, with others, so proudly served.  It is like in a heroic epic; the hero completes his mission and dies.  Unfortunately, this is not a book.  This was real life. Our troops were and remain true heroes, never to be forgotten by the Slovak people.

I myself remember, our KFOR troops arrival, during my mandate as the Slovak ambassador in Belgrade, also responsible for Kosovo, I travelled frequently to see them here. I witnessed their high spirit, resolve and passion, when carrying out their duties. So I know the routine, I shared their grief’s, I enjoyed their character,. The tragedy profoundly hit my very soul and hart.
Dear Madam President, my many words of sincere gratitude go to you, for your initiative to install this monument. It is for those who perished after giving their best to Kosovo’s future. Now, they will be symbolically laid to rest in the heart of Prishtina, in the City Park.

We appreciate that the people of Kosovo have not forgotten these soldiers cruel fate and what they have done to building peace and stability in this entire region.

When Slovakia took part in the KFOR Mission, in September 1999, Kosovo was right at the start of its post conflict development. It was still full of uncertainty, mistrust and security risks, but also expectations and hope. The international military mission has brought regional peace, mutual respect and sustainable stability. Slovak soldiers at KFOR have been assigned various tasks.  First, they focused mainly on the most urgent priorities. They helped reconstruct the infrastructure damaged during the war, just to improve people’s everyday lives. Later, they participated in de-mining the land and preventing the violence among the ethnic groups. All their activities were aimed in helping, supporting and maintaining the peace process.

Today, we see how much has been done, with the support of the international community. Kosovo is building its institutions, it is adopting common rules and creating fair living conditions for all, no matter what their nationality or religion is. Kosovo wants to make them feel at home and that is correct. So you see soldiers, my dear fellow citizens, your ultimate sacrifice has not come in vain. Way to early you left this world, but only after you bravely helped this earth’s little spot called Kosovo, begin turning into a more fortunate place to live in.

Kosovo has just recently marked a huge success on its crucial European path. Along with the Slovak support, you have signed the Stabilisation Association Agreement, in a significant potential to contribute to its further social and economical development. Moreover, it is a key step on the long way towards the European Union. It also proves that there is a concrete European perspective for those doing their homework and delivering accordingly.

This will surely bring positive energy to the implementation of all the necessary reforms.  Besides that, it was not that long ago when Slovakia was going through the same process. We remember the hard work that had to be done. So please allow me to say, good job Kosovo, and just carry on. Nonetheless, a nation must prove its maturity and affinity to European values, and it does so by solving its own problems via constructive dialogue and determined engagement. Teargas, egg-tossing, and blocking the state institutions is never a way to go.

Finally, there is one more thing that deserves to be mentioned, dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade, is the only viable alternative to achieve real and lasting normalization between the two sides. Now, the key for success lies in the full implementation of the April 2013 historic agreement, the one further specified by the August 2015 principles of the association  of the Serb majority municipalities and the ensuing guidelines provided by the Kosovo Constitutional court. There are no small or big issues, all of them are important. For Kosovars, for Serbians, as well as for Europeans. Only through mutual dialogue we can identify common interest, bringing the whole Balkan region where it rightly belongs, to Europe. And this is the future for Balkan in which we all hope, and I am sure, so did Slovak KFOR members when they embarked from here on their very last journey ten years ago.

Thank you for participating at the ceremony and for paying tribute to my deceased countrymen. Please honour their memory, thank you very much.

After the conclusion of the ceremony, President Jahjaga received at a meeting at her cabinet Slovak Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, with whom she discussed overall developments in Kosovo and in the region, Kosovo’s European agenda, visa liberalisation programme and expansion of cooperation between Kosovo and Slovakia.

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