Osmani: It isn’t the moment to continue the dialogue with Serbia

In an exclusive interview for DW, Vjosa Osmani, Acting President of Kosovo, talks about the process in the Special Court, the dialogue with Serbia, the role of Germany and of the elected American President, Biden in this process.

Deutsche Welle: Acting President and Speaker of the Assembly, a few days ago you took office as President of Kosovo as provided by the constitution, after the resignation of President Hashim Thaçi since he was charged by the Specialized Chambers for war crimes in Kosovo. The leader of a large party in Kosovo, and the head of a parliamentary group of a similarly large party in the Kosovo Assembly, where charged at the same time. Can it be said that in Kosovo there is institutional instability or endangerment of the functionality of the state?

Vjosa Osmani: Let me initially mention that it is not an easy time, much less common for Kosovo as a state, for all our citizens, but also for our institutions. Of course, despite these developments we should not have any hesitation to constantly repeat the truth that has happened in Kosovo. The truth is that in Kosovo there have been horrific crimes committed by Serbia, ranging from attempted genocide to crimes against humanity and war crimes, crimes which have been a continuation of a regime that has been similar to Apartheid since 1989 until the end of the war. These are the actions for which, unfortunately, Serbia has not yet been brought to justice, despite some cases in the ICTY at the Hague Tribunal, which is not functioning now, as you know. But the vast majority of perpetrators have not yet been brought to justice, which we must say out loud at all times, everywhere in Kosovo and abroad, in every forum, in every institution, because we are telling the truth and as Albanians we have no need to exaggerate the truth, since that truth we have experienced is extremely terrible, and we must raise our voices every day to seek justice.

We have never sought revenge. But only justice for the victims, justice for the children killed during the war, justice for the women and men raped during the war, justice for all these victims. And also reparations for the damage that Serbia has caused in Kosovo. But on the other hand, Kosovo has been a state for more than 12 years, and during these years, despite the many storms we have continuously gone through, institutional stability has been maintained. We have a constitution, which clearly states that in case of absence of the President, the Speaker of the Assembly will be the Acting President, which is confirmed by a decision of the Constitutional Court. We have a constitution that determines who replaces the Prime Minister in case of any absence, who replaces the Speaker of the Assembly. I have five other Deputy Speakers who can substitute me. So these are issues that are built in such a way as to ensure institutional stability. So, at the moment our institutions are functioning without any problem. But this does not mean that the situation in Kosovo is not a difficult situation and above all that for the citizens, for the civilian victims of the last war in Kosovo there has not been justice yet and this means that as institutions we have a much greater obligation now to raise our voice to seek this justice that has been lacking so far.

The Special Court will try war crimes allegations against former KLA members. There are many voices in Kosovo that say that the Court is one-sided, it judges one ethnicity. And it is a precedent case in justice. I am interested to know, from the point of view of a lawyer, since you are very well acquainted with these things, do you agree with this finding?

Vjosa Osmani: At the time when the Specialized Chambers, as the Special Court is being called, with a slightly lighter terminology, were discussed in the Assembly of Kosovo, all these that you mentioned were discussed, so there were arguments that it would be one ethnicity. There have been arguments that one party is on trial, while as I mentioned earlier there is no justice for the crimes committed by Serbia. All these arguments were put in the sessions of the Assembly of Kosovo, but in the end it was the insistence of the then government that at that time consisted of LDK and PDK, or more clearly it was a coalition between Mr. Thaçi and Mr. Mustafa, and they were both as bearers of the coalition who insisted that the Special Court be formed at all costs. Because, as we were told as MPs at the time, the other option would be much more terrible, and that would be the establishment of a Special Court by the United Nations, where then the laws of Kosovo would not be recognized, we would go back to the time of UNMIK, where additional powers in the field of justice and foreign policy would be given to the United Nations.

So these were competencies that we took over after the declaration of independence. In a way, it was an attack on Kosovo’s statehood, if we were to go in that direction. And this was more or less the basic argument why the vast majority of MPs decided, or at least to speak for myself, not to exaggerate, we supported it at the time. But it was, as I said, a burden taken on by that coalition at the time, a coalition which consisted of two-thirds. And through that political support that the coalition had, it managed to make two thirds in the Assembly of Kosovo to change the Constitution, and to even insert the Special Court as part of our legal system. Despite the arguments now being made, this Court is an international obligation that Kosovo has assumed, through the ratification of an international agreement, at that time between President Jahjaga and the European Union.

Second, that agreement was turned into a constitutional amendment, which was carried by the two leaders of the coalition of that time. And third, it has also become an additional law, which then determines the procedures. Now, even on the day when the Special Court was approved, I showed the pros and cons, the remarks I had. I do not believe that now is the time to go back there, but I want to mention a fact that officials of the Special Court themselves have stated several times, or former prosecutors who have worked there and participated in investigations have made public statements that nowhere in the documentation, through which the Special Court was created, it was not said that they will deal with one ethnicity or the other, but only the time mandate is determined, ie that they will investigate crimes from one period to another, ie the temporal, territorial jurisdiction, etc. is determined, but not that they will deal only with one ethnicity.

We will now see what we can expect in the future from the Specialized Chambers, but I would not like to go in now to comment on the issues that have ended at the time this Court has been voted. Because with its will Kosovo has formed it, with its will it has become part of the Constitution, with its will it has become part of the legal system. So all these details have been known ever since.

Let us talk about domestic policy developments. The election of a new president is the task of the parliamentary political parties, according to Kosovo’s parliamentary electoral system. You also exercise the duty of the Speaker of the Assembly. Are you ready to complete the office of the President for a five-year term, if offered?

Vjosa Osmani: No, I do not believe that I will now be among the persons who will be part of the political calculations in the current Assembly. I do not want to give assessments from this office about where the political parties stand, but I believe that you already know my political stance which I have previously expressed as Speaker of the Assembly, as an elected representative of the citizens of Kosovo, as I have with the popular legitimacy that was given on October 6, and which of course elected the current Assembly. However I personally will not be part of such calculations.

We are at the stage when the dialogue is taking place. You say that there is institutional stability in Kosovo. How do you think the dialogue should take place? There are rumors saying that the dialogue should be terminated...

Vjosa Osmani: I think that due to the current developments it is not the time to continue the dialogue immediately. The institutions of Kosovo should take some time, sit down, consult with each other, create a much more unified attitude about the dialogue, because it is necessary that anyone who negotiates on behalf of Kosovo, for the fate of Kosovo, must have a much more unified stance of the political spectrum than just the coalition he/she represents. I will give my maximum contribution in this regard, to discuss together with all, on what should be the positions of Kosovo.

But I do not believe that it is the right moment for Kosovo to continue as if nothing has happened. Not that it does not have the institutions, since we have the institutions. But because the situation is not the same as it was a few days ago. This must be taken into account. A reassessment of the process so far should be made, what has been negotiated, how it has been negotiated, what has been achieved, no matter how little there has been achieved. But let us all together build the steps ahead. And not to have cases when something is negotiated in Brussels, and we as other institutions find out then either through Brussels, or the officials there, or through the media. But these should be a kind of preliminary consultation, a kind of preliminary communication of the stance so that then whoever negotiates on behalf of Kosovo, has a clearer idea of what Kosovo expects from him or her.

On the other hand, as the Assembly of Kosovo, now to speak from the position of the Speaker of the Assembly, at one point we have made it clear to each government which are the red lines, regarding the topics that should not be discussed, and they have not only to do with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, but also with the internal regulation of Kosovo, ie the way they function. No one is allowed to negotiate the creation of a third power. And the government must be extremely careful not to fall into such traps, which Serbia builds by opening these topics in Brussels, ostensibly only formally, but which then turn into new compromises for the Republic of Kosovo. We, who have followed the dialogue for a long time have seen how they got here. But

Your relations with the Prime Minister do not look as very good ones. Taking into account that you did not vote for his government, even though you came from the same party. Whereas, lately you are no longer Deputy President of the LDK. Are you ready to be part of the dialogue, from this position in which you are speaking, as Acting President, if a comprehensive agreement should eventually be signed if speaking in the creation of a national unity?

Vjosa Osmani: I said that unity should be built to determine what Kosovo’s stances are and to have prior unification. But no rational person should go to Brussels just for signatures and formalities. I would be part of a process where I myself am part of the negotiations from the beginning, and not just give it some final formality. And to be part of the signing of agreements that I have not negotiated myself. Unity is necessary, but we must take a step back in the dialogue process, especially after the recent statements of Mr. Lajčák, who requested from Kosovo to push forward the amendment of the Constitution on the issue of the association. So the political and institutional leaders of Kosovo should sit down to reconfirm their positions on these topics in detail and not to speak in general that the Constitution is the guide. The Constitution has always been the guide. But we have 33 agreements signed so far, many of which have gone beyond the Constitution, especially the document of 2015 signed in Brussels on the association.

So the fact of mentioning the Constitution of Kosovo should not be enough to anyone, while on the other hand an agreement is signed that goes beyond the frameworks defined by the Constitution. We all need to sit down together, redefine stances, decide how to move forward and then discuss formality issues. But just going and signing the agreement negotiated by someone else would be absurd for any institutional bearer. Because you can not take responsibility to sign an agreement when you have not participated in its negotiation. I am not there as a figure, I represent, I am the second most voted leader in the Republic of Kosovo, so I represent the citizens of Kosovo and I can speak on behalf of the people of Kosovo, I am not a formal figure there, who is waiting while just standing there while someone else is signing the deal. However, I will support every document that is in the best interest of Kosovo, any document that advances the international subjectivity of Kosovo, but by no means documents that curtail either our citizenship or our internal regulation.

If we take a look at the list of concessions that Kosovo has made so far since the time of Ahtisaari until now, we will have to discuss them all a lot, I am not mentioning them now. While the concessions made by Serbia are very small, not to say inconvenient. We talk about what we have done. It is not the time nor the moment for us to make additional concessions, which make our state even more dysfunctional. It is time for Serbia to make its own concessions. And then we will see if we can move forward. But we make constant concessions in the hope that they will supposedly recognize us and in the end they behave as they did in 2007, 2008 and now in these last agreements, I believe it is the wrong approach. Serbia is simply not to be trusted. It can not be trusted. Anyone who has historically followed the way they behave in foreign policy, with the signing of agreements, regardless of who they sign them with, should know that Serbia has infidelity as its main feature. They are unfaithful, as institutions, as political leaders, they do not keep their word and do not respect their signatures. Therefore, we should not expect anything else from Serbia in this case.

In the USA we have a new president, Joe Biden, who during the campaign announced that he would have a different approach from Donald Trump and his envoy Grenell about the dialogue with Serbia. From your point of view is there hope for a new dynamic of the dialogue?

Vjosa Osmani: I think that the dynamic has never been the problem, but the stances. For example, during the Trump administration, at the beginning Mr. Bolton was the national security adviser, who supported the idea of changing the borders, one of the most dangerous ideas historically for our region, and not only for Kosovo. And he created a situation where the entire political scene in the country had mistrust in relation to the dialogue. This idea has even been postponed for two years, and has put Kosovo in a very unfavorable situation, where former Prime Minister Haradinaj has been forced to impose tariffs on Serbian goods, precisely to create an additional obstacle, for this topic to be stopped. Therefore I do not believe that we should be satisfied with the dynamics, if that dynamics goes in the wrong direction. In this case there may have been additional dynamics, but that dynamic has gone absolutely in the wrong direction. So we had full support from the former National Security Adviser for ideas that are destructive for Kosovo, for its independence, for its borders, as a constitutive state element and for other issues. Therefore we too shouldn’t look if there is dynamics, but what is the approach, what is the stance.

At the time when Mr. Biden was Vice President, since we worked very closely at the time, firstly as an Advisor and Chief of Staff in the Presidency and then as an MP, and later Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, we have seen an approach of the US administration since Mrs. Clinton was initially Secretary of State, but in addition to constantly having shown care in relation to Kosovo, the American approach has been very clear, both on the borders issue, and on the internal regulation of Kosovo, so there has never been any insistence from the American side to discuss the borders. Therefore, I expect again from the new administration, the Biden administration to act, in the first place since Mr. Biden knows the past in Kosovo very well, he knows the context, he knows that this equivalence or moral equality of what Serbia has done in Kosovo and what certain individuals may have done can never be created. He knows very well that Serbia has committed the most horrific crimes against humanity in the country, including genocide, and he was one of the people who stood by Kosovo when there were few diplomats or politicians who were our voice. He really was our voice at the time when we had no voice. 

How do you see the role of Germany in the dialogue process with Serbia. According to the German Ambassador here in Kosovo in an interview for Deutsche Welle, he says that Germany wants a legally binding agreement, which resolves all issues, including that of mutual recognition? 

Vjosa Osmani: I think that a clear language of Germany like the one you just quoted is extremely necessary in this process, because, while Germany is clear, there are states, there are certain officials who do not call this by the real name which is mutual recognition, but call it normalization. Of course, Kosovo is in the dialogue for mutual recognition, but not only for mutual recognition. So mutual recognition in the current borders and with the internal state regulation that we have with the current constitution of Kosovo without any changes. It is therefore necessary to ensure that this approach of Germany becomes more comprehensive, to be an approach adopted by other countries as well, in particular the European Union as a mechanism, ie Brussels, and I want to say that beyond this, beyond the current approach, Germany has played a crucial, decisive role in preventing dangerous ideas and dangerous adventures on border change. For this, we as Kosovo are eternally grateful to Germany and we very much hope that the cooperation with Germany will advance in this period, because not only that it is the most powerful country in the European Union, but it is also the country that has supported Kosovo the most in various bases before and after the war, in the statehood building process. Therefore, during the dialogue with Serbia, we expect an increased role of Germany, not only to prevent catastrophes such as the idea of changing the borders, but also to receive the advice, ideas and support that we need as Kosovo to advance this process and as said by the German Ambassador himself here in Kosovo, to conclude with an agreement that addresses all issues, including mutual recognition as a final.

You have been elected Speaker of the Assembly in a regular process by a coalition between LDK and VV. That coalition is no more, while you, as you have stated several times, have been expelled from the LDK. How and where is the political future of Vjosa Osmani?

Vjosa Osmani: What I have stated is not only my statement but it is an issue that is confirmed by decisions of the general council, so it was the choice of the LDK to continue the way forward without me. So it was their selection, because they closed every door for me so that I would not be able to operate there anymore. But I, from the position of the President of Kosovo, do not want to go into further detail. As you said, I was elected by the Assembly of Kosovo as Speaker of the Assembly, it is not the first time that constitutional functions continue regardless of what happens to the coalition, I would not like to go into details about my political path, but what I want to say is that I will continue to be on the political scene and where I will be will be determined by the citizens of Kosovo, as they have always defined.

And exactly those citizens you are talking about want to hear from Vjosa Osmani where her political future is. Have you considered returning to the LDK and to make your fight within the party?

Vjosa Osmani: I have made statements about this issue several times and I do not want to go into this topic. A door that is nailed is not something that can be opened.

This means you prefer other political alternatives?

Vjosa Osmani: I repeat that it is a matter about which I would not like to speak from this office today, from the Office of the President, although a judgment of the Constitutional Court clarifies that the Acting President may engage in political activity, unlike the President elected by the Assembly, however due to the situation we are going through I would not like to go into details on this issue today.