Der Stern conducted an interview with Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani.
Madam President, on Sunday night, conflicts flared up again in the city of Mitrovica. Sirens were heard in your hometown – What was going through your mind?
The situation is not comparable to the sirens we heard in the 90s. But it is a situation created by the same people. Belgrade is the source of tension and escalation. Now the situation is calm again, but Kosovo will continue its path and implement these measures. Serbia has long imposed such entry measures for Kosovar citizens – if it removed those barriers, we would not be obliged to impose reciprocity measures. However, what is alarming is the rhetoric of Serbian President Vucic and other politicians in Serbia, which resembles to what we know from times of war. With words like “denazification”, it sounds like they are dancing to Putin's tune.
The change in entry rules was initially postponed due to diplomatic pressure. What will you and Prime Minister Kurti do if the blockades return? Put off again?
We will not postpone it anymore. This was the deadline to give all citizens – especially Serbian ones – the opportunity to understand the changes: Anyone who crosses the border receives a piece of paper. The average waiting time is 20 seconds. No identity documents will be confiscated, no one will be detained or harassed. Of course, we expect that the criminal gangs in the Serb-inhabited north will continue to play into Belgrade's hands. But then it is the duty of the police to deal with these criminals. We know where the criminals are.
Do you see yourself as the president of all the people living in Kosovo? Also for the northern Serbs who do not accept you as such?
I am the president of all the citizens of Kosovo. Unfortunately, at the moment, many of our citizens of Serbian origin fall prey to propaganda and are afraid of the criminal structures supported by Vucic. But I believe that in time they will understand that he is only preventing them from living happily in Kosovo. I am in contact with Serbs throughout Kosovo and I believe that many of them accept me as their President.
For peace, Serbia must respect and recognize Kosovo's right to exist. Are revolts like last Sunday’s one the beginning of a serious threat to Kosovo?
Kosovo will exist forever. Kosovo is here to stay and no one can change that. But we must also understand that we live next to a neighbour who has a long-term strategy: It will not stop trying to destabilize our country. Hence, we must be very vigilant, build our defense capabilities and increase cooperation with our partners. The war in Ukraine shows that we must stand together against regimes that want to destroy democracy and peace. But it would be a mistake to believe that it is the small revolts that later escalate into large ones. Behind the seemingly small revolts like the one on Sunday, hide big intentions on the part of Russia and Serbia. They use these small escalations as justification for their plans.
To take Kosovo on the road to the EU, which is your main and stated goal, peace with Serbia is required. Do you think this peace is possible?
I believe that peace with Serbia is possible if Serbia is led by a person who is ready to face the past. A person who is willing to distance himself from Milosevic and the crimes committed by his regime. Serbia remains hostage to its past and its crimes. At the moment we do not see any readiness from Vucic. Notably, not for the basic demand for peace: the recognition of Kosovo within its existing borders.
During the Kosovo War, you and your family were forced by Serbian troops to leave your home. What did you experience those days?
The Serbian troops kicked us out of the house like all the other Kosovar Albanians. They forced us to flee our homeland and see hell with our own eyes. We have seen terrible crimes committed against Albanians. We were lucky because we survived.
Do you think that with such formative personal experiences, you will ever be able to objectively work towards peace with Serbia?
Of course. History is full of examples where the victims of such crimes have made important steps towards peace. What we had to go through made clear to us the importance of freedom and equality. We want to make sure that no one in the world goes through what we did. So working to ensure that justice for all victims prevails does not make me subjective. I see justice as a prerequisite for lasting peace.