It took a bit of effort to get this interview with Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi in April, from the pre-interview negotiations to the last-minute scramble to find a Kosovo flag. Fortunately, the UN had one not far away, and a diplomat ran it over to us at the Radisson on East 48th.
But the interview was worth the wait: Thaci is an important guy in the west Balkans, especially now that the International Steering Group that has overseen Kosovo since it declared its own independence just announced that they’re going to end their mission after the summer. That means that the US and EU will not be on the ground to prevent Serbs and Albanians from killing each other. Thaci’s a polarizing figure, but now he’ll have to lead.
Question: Was there any disappointment in not meeting with President Obama?
Thaçi: Absolutely not. I was invited here based on the formal invitation of the Vice President and the Secretary of State, and I had formal meetings only scheduled only with them. So I’m going back fully convinced that the support of the United States for Kosovo will remain unshaken.
How important is that support for your aspirations in Kosovo?
It is of utmost importance [because of] the political aspect but also the military presence within NATO. But now my struggle is how to strengthen this presence in a different way, bringing new American investments in Kosovo.
If a Republican wins the 2012 presidential election in the States, do you expect the same level of support?
I wouldn’t connect our aspirations, our values, with the ruling party here whether they are Democrats or Republicans.
Serbian media has labeled your call to have all Albanians united in one country a “war cry.” Do we have to worry about further military conflict in your region?
Definitely and firmly I say that the wartime in Kosovo and the western Balkans is over. And all I fight for is to maintain the integrity and sovereignty of Kosovo, as an independent country, but with open borders and integrated fully into the EU and NATO.
Would Kosovo join Albania, especially down the road?
We will be together within the European family, but as independent countries.
Why is the Serbian election outreach in northern Kosovo on May 6 viewed as a threat?
The intention of Serbia to organize its own elections within the territory of a sovereign country is a complete violation of our constitution. Under no circumstances will we allow for Serbia to organize elections on Kosovo soil.
You have said that if your northern border is redrawn to exclude majority-Serb areas, then the Macedonian border will have to be redrawn to include ethnic Albanian areas into Kosovo.
First of all, there will be no threat of partitioning of Kosovo’s territory, there will be no exchange of territories, and there will be no special autonomy in northern Kosovo. However, if anybody in Brussels has this idea of changing the borders, then this will not stop only in Kosovo or in the neighboring countries. It will go even further in the entire western Balkans. It will affect at a minimum six states.
Is this a threat to change the borders?
No, it’s a reality. Every country in the region has one small Mitrovica on the inside.
How integrated are Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo: do they intermarry, do they live in the same buildings?
Having in mind what Serbia did to Kosovo Albanians during the war, having exercised that kind of genocide, I wouldn’t say that there is a huge love between the two communities. But still it is crucial to emphasize that both communities have the will and the desire to live together side by side. It is improving.
Were you involved in, or did you have knowledge of, this organ theft scheme [allegedly involving organs that were harvested from executed Serbian prisoners and sold on the black market] that the Council of Europe report linked you to?
This is a fictional report that nobody can believe. The allegations are false, nothing like that has ever happened. [We] have nothing to hide, we have invited the investigation task force and EU investigators to conduct their job and to bring the truth.
In my struggles for the freedom of my country, for the freedom of my people, I have had to deal with many opponents. In the last 25 years, I’ve been a fugitive, or I have been hunted by Serbia. I can say that I have been a target for Serbia since my childhood.
I want all this to belong to the past, and I invite everybody to focus on the concrete issues and not waste time on the fictional stories. But this is a very heavy burden and an unjust burden for Kosovo. And it’s a difficult issue to deal with me personally, a difficult issue for my family, and for my son, when I have to face these unimaginable allegations.
When will Kosovo join NATO?
We are ready [laughs]. We will first try to join the NATO Partnership for Peace, with the clear aim that in a later stage, once we meet all the criteria, we become full-fledged members of NATO.