Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism: Vol. 9, No.

2, 2009

Interview with Dr Muhamet Hamiti, Charge d’A¡aires of the Republic of Kosovo to the UK

Dr Hamiti is the first diplomat of the Republic of Kosovo to serve in the UK since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008.1 In an exclusive interview with SEN’s Vivian Ibrahim, he discusses the years preceding Kosovo’s independence, its nine years of United Nations administration and the euphoria that has existed since last year. Dr Hamiti also provides an insight into present-day relations with Kosovo’s immediate neighbours, the European Union and the UK. He concludes by discussing his role since undertaking his diplomatic post in October 2008. SEN: Let us begin, Dr Hamiti, by discussing March 1999, when NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) forces entered Kosovo. This marked the beginning of almost a decade of international UN administration over Kosovo. Hamiti: Yes. NATO started its air campaign against Serbian targets and the Serbian war machinery in both Serbia and Kosovo during March 1999. A year earlier Serbia had embarked on full-scale aggression against the people of Kosovo. Serbia was intent on ethnically cleansing the people of Kosovo, the overwhelming majority of whom are ethnically Albanian. SEN: Could we clarify from the beginning what percentage of the population are of other ethnic heritages, for example Serb, Roma, etc? Hamiti: We have not had a proper census for over 28 years but conservative estimates put ethnic Albanians at ninety-two per cent, so eight per cent should be non-Albanians. The majority of those belonging to these minority communities are Serbs but we also have Turks, Romas and Slavic Muslim populations, which we call Bosnians. ´ ’s Serbia was intent on ethnically cleansing Kosovars and had launched Milos ˇ evic an operation to this effect in 1998. Kosovar Albanians had resisted the occupation through peaceful, political means since the 1990s but the Serbian state machinery embarked upon an ethnic cleansing campaign and killed whole extended families in 1998 and in 1999. This included the well-known massacre in Rae ` ak in midJanuary 1999, which triggered a more responsive approach on the part of the international community, the EU and NATO. But what we had in 1999 was the 333

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Rambouillet peace talks on Kosovo, spearheaded by the Contact Group of six countries: that is the USA, UK, Italy, Germany, France and Russia. The aim of the talks was the conclusion of a peace agreement for an interim solution between what was then Yugoslavia (comprising Serbia and Montenegro) and a Kosovo delegation representing the ethnic Albanian majority population of Kosovo. The Rambouillet talks in Rambouillet and Paris in February and March 1999 were torpedoed by Serbia, which was not seeking a political solution. It was not looking for peace. The Kosovar delegation signed up to the compromise deal offered by the international community. On the other hand, Serbia, at the height of its hubris as an occupier – a state that, in Kosovo, was waging its fourth war of aggression against its fellow federal entities in less than a decade – called the bluff of the international community’s serious efforts to bring a peaceful end to the Yugoslav crisis. SEN: There is, of course, a lot of controversy surrounding the actual events in Rae ` ak and those deaths in January 1999. What was the impact of Rae ` ak, and particularly its portrayal by the media on international intervention in Kosovo? Hamiti: Rae ` ak was one among a series of concerted Serbian military and paramilitary actions against Albanians – mostly unarmed civilians, actually. As far as the controversy in Rae ` ak is concerned, [it] is a fabrication by the Serbs but the reality is that more than forty civilians were slaughtered in a joint action of the Serbian army and paramilitary police. The world was there to see it actually. The OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) monitors on the ground and the media broke the news and conveyed the unmediated images of slaughtered Kosovar Albanian civilians lying on the ground, with some of the bodies mutilated in a barbaric way. The top Serbian leadership involved in Rae ` ak were tried and convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) earlier this year; each of them were sentenced to up to 22 years’ imprisonment. The former Deputy Prime Minister of Yugoslavia (as it was called back then), Nikola Sainovic,2 as well as the Chief of Staff of the Military and the Chief of Staff of the Police – that is, Serbian military and police generals – were all convicted of having engaged in a joint criminal enterprise against the Albanian population of Kosovo in the first half of 1999. Therefore, because the ICTY has convicted them of war crimes and crimes against humanity, this should bring the so-called controversy of Rae ` ak to an end. SEN: Moving on slightly to UN resolution 1244, which put Kosovo under international administration. Through what means did Kosovo manage to assert its identity and national feeling in those ten years or so? Hamiti: Actually, in political and cultural terms, Kosovo had always been different from the rest of Yugoslavia. In fact the name of the state, ‘Yugoslavia’, alienated Kosovo because it means the land of the southern Slavs: the Kosovar Albanians are a non-Slavic people. Now in terms of the culture, identity and 334

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values, the Kosovars were in many ways people who wanted to reconnect with the West, who wanted to retrace their authenticity back in time; not for nostalgia but simply to reassert their identity in a new environment – that is, the post-Cold War context in Europe. The 1990s were the years in which the Kosovars built their own state, although under Serbian occupation. When I speak of ‘state’ I refer to what the English-speaking world would understand as an underground state. The people [. . .] had elected a president and a parliament twice, we had a fully operational education system up to university level, health and welfare systems of our own, as well as a financial system. As such this was a state that was lacking only in the power of law enforcement. After a long political and ultimately armed struggle, in the wake of the NATO-led humanitarian intervention that spared us outright genocide, we got our freedom on 12th June 1999 and an international administration was deployed in Kosovo under UN Resolution 1244. With the UN- and NATO-led missions – two components of a very robust international presence – in place, the Kosovars could recover and rebuild after a long period of occupation, persecution and divestment. From 1999 to 2008 – almost a decade – there was a heavy international presence, which, by and large, was very useful in this early stage. I am referring here to the civilian presence; it enabled us to erect our own democratic structures, our own state system and to create a society in which we had a fully functioning state, lacking only in the classical sovereignty powers that were with the UN administration. This was also very useful because it gave us a period to recover from the physical devastation and psychological wounds caused by the war. But in many ways this period was too long: during the last years of its existence, it began to create a culture of dependency in our country. The Kosovars had fought long and hard for independence and we were facing a situation where this ubiquitous international presence, with decisive powers in some areas of the economy (i.e. finances, but also security and foreign relations), had the upper hand as it were. We had an elected government of Kosovo accountable to, and responsible to, the people of Kosovo, but we had at the same time an unelected layer of government in the form [. . .] of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). [The UNMIK] had decisive powers in certain areas, including [the power] to administer up to one third of our budget – the budget that we collected from our own revenues. So the people grew impatient and wanted to see resolution of the status, because this was such an impediment to our future prospects in terms of our growth, prosperity and peace of mind. We wanted our status resolved, and this day finally came on 17th February 2008. SEN: You talk of the overwhelming desire and expectations of the population over a period of nearly a decade; how was it that February 2008 actually came about? Hamiti: Public opinion had been prepared for that; we were co-ordinating our steps towards declaring independence with our allies in the West. A comprehensive international process had taken place in order to determine the status of 335

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Kosovo from 2005 to 2007. This process involved the Contact Group – the six countries that I mentioned earlier – and was conducted by the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, who was the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for the status of Kosovo. At the end of that process, we had a comprehensive package commonly referred to as the Ahtisaari package. This lay down the key provisions for the independence of Kosovo, initially supervised. At the end of the negotiating process, President Ahtisaari concluded that independence itself was the only viable solution for Kosovo. The Ahtisaari package also contained unprecedented rights and privileges for minorities, first and foremost for Serbs living in Kosovo. In co-ordination with the overwhelming majority of the international community, we embraced the Ahtisaari package even though it was indeed a compromise: the package was not the ideal solution the Kosovo Albanian leaders would have written into the constitution of our state had we not entered into negotiations with Serbia and the international community to determine the final status of Kosovo. The package contains many concessions to the Serbs, a lot of painful compromises, but we were prepared for this; the public knew that this was going to happen. There was some impatience about the pace of things taking place, but all of us were keen to see a smooth transition from an uncertainty of status to a certainty of status, namely independence for our country. We co-ordinated our independence moves closely with our allies and scheduled the declaration of independence in parliament for 17th February 2008. Therefore, this was a CDI and not a UDI – that is, a co-ordinated declaration of independence and not a unilateral declaration of independence. The results of this co-ordination were considerable. We saw a largely smooth transition to independence other than the few isolated incidents that have occurred since 2008. The people were, naturally enough, excited about what was coming: ethnic Albanians, not only in Kosovo but all of them including those in Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and the large diaspora in the West. It was a historic day for us, which has resonance with 28th November 1912 when the declaration of the independence of Albania was made as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and the Albanians living under its rule were fighting for their freedom and independence in their own lands. In fact, the Albanian independence movement was born in Kosovo: in June 1878, the League of Prizren was established in the southern town of Kosovo [. . .] Independence for Kosovo was a fulfilment of our long desire for freedom and independence. In personal terms, the independence day filled me with joy, which I could not fully bask in because I was busy with the President of Kosovo, Dr Fatmir Sejdiu, and other leaders in the day’s official and popular ceremonies and festivities. I wish I could have spent the day with my beloved wife, Vjosa, and our two lovely children, Era and Ag – our twins, a girl and a boy, who were born in freedom in September 2004 and would from then on live in their independent country. Independence is our heritage. Freedom and democracy are our legacy; we leave them to our children now – for good. SEN: How would you describe the popular mood one year on? Has the initial euphoria waned? 336

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Hamiti: There was jubilation in 2008 and there was jubilation in 2009. What does this mean? It means that people are still very excited about what we have achieved. They wish to see more in the way of progress, especially as far as the economy and jobs are concerned. But, in the run up to independence, people had not been misled into thinking that independence would bring paradise, as it were, to Kosovo. No, they were told it was a prerequisite, a very existential turning point for our future. It enabled us, through a long international process, to actually place Kosovo on the political map of the world; indeed, not only political but cultural, economic and so on. A year after the momentous event, people are aware that while you can never fulfil all the expectations of all the people, we have begun on the road in pursuit of that. SEN: You mentioned the international community. Fifty-eight UN nations recognise Kosovo’s independence. Of the permanent members of the Security Council, three recognise Kosovo (UK, France and the USA) while two – Russia and China – do not. How do you account for this, and what measures are being taken to encourage other countries to recognise Kosovo? Hamiti: Let me begin by saying that twenty-two out of twenty-seven EU members recognise Kosovo, which is the majority. Similarly, seven out of the G8 countries recognise Kosovo, which is seven great economic powerhouses of the world, excepting Russia. [With regards to Russia and China,] Russia has been more vociferous in its opposition to Kosovo’s independence; China has expressed its concern over the declaration of Kosovo but it has not said, as far as I can tell, [that it] opposed independence. There are variations or shades of tone in their position vis-a ` -vis Kosovo. Of course, Kosovo is a unique case for many reasons. We were part of an eightmember Federation of Yugoslavia – which was more of a confederation in actual terms. Seven of them are now fully fledged independent nations, including Kosovo. Serbia has also regained its own separate nationhood in the process. Serbia wanted to redefine its dominant position in the former Yugoslavia by subjecting the other fellow federal entities to its whims. None of the Slavic entities of the former Yugoslavia – indeed not even Montenegro, which was the closest to Serbia in terms of language, ethnicity and religion – wanted to remain together with Serbia in a redefined Yugoslavia. Moreover, they went to great lengths to part ways with a Serbia that had turned itself into an aggressor against other fellow former entities in the Federation. SEN: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) set a deadline of 17th April 2009 for submissions by states concerning the legality of Kosovo’s independence. What were the arguments put forward by the Republic of Kosovo? Hamiti: The ICJ process will perhaps last a while, and this was actually the reason why Serbia initiated the process before the UN General Assembly (which then referred the issue of the legality of the declaration of Kosovo’s independence by the Kosovo authorities to the ICJ). Serbia knows it cannot reverse the process of 337

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recognition of Kosovo’s independence. It can only slow the process down. The ICJ will produce an advisory opinion, not a binding one. Kosovo was a member of the Federation, just like Serbia and the other fellow constituent entities; therefore, given that Yugoslavia was dissolved, Kosovo had the right to choose its own political fate, which is what we did. Serbia had embarked on a process of ethnic cleansing and half of the population of Kosovo was deported from their home in the spring of 1999; 12,000 Kosovars were killed. Last but not least, we had almost a decade-long international presence, which deprived Serbia of sovereignty over Kosovo; Kosovo was ultimately out of the orbit of Serbia in every aspect. During that period we built our own democratic institutions and the world saw that Kosovo was a viable state, [with] the right to be a country, united with neither Serbia nor Albania. Kosovo and Serbia can be together under one roof – the European Union – as sovereign nations, on a par with each other, at peace with each other. An unrepentant Serbia cannot join the Euro-Atlantic structures, though. A Serbia that continues to be in denial over its genocidal policies in Kosovo and elsewhere cannot and should not be able to become part of a shared community of values, such as the EU and NATO. Kosovo is well placed to embark upon this road to full integration into the EU and NATO. SEN: What policies and measures have been implemented by the new government since independence with regard to building a cohesive national identity or consciousness? Hamiti: It was a national consciousness that built the Kosovo state, and not the Kosovo state that built this consciousness. SEN: By what measures, though, do you mobilise and sustain it? Hamiti: What the Government of Kosovo is doing is this: trying to implement policies that will re-establish the very fabric of our society. The long occupation of Kosovo and the war in the 1990s greatly damaged the very fabric of Kosovar society. The independence of Kosovo has brought great peace of mind to all the citizens of Kosovo; now they can share in the common values – cultural, civilisational and economic – that Kosovo has. Kosovo is a democracy that gives all the communities their rights and privileges to serve their identity, to pursue their own interests in terms of their values, and to promote their own culture, language and such. We, as a Government, [are] reviewing the school curricula . . . SEN: The implementation of new educational policies seems particularly important, given that approximately forty-five per cent of the population is under the age of twenty-five. Hamiti: Probably more than that. We [. . .] have an education system that is crucial for our country. Our youth are taught in a way that is in keeping with the practices that are implemented in the Western world, and in particular in Europe. This will allow them to promote their own values as well as pursue the interests and values 338

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of modern times. So, the young population of Kosovo will be able to draw upon the best practices, while also being able to promote their own distinct identity and values. SEN: To return to the topic of Europe and the EU, what are Kosovo’s interests in being part of the EU? Surely the economy must be an important factor? Hamiti: It is not only economic. Kosovo is a state, a country and a nation in its own right, including its ability to become a sovereign actor in the international community. It has had its own identity since ancient times: Kosovo was, during Roman times, an administrative unit called Dardania [Ancient Kosovo]. [This] new history of Kosovo is being written and published [. . .] we have been, since ancient times, [and] under different administrations, a polity of sorts, a unit in our own right. We now want to become part [of the] Western canon of values again. The long Yugoslav rule from 1912 to 1999 had forced Kosovo into dominant-state cultural and ideological patterns that were alien to the Kosovars: pan-Slavic, Yugoslav and communist ideologies. Therefore, this freedom of 1999 was not only freedom from Serbian/Yugoslav occupation, but also freedom for Kosovo to promote its own cultural identity, multilayered as it is, and reconnect with the mainstream European cultural canon. We have a constitution and laws that are in keeping with EU laws and we are implementing a lot of policies in education and the economy in a way that a lot of others have not been able to do [. . .] The enthusiasm is there because the desire for EU integration is huge. [All] layers of society desire to embark on this long process of EU integration. Being part of the shared values of the EU is very important – as important as being an EU member – and this would mean that we would become part of a larger market too. SEN: And as for NATO? Hamiti: It’s both: [NATO] is a powerful military as well as political alliance. Being a small nation, we want to be able to consume but also to contribute to the shared values and ideals of this alliance, which, in the eyes of the people of Kosovo, is the saviour of Kosovo. SEN: With regards to Kosovo’s relationship with Albania, considering that ninety per cent of Kosovars would identity themselves as ethnic Albanians, why is there a necessity for an independent Kosovo? Hamiti: We have a lot in common in terms of our shared ethnic, language and cultural ties, but Kosovo has now fulfilled its national goal of becoming a state of the twenty-first century: we don’t want to go back to a notion of an ethnically homogeneous state of the nineteenth century. That idea [was what] our neighbour, Serbia, tried to impose on the rest and unleashed all the evil that it did. [Kosovo] opted for independence because we had a leadership that was visionary and realistic at the same time. We wanted our own rights promoted – we wanted our own freedom, we wanted independence to enable us to govern our own affairs 339

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without being hampered by the rest – but we did not want to go back to those ideas of the past of creating homogeneous ethnic states. We now live in an era when the idea of nationhood is not necessarily exclusively built on this ethno-centrist ideology [. . .] SEN: Kosovo has a sizable Serb minority community; the Serbian president, Boris ´ , visited Kosovo on 17th April, the deadline of the ICJ. What do you Tadic envisage for your future relations with your other bordering neighbour, Serbia? Hamiti: I was part of the negotiating process that led to the determination of the status of Kosovo. During that process we did something that would have been unthought [of] elsewhere. We proposed a treaty of friendship and co-operation with ´ , who was the key figure, refused Serbia. The Serbian leadership, including Tadic this. Indeed, we had problems in Kosovo with our own people who asked, ‘Why do you ask for a treaty of friendship with Serbia, which has never asked for forgiveness for what it has done to Kosovo?’ So we have been very generous in our offers to try and accommodate the sensitivities of our former occupier in a way that a lot of people would have had difficulties in understanding. And Serbia has ´ was in opposition to Milos ´ for power in Serbia during the refused. Tadic ˇ evic ´ ’s policies 1990s, but never actually distanced himself with regards to Milos ˇ evic over Kosovo. So in terms of their ideology, published and stated in Belgrade, they do not differ considerably from each other in relation to their Kosovo policies. They may portray themselves as democratic and even as a liberal democracy, but, when it comes to Kosovo, the current government in Belgrade sometimes mirrors ´ in his worst days. the image of Milos ˇ evic ´ of Serbia addressed a letter to the International [In his recent visit,] President Tadic Civilian presence in Kosovo. He stated that he would not make a political speech during his trip to Kosovo – however, he did. We knew how he would behave; he did not surprise us. If he continues to behave this way, he may well not be allowed to enter Kosovo. SEN: Let us talk about your role in the UK. Could you tell us more about your role since arriving here in October 2008 and your relationship with the British Government? Hamiti: The British Government has supported Kosovo for more than a decade now. The UK Government was a strong supporter for [Kosovo’s independence] and an active participant in the international efforts, political and military, to bring an end to the Kosovo crisis. London contributed considerably to NATO action for the liberation of Kosovo in 1999. They have continued their support during the past decade, including for the solution that we have come to for Kosovo now: independence for our country, initially supervised by the international community. Independence has brought peace of mind to the people of Kosovo, while providing generous protection for minorities, including the Serbs; although they make up only five or six per cent of the population, their language is an official language, 340

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just like Albanian. The Serbs are over-represented at the national and local levels; they have asymmetrical rights in their own majority areas in terms of education, welfare etc. This is the kind of package that the UK has helped us to come to as a solution and resolution for Kosovo and now the bilateral relation between the UK and Kosovo is extremely good. [This relationship has] developed a lot, but I believe that, at the end of the day, [it] will be of mutual benefit for the people of Kosovo and the UK. There is a lot of affection in Kosovo for the UK, and here, indeed, I have also seen a lot of affection for the people of Kosovo and their struggle. We need to build on this and translate it into concrete co-operation in terms of the economy, education [and in] cultural areas. SEN: And, more specifically, your role in the UK? Hamiti: It is an honour for me to be here. I am the first Kosovar to serve as an official diplomat to the UK. I have worked hard in the last six months to make Kosovo’s presence felt here. I have been meeting a lot of my colleagues from recognising and non-recognising countries. I have met a lot of people from civil society here, including academia and think-tanks. We are trying to establish a permanent presence for the Republic of Kosovo here. In the meantime, our short-term goal is to get the message across that Kosovo is a fully fledged state; that her independence has brought peace to south-east Europe and that further international recognition will bolster Kosovo, the region and, indeed, Europe. SEN: In what ways have you been able to establish contacts with the substantial diaspora in the UK? Hamiti: We have a large community. Some [have been here] for at least twenty years, some for the last ten years. (The last wave, as it were, of people who came here in large numbers was in the spring of 1999, at the peak of the war in Kosovo.) However, it is interesting that, from over 5,800 Kosovars who came in 1999, close to 4,000 have returned home – the majority. SEN: Since independence was declared? Hamiti: Even before. There is an incredibly strong bond between Kosovars and their homeland. Still, there is a large number of Kosovars here who have made a significant contribution to the society at large, including the UK economy. Now many of them are actually nationals of UK, or have dual nationality, so I want them to promote this linkage. We believe in their right to live here, to make a contribution to this great society and nation, and at the same time to contribute to Kosovo, the new nation that needs all the loving care that it can get. SEN: Dr Hamiti, thank you very much for the interview. Hamiti: Thank you. 341

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Notes
1

Interview conducted on 1st May 2009. The views expressed here do not represent the views of SEN. 2 On 26th February 2009, the ICTY sentenced Sainovic to 22 years in prison having found him guilty of deportation, forcible transfer, murder and persecution.

Dr Muhamet Hamiti was born in Dumnice ¨ village, of the Podujevo municipality in Kosovo, in 1964. He earned his BA in English language and literature at the University of Pristina in 1987, his MA in English literature at Zagreb University (Croatia) in 1990 and his PhD in English literature (with a thesis on the prose fiction of James Joyce and Joseph Conrad) at the University of Pristina in 2006. In the 1990s, Hamiti was an independent scholar at the University of East Anglia and at Birkbeck College, University of London. Hamiti taught English literature and theory of literature at the University of Pristina from 1989 to 2008. He is the author of a monograph book on English literature, a range of literary essays, as well as literary translations from and into English. From 1991 to 1999, Dr Hamiti worked at the Kosovo Information Centre (KIC) – Qendra pe ¨r Informim e Kosove ¨ s (QIK) – as editor-in-chief for the English service. He edited and translated into English a number of publications that the KIC published during those years relating to the Kosovars’ struggle for freedom and independence. Hamiti was affiliated with Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the first non-communist party in that part of the world, and was a media advisor and spokesman to the President of Kosovo, Dr Ibrahim Rugova, from mid 2002 until his death in January 2006. From 2006 to 2008, Dr Hamiti served as a senior political advisor to Rugova’s successor to the presidency of Kosovo, Dr Fatmir Sejdiu. Dr Hamiti has been Charge ´ d’Affaires a.i. of the Republic of Kosovo to London since October 2008.

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