At a time when many countries are coping with economic problems, ethnic strife and governmental gridlock, one of the world’s newest countries can offer lessons in peacemaking and problem-solving.
On July 2 – two days before the United States celebrates its Independence Day – Kosovo marks a milestone on its journey to self-government.
The formal occasion will be a meeting of the International Steering Group, which is scheduled to decide whether to conclude its supervision of Kosovo’s independence once the Kosovo parliament adopts new constitutional changes.
This means that the supervisory authorities appointed by the Steering Group – the International Civilian Office and its International Civilian Representative – will cease to exist. Their executive powers will be transferred to authorities selected by the people of Kosovo and their representatives – the parliament, the president, the prime minister, and other public officials.
Recent history offers few more inspiring examples of how the values of liberal democracy can prevail with a strong commitment from the international community. Founded after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia two decades ago, Kosovo has endured war, genocide, apartheid and inter-communal conflict.
True, Kosovo still struggles with the aftermath of the war. Tensions continue between ethnic Serbs and Albanians, especially in the north. And the economy has a mountain to climb. Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe and has Europe’s highest unemployment rate.
Despite these challenges, we have rebuilt not only our houses, roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure but have also built a new state while striving to reknit our social fabric. Now that the process of state-building is almost completed, Kosovo is ready to move forward as an independent country, recognized by 93 nations, including 22 of 27 EU states, 24 of 28 NATO states, and 30 of 57 Organization of Islamic Cooperation states.
Our optimism is fueled by the fact that we are not only one of the world’s newest countries but also one of its youngest: 75 percent of our population is under 35. We can transcend the tragedies of the 20th century because most of our people will live most of their lives in the 21st.
While every country travels its own path, Kosovo can offer five lessons from our own experience:
1. Respect the rule of law: In 2007, UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari put forward a plan including the principles of individual and community rights. Working with the EU’s International Civilian Office, Kosovo’s leaders made the Ahtisaari Comprehensive Provisions part of our Constitution, our laws, and our daily life.
2. Heal the wounds of war: Learning from the experience of societies such as South Africa, I recently proposed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that examines the actions of both sides during the war. It was established on June 4. The point is not punishment but purification so that members of every ethnic and religious community can move forward toward reconciliation.
3. Offer everyone a seat at the table: We are protecting the rights of ethnic Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo and working hard to integrate them into society and the state. Twenty of 120 seats in parliament are reserved for minorities, including 10 for ethnic Serbs. Three Kosovo Serbs serve as cabinet ministers, including deputy prime minister. Six new Kosovo Serb municipalities have been established.
4. Encourage enterprise: Rebuilding an economy during a global recession is a daunting challenge. Kosovo is striving toward a free-market economy with low taxes, sound banking, protections for investors, and legislation compatible with the EU. We are aggressively seeking foreign investment and wooing companies in agriculture, clean energy, mining, manufacturing, and tourism.
5. Understand that independence and interdependence go hand-in-hand: With full independence, we will make every effort to work with our neighbors and the entire world. We are striving to convince Serbia and Russia that Kosovo can contribute to stability in the Western Balkans. We are eager to work with the EU and the UN as full members of the European and international communities.
Almost two decades ago, conflict served as a catalyst for Kosovo’s democratization and European integration. Now, working with the EU and the UN, Kosovo can demonstrate that democratization, reconciliation, free markets and the rule of law are the right road for countries young and old.
Hashim Thaci is the prime minister of Kosovo.