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[The Wall Street Journal] A Better Future for the Western Balkans

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi writes in The Wall Street Journal that Serbia and Kosovo must not miss their chance to normalize relations.

29 August 2011, The Wall Street Journal


More than 20 years ago the pressure cooker that was the former Yugoslav Republic exploded. Since then a terrible series of struggles have taken place that have scarred Europe. But with Kosovo's recent action to seal our borders in the north, in advance of the next stage of the EU-brokered talks with Serbia, I believe we have now reached a decisive moment in the history of the Western Balkans. This provides an opportunity for the whole region to finally close this violent and turbulent chapter in our history.

When we acted last month to try to stop rampant criminality and bring the rule of law to the north of Kosovo and our frontier with Serbia—an area comprised mainly of ethnic Serbs—many saw yet another spasm in the Balkans, an internal issue that once again pitted Serbs against Kosovars.

Serbia is perfectly entitled to support cultural and other activities for ethnic-Serb citizens of Kosovo. This was not only agreed in the 2007 Ahtissari plan, but it is also perfectly normal: There is an Acadamie Francaise in virtually every country of the world.

But over the years this support has degenerated into the creation of a sort of state-within-a-state, with an ill-functioning democracy, evident trafficking of drugs, people and arms, and daily intimidation of both Albanians and Serbs by private armies who are the only ones benefiting from the absence of the rule of law.

As a result, the overwhelming majority of people in the area—Serbs and Albanians—supported our actions. Contrary to some observers' predictions, the local population did not rise up in opposition. The armed gangs responded violently to our confrontation, but calm was restored after just one or two days.

Why this acceptance? I believe the local Serb and Albanian population, like people across the Balkans, are tired of the conflict and turmoil. It's time for things to change, and now is the right moment.

The International Court of Justice last year confirmed the legality of Kosovar independence. That, coupled with Belgrade's changed mood and its decision to hand over war-crimes suspects such as General Ratko Mladic, means that the political landscape in the Balkans has changed fundamentally.

Given that all the countries of the Balkans see their future as a European one, these positive developments have created a unique opportunity we must now seize together. The talks starting this Friday in Brussels are a chance to accelerate progress towards a common objective.

The key to advancing Serbia's EU ambitions, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted last week, is the normalization of its relations with Kosovo. A key part of that normalization—as Mrs. Merkel, again, specified—means ending Serbia's non-transparent funding of its "parallel structures" in the north that are perpetuating divisions. Last week, I called on all Kosovar Serbs to become fully integrated into the fabric of the multi-ethnic Kosovo embedded in our constitution. I repeat that call today.

The process of establishing law and order and normal life in the north of Kosovo has only just begun. There is much work to do, and it is vital that the international community plays a full part in completing this process.

It is impossible to exaggerate how important is this final step—for Kosovo, for the Western Balkans and for Europe more broadly. Solving the problems in the north Kosovo and normalizing relations with Serbia would put an end to more than 20 years of bitter division and conflict. We want to give all the people of the Balkans the chance to look forward. Serbian President Boris Tadic and I must not miss this opportunity.