Waiting Game for Kosovo Prime Minister on UN Recognition

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci speaks during an interview in New York on Aug. 20, 2012. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci says his 4 1/2-year-old country’s recognition by the United Nations and its entry into the European Union and NATO are simply a matter of time.

How much time, Thaci says, will depend on Serbia, the state to which Kosovo used to belong and which still claims sovereignty over the country on behalf of Kosovo’s minority of ethnic Serbs. At last count, 92 UN governments, including the U.S., and 22 of the 27 European Union members had recognized Kosovo’s independence.

“The whole world knows that Kosovo is a sovereign country,” Thaci said in an interview yesterday. “Serbia understands the reality of an independent Kosovo; however now it is not ready to recognize us ‘de jure,’” he said through an interpreter, the Latin phrase poking through the Albanian.

Speaking in New York on the eve of the UN Security Council’s annual review of Kosovo’s progress from protectorate to statehood, Thaci said the leaders of Serbia, his country’s former ruler, will soon have to abandon their nationalist rhetoric and show their citizens some economic progress.

“My message to them is to focus on jobs and the economy,” Thaci said of the Serbians. “They won the election on a platform of nationalism, but they can’t survive on that platform. People are more interested in jobs than nationalism.”

Genocide Threat

Serbia’s new president, Tomislav Nikolic, said last month in an interview with the Guardian newspaper that Serbs in Kosovo are living under the threat of “genocide,” and that he wouldn’t rule out a partition between ethnic Serb and Albanian regions of the former province.

Serbia’s prime minister, Ivica Dacic, is a former spokesman for Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian president whose campaign of ethnic cleansing against Kosovo’s Albanian minority led to a 77-day NATO-led bombing campaign that chased Serbia from Kosovo, a former province.

Thaci and many of his senior officials were affiliated with the Kosovo Liberation Army, which battled the Serbs on the ground, while NATO bombed from the air. That’s made dialogue between the leaders difficult, although Thaci said he is ready to meet with Dacic and settle political issues including border control and reciprocal recognition.

“They lost the battle in 1999,” Thaci said.

Kosovo has made progress on building a functioning democratic state, he said, even though its police and justice system are still overseen by an EU-led body and the U.S. and other donors still fund many of the nation’s government offices.

‘It Will Happen’

While Kosovo’s Serbs have the same rights as its Albanian majority and seats are reserved for them in parliament and government, some 5,600 NATO-led troops remain, partly to ward off ethnic violence between Serbs and Albanians and partly to tamp down the smuggling and trafficking still prevalent in Kosovo.

“Both Kosovo and Serbia will be members of the European Union and NATO,” Thaci said. “I can’t say in days, weeks or months, but it will happen.”

Serbian leaders know this, he said.

“In closed meetings, I know what they say,” he said, referring to Nikolic and Dacic. “They say Kosovo is an independent state.”

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