KOSOVO: ‘We are proud to be the most pro-American country in the world’
Thomas Cromwell

Kosovo is slowly but surely establishing itself as an independent country. On February 17 it passed its third anniversary as one of the world’s newest countries, but it still seeks greater recognition by countries around the world and membership in the United Nations.

So far 75 countries of the 192 UN members have recognized the new nation, including 22 of the 27 members of the European Union.

In a recent interview with DiplomaticTraffic.com, Kosovo’s ambassador to the United States, Avni Spahiu, said the remaining EU members, “have their own internal reasons for delaying recognition.” In the case of Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus, this is likely the close ties with Serbia based on shared Orthodox Christian faiths.

As an Albanian majority country, one might expect the Arab countries to have been at the front of the line to recognize Kosovo, but Ambassador Spahiu pointed out that in the pre-independence period there was little communication with them and that it is taking time to build relations.

It should be remembered that Kosovo lacked the institutions of a democracy when it won independence, and has had to build those since. That process is well on the way. Successful presidential and parliamentary elections were held in the latter part of last year.

A parliamentary democracy, the prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, is chief executive officer.

The ambassador said that Kosovo’s constitution is “one of the best in the region.” It guarantees 20 of the 120 seats in parliament for minorities: 10 for Serbs; 4 for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians; 3 for Bosniaks; 2 for Turks and 1 for Goranis.

Ambassador Spahiu indicated that the largest minority, the Serbs, account for some six percent of the population, but in the last parliamentary elections earned 17 seats. All but the Serbs in the north, close to Serbia, are engaging in the democratic process.

Nevertheless, Kosovo has faced a raft of criticisms from detractors and including some European institutions, likely influenced by an active campaign orchestrated by Belgrade and supported by Moscow.

A recent Council of Europe report said that Prime Minister Thaçi, had been involved in war crimes. The same report says Kosovo has been linked to organ trafficking, organized crime and corruption. With this sort of publicity it has been difficult winning enthusiastic backing from the international community.

Ambassador Spahiu points out that during the pre-war and war years Kosovo was subjected to “ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

In general, Kosovo is working to improve its international image. “We are trying very hard to build our image,” he says. One effort in this respect was to hire Saatchi and Saatchi’s Israel office to conduct a nation branding campaign. This produced a curvy logo and some posters and ads featuring young Kosovars, with the tag line: ‘The Young Europeans’

In July last year, Kosovo won an important round in its fight to win acceptance by the world when the International Court of Justice ruled that its independence was in accord with international law.

Standing in the way of widespread recognition is Serbia, erstwhile enemy and still bitterly opposed to Kosovo’s independence. The ambassador said that Belgrade has, by its own admission, conducted an aggressive “diplomatic and political war” to discredit Kosovo.

In Serbia’s camp is Russia, whose seat on the United Nations Security Council gives it the power to nix UN membership for Kosovo. The Slavic/Orthodox ties Russia has with Serbia have long been that country’s most important international backstop and are serving its anti-Kosovo agenda now.

On the other side is the United States. The ambassador said that Kosovo “is proud to say we are the most pro-American nation in the world.”

He said “We cherish our special relations with the United States,” adding that America is “a strategic partner and eternal friend.”

Elaborating, he pointed out that Washington supported Kosovo before and during the war and continues to do so now in the nation-building phase. “We count on America,” the ambassador said simply.

Kosovo’s lack of international recognition is nevertheless a major obstacle to development. It does not have its own IP address or telephone code and with only 20 embassies its international trade is handicapped.

The ambassador said that among his country’s strengths is the fact that the 2.2 million citizens have an average age of just 27 years. He noted that many study abroad and that English is now taught starting in the first grade of elementary school.

Speaking of natural resources that can attract investment, Ambassador Spahiu said that Kosovo has the largest coal (lignite) deposits in Europe and has major deposits of lead, nickel, zinc and silver, minerals that can serve as a good base for the economy. Other assets are its agriculture and food packaging industries, and tourism. Kosovo is blessed with high mountains, rivers and lakes, as well as a “good tourism infrastructure.”

But Kosovo needs to bring investors to the country to develop the resources under the ground.

A highway from Albania’s Adriatic port of Durres to Pristina is being built, with the section up to Kosovo’s border completed and the remainder still under construction. This will help bring investors to Kosovo, providing a way to get goods into the country easily and from Kosovo to international markets.

However, the recognition issue remains at the top of the list of what Kosovo needs to do to fully normalize its status as a full member of the community of nations.

A recent article on Kosovo by Martin Waehlisch and Behar Xharra noted that “Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia simply do not have Kosovo on their radar.” This will need to be addressed more forcefully.

Given Kosovo’s small size and limited resources, as well as the opposition from Serbia and Russia, it will no doubt take time for the new nation to appear larger on those radar screens, but the march to recognition can be expected to bring the desired rewards in time.


Biography of Avni Spahiu
Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo in Washington, DC
Date of Birth: March 12, 1956
Place of Birth: Mitrovica, Kosova

Education
University of Prishtina – Master of Literature (2004);
Postgraduate Studies on Literature at the Faculty of Philology of Prishtina University, completed in 1988;
Faculty of Philology - English Department, Prishtina – graduated in 1978.
High School in Elk Rapids – Michigan, USA- graduated in 1974.
Gymnasium in Mitrovica – two years attended 1970-72.
Elementary school in Mitrovica – Kosova, 1970.

Accomplishments and highlights
1978: Journalist and reporter covering mainly foreign news, at “Rilindja” daily newspaper;
1982-1986: “Permanent correspondent to UN/USA in New York” of “Rilindja” daily newspaper;
1990: Co-founder of the first free news agency in Kosova, Kosova Information Center;
1990-95: Political adviser to former President Rugova;
1994-1998: Editor in Chief of “Rilindja”;
1999-2000: Editor in Chief of RTK (Television of Kosova);
2002–2003: Director of Television of Kosova (Kosova’s Public Broadcaster);
2003: Director of Radio Department of RTK (two nation-wide radios: Radio Kosova and Radio Blue Sky);
2008: Appointed as the first Kosovo Chief of diplomatic mission to Washington DC;
2009: Presented credentials to President Obama as the first Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary of Kosovo in Washington DC.

Areas of interest
Human Rights: During early 90s, with leading intellectuals of Kosova, in the wave of the democratic movement, he was part of the first Human Rights Council.  During that time he wrote reports, filed appeals to the UN and democratic world on human rights violations in Kosova. In that capacity he attended UN Sessions on Human Rights in Geneva, speaking on its behalf before the UN Human Rights Commission, round table discussions in various capitals on political issues and human rights, such as OSCE Human Dimension Conference at Copenhagen, in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, etc.

Translation: In the meantime he was dedicated to translation from Albanian to English and vice versa. So far he has translated over 20 published books of literature and Western thought. He also translated poetry written by famous British and American poets. He was cofounder and Vice-President of PEN Center of Kosova.

Authorial works: He is author of several books one of which is a collection of features from the USA written during his work as a correspondent and reporter from the USA, one on the Albanian Diaspora in America, on the famous Albanian-American, Mnsgr. Fan Stilian Noli, and one on the Nobel literature winners.

Publications
“Fan Noli – jeta në Amerikë” (also in English ‘Noli’s American Years – Notes on a Great Albanian-American’),“Nobelistët e letërsisë”, “Teach me to love” (Mother Teresa’s poetry – translation),“Do you Come from Chameria” (poetry anthology – translation)
“A Split Stone” (an anthology of Albanian poetry), etc.