By Rafaela Prifti
“Albanians must come together and devise a national strategy,” says Martin Vulaj on Kosova-Serbia negotiations. “They need to consider all of the consequences of each action before making decisions and, above all, they must never threaten their relationship with the United States.” At the end of our conversation, he suggests four items for the upcoming summit led by Europeans.
Dielli: Recently you wrote The Dangerous Road Ahead, which you open with these words: “Kosova is facing a perfect political storm on the immediate horizon.” Can you describe the political storm as you see it? Have we ever been “in a perfect storm” before? Is there a historical precedence to be considered?
Mr. Vulaj -The storm that could line up perfectly consists of the U.S. walking away from the talks out of frustration and leaving Kosova back in the hands of a traditionally pro Serbian Europe combined with the KLA indictments providing a thin moral cover to Europe. Europe has demonstrated their pro Serb bias not only historically but also recently and, with the US out and KLA indictments as cover, my concern is that they could use this cover as an excuse to enable Serbia to move forward towards Europe while justifying why they are keeping the Albanians back. They could leave Kosova in a political ghetto and use the Albanians as a buffer against Turkey’s influence in Europe. I am not saying that this is the likely outcome but this is now a clear possibility with which the Albanians must be aware and actively working to prevent.
In terms of historical precedents, the only one I could think of that is somewhat similar is the time of the Berlin conference when Serbia, Montenegro and Greece made claims on Albanian lands and, without meaningful Albanian participation, half of those lands were ceded to those claims. The KLA indictments and the political infighting amongst Albanians make participation in the current processes less meaningful then it otherwise could be and increases the likelihood that Kosova’s fate will be decided by the great powers without full participation by the Albanians.
Dielli: By making a statement about a perfect political storm, do you wish to impress a sense of urgency that you feel is not being recognized by politicians, or by the diaspora? All of the above?
Mr. Vulaj -Yes! We are at a critical juncture. We must ensure the continued participation of the United States and the Albanians must come up with a united national strategy or risk letting the Kosova issue endlessly drift without resolution at best or an unfavorable outcome at worst.
Dielli: Prior to organizing the Zoom meeting of Ambassador Grenell with community representative at the end of June, you reposted an article on the role of the diaspora from 2013 along with the comment about being or taking part in the process to influence the process. I asked you if diaspora should sit at the talks and you said that it has not been constructive so far. What are your thoughts today?
Mr. Vulaj – The diaspora has consistently been helpful throughout history but, traditionally, they always take a more conservative or extreme position. That has been the case recently as well with the heavy criticism of the process and the Administration. Many have taken these positions without any interaction with the Administration and without actually knowing much about the process. I don’t think this has been helpful.
However, I would like to see the diaspora as part of the process if only so we could better understand the realities of the process and so this reality can then be communicated to the greater diaspora. In this manner, the diaspora could be better informed and form positions based on information rather than fears and manipulations
Dielli: Any feedback on your Opinion piece? Have you heard from politicians, community activists?
Mr. Vulaj: The feedback has been quite positive and my perspective has been valued. I have had several conversations with politicians overseas to reinforce my message. The concept has been supported but I am concerned that party interests will continue to dominate national ones.
Dielli: Last month, Kosova Government has put in place a Council of Experts. Some critics see it as an additional bureaucratic body. Would it be part of the process? With regards to negotiations of Kosova and Serbia, you suggested A Unity Team? How do you see it?
Mr. Vulaj – The Council of Experts is an advisory body that the PM has created to enable him to draw on the experience and know-how of experts from various fields. They have no decision making capacity.
What I proposed is the creation of a negotiating team that represents all of the major Albanian parliamentary parties whereby each representative would fully take part in the decision making process. By creating this organ, you create political stability without the need for the expansion of the government. The government currently has a scant majority (61 out of 120 votes), is fragile and vulnerable to pressure. With the full participation of the political parties in the Negotiating team you effectively expand the government without the need to go through the political machinations of bringing the current one down, decreeing VV (as winner of last elections) to create new government, waiting for their constitutionally allotted time to expire, and then moving on to the next party to create the government. It is a lot of wasted time when we have little to spare. The inclusion of the opposition in a decision making capacity, into the negotiating team creates the political stability required to go forward and brings more faith and credibility to the process from the people’s perspective.
Dielli: Ambassador Frank Wisner, former US envoy ofKosova peace talks, has characterized the present situation as a political and a constitutional crises? What is your comment?
Mr. Vulaj – I do think it is a political crisis but not a constitutional one. The shocking announcement of the Special Prosecutor has effectively sidelined the President and, at the very least, disrupted the talks. Although there is no formal indictment, it is unlikely that the international community will interact with the President until the matter is cleared up and the government has a very thin majority. All of this creates political instability which must be overcome for Kosova to move forward. However, there is no constitutional crisis.
Dielli: Ambassador Wisner and Ambassador Burns have stated their opposition with respect to holding the summit in the US. Their argument is that it would deepen the divide between Europe and US. What do you say to that?
Mr. Vulaj – Mr. Wisner and Mr. Burns are very experienced diplomats and, I believe, they are looking at this issue from a very traditional diplomatic viewpoint. The fact is however that there already is great division between the US and Europe on the Kosova peace process. In fact, the announcement of the Special Prosecutor (which by his admission was aimed at impacting these talks) may very well be a manifestation of that division. The truth is that Europe has had this matter in their hands since the end of the War in 1999. After 8 years of futility, it was the US who stepped forward and declared Kosova independent. Europe again has had the “dialogue” process since 2011 with no signs of significant progress. Even after Kosova fulfilled all of the necessary conditions for the liberation of visas, the EU could not even keep their promise to do even that. Europe has consistently failed when it comes to resolving Kosova’s issues and enabling her to move forward into her European future. Therefore, unless we have US leadership this simply will not happen.
Dielli: Mr. Harry Bajraktari has called for disbanding Kosova Special Court, on the grounds of it being “a waste of time, resources and interfering with the political process”. What are your thoughts?
Mr, Vulaj -Harry Bajraktari has long been an activist, protagonist and investor in Kosova. He is amongst the most important members of our community when it comes to the Kosova issue and more. His call is a manifestation of frustration with how the international community has handled Kosova and a reflection of a fundamental unfairness with which Kosova is being viewed and treated. Just think for a second that when these indictments come down by the Special Court, there will have been far more Kosovars indicted for war crimes than Serbs! That is unthinkable and unjustifiable.
Albanians must come together and devise a national strategy for dealing with and emerging from this situation. Europe has always viewed Serbia favorably and Albanians with great skepticism. We could find ourselves where Europe has the excuse they need to enable Serbia to move forward and keep the Albanians in a political ghetto as a buffer against the influence of Turkey in Europe. Therefore, I believe that the Albanians must look at all options that they have but they also must not be rash. They need to consider all of the consequences of each action before making decisions and, this above all, they must never threaten their relationship with the United States. If we have a way out, it is through Washington.
Dielli: Tomorrow the representatives of Prishtina and Belgrade will attend a summit led by France President Emmanuel Macron and Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ambassador Grenell has issued the following statement: “We are pleased to see the Europeans will convene a meeting on July 10thfor further discussions with Kosovo and Serbia. We offer our total support and are grateful for their leadership”. What are your expectations if any Mr. Vulaj?
Mr. Vulaj – The fact that the process is being hosted at the level of Macron and Merkel is a positive sign but Europe’s history with the Kosova issue still leaves me skeptical. I believe that in order to restore faith to the process and have a successful outcome, four things should be done:
1. Approve the liberalization of visas. The visa issue is not tied to the process but it would be a small clear sign that Europe is increasingly serious and increasingly coordinated.
2. Change the goal of the dialogue from “normalization of relations”to“mutual recognition”. This would harmonize the EU position with that of the United States as reflected in the two letters from President Trump to the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia. It would also ensure that Kosova would be able to complete her statehood and be enabled to be integrated into NATO and the UN and eventually the EU. Under the current format that isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, it is possible that the current format would enable Serbia to fulfill her chapter 35 requirements of the EU and enable Serbia to move forward while potentially leaving Kosovo where it currently is.
3. Europe most work with the 5EU members that do not recognize Kosovo to secure that recognition or, at the very least, abstain from the process so that they are not an impediment as they have been even with the visa issue
4. The EU should provide a roadmap for the talks. This would set expectations from the start and prevent the aimless drift that have defined past European processes.
I think that all four points above are very doable and would ensure both faith in the process and its success. In the absence of such action, I am concerned that once again we will enter into the aimless drift with no certain outcomes and no timeline