Establishing diplomatic relations between two countries would enable deeper cooperation on issues of mutual concern…
By ALUSH GASHI – DAVID L. PHILLIPS*-
Kosovo and the Vatican share strategic interests, including conflict resolution, preventing violent extremism and promoting interreligious understanding. Establishing diplomatic relations between Kosovo and the Holy See would enable deeper cooperation on issues of mutual concern. The recent agreement to normalize relations between Israel and Kosovo sets an important precedent.
Kosovo is mostly Muslim. However, Kosovars are secular, progressive, and overwhelmingly tolerant. Mother Teresa, honored in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was an ethnic Albanian. Jews were given sanctuary in Albania during World War Two. More Jews lived on Albanian lands after the war than before. Today, Kosovo is a buttress between Islamist extremism and other countries in continental Europe.
Kosovo Albanians have a track record of helping the needy. As Serbia’s repression intensified in the 1990s, Mother Teresa charitable clinics served the suffering. The clinics worked with communities to resolve conflict through the “Forgiveness Campaign.”
When Serbia abolished Kosovo’s self-governing institutions and prevented students from entering school premises, the Trastevere-based Community of Sant Egidio, encouraged by Pope John Paul II, brokered an agreement to normalize Kosovo’s education system in 1996. At the time, the agreement was considered a significant step towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
More recently, Kosovo has been active preventing violent extremism (PVE). When some Kosovo Albanians joined the Islamic State, the Government of Kosovo developed a PVE response focused on the grass-roots. Deradicalization efforts engaged mothers and family members, as well as local imams, focusing on education and economic development.
Discussions are underway to establish a PVE academy, codifying best practices and transferring them to other countries challenged by violent extremism. Kosovo envisions the Holy See as a partner on this project.
Kosovo is committed to dialogue and conflict resolution. Islam, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism have long coexisted in Kosovo, which has become a laboratory for interreligious dialogue and understanding.
Beginning in 1999, the World Conference on Religion and Peace facilitated relations between faith-leaders across Kosovo. Kosovo Albanians protected the sacred Orthodox monastery at Decan from communal strife in 2004. Interreligious peace and minority rights were enshrined by the Ahtisaari principles, as well as Kosovo’s constitution of 2008.
Kosovo religious leaders were recognized by the New York-based Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding with its Religious Peacemakers Award. Father Sava Janjic and Albanian counterparts were celebrated as advocates for reconciliation, going beyond dialogue to develop activities with practical cross-communal benefits.
Former Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova admired the humility and wisdom of John Paul II. After they prayed together, Rugova pledged to build a cathedral in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, dedicated to Mother Teresa. In Rugova’s last public appearance before passing away, he laid the cathedral’s cornerstone.
Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Kosovo would encourage collaborative activities on other issues of mutual interest – peace, human rights, poverty eradication, environmental protection, and assisting migrants. The Holy See, which already has diplomatic relations with 183 countries and the European Union, can strengthen goodwill towards Kosovo through diplomatic relations.
So far, 112 countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state. When Serbia challenged the legality of Kosovo’s independence declaration, the International Court of Justice found that Kosovo’s declaration conformed to international law, as well as UN Security Council resolution 1244, which provided a path for Kosovo’s independence.
Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, travelled to Kosovo in 2019. His visit was affirmation that the Holy See has serious interest and was carefully considering the situation. At the time, the Holy See demured from recognizing Kosovo for some diplomatic opportunity reasons.
The Holy See is the world’s foremost moral authority. Its recognition of Kosovo would boost EU-facilitated talks between Kosovo and Serbia, strengthening Kosovo as a source of stability and a peace partner.
Just as Kosovo warmly welcomed Cardinal Parolin last year, Kosovo looks forward to the day when Pope Francis will visit. The occasion will be a celebration of the commitment to peace and humanitarian action shared by Kosovo and the Holy See. We hope his visit also marks a milestone in mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia.
* Alush Gashi is a Political and Foreign Policy Adviser to Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti. He previously served as Health Minister and a Member of Parliament.
*David Phillips is Director of the Program on Peacebuilding and Human Rights at Columbia University. He served as a senior adviser to the US State Department. Phillips is the author of Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and US Intervention (Harvard’s Kennedy School).