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Balkans Peace Initiative

Conference Explores Principles for Peace and Security in Kosovo

Pristina, Kosovo - As security and peace in the Republic of Kosovo is fragile and threatened due to the situation in the Serb-dominated north of the country, a European Leadership Conference was held May 28-29 in the capital, Pristina, with the participation of international experts, government officials, members of the Kosovo parliament, and representatives from civil society.

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Taking into consideration the complicated relations of European Union countries with this part of the Balkans (which is now something of a "hot potato" in the hands of the international peacekeeping forces that police the country), many challenges had to be overcome in order to finalize the program, which included 23 speakers from 12 nations.

The government of Kosovo and its Ministry of Justice, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Hajredin Kuçi (who is one of more than 300 Ambassadors for Peace in Kosovo), was the main partner in this conference on “Principles and Practices for Sustainable Peace and Security in Kosovo and in the Wider Balkans.” Aware of UPF’s work in the Balkans and beyond, the government offered its best meeting hall and ensured the participation of high-level representatives from the Serb community living in Kosovo, something rare in gatherings in Kosovo.

A UPF delegation chaired by president Thomas G. Walsh was welcomed by the Speaker of the Kosovo Parliament, Mr. Jakup Krasniqi. Later on, he was one of the conference speakers, sitting beside the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Slobodan Petroviç.

Although only a select group of 50 high-level participants were expected the first day, more than 60 such people showed up at the beautiful meeting hall in the Sirius Hotel in downtown Pristina due to the great interest in the event itself and the high level of participants.

“We live at a very interesting time in history, not only here in Kosovo and the wider Balkans, but globally," said Dr. Walsh. He referred to the emergence of recent states such as Kosovo and South Sudan and the states that emerged after the Soviet era, including Kosovo's neighbors in the former Yugoslavia. He called Europe the birthplace of the nation state, going back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which set a foundation for understanding states as the primary units of social and political organization. He also cited the influence of Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith on Western political thought and referred to the Enlightenment legacies of secularism and rationalism. He challenged participants to consider the potential positive force of religion in providing incentives for morality and a ground of meaning, especially when balanced with interfaith sensibility.

Corruption is another pervasive challenge, often linked to favoritism for relatives and privileged groups. In this era of globalization he called for "reaching out to others beyond boundaries of religion and ethnic groups in line with other principles of state-building: democracy, free trade, linking with international organizations, and interfaith respect and cooperation."

Mr. Krasniqi expressed his gratitude for UPF’s presence in Kosovo and promised the engagement for peace on the part of all institutions of Kosovo. Other prominent speakers were Mrs. Osnat Lubrani, an Israeli-American who is the UN Development Programme Director in Kosovo and overall coordinator of all UN agencies there. She gave greetings on behalf of her organizations and wished the conference every success.

The next speaker was Mr. Aleksadër Borg Olivier, a former senior UN legal adviser originally from Malta who was drafted by the UN to help the fledgling nation of Kosovo develop its legal system and institutions and who played a key role in that process. He was also an advisor to the Prime Minister. He emphasized that compared to 12 years ago, Kosovo today is a country with a bright future and a clear identity in Europe and in the international community. “Many sacrifices and difficult compromises had to be made, and Kosovo has not been rewarded enough for this,” he said. After listing the achievements and the positive changes in Kosovo, he referred to some negative ones, such as the poor rule of law and ineffective war on corruption. While the period of Kosovo’s internationally supervised independence is coming to an end, he said that Kosovo should take full control of its destiny. He criticized United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) structures in the north of the country which through excessive tolerance had, he said, created an opening for alternative structures to develop, which have led to the current tensions. He called for international bodies in Kosovo and abroad to acknowledge the new reality of Kosovo, speed up the process of recognition, and accept it as an equal partner with all the associated rights and privileges of a member of the international community.

The first session included greetings from Ms. Maja Miçiç, director of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, a leading Serb human rights organization, who had traveled from Belgrade to contribute to the conference. One of the prominent local speakers was Mr. Adem Demaçi, a political prisoner for 35 years in former Yugoslavia who is revered as the "Nelson Mandela of the Balkans" for his attitude of conciliation towards his former Serb captors. He stressed the desire of the Kosovo people for peace but expressed doubt about the predisposition of Serbian politicians to do the same. 

During the break, participants viewed the paintings of the well-known Kosovan artist Mr. Jetullah Haliti, who had created a collection of art works inspired by UPF's vision of peace.

The second session was moderated by Mrs. Flora Brovina, MP, a senior peace and human rights activist. Prof. Fatmir Sejdiu, the first president of Kosovo (2006-2010) and a main supporter of UPF in Kosovo, emphasized that the year 2000 was both the end of an era of conflicts and the beginning of the era of peace. He presented eight points on which Kosovo should design its future. “Contrary to the evil propaganda and expectations of some that Kosovo Serbs would be expelled from their homes after the declaration of independence, in revenge for several decades of oppression, this did not happen and there is no reason for it to ever happen.” He called on the international community to enlarge its focus on other countries of the region since, he said, “Kosovo has fulfilled its responsibilities and has done its homework, while the neighboring countries should do more and better in building the rule of law." He said that first and foremost, "A lot needs to be done in organizing fair election processes that produce governments rooted in the people. This implies parallel efforts against unwanted phenomena such as corruption and economic crime.”

Then Deputy Prime Minister Petrovic presented the achievements of the government of Kosovo towards ethnic minorities in the country and pointed out that one strong point of this new state was the multi-ethnic and multi-religious structure of its population. Esat Stavileci, a well-known academic, said that “to live together means to live equally, since only equal people can live together in a society where the misfortune of someone is not considered an advantage for the other.” He based his speech on aphorisms such as “Today we are sending many messages but without addresses and names on them,” or “Better to die for peace than to live in conflict,” and “Love for peace begins when we stop talking about war.” Professor Stavileci emphasized security as a precondition of peace.

The deputy commander of the UN's Kosovo Peace Keeping Force (KFOR), Brigadier General Johan Luif, talked briefly about the actual mission of KFOR, which is to safeguard life and free movement across the borders of the country.

The last speaker of the day was Mr. Jack Corley, an expert in character education with 35 years of international experience, who talked about the need for education for peace through character education curricula.

The second day of the conference began with a visit by a delegation to the office Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, who has been elected twice to govern the country after signing the peace agreement to end the war in 1999. Also present at the meeting was Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj, who in a further meeting over lunch held out the prospect of broad cooperation between Kosovo and UPF in a number of areas.

The first session that day, held in a beautiful conference hall in the Ministry of Defense, was opened by Mr. Hajredin Kuçi, the Minister of Justice and ethnic Albanian Deputy Prime Minister. He said, “Our society has gone through an unfair and bitter history, and we are very fortunate that it has ended. Now we need to discover what we should do so that [history] is never repeated.” He focused on democracy and human rights as preconditions to peace. As an example of the government’s efforts for peace and reconciliation, he mentioned the recent decision to establish a Council for Transitional Justice and Reconciliation to institutionalize efforts for reconciliation and peace among different ethnicities living in Kosovo. Minister Kuçi closed his remarks with a quotation from US president John F. Kennedy: "Our problems are manmade—therefore, they can be solved by man…. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable—and we believe they can do it again."

The Secretary General of UPF-Europe, Mr. Mark Brann, gave a short presentation on UPF’s concept of good governance, stating that good governance begins with oneself and extends to the family, community, nation, and the world. “If someone is unable to govern himself or his family properly there is little chance he can succeed in governing a nation.” Besides supporting features of good governance articulated by UNESCAP (the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), Mr. Brann said that UPF had distinctive good governance proposals of its own. For example, a good leader should be altruistic and be very alert to any possibility of even the slightest self interest clouding his or her judgment. Also a good leader should have true values upon which to build true qualities of character and guide his or her work. Among those qualities Mr. Brann particularly emphasized having a parental heart, clear goals, and transparent use of financial resources. Finally, he suggested that moral and spiritual principles should be clearly incorporated into regulatory structures and procedures.

The moderator, Mr. Ismail Kurteshi, then gave the floor to Ms. Miçiç who emphasized educating young people with a correct understanding of people of cultures, nationalities, or beliefs different from their own. “We should overcome the false prejudices inherited from older generations or our parents,” she said. “This can be done through communication, exchange visits, joint multi-ethnic projects, and participation in local politics.” Responding to questions from the audience, she expressed concern about the current political situation in Serbia after the election of Mr. Tomislav Nikolic as president: “With his election, Serbia lost the chance for an overall change, and I call on the international community to keep an eye on whatever he says and does.”

Mr. Goran Marinkoviç, an MP representing the Serbian minority in Kosovo, spoke about the situation in Kosovo and peace perspectives in the Balkans. An MP of Turkish descent, Mrs. Suzana Novobërdali, noted that although the European Union is engaging in building democracies in the region, “the Balkan countries are not progressing rapidly. Even though most of the region’s nations are on the right track, Kosovo is not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Today we are the only people need a visa to travel to the Schengen Treaty countries.” She expressed deep concern that only 2 percent of Kosovo’s youth have traveled to even one EU country.

The last speaker of the session was Professor Pajazit Nushi, who spoke on peace education, focusing on Kosovo’s education system and curricula. Peace means more than anti-war – a main doctrine of pacifism, he said, stating that a key element of peace education is respect for human dignity: “When human dignity is threatened, then violence, hatred, and revenge arise. I recommend three points of reference for peace education: (1) respect and understanding for all people, cultures, and civilizations; (2) raising awareness about the interdependence among nations, especially neighboring countries; and (3) solidarity of older, powerful, and developed nations with those younger, smaller, and less developed.”

The last session, on Ambassadors for Peace as peace promoters in Kosovo and the Balkans, was moderated by Prof. Mazllum Baraliu, Rector of Pristina State University. Among the speakers were former Austrian ambassador Mr. Walter Lichem and the Kosovan chair of the Association for Human Rights Education, Dr. Neshad Asllani. He called for educating people of all ages about the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and for using creative ideas such as declaring "human rights cities" following the example of Rosario, Argentina. Other speakers included Mr. Robert Williamson, UPF-Balkans coordinator, and Mr. Ali Laçej, a member of UPF-Albania’s Presiding Council and former Governor of the province of Skodra in Albania, who spelled out UPF's five core principles that Ambassadors for Peace are expected to uphold. "Ambassadors for Peace are those men and women who use the power of love to overcome the real barriers created by social divisions of all kinds." In conclusion, he called for Albanians to choose the archetype of Mother Theresa (the Albanian saint of the 20th century) and leave behind that of Scanderbeg (the war-like Albanian king of the 15th century).

The final speaker of the conference was Dr. Yong-Cheon Song, UPF-Europe Chairman. Speaking on the mission of Ambassadors for Peace he said that “In order to realize sustainable peace we need Ambassadors for Peace who can resist corruption and manifest goodness even when faced with misconduct. They should be the first to give, serve, and care for others in seeking for common good. They should establish warm families filled with true love between husband and wife, parents and children, and brothers and sisters.”

He closed by saying: “The time has come for religion and traditional morality to be given a completely new lease of life and to play their proper role in guiding the world out of darkness and despair. People of faith and conscience should feel responsibility for the plight, suffering, and injustices experienced by the world’s peoples. We must repent for our preoccupation with individual well being and narrow denominational or national interests and put our love and ideals into practice for the sake of the world.”

The conference concluded with the appointment of 12 Ambassadors for Peace, among them Deputy Prime Minister Petroviç, Mrs. Lubrani of the UN Development Programme, former First Lady Mrs. Nezafete Sejdiu, and representatives from civil society, the arts, and sports.

After the conference, the UPF Presiding Council of Kosovo elected its new chairman, a position previously served by Mr. Hydajet Hyseni, MP, who was the driving force behind the success of the conference and UPF activities in Kosovo so far. The position was given to Mr. Ismail Kurteshi, a former MP and one of the first Kosovans to be appointed an Ambassador for Peace. He will be assisted by deputies Mrs. Flora Brovina (MP) and Mrs. Sanie Aliaj (former MP).

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