April 17, 2007

Verbatim, as delivered

“The Outlook for the Independence of Kosova”

It was some 20 years ago that I visited Kosova and, as a huge crowd was gathering around the hotel where my wife and I met with Kosovar leaders, at the edge of this vast group of people, policemen were beating up men, women and children for no reason whatsoever.

I have followed closely and intensely developments in this last region of the former Yugoslavia for years, with numerous trips and with constant attention. And I am pleased beyond words that we have reached a point where the distinguished former president of Finland has come forward with a proposal which, reading Secretary Burns’ testimony with great care, the Administration supports, I support, and I believe all rational people on both sides will support. The Kosova assembly approved it by a vote of 100 to 1. And since it is a compromise, nobody is perfectly happy with it, but it is by far the best option open to us: supervised independence, the end of the rainbow being the presence of NATO and the European Union, both of which entities an independent Kosovo at one point will join, full protection to the rights of the Serbian minority, decentralized local government decision-making, a grand compromise.

In the 1990s the people of Kosova lived a nightmare that only NATO intervention could end. They have since awakened from the horror of ethnic cleansing. But today they are living in a state of suspended animation – free from the repression of the past, but haunted by the possibility of its return and uncertain about their future security in their own land.

For Kosova, there can be no freedom without independence. And for the international community, there is no acceptable solution other than independence. The issue here is not the ethnic solidarity of any other nation with any group in Kosova. The issue is fundamental justice and the best hope for peace, stability and prosperity in the Balkans.

This is the moment to put a war-torn past behind us. For the Kosovars, it is the moment when centuries of imposed rule from far-away empires and nearby dictators must come to an end.

The UN Security Council may soon consider a resolution reflecting a blueprint for Kosova’s future shaped with wisdom and patience by the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

Clearly this is not a perfect solution. I would have preferred something different. But there is no better settlement in sight; there is no more time to wait. The strong support of the United States – its unwillingness to accept anything less than a vote for independence by other members of the Security Council – is absolutely critical. For Kosova, there can be no freedom without independence.

The fate of Kosova represents a broad and fundamental issue: the realization of full self-determination in former satellite nations forced behind an iron curtain of artificial borders enforced by authoritarian rule.

Under the rule of Tito, Kosovars were accorded only semi-autonomous status. They were not recognized as a full republic within the Yugoslav federation, but were an acknowledged province within the Republic of Serbia. They were not accorded the limited sense of nationhood given to Bosnian Muslims and Croatian Catholics.

But from the mid-1990s on, as the old Yugoslavia fractured under the pressure of new demands for freedom and national recognition, the United Nations and the international community recognized the independence of all the former Yugoslav republics that chose or won their sovereignty: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and most recently Montenegro. By population and any other set of criteria, Kosova was equally entitled to full independence and sovereignty. But it alone was excluded from the process of self-determination.

Those who are trapped in the past or yearn to repeat the bygone era of political divisions in Central Europe and the Balkans continue to suggest that, in effect, Kosova ought to be re-integrated into Serbia in both name and reality.

Serbia smashed any hope for this solution in 1999 when it carried out its vicious, systematic, brutal and premeditated ethnic cleansing directed against the Albanian majority in Kosova. No one who watched the news coverage in those days can forget the wrenching scenes of Albanian refugees desperately fleeing the marauding Serbian troops – old women, tiny children, men frantically trying to save their families.

The tide of history cannot be turned back. Serbia has lost all legitimacy to assert sovereignty over Kosova. It not only failed to protect the rights of the Albanians who make up 90 percent of the population of Kosova, it also actively sought to drive out the Albanians.

NATO’s bombing finally stopped the ethnic cleansing of Kosova and stemmed the massive flow of refugees being driven from their own homes and their own land. Since then, the United Nations has worked to keep the peace and rebuild the burned out homes and shattered lives of the Kosovars. The challenge has been to ease local tensions, to convince both sides to come to the table, and to reach a lasting solution.

The United Nations and the European Union deserve our respect for their determination and their success thus far. We have seen eight years of relative peace despite pressure from militant elements.

At no time during this past eight years has the proposition that Kosova should remain part of Serbia been even a thinkable option under consideration by the international community. From the start, the UN stewardship was designed to serve as a transition to full independence. And everyone in the international community knew that.

Now is the time to end the remaining uncertainty. Only fully recognizing and implementing the independence of Kosova will permit the political and economic development that will lead to stability and prosperity. And only independence can help to heal the wounds of a war-ravaged region.

Ethnic Albanians comprise some 90 percent of the population of Kosova, yet their international status remains in limbo. They again await the recognition from the international community that their neighbors have enjoyed for many years. For them, there is no freedom without independence.

If we mean what we say about self-determination and democracy, if we are truly ready to finish the job of liberation we started when NATO intervened in 1999, if we want to see the final defeat of Slobodan Milosevic’s hateful project, and if we hope to avoid a relapse into ethnic tension and terror in this part of the world, the entire world must recognize Kosova as an independent nation.