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Kosovo/General Affairs and External Relations Council

Published on March 5, 2008
Press conference given by M. Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, (excerpts)

Brussels, February 18, 2008

THE MINISTER – It took a long time but this was normal. We’d talked about Kosovo so often and, if we hadn’t ironed them out we’d at least reduced the difficulties during previous meetings. This isn’t an easy decision and I’d above all like to say to you that it isn’t a victory of one over the other. It isn’t a victory of the Kosovars over the Serbs, it’s a victory for peace, it’s a victory for common sense, and it’s certainly a victory for both peoples because they’re undoubtedly going to move – separately perhaps initially, but together in the very near future – closer to the European Union and towards a more peaceful Balkans.

What appears extremely symbolic to me is that it’s Slovenia – i.e. the first country to break away from the Yugoslav federation, after so many years, and now holding the European Union presidency – (…) who is making it possible for the last region of that Yugoslav federation, to be independent.

As you know, independence was announced yesterday and the first statement by the 27, and if you don’t mind I’d like to stress "by the 27" – this is a victory for the European Union – was discussed word by word and agreed by everyone. It imposes nothing on anyone. I don’t know how many countries will recognize Kosovo’s independence, some say 16, others 19. Some will certainly do so at a later date.

As far as France is concerned, we intend to recognize Kosovo’s independence – President Sarkozy has written to this effect to the President of Kosovo. [With this letter] French recognition of Kosovo’s independence becomes official.

May I, who was responsible for two years for that region of Serbia, add a very personal word. I’d like to send this message of hope to the Serbs: this isn’t a defeat for them. On the contrary, it’s the possibility for them – and I believe they expressed this by voting for Mr Tadic – to move closer to the European Union, to come to us when they wish to, having, of course, met the requisite conditions, but to come when they wish.

I have no doubt: one day, I don’t know the date, I don’t know the year, Kosovars and Serbs will be together again in the European Union. And perhaps other Balkan alliances will be forged.

At any event, for me, it’s a victory for common sense, for peace, for the peoples, and it’s the end of the sufferings. Once again, I’m thinking of the Serbs, of the difficulty they’ve had, will very probably have in recognizing that it’s now, despite being the cradle of their religion and of part of their civilization, an independent country.

Of course, we have to stress the necessary respect for the basic document, the United Nations, Martti Ahtisaari’s document. This will have to be implemented: access to all the religious sites, I’m talking about the monasteries which are so important for the orthodox religion, about respect for the minorities, about protection of the minorities. These provisions, which come from Mr Ahtisaari’s report, were reproduced in the constitutional document which the Prime Minister, Mr Hashim Thaçi, put before the Kosovan Parliament yesterday.

It’s the end of a very long crisis, of a period of great tension in a place in the world which has experienced others – even its name, the Balkans, conjures up images of turmoil: "Balkan situation". I hope this is the end of it and that the reconciliation starts right now even though I know it will take a long time. Even though I know it will need several generations. The first generation already knows this. Not only the young today, but also those (…) who have lived under the United Nations administration, UNMIK, UNSCR 1244, etc. (…)

Once again, it’s no one’s victory. On the other hand it’s to an extent a victory for the international community, for what’s called multilateralism and an enormous victory for the United Nations. It’s the first time in the world’s history that such a conflict sees not only the arrival of peace at the end of some years, but of the solution: this independence, which is an exception. (…) It’s an exception which mustn’t serve as an example. This independence comes at the end of nine years. For those who don’t believe in the United Nations, it’s nevertheless a fine example to give them.

For me personally, who was involved every hour and almost every minute, night and day, for a very long time in dealing with the scars, crimes, revenge attacks in Kosovo, I’m very happy for all the people, all the communities and, once again, it’s the Serbs I turn to first.


[*Q. – (on the Council conclusions on Kosovo)*]

THE MINISTER – Our Spanish friends were very acute and very generous. We redid the text and they accepted it. It contains all the concepts of sovereignty and territorial integrity they asked for. So you need to put your question to them. I myself am very satisfied with the way the Spanish text was adopted. The text the Presidency proposed wasn’t the one adopted, but parts of it were incorporated in the Spanish text. I’m very grateful to Miguel Moratinos for finding the way to allow everyone to get something of what they wanted, including Cyprus.

There are countries which won’t recognize Kosovo’s independence but our Council has known this for several months. Generally speaking, it’s a matter for national governments: there’s no compulsion to recognize or not recognize Kosovo in the European text. Some States will want to recognize it, others won’t. The majority of the countries, I hope, believe, know, will recognize it in the coming days.


[*Q. – Russia and Serbia say that this independence violates international law. What do you think?*]

THE MINISTER – That’s an interpretation I understand but which isn’t correct. There were some very special conditions in that country.

First of all, there was a conflict claiming very many lives. There were protests and then international action and then United Nations intervention. This United Nations intervention, which put the country in a way under United Nations supervision and UNSCR 1244, wasn’t supposed to, couldn’t go on forever. This is, of course, what makes it different from other situations where, alas, there have been conflicts, brutality, ethnic cleansing – even very close by – in the region.

We have other examples of the presence of troops and of a United Nations administration: it’s the fact that there are NATO troops and a United Nations administration which has made the position original. And let me point out that Mr Martti Ahtisaari’s report and its conclusions were those of the United Nations. We must implement them, starting now.


[*Q. – You’re talking of peace as a long-term goal. How will you explain this to the Bosnian Serbs and Macedonian Albanians?
Do they have the right to declare independence themselves? If so, why?*]

THE MINISTER – I know this recognition is no longer unilateral once other countries also recognize Kosovo. I gather the United States recognized it an hour or so ago. This recognition was inevitable, as the Serbs very well know. After my very many long conversations in Belgrade with the Serbs, not just from Kosovo but also from Serbia, everyone knew that one day a solution would have to be found.

We tried everything for many long months. Nothing has happened to make us believe that in the near future, in a few months or years, the dialogue was going to start. A decision became necessary. So I’d say to my Serbian friends, who knew this and were expecting it, that I think, believe, am determined to do the utmost to enable this decision to settle, not worsen, the relations between the Serbs and Kosovars and relations between all the region’s peoples.

I’m not announcing peace for tomorrow. Peace is immediate, peace is now. There’s already been peace for some months thanks to the United Nations intervention, to this multilateralism, and to the fact that we prefer a calm situation rather than brutality, peace rather than war. Over the centuries, from generation to generation, the Serbs and Kosovars weren’t able to talk to each other. We hope this is going to change with the new situations which will mean that, of necessity, they will move together towards Europe. You’ll see, things are going to move faster than people think. There will very soon be joint projects. You know, with business people, the private sphere, things move very fast. It’s already starting.


[*Q. – Aren’t you afraid of the domino effect?*]

THE MINISTER – No, not that much. In any case, it isn’t because of this text that we need to start fearing it. I know that in Macedonia, on the contrary – since you talk about a number of minorities in Macedonia – it’s because there was an intervention by the international community, which that time was a preventive one, that there was no war. And I don’t think there will be one now, just as I think there won’t be one in Montenegro either. What I believe is that all these Serbian populations will go somewhere together, and that’s the European Union. There will be joint projects, a cultural life which they will pursue together.


[*Q. – How will the European Union be able to sign a stabilization and association agreement with Kosovo if some States don’t recognize it?*]

THE MINISTER – Don’t jump the gun. There’s no question of signing one with Kosovo immediately. (…) What we’d like to see is an agreement on Serbia one day becoming a European Union candidate country. Let’s not go too fast, it will take years, even though the peoples, at the project and political levels, are already moving in this direction. All this is known, it’s no surprise.


Yesterday, the whole press was saying: "Europe, disunion", "Europe, division". Well no! It’s the opposite. There’s a joint text and no one has ever said – except when completely carried away – that we were going obligatorily to have the same position. There are countries, once again, which are way off recognizing Kosovo’s independence and others which are ready to do so. But we’ve decided, together, that Europe would maintain its unity despite its differences: this is what’s essential. Now, you are going to see, the Serbs aren’t going to rush towards the European Union. Tomorrow, regrettably, Serbia isn’t going to say: "I’m a candidate for European Union membership", but the day after tomorrow, yes, I’m sure. (…)


[*Q. – Some people in Belgrade think that the European Union is throwing Serbia into Russia’s hands?*]

THE MINISTER – That really isn’t the case. That’s not at all what we want.

[*Q. – It would be a counter-reaction?*]

THE MINISTER – I hope any desire for a counter-reaction will be negated by political intelligence and the appetite for European culture. I think Serbia, very naturally – and she’s already doing this –, is going to lean not towards Russia but towards Europe, to which she is drawn. We’ve tried to convince our Russian friends not to stand in the way. As you saw at the United Nations Security Council yesterday, Russia was very isolated. Look at those who spoke, those who are coming forward and expressing a view. I don’t think it’s a good thing to try and lead our Serbian friends down that path. They have to open up to modernity and human rights with the European Union, and do what’s necessary [for accession], if they wish to – we’re not forcing them to. At any rate, this is what I sincerely hope. Don’t think that by adopting this approach we’re taking a stand against the Serbs. No, on the contrary, we clearly felt a decision had to be taken, we’ve done so for months.

[*Q. – Why did the draft declaration prepared by the Slovenian presidency pose so many problems?*]


THE MINISTER – In fact, if you look at the details, there were things which have disappeared, which weren’t helpful. There were perhaps fewer references to territorial integrity and the independence of States, like those contained in the United Nations Charter. This Spanish proposal was at the same time concise and allowed everyone to reach agreement. You can compare them: all the important elements [of the Slovenian text] are in the Spanish declaration, amended, but only very slightly. It’s shorter, simpler and, I believe, is practically of the same nature. There are some important sentences we accepted because we felt, very sincerely, that we had to have a common text. We’ve known this for a long time: discussions between 27 of us are always hard – everyone has their say, no one avoids this. It’s a difficult problem morally, very difficult politically and not simple psychologically. No one wants to carve up the countries on the map. People had to endure a lot of brutality, hardship, fighting, suffering and tears before this point was reached./.

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