In an exceptional visit to Jerusalem, the Assistant to Kosovo’s Foreign Minister tried to gain official recognition for her tiny, fledgling country.
By Hanno Hauenstein
Earlier this month, Ines Demiri became the first Kosovar official to come on a mission to Israel. Demiri did not manage to ease Israel’s firm objection to officially recognize her tiny, fledgling state. Nevertheless, she prefers to look at the glass half full: “I was invited by the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs,” she tells i24news in an exclusive interview. “That shows good relations exist between Israel and Kosovo. We tried our best to convince them of an affirmative decision.”
Demiri, the Assistant to the Foreign Minister and the daughter of Kosovo’s tiny Jewish community President Votim Demiri, explains why Israel means more than just another number on the list of the 108 UN member states, among them the United States and Germany, which have so far recognized Kosovo’s independence.
“Kosovo and Israel share a deep historic connection”, she says. “They are built upon a similar idea of national self-determination. It’s also memorable that Kosovo Albanians helped rescue Jews during World War II. The Jews have a long history here. We look back on six centuries of coexistence with all the other ethnic groups in the region.”
In the course of the past year, two events spread hope in Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008 . First was Kosovo’s recognition by the International Olympic Committee in October, which cleared the way for the former Serbian province to send its athletes to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Secondly, Kosovo was granted legitimacy by one of the most influential determinants of identity, Facebook, which now enables users to register as citizens of Kosovo instead of the former option: Serbia.
Demiri sees Facebook’s adaptation as a crucial step. She describes Kosovo’s inclusion in the social networking platform as a key priority of its digital diplomacy. “Nowadays Facebook is everywhere. We’re very happy to be represented there,” she tells i24news.
But Kosovo’s path to a de facto state recognition is still bumpy. Israel’s unwillingness to recognize Kosovo as an independent state stems from concerns that Palestinians will avail themselves of the Kosovo recognition to bolster their own cause: the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Dan Oryan, head of the Balkan department at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, does not deny this concern but tries to present the issue in a broader context.
“You could call this a mirror issue,” he tells i24news. “The process of reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo bears many similarities to our process with the Palestinians. Israel will happily congratulate Kosovo on its independence. But if we recognize it now, we diminish the significance of the talks that took place between the Serbs and the Kosovars. It’s the same thing with a Palestinian state. We want it, but if we recognize it now, the Palestinians wouldn’t come to the negotiating table anymore. This would just send out the wrong signals.”
Yet, the talks between Kosovo and Serbia were not a developing process. In fact, they seemed more like forced small talk in the antechamber of European Union headquarters. Why would Israel care so much about impinging on those talks, if a normalization of the Serbian-Kosovar-relationship (the final aim as formulated in the 2013 Brussels agreement) is in fact far from being achieved?
Fifteen years after NATO waged war in former Yugoslavia and ten years after the trial of Serbian strongman Slobodan Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity, Serbia still opposes the idea of self-determination for Kosovars. This was made clear just last week, when Albania’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, visited Belgrade, becoming the first official Albanian leader to do so in 68 years. When Rami, who has expressed solidarity with Kosovars of Albanian origin, called for an independent Kosovo as “an undeniable regional and European reality,” his hosts’ response was appalled and unequivocal: “According to the constitution, Kosovo is Serbia,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic answered. He went on to call Rama’s statement a “provocation.”
There may be other factors that account for Israel’s position. Some Israelis fear that a recognition of the Pristina government could unintentionally support the secessionist aspirations of Arab citizens of Israel. These constitute 20 percent of the country’s population, and about 55 percent of the northern Galilee region. Still, the demographic condition of Kosovo, where Albanians compose about 90 percent of the population, is largely different.
In 1999, during the Kosovo war, Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon expressed another concern: Kosovo becoming a center for Islamic terror and anti-Semitism. “There is indeed such a danger,” Oryan agrees, “though today Kosovo doesn’t differ much from other European countries with relevant Islamic populations. But the fact that there are volunteers who leave to be trained by terrorist groups is something we have to be aware of – especially in light of the events of the last months.”
Demiri does not feel any anti-Semitism in her home country. She also values Israel as an invaluable partner. “We remember the great services Israel has granted us over the years. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu gave refuge to many Kosovars in times of war,” she says.
Israel and Kosovo cultivate cultural and economic relations and those ties may even strengthen and warm further, officials in Jerusalem believe. But full Israeli recognition of Kosovo statehood, so it seems, is still far off.
View original i24news publication at: http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/europe/51262-141117-kosovo-desperately-seeking-recognition-by-israel
About the Author:
Hanno Hauenstein is a journalist covering events in Berlin and Tel Aviv.