Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Interview for Albanian Daily News
Presevo Valley is not alone! We will build the new maternity hospital for the residents.
SMI International Secretary: Albanian diplomacy will continue its constructive line, despite Serbia’s brutal behaviour.

ADN: Mr. Gjoni, in your view, what is taking place in the Presevo Valley?

Ralf Gjoni: We believe that Serbia’s decision to bring down the monument dedicated to the UCPMB’s veterans is an unnecessary act of brutality against the Albanians of southern Serbia, which in my view shows signs of Albanophobia while it gives a clear signal of negative developments in the region. If Serbia is serious about its engagements towards the EU and aims to achieve good neighbourly relations, its leaders should understand that peace and stability in the Balkans do not come through masked special forces or through Kalashnikovs and terror exercised against the Albanians of the Presevo Valley, but through concrete programmes of economic development and employment for the area. Serbia’s leaders have decided to choose the path of terror and conflict, showing to the world they are militarily in control of the area. The message given is that Albanians in Serbia should “shut up” and obey the orders of Belgrade. For us, as SMI, a party in Government in Tirana, Serbia’s actions are deplorable, and its leaders should know clearly that times have changed from the era of Milosevic, and that Albanians in the Presevo Valley are no longer alone or isolated.

ADN: But, don’t you think that Serbia has a right to protect its territorial integrity?

Ralf Gjoni: I believe that a civilised country should first protect and serve its citizens, and at the same time ensure security within and around its borders. But this is not the case in the Presevo Valley. The UCPMB monument, was not a threat to the lives of other citizens in Serbia. Instead, it is an expression of the national pride and identity of Albanians, as a minority within Serbia. As such, Serbia is in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, which embodies the rights of minorities and their freedom of expression. This is not how minorities are treated across democratic countries in Europe. Unfortunately, Serbia has shown that it has a long way to go in guaranteeing better rights and conditions for the Albanians in the Presevo Valley, while continues to regard them as third class citizens.

ADN: How do you view PM Berisha’s statement that Tirana will review its relations with Belgrade, and do you believe that Albania’s and Kosovo’s response has been adequate?

Ralf Gjoni: I believe that the response of the Albanian diplomacy has been in line with our constitutional duty to protect the rights and interests of Albanians outside of Albania. Since the historical visit of Mr. Meta to Belgrade and then to Presevo, a lot of things have changed. We have now removed visas between Albania and Serbia, human exchanges have increased drastically between Presevo and Tirana while some initiatives have taken place in aid of the residents. 

While some isolated and unacceptable incidents of vandalisms in Kosovo have taken place, and some rhetoric from the albanosphere has been quite harsh, I believe that Albania should not lower its standards to those of Serbia. We pride ourselves as the country with the most constructive and positive foreign policy in the region, and despite emotional provocations from negative elements in the region, we should continue our constructive policy, but at the same time being firmer in defending the interests of Albanians across the region, by using every bilateral and multilateral mechanism we have at hand. Mr. Meta also spoke with Mr. Ragmi Mustafa on the phone and encouraged him and other Albanian leaders to remain calm and act responsibly, while guaranteeing them of Tirana’s full support. 

On the other hand, we believe that the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia should go ahead and that the positive momentum achieved in the region in recent years, together with our strategic international partners, should not be allowed to be spoiled. 

However, we encourage Serbia’s leadership to abandon old, outdated methods and engage constructively and actively with the Albanians of the Presevo Valley. As raised during Mr. Meta’s visit to Belgrade, but also by Mr. Panariti in his recent meetings, Serbia needs to start investing in the forgotten Presevo Valley and should allow Albanians to have access to jobs in the state administration in the area. Also, Serbia should invest much more in infrastructure and not delay building the maternity. You should be aware that the economic isolation of the area, results in the gradual decrease of the Albanian population in southern Serbia, as many are forced to emigrate. After talks with Presevo’s Mayor Mr. Ragmi Mustafa we have decided to initiate a contribution from Tirana, and we have agreed to finance the maternity through our Government budget. Hopefully, Serbia will not block such contributions from Tirana. We do it not only to help the Albanians living in the Presevo Valley, but also because we believe that only by improving the living standards and opportunities for the area, we can go ahead in securing lasting peace and stability in the region. The response of Tirana and Prishtina should remain within the limits of constructivism and in line with our European aspirations.

ADN: What is the solution to Presevo Valley’s problems and should the international factor play a greater role?

Ralf Gjoni: The EU’s role in mediating talks between Prishtina and Belgrade and in conditioning Serbia in its European path has been crucial and highly important. I believe that both the US and EU are closely following the developments and their influence and contribution is invaluable. However, through its latest acts of force in Presevo, Serbia is showing that it likes to have EU candidate status, but it does not like to act like a candidate country. The EU should take note of that.

In our view, all countries of the region should adhere to the democratic values of Europe, particularly when it comes to its minorities, and should be serious in their path to joining the EU, for our common future lies in Europe, despite certain political leaders who are in power only temporarily. The solution to minimising ethnic conflicts in the Balkans is the removal of barriers, economic development and full integration into the European Union.

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