Kosovo’s National Day this week was only the fifth one since the declaration of independence on 17 February 2008, making it the continent’s newest state. Ambassador of Kosovo to Hungary, Shkendije Geci Sherifi brings us up to date on progress and on ties with Hungary
You have just celebrated your National Day marking the fifth anniversary of this rather young state. Are there any stay-at-homes in protest, or are you receiving more and more support?
As it is approaching the fifth year of statehood, the Republic of Kosovo is proving to be a success story of democratic and multi-ethnic state building. In this journey of success, Kosovo is not alone, it is widely supported by its allies, the US and the majority of EU states, as well as other friendly countries from all over the world. The number of international recognitions is approaching 100.
Hungary quickly recognised the Republic of Kosovo in March 2008 while wishing to remain committed to developing bilateral relations with Serbia. Is there any awkwardness in the three-way relationship?
Hungary was among the first states to recognise the independent state of Kosovo while its foreign policy reflects a clear position on Kosovo: independence of Kosovo serves peace and long-term stability, regional development and other integration processes. The Hungarian government has always been clear in its relationships with Kosovo and Serbia, regarding them as two important but rather separate issues. Hungary is determined in developing bilateral relations with Serbia but with Kosovo as well, claiming that the recognition of the latter should not hinder its relationship with Serbia. Hungary, among others, as a neighbouring country of Serbia is fully committed to support Serbia’s path towards European integration, but at the same time it supports the integration of Kosovo and that of the Western Balkans countries in general.
How is Kosovo developing?
Over the five past years, Kosovo has made remarkable progress, institutions have been established and consolidated, a very advanced legislation framework has been put in place and there has been a constructive approach to regional co-operation. The government of Kosovo has worked with its full competence and commitment to build strong, accountable and transparent democratic institutions, a professional internationally trained police force, and above all, to promote international human rights standards and community rights that are granted by the Constitution of Kosovo. Kosovo is a full member of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Bar Association, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, etc.
How do you promote Kosovo politically, economically and culturally in Hungary?
Relations between Kosovo and Hungary have noted an immense intensification since the establishment of the Embassy of Kosovo in Budapest in early 2010. I have had the historic privilege to become the first Ambassador of Kosovo to Hungary. While I am really proud of this opportunity, at the same time I am fully committed to the best of my capacity to promote Kosovo politically, culturally and economically.
The past years have noted the realisation of high-level bilateral visits such as the one of the President of Kosovo, Prime Minister, Speakers of Parliaments of both Kosovo and Hungary, and a great number of bilateral agreements have been signed, while there are ongoing projects and advanced cooperation in many fields.
The Embassy of Kosovo has also organised cultural events such as exhibitions of Kosovar artists, fashion designers, music performance, etc. in cooperation with Hungarian counterparts which have enormously contributed to the cultural exchange and approximation of our two countries.
What are the trade/business links between Hungary and Kosovo?
One of the recent and most successful activities of the Embassy of Kosovo which marked an advancement of bilateral relations beyond political dimension was the organisation of the economic forum under the patronage of the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr. Thaci. The economic forum took place in Budapest and was honoured with the presence of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr. Orbán. The key objective of this economic forum was to promote investments in Kosovo and to boost economic and trade cooperation between Kosovo and Hungary. This event, apart from the highest political representation, gathered 160 participants, out of which 110 were business representatives from Hungary and Kosovo.
Furthermore, in the margins of this rather big event, three agreements were signed: an agreement between Kosovo Customs and the Hungarian Tax and Customs Authority, an agreement between the Kosovo Agency for Promotion of Investments and the Hungarian Investment and Trade Agency, and an agreement between Kosovo Cham-ber of Com-merce and the Hungarian Chamber for Economy and Industry. The signing of these agreements as well as creation of links and networking among business representatives, in addition to the strong political support, are clear indicators that Kosovo and Hungary are moving on the right track that will provide fruitful results in the economic field in the very near future.
What do Hungarians really know about Kosovo?
Intellectual and political circles know about Kosovo but considering the fact that Kosovo is the second immediate neighbour of Hungary, not much is known about the young state by the general public. Therefore, the Embassy of Kosovo in Budapest uses every opportunity to promote Kosovo in Hungary in various forums and different events. For example, I have participated for three consecutive years in the Sziget Festival, and in the so-called civil society forums organised by Hungarian civil society organisations where I have talked to different NGO representatives and other target groups about developments and progress in Kosovo. We have disseminated different promotion materials and information sheets on Kosovo, as well. In 2010, the embassy also facilitated the participation of a Kosovo alternative music band in the Sziget Festival. Given that this event is one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe, this was an excellent opportunity to inform larger audiences everything they were interested to know about Kosovo.
What is the gender balance in the diplomatic service and in the other institutions of Kosovo in general?
The Kosovo Constitution ensures gender equality as a fundamental value for the democratic development of the society. The Constitution endorses the UN landmarks including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In this regard, affirmative actions were taken to increase women’s participation in public and politics. Two ranges of mechanisms and legal instruments were created: 30 per cent quota for the parliamentary seats and 40 per cent representation of gender in all institutions including political parties, Central Election Commission (CEC) adopted the election regulation on certification of political entities imposing quotas.
Personally, I am not in favour of quotas as I regard them as an intellectual offence. I am very much in support of professionalism and equal opportunities. In any case, in the first Kosovo municipal election in 2000, the imposed quota to the political parties of 30 per cent of women candidates in the list of election proved to be very useful. Further, in 2007 the elections for the Assembly of Kosovo, municipal assemblies and mayors marked a new and very strong positioning of women in the Kosovo political system. Citizens elected a significant number of women.
Let me share a positive example with you since you are a journalist: in 14 out of the 41 Kosovo media outlets, 36 per cent of women journalists cover the international sector. At the national level two dailies, one weekly paper and two television channels are run by women. Therefore, I can conclude that from quotas we have moved towards real and professional participation.