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This is a transcript of an interview made at Radio B92ís head-to-head award-winning talk show Point Blank (Kaěiprst)

Independence is an option
January 31st, 2006

I think Belgrade should concentrate on what will be the position of Serbs in Kosovo. How can their position be protected. How can conditions be created so that those who were forced to leave in 1999 have the option to return, and itís a genuine option that if they choose to do so, they can do so with security. These are important features and I made that absolutely plain to the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team, whom I saw yesterday, and I think theyíve got the message. I think they understand that if they are to make progress towards their aspiration, they have to work for it. They have to reach out and include the Kosovo Serb community in the future status arrangements.

Journalist: Ljubica Gojgic
Guest: John Sawyers, British Foreign Office Political Director

Real audio: dwnload | stream

B92: Mr. Sawyers, did you or did you not state in Pristina that Kosovo will become independent?

Sawyers: What I said was that we were now embarked on a final status process for Kosovo. This has been going for two months now. We had an important meeting in London last Tuesday at the ministerial level to set the way ahead and some important decisions were taken there. One of those important decisions was that the future status of Kosovo had to be multiethnic, in which all communities could live freely, could work, could travel and could live at peace in Kosovo, whether they are part of the majority or one of the minorities. We were clear that all people in Kosovo should have a right to take part in the government institutions, and that local communities should have a large degree of self-rule over matters like education, health and even policing. We agreed that the Serb religious and historic monuments in Kosovo needed to be properly protected, much better than they have been in recent years and that people in Serbia should have the right to visit them. There are all important issues and I made those clear to the communities in Kosovo, particularly the majority community. I also made clear that, because of the particular history of Kosovo, the number of options for Kosovo were limited. We in the international community have ruled out returning to the situation before 1999. We cannot conceive of Kosovo turning to rule from Belgrade. We have ruled out Kosovo having a union with another country. We also all opposed the partition of Kosovo, because we think that will have a negative effect, including in Serbia. So there are a limited number of options and the events of 1980 and 1990s, the violence, the ethnic cleansing, the rejection of president Milosevic of the Rambouillet accords, which would have given a different outcome, and then finally the conflict in 1999, have narrowed those options, such that the outcome of the future status will need to be acceptable for the majority of people in Kosovo. We made that clear in the Contact Group statement. Now, we know that the majority of the people aspire to independence. Some will say that is the only option. This clearly is an option, but was is most important in these negotiations is that the minority communities, in particular the Kosovo Serb community, should be able to play a full part in Kosovoís future, to be able to live and work at peace, ease and be an integral part of a future Kosovo. That is what I said to all the communities there.

B92: If I were a Kosovo Serb facing you at this table, I would interpret your statement this way: you did not openly state that Kosovo will be independent, but you have more than suggested this by what you said yesterday and by what you are saying now. Is the independence of Kosovo an option you clearly give preference to?

Sawyers: Independence is clearly an option. It is one of a limited number of options, but what is most important is that these criteria for a future status settlement should all be met. Full participation, full equality of the people, proper decentralisation, proper protection for Serb monuments and churches, and acceptability for the majority of the people in Kosovo. Now this is not going to be easy to achieve. It is going to require a lot of hard work by all those who participate in the negotiations. Another message I gave, and I mentioned it here as well in Belgrade, is that those who participate fully and generously and in a spirit of inclusiveness are more likely to achieve their goals in these negotiations than those who stand aside. I encourage the Kosovo Serb community in particular to play a full part in these negotiations, because it is their future that is at stale, as well as of the majority community in Kosovo.

B92: What should the Kosovo Serbs negotiate over?

Sawyers: All these issues. About how decentralisation will work. About how they can play a proper part in the government of Kosovo. About how their minority rights can best be protected. About what should be the role of the international community. About what are the links between Kosovo Serbs and the Serbs in Serbia. These are huge details. How Kosovo should be policed. What should be the arrangements for the defence of Kosovo. All these matters need to come forward and be properly negotiated.

B92: My British colleagues from Economist magazine and analyst Tim Juda are right when they claim that the essence of Kosovo negotiations is the status of Serbs within an independent Kosovo state?

Sawyers: I think that is the area that people in Belgrade rightly should concentrate on. What will be the position of Serbs in Kosovo. How can their position be protected. How can conditions be created so that those who were forced to leave in 1999 have the option to return, and itís a genuine option that if they choose to do so, they can do so with security. These are important features and I made that absolutely plain to the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team, whom I saw yesterday, and I think theyíve got the message. I think they understand that if they are to make progress towards their aspiration, they have to work for it. They have to reach out and include the Kosovo Serb community in the future status arrangements.

B92: There is a report written by Kai Eide about the future status where says that the standards have not been reached. There is a statement from UN General Secretary Mr Kofi Anan who said he was displeased with the situation in the province. It has been seven years since we had the conflicts in Kosovo and we still have many displaced Serbs who havenít returned, who canít even think about returning. We had the March 17th events and we still have the situation that if you want to go and visit what has remained from your home, you must have a UN armed escort. So, what is the basis for your optimism regarding what you have mentioned about the possibilities to achieve a functioning democracy in Kosovo?

Sawyers: I think there are a couple of things that give me optimism. The first is that. I think all the people in Kosovo recognise that the present status quo is not sustainable. That violence is not an option, which will enable any community to achieve its goals. It has to be achieved through a process of negotiation. Now, Kai Eide was exactly right when he said that there had been inadequate progress on standards. We agree with him. Our ministers in the Contact Group were clear that there would have to be fuller implementation of standards in this period ahead. But we believe that with a concerted effort and negotiation, we can achieve a successful outcome during the course of 2006.

B92: This hasnít been achieved in the past six years.

Sawyers: No, but we have only just started. The final status process started two months agoÖ

B92: It needs to be finished in the following 10 months?

Sawyers: Yes. We agreed, all the members of the Contact Group agreed that we should try to reach an agreement in 2006 and we all gave unqualified support for Marti Ahtisaari and his effort. Every country there: America, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia. We all gave unqualified support to Mr. Ahtisaari. The second reason why I am optimistic on this is not to do with Kosovo as such, but it is about the future of this whole region. The younger generation here are not so concerned about parts of the past, the legacy. They are much more concerned about their prospects in the future. They want to be able to live and work and travel anywhere in Europe and to be part of Europe. That is Serbiaís future and that can only be unlocked when these legacy issues of the past are properly resolved. Look at other parts of the former Yugoslavia.

B92: So blame it on the youngsters, right?

Sawyers: Iím not blaming the youngsters. Iím not blaming the youngsters. What I am saying is that the youngsters are holding the key to Serbiaís future. You look at a place like Slovenia. 15 years ago it was at war. Now it is a full member of the European Union and a full member of NATO. Look at Croatia. Ten years ago it was at war and at the end of last year they cleared away the last obstacle, by arresting General Gotovina, to starting negotiations for EU membership, to starting negotiations for NATO membership, and I predict that in several years time, Croatia will be a full member of these organisations. The same future is available for Serbia.

B92: But is it possible that you cannot see the difference between Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia? Because who want to join Europe in Serbia, and Iím sure they are a majority, have to agree to forget about a significant part of the county, a part that is of special historical and cultural significance.

Sawyers: You and I canít change the past. There was a constitution for Kosovo that was unilaterally set aside by Slobodan Milosevic. There was a great deal of violence and repression in Kosovo by forces under the command of president Milosevic. There was a negotiation in Rambouillet where an autonomy agreement was available, which was rejected by president Milosevic. There was a conflict in which many people lost their lives, tens of thousands of people suffered and were forced from their homes and in the end the Serb army was expelled from Kosovo. This is a history that the young people canít change. A history that the present leaders of Serbia canít change. But it something that we have all inherited and we all have to overcome. But the future for Serbia is not in that sort of past. The future for Serbia is as part of the European Union. That is what I believe young Serbs, like young Poles and young Hungarians, before that young Greeks, young Portuguese, aspired to and have now achieved. They are now part of the European Union. Their countries are more democratic, more stable and they are vastly more prosperous and they have vastly more freedoms. And that is the future that Serbia has available. But Serbia has to address these issues, which had been left to it by the bad rule of president Milosevic in the 1990s. That is what has to happen. When Serbia can do that, the future in Europe is open.

B92: We donít need to go back to Rambouillet, but I disagree that it was all that easy and that it was only Milosevic who rejected the agreement.

Sawyers: These issues are never easy.

B92: I am reporting on the Milosevic trial for B92 and if you listen to what witnesses say at the trial, you can hear then quoting Madeleine Albright saying that the American administration waited for the proper moment to interrupt the negotiations, so that there would be an excuse for bombing Yugoslavia.

Sawyers: No, no, thatís not the case

B92: I think it is really far fetched if you just say that it was Milosevic who rejected Rambouillet, but what is more interesting for me is that thesis that is unfolding and started wit the diplomats from the US, and which you seem to be supporting, that Serbia has to pay the price for the mistakes of the Milosevic regime and that price is Kosovo. Is that a new principle in international relations, how does that collide with the principles of international law?

Sawyers: Every country has to accept the legacy of its past. Look what Germany had to go through after 1945 to overcome the terrible past the Germans had Ė the repression of the Jews, the violence and the wars that had been conducted in Germanyís name in 1914 and again in 1939. Look what happened in Hungary after the First World War, when Hungary became a nation-state. Every country has to overcome its own past before it can embrace the future. It is a difficult task. Croatia has just been though it, youíve been though it yourselves, and it is difficult. You have lost some leaders, people like Zoran Djindjic in this struggle. But you canít go back and you canít stay stuck half-way to dealing with the legacy of the past. You have got to address these legacy issues, you have got to address what happened in Kosovo and what was done in the name of Serbs in Bosnia and the last thing you have to do there is arrest general Mladic and other indictees. Once these things are done, once the past is addressed then the future is open.

B92: How do you comment our statement by our Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, who, Iím sure you are aware, belonged to the opposition and was not part of Milosevicís regime, but who feels that you are punishing the new democratic Serbia for what Milosevic did?

Sawyers: No, we are not punishing the new democratic Serbia at all. We are here to help the new democratic Serbia, to complete the transition from the past to the future. I am a great admirer of the democratic leaders of Serbia. I think they have moved this country a long way forward. But there are still difficult issues to address. If Serbia is to finally free itself from the legacy of president Milosevic, then these final issues need to be addressed. I know Vuk Draskovic from my meetings with him and I would have met him today had he not been abroad. I believe that the present democratic leaders of Serbia have a great opportunity to complete this transition and to lead Serbia in the direction of membership in the European Union and membership of NATO, which will secure the future of this country for the next century in a very European way, which creates massive opportunities for young Serbs. Isnít that what young Serbs want?

B92: Are you aware that the leader who sings the documents for the independence of Kosovo could easily forget about dreams for the future. I mean, you are aware that they would become ex-leaders if they do not confront what you are suggesting?

Sawyers: I think if the leaders of Serbia took part in these negotiations in a way that successfully protected the interests of the Serb community in Kosovo, enabled Serbs to return, protected the Serb history and religious sights in Kosovo, I think if a leader can achieve those things, they will be respected. Leadership is not about simply responding to the wishes of the majority at anyone time, itís not leadership at all. Leadership is about identifying where a countryís future lies and taking the people in that direction despite the difficulties, despite the reluctance to go over those hurdles. There were great leaders in history and theyíve all done it through acts of leadership, often against the instinctive wishes of the majority of the people, but in a clear determination to achieve an objective which is quite definitely in the interests of the nation of their people. We have seen that across history. I think the people who lead Serbia to membership of the European Union, to membership of NATO and to freedom, escaping from the sad and bad past of the 1990s will be much remembered and celebrated in years to come.

B92: Finally, letís mentioned the leadership of another country Ė the Russian Federation. Are you anxious over president Putinís most recent statement? He said that the Contact Group and all the others who are to negotiate over the future status of Kosovo should be reminded of the universal principles, that the Kosovo issue does not only address a province in Serbia, but also principles that are adopted for Kosovo and Serbia could be then used universally and, obviously, there is anxiety over certain regions of the former Soviet Union, in the Russian Federation. The message, as I understood it, is that there are many countries in Europe that might fear from the same approach in the future.

Sawyers: Well, you can read what president Putin said in a number of ways. I think Putin was focusing more on the issues of Russiaís borders that he was on what is happening further away. What we have seen in the last 10 years is Russia recently focused on the countries in its immediate region, rather than further abroad and you could see this, what president Putin had said, as a way of joining the consensus in the Contact Group as to the way forward. Now, as Iíve explained, the British view is that there are certain unique characteristics to Kosovo - its history, the conflict, the ethic cleansing, the UN resolutions, which make it a unique case. Every case has to be addressed on its merits. In international law there are principles of territorial integrity and there are principles of self-determination. These two principles, which are often seen as being in conflict with one another, have to be applied in particular instances and the particular histories of those territories have to be taken fully into account. That is what is happening in Kosovo. That is what will happen elsewhere, whether it is Chechnya, Abkhazia, wherever it is. Whether it is in parts of Russia or in other countries. Each issue will be looked at on its own particular merits. None is identical to Kosovo.

B92: So, to wrap up before I thank you for this interview, the Kosovo Serbs were not entirely correct, but they were not very far from the truth either, when they understood that it was independence that you had in mind?

Sawyers: I think I would urge your listeners to take what I said about the British view, rather than what Mr. Bogdanovic said about the British view. Iíve just expressed our approach. I have been talking to the leaders here and the leaders of the Kosovo Serb community and the Kosovo Albanian community, reflecting the discussion amongst the Contact Group. We are keen to make progress. We need to chart our way forward and that is what we are doing. There are some difficult issues to overcome, but we believe that with full participation and engagement, all parties can address their fundamental concerns and interests and we can all achieve a multiethnic Kosovo, adding to peace and stability in this region that we all want to see, and that open up a great future for Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and the whole region as part of Europe.

B92: The reason why I asked this question is that [Serbian] Prime Minister Kostunica, after having met with met with members of his Cabinet today, issued a statement in which they call on the UK to respect the Contact Group principles and to respect the decisions that were reached a week ago in London. So, we thought maybe there was a certain misunderstanding.

Sawyers: I can assure you, or I can assure through you, the people of Serbia that the UK support the Contact Group guiding principles 100% and is also 100% behind the communiquť that was issued by our ministers in a meeting that was chaired by Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, and is committed to achieving an agreement, an outcome, to the future status process during the course of this year. Iíve described what we believe that process needs to embrace.

B92: Thank you for talking to us and our listeners

Sawyers: Thank you


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