Speeches

Speech by Tony Blair to National Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo

Friday 9th July 2010

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Mr President, Mr Prime Minister

Urime! 

Une jam i krenar per ju!

Congratulations.  I am proud of you. 

I recall late in 1998, the visit to Downing Street of Ibrahim Rugova. He was a quiet, modest man. He gave me a little present of purple and white crystal. I kept it all through my time in Downing Street on desk. Now it is on the mantelpiece in my home.

He told me the truth about Kosovo, the plight of its people, the need for the world to listen, the duty of the world to act. He didn’t shout, he didn’t make his case in slogans or extravagant gestures. He just spoke gently but with a most impressive sincerity. As he left he said to me: “Please, I ask only this: do not let my people suffer any more. Feel for them as you would for your own. And help.”

I said Britain would help. I gave him my “besa.” My bond. I kept it. Today I remember Ibrahim Rugova and pay tribute to his leadership, determination and wisdom.

I recall too my first meetings with ordinary Kosovans, in the refugee camps of Macedonia, living in tents, not knowing what future, if any would be theirs, alone, vulnerable. I recall our conversations, the stories of brutality and misery. But I recall also the pride, and the courage. It is 11 years ago now. And here you are, still with immense challenges ahead, but with today a state, recognition from 69 countries, membership of the IMF and World Bank and most of all – peace.

We helped. NATO helped. Britain and our brave armed forces helped. But above all, it was your achievement, yours the people of the independent sovereign state of Kosovo.

The Ambassador showed me today the New Born monument here in Pristina. It is simple, plain and inspiring. Its signatures, thousands of them, from people making their own declarations of independence.  It’s also symbolic.  What we did, when we intervened in 1999, was to give you the chance of a new chapter in Kosovo’s history. But it was for you to write it. And you are.

I know that my good friend President Bill Clinton came to speak to you here a few months ago. In his speech he made much reference to Rwanda. As you know, he shared my very basic view - never again.  It was his commitment to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, despite the very difficult decisions that followed for both of us and others, which ensured NATO involvement. It was at first a rescue mission, upholding European values, values shared then as now with the United States of America.

But for both of us, it eventually became clear that the only way to continue the defence of those values of peace and of freedom, was to allow Kosovo the independence that it had largely achieved anyway in the last years of Tito.  We hold to that view. Kosovo’s independence was right. Kosovo’s independence is a fact.  And Kosovo’s independence will endure.

Now you must determine the nature of the state – not its borders or its sovereignty, but its institutions, its economy, its values.

This state of Kosovo is a state that belongs not to one group or one religion. It is for all the people of Kosovo.

The Albanian majority here suffered grievously as a result of the idea that the Balkan borders could be re-designed along ethnic lines.  So as Bernard Kouchner said to you when he also addressed you recently, you know how it feels.  This must be a state consistent with the values that drove its formation, a state for all those who have lived here for generations- Albanians, Bosniaks, Turks, Gorani, Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians…. And Serbs.  

As you will know, having adopted it into your Constitution, President Ahtisaari’s Plan does everything it can to accommodate Kosovo’s minorities and Serbs in particular.  It is right to do so.  And you are right to follow it.

I salute what you have done so far.  Especially, I was glad to see your government, Hashim, work methodically with Pieter Feith’s office to bring about the formation of Serb majority municipalities with decentralised authority, consistent with best practice on decentralisation in the European Union.  And the response of your Serb citizens in voting in municipal elections was immensely heartening. It was a tribute also to them and their commitment to this country.

But please, Fatmir, please Hashim, keep going. Go the extra mile. And to all Kosovo Albanians I say what you know already: if you ensure that the government and institutions of Kosovo reach out to every member of every community in this country, they can play their part in making your shared country great.  They are already in your government, they are already in your police, they need to be judges in your courts and ultimately when you have a full fledged army, ready to contribute to NATO, they need to be in that too.  All who live in Kosovo are Kosovans. And they will be writing the future, as one nation, one people, equal before the law.

The European Union is your future.  Itself, it is a multi-ethnic unity. It celebrates its diversity.

I love your recent publicity slogan - Kosovo: the Young Europeans. You are the newest country in Europe with also Europe’s youngest population.

The European Union is not an easy club to join.  Its standards are exacting. And you are a very new state, not a rich one, and one that suffered in the years up to 1999 from disinvestment and neglect.  So getting into the EU will take time. As in any other club, you have to respect the rules.  In this club, that means the rule of law.

There are historical reasons for why the rule of law in Kosovo is not yet all that it might be. You have been engaged in a long freedom struggle. But, you have your state now.  Whatever alliances of expediency there may have been with those outside the law in the past, must be severed.  You Kosovans now make the laws.  You Kosovans must both police them, and keep them.

So I am glad, Mr President, Mr Prime Minister, that you have reiterated your support for EULEX. It is there to help Kosovo entrench the rule of law.  It is the European Union’s biggest single field assistance mission in the world- by far.  It is a vital part of preparing the nation for Europe. However hard, its path must be taken.

Europe will also support and underline a commitment that you, Mr President and Mr Prime Minister, have made already - to combat corruption. Corruption corrodes popular support for the state. It breeds inefficiency. It undermines hard work. It can never be justified. Its absence is an essential pre-condition of European Union membership.

You also need investment. To invest, businessmen seek security of contract - the rule of law again.  To invest, businessmen need confidence in the courts.  And you need foreign investment.

British investors, along with others, are already showing real interest- in services, tourism, mining, agriculture.  Kosovan wine is already being sold in British supermarkets.

Your diaspora, developing businesses and sending money home, will also give you a head start as the doors to the European Union, and the benefits of the Europe-wide free market, begin to open for you.  Yesterday’s resolution of the European Parliament, especially with its strong reference to visa liberalisation, shows you have support.

I have been asked often since arriving in Pristina, how best to accelerate progress towards Europe. The answer is simple. Build your institutions, build the rule of law, open up and build your economy and European membership will, in time, be yours. Europe has left its door open. But it is for you to enter in. Europe is your destiny – in your hands. So fulfil that destiny. Join us. Enter in.

Your friends are here to help you. I pay tribute to all the internationals who over the last eleven years have given of their talents, their time, occasionally endangered their safety and even their lives, to help you in your mission. The men and women of KFOR, of UNMIK and the other UN agencies, of the OSCE, of the Council of Europe, of EULEX and the ICO – custodians of Ahtisaari’s Plan.  I pay tribute to Marti Ahtisaari himself, a great man deservedly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

I know relations with Serbia remain fraught. Serbia is also a friend of the UK and itself has ambitions for Europe. At least the tension today is diplomatic. In time I hope that will also change so that the memory of those terrible events becomes a distant reminder of a past left behind.

There were many reasons why after decades, even centuries of conflict, we were able to bring peace to Northern Ireland. One reason was, with both Britain and the Irish Republic in Europe, we stopped defining ourselves by reference to past enmities and began to regard future opportunities. Today our nations are close.

So we are not condemned perpetually to repeat our history. New Born means more than a new state. It means new hope. New possibility. A new state of mind.

For me, the insistence that we intervened those years ago, was off course first and foremost about Kosovo and Kosovans. But it was more than that. It arose from a view I had of the world and how it was changing. I held that view then. I hold it now.

We intervened because to have allowed ethnic cleansing here on the doorstep of the European Union, would have been a gross dereliction of duty, an obscenity. So, yes there was a moral case. But there was also a case in our enlightened self-interest. Today’s world is interdependent. Few problems – financial, security or cultural – remain isolated within traditional borders. We did not intervene in Bosnia in the early 1990s, when hundreds of thousands died in conflict. Did that save us from the consequences of such savagery? It only postponed the moment of action. Had we left Kosovo to its fate, the result would not just have been catastrophic for you, but disaster for us.

The characteristics of your struggle were part of a bigger picture. And as you search for your place in the multinational institutions of global governance including the EU and NATO, your future, your progress can also affect the world as much as the struggle of your past.

The bricks of the New Born still have much to be written on them.

In my three years since stepping down from Downing Street I have been working in different parts of the world, notably the Middle East, but also Africa and visit regularly now the Far East, as well as the more familiar places of America and Europe. Here is what I have learnt.

First, religious or cultural extremism, not political ideology, right or left, is the biggest challenge we face. I have started a foundation dedicated to greater understanding and respect between those of different faiths. To me faith is a set of values, a code by which to lead your life. It should not be a badge of identity worn in opposition to those who do not share that faith. We may have different paths to God. But humility in deference to God’s will, should teach us not to declare those of one faith superior to those of another, one human being inferior to another. We are all God’s children equal in God’s sight. I believe that regardless of race, religion, gender or class, human beings should have the same rights everywhere. So let us learn to live with each others in peaceful co-existence not divide from each other in prejudice or hate.

Secondly, there could be no more powerful harbinger of such a world than if we were able to bring peace to Israel and Palestine. Israel should have its security and recognition. Palestine should have the dignity and justice of their own independent, viable and sovereign state. I am working on this as Quartet Representative. I will work at it until it is done.

Thirdly, the fight against global poverty affects us all. One million people die every year in Africa from malaria alone, mostly women and children. We should judge any society by the condition of the weak not the strong. That is true of a nation. It is true of a global community. If we fail to help Africa’s struggling people to a better future, we will let them down and only store up greater trouble for our own future.

Fourth, this interdependence I described is not diminishing but growing. We see it in the financial crisis. We see it in climate change and the environment. We see it in the fight against terrorism. We see it in the battle against organised crime. We will see it soon in the new issues arising: food security, water and population.

So the world our children are growing up in, is a world in which nations do not stand alone but together, people should not divide from each other but must live together, and where every one of us is confronted by a world shrinking, changing, and evolving rapidly under the pressure of science, technology and globalisation.

Countries that succeed, people who succeed, are those who are open minded, tolerant, prepared to adapt, ready to partner, eager to learn. Nations who understand this can progress quickly even if they start from behind. Nations who don’t, can decline even if they start well ahead.

This is the world that greets your new state of Kosovo. You may look at it and see challenges of politics, of development, of institutional capacity that seem too daunting to contemplate.

But realise this: with the right attitude there is nothing you cannot achieve. Why can I say that? Because look at what you did achieve. You took a country whose people were dispossessed, killed, oppressed and forgotten, and made it a symbol of hope, determination and freedom.

What you did then to create the state of Kosovo, you now must do to build it. It isn’t a false dream, a delusion, something beyond your ability. You had a dream before. You realised it. There is a dream for you now. That one day and in a future I hope to live to see, Kosovo takes its place as a member of the European Union, a proud independent state not just directing its own affairs but playing its part in those of the largest political and commercial union and in the world.

To do that you must be true to the values which gave rise to the Republic of Kosovo. Those values were of course about freedom. But they were also about the values intrinsic to Europe itself. That after the horrors of World War Two, and the holocaust, never again would we see racism, with all its savagery, suppress a people, never again would we permit the innocent to be butchered without mercy, never again would we pass by whilst those we could help, suffered in agony without it. That injustice to one person was injustice to all. That is why we were right to liberate Kosovo and its people from tyranny. Those are the values we share. They are as relevant now as when we fought for them together here in Kosovo eleven years ago. They are what will bind us together, you and the other nations of the Balkans, in peace, in Europe in the future.

Eleven years ago, sitting in a tent in Macedonia, such a thought would have seemed impossible. But you have shown that what seems impossible, can indeed come to pass. Show that same spirit now. Show the same courage. Show the same striving to achieve. And you will achieve it.

Good luck and thank you all. It was my honour to help you then. It is my pleasure to be with you now. It would be a privilege to be part of your great future. Thank you.