Prospects of Kosovo – Sri Lanka relations and knocking on the door of friendship

Prospects of Kosovo – Sri Lanka relations and knocking on the door of friendship

By Güner UREYA

As the first Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, I followed the developments and general trends in other South Asian countries as well, since we do not have diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries of Bangladesh. One of these countries is Sri Lanka.

As I started writing, I thought about what would be the first thing that Kosovars would associate with Sri Lanka: “Ceylon Tea”, of course! In our Lap region, as well as in our cities of Vushtrri and Prizren, drinking tea has become a ritual. Tea is indispensable for the atmosphere of chatting and love in our families. We don’t add milk to tea like British, we usually drink pure, while some prefer to add a lemon slice to it.  Even though “Ceylon Tea” is labeled on every box in our markets, for some reason some call it “Russian Tea”. Although very few, there are those who call it “Indian Tea”.

In Dhaka, I have made many Sri Lankan friends. They are very friendly individuals.  Most of them I have met are with a positive aura and smile on their faces. During my four years in South Asia, besides other countries, I also tried to follow Colombo’s official position on us, notably Kosovo. They are extremely cordial. Colombo is open to communication, but however, unfortunately it has yet to extend official recognition to the Republic of Kosovo’s independence.  We are trying to tell the Sri Lankan representatives that other nations initially withheld recognition act, but over time they realized that recognizing the Republic of Kosovo was the right step. Recognition of Kosovo is important for peace and stability in the Balkan Peninsula, or, in other words, in Southeast Europe. The independence of the Republic of Kosovo has rectified historical mistakes, ended Serbian occupation and brought peace and freedom to the people.

Since the declaration of the independence of the Republic of Kosovo, we have been in contact with a variety of decision makers, influencers and activists such as Sri Lankan political leaders, civil society activists, artists, business people, etc. We often find the opportunity to meet Sri Lankan people on international platforms. We invited Sri Lankans in the international events organized in Kosovo. We get to know each other better every day. Sri Lanka is an independent, sovereign and free country, so it determines its foreign policy preferences. Sri Lankan leaders on different occasions in the past expressed that they would cooperate and continue contact with Kosovar representatives, which would lead to the construction of interstate relations in the future. Our hope is that Sri Lanka officially recognizes Kosovo as soon as possible.

We know the fact that Serbia, a country against which we had fought for our liberty and with whom we still have disputes, is using various instruments and false arguments to weaken Kosovo’s position internationally. This, naturally to a certain extent affects the formation of prejudices against us in third parties. Serbia’s claim to sovereignty over Kosovo is unrealistic, but also detrimental and this attitude is delaying reconciliation between the two nations.

First of all, it is important to mention that Kosovo is a `sui generis` case and, as such, it cannot be compared to any other situation and cannot represent a precedent for any other entity or territory in the world. Serbia may want to create such a perception in third countries against us for its interests, but if we evaluate studiously the process of the statehood of Kosovo we will understand that it is a `sui generis` and taking it as a precedent for other cases leads to confusion and does not serve to solve problems.”  To understand how Kosovo achieved independence, it is essential to comprehend its history.

In 1989, Belgrade abolished Kosovo’s autonomy and two years later, as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) disintegrated, Kosovo lost its status as a federal entity in the ex-country with rights similar to those of the six republics. During the 1990s Kosovo and its institutions were under the Serbian occupation. Serbian authorities consistently discriminated Kosovars, excluding them from governance and public life, along with exclusion from the health and educational system. In reaction, the Kosovo leadership under Ibrahim Rugova pursued a policy of peaceful resistance for several years, before the lack of progress led to the formation of the Kosovo Liberation Army and armed struggle. This, in turn, encouraged the Serbians to exercise more pressure and atrocities against the Kosovars. Following a failed attempt to negotiate a settlement at Rambouillet, France, in March 1999, NATO decided to stop humanitarian crises in Kosovo and intervened in Serbian targets. During the Serbian atrocities more than half of the Kosovars became refugees or internally displaced. Worth mentioning that during the breakup of the former SFRY in the 1990s, Serbia attacked the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other federal units as well, applied aggression towards them, and interfered in their domestic affairs. Furthermore, Serbia`s aggression caused humanitarian crises in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, and the deaths, and injuries of hundreds of thousands and displacement of more than four million people in former SFRY.

After the war, the issues in between the Kosovo and Serbia were attempted to be resolved through negotiations. But after all the attempts, the UN special envoy, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, gave the green light for the status of Kosovo, as a ‘sui generis’ case. It’s obvious that until this reality is accepted by Serbia, we will continue to have concerns. Countries that will remind Serbia of this reality and recognize Kosovo, will contribute to the solution of problems and reconciliation between the two countries.

It should be noted that, more than half of member countries of the UN have recognized the independence of the Republic of Kosovo. The majority of these countries are geographically close to Kosovo and they realized that the case is unique and cannot be used as a precedent for other cases. In addition they considered the peace and stability of the region as well as their own peace and stability. On the other side, the International Court of Justice ruled that the declaration of independence of Kosovo was not in violation of international law.

As an independent country, the Republic of Kosovo seeks to develop further cooperation with reliable partners and international entities. There are numerous opportunities and potential for cooperation between the Kosovo and Sri Lanka. To give an example, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, a South Asian country, recognized us only a few years ago and now we have a very close relationship with them. Likewise, we want to maintain similar relations with Sri Lanka. We have a lot of common experiences and traits to share. The systems of both countries are built on preserving cultural values and the religious and ethnic harmony of our societies. Both countries have dynamic societies. We have opportunities to have institutional cooperation especially in the fields of education, economy and more specifically agriculture. As a new country, we are very successful in sports as well. It is possible to engage in the exchange of our experiences pertaining to Sri Lanka.  For that reason we are tirelessly continuing to tell our story to Sri Lanka. We are trying to explain that Kosovars are peace-loving like you, that we have a vibrant population with the youngest median age in Europe and that we can develop both bilateral relations and cooperate on multilateral platforms.  So far, personalities from civil society are the biggest promoters of our relationship. On other side Kosovar companies started to import labour force from the South Asian countries, hopefully also from Sri Lanka in the near future. In addition to serving and earning money in return, employees will also contribute to cooperation between our countries in the future through interaction.

Like Sri Lanka, Kosovo is a very beautiful country. Sri Lanka is well-known for its endless beaches, timeless ruins, tea gardens, and flavourful food, while Kosovo with its mountains, ancient monuments, ethnological treasures and delicious pies. Like Sri Lankans, Kosovars are very friendly and beautiful. Both countries must devote their energies to friendships, sustainable development, and protecting our planet. We must instil love in people, both at home and in the world. I’m sure all Sri Lankans and Kosovars have these aspirations, but it is very important that the whole world is convinced of this.

It is very valuable to invite people and countries to good causes.

May the peoples of Kosovo and Sri Lankan always walk in friendship and peace.

The author (H.E. Mr. Güner UREYA) is the outgoing Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo to The People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

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