Lord Hylton’s speech opening a Debate on Kosovo in the House of Lords September 15th 2011
Kosovo is a symbolic place for two rival Nationalisms. It was the centre of the great mediaeval Serb monarchy, containing its royal monasteries. In Ottoman times it became more and more inhabited by Albanians. They declared for independence in the 18th century at Prizren in Kosovo.
The subsequent clash of cultures has led to great suffering in recent years. During Tito’s time Kosovo enjoyed a high level of autonomy and was modestly prosperous. Milosevic, however, imposed direct rule and the Albanians developed parallel institutions for education, welfare etc. When the tyrant began to drive out the Albanian population, NATO responded with a bombing campaign and the Kosovo Liberation Army fought back.
It was thus that Kosovo came to be occupied in 1999 by KFOR and administered by UNMIK. In Feb 2008 Kosovo declared its independence and this was confirmed by the International Court of justice, 18 months later. Its population was estimated in 2008 at 2.2 million, of whom 92% were Albanian. This compares with 1.6 million in N. Ireland and somewhat over 600,000 in neighbouring independent Montenegro. Kosovo has a parliament of 120 members and by last April had been recognised by 75 states. It is a member of the World Bank and the IMF.
This incomplete recognition is due, in part at least, to the fact that Kosovo does not have full control of all its territory . North of the Ibar river, the mainly Serb population has partly broken away and linked itself to Serbia. Mitrovica is a divided city and last year I stood on the bridge, marking the divide between Albanians and Serbs. Currently the Kosovo Government is trying to assert its control over the crossing points and customs posts, between northern Kosova and Serbia. At the same time, 3 northern Serb Mayors have declared no confidence in Serbia’s negotiator, in the bilateral talks in Brussels, now being mediated by a British official. I therefore ask HMG what is their view of the current Kosovan actions? Are the border issues not ones that should be settled by negotiation?
I am inclined to be somewhat critical of the inter-national groups in Kosovo, whom I have already mentioned, to whom should be added EULEX, with responsibilities for the administration of justice and some over-sight of law and order. No doubt they have suffered language and culture difficulties, with frequent rotations of staff have hindered full understanding. Nevertheless I believe that they have been over-concerned with stability and have tended to avoid confronting difficult issues, such as the conditions of the Roma minority, or relations between the historic Serbian Orthodox monasteries and their neighbours. Will HMG seek to ensure that the right lessons are learnt from past experience, also that the activities in Kosovo of the EU, OSCE and Council of Europe are better co-ordinated?
To come back to the Monasteries, almost all on beautiful sites. The smaller ones cause little difficulty and often have good relations with their Albanian neighbours. Of the two major ones, Pec is a community of nuns and also the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch. Decani is a community of monks. Both are UNESCO listed cultural and historic sites, and I have visited them. They should not, however, just be considered as monuments of the past. They support living, functioning communities and are of huge symbolic importance. It should not be necessary twelve years after the war, for detachments of KFOR to stand guard at their gates, checking the credentials of all visitors.
Through 2 world wars, earlier Balkan struggles and the whole Ottoman period, the local Albanians successfully protected the monasteries against external violence. That is the traditional local situation that should be restored. With it would go free access for bona fide visitors and pilgrims and freedom of movement for the monks and nuns.
I believe this to be quite possible and indeed my friend and colleague, who founded the Soul of Europe, for peace-building work, first in Bosnia and now in Kosovo, has been invited by both sides to facilitate good, normal relations.
The nearby Kosovar municipalities are keen and the veterans of the KLA would also sit at the table.
Will HMG give more than just verbal support to the initiative? It has great potential as a confidence-building measure, one that could help forward the wider bilateral negotiations already mentioned. Can HMG give some indication about how far these have already progressed and as to their future prospects?
I am sure that your lordships wish to see Serbia, Kosovo and their neighbours all playing their full parts in the European institutions. In doing so they would bring historic antagonisms to an end, and benefit their people. This, however, is something that cannot just be engineered from on high. It must be built upwards from the minds and hearts of people in villages and small towns. That’s why I conclude by asking, why is community development not built into the briefs of the international agencies, in particular those working in Kosovo? We have people, particularly in N . Ireland and in multi-ethnic English cities, who have great experience in peace-building and community development. This could be a truly effective form of technical assistance.
I saw something similar happening in the Republic of Moldora, during a 10 year period after the civil war . I commend this idea and meanwhile I look forward to the Government response.