Kosovo’s foreign minister in first official visit to Serbia

‘I’m a symbol of sovereignty’, says Enver Hoxhaj

Kosovo’s foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj, at the Conrad Hotel in  Dublin in January 2014. He has paid the first visit by a foreign minister of independent Kosovo to its old master, Serbia. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Kosovo’s foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj, at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin in January 2014. He has paid the first visit by a foreign minister of independent Kosovo to its old master, Serbia. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Enver Hoxhaj paid the first visit by a foreign minister of independent Kosovo to old master Serbia on Thursday and declared himself a “symbol of Kosovo sovereignty”, showing how relations have evolved from open hostility to tacit co-existence.

The trip, within the framework of an European Union-sponsored gathering of Western Balkans government ministers, followed a decision on Wednesday by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to set Kosovo on the path to membership and a place in the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

Serbia continues to reject sovereignty for its former southern province, which declared independence in 2008 almost a decade after a Nato air war to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces waging a counter-insurgency.

“I’m in Belgrade for the first time in 25 years,” Hoxhaj told reporters, speaking in English. “It shows how difficult the journey was to come to Belgrade, (just) a four-hour drive up the road.”

Asked about the significance of his visit, he replied: “I am the symbol of Kosovo sovereignty.”

No state symbols were visible in the ministers’ meeting room and the talks were multilateral in nature, avoiding any suggestion of Serbian recognition of Kosovo. Serbian officials kept a low profile and had no comment on the matter.

Many Serbs regard Kosovo as the cradle of their nation and Orthodox Christian faith, but the vast majority of its 1.7 million people are ethnic Albanians, mostly Muslim but overwhelmingly secular.

Kosovo has been recognised by more than 100 countries since its Western-backed secession six years ago. But United Nations veto-holder Russia, an ally of Serbia, stands in the way of UN membership, complicating the process of state-building.

Hoxhaj hailed as “crucial” a move by the IOC to grant provisional recognition of Kosovo, with a final decision on full membership expected in December.

“Kosovo is independent; no one can stop the flow of history,” said Hoxhaj. “What happened yesterday is a step towards strengthening Kosovo sovereignty.”

Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga has been invited to a meeting of the Trilateral Commission, a braintrust of industrialised nations’ power elites, in Belgrade from Oct ober 31st to November 2nd, but it is not yet known whether she has accepted.

Vlora Citaku, Kosovo’s minister for European integration, was the first minister of an independent Kosovo to visit Serbia. She came in June last year for a low-key, NGO-sponsored forum, but she was not received officially by the Serbian government.

(Reuters)