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Interview with Ambassador Werner Wnendt, Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo

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Ambassador Werner Wnendt, the recently-appointed Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, speaks about what has been achieved so far, the major challenges still facing the people of the region and his hopes for the future of Kosovo.

What did you first notice when you came to Kosovo?

I noticed that many things look very familiar, since I have some experience in the region. What strikes me most is that this is a beautiful part of Europe when it comes to people, landscape, history and culture. But I have also noticed that there are problems, such as the economic situation and the relations between people who need to live together. There are specific issues in Kosovo which I will deal with, and I hope that both the OSCE and I personally can contribute to the most important issue, which is developing Kosovo in such a way that it can be a home for all people who want to live here together, in peace with their neighbours.

With regard to improving relations between the people, what is your view of the political situation here in Kosovo?

The political situation can be characterized as that of a developing democratic system. I wish we had more political players who see beyond their own specific interests, and work in the interests of Kosovo as a whole. That is what we lack here. There are many political players and many political parties, but very often it's their own political interests which are their priority. They speak only for some people and they do not yet understand that it is necessary to see the future of Kosovo as a whole. We need to work on this and improve the political situation.

With your arrival, will there be any changes to the Mission's strategy? What will be your priorities and your contribution?

The strategy of this Mission is the same as that of any other OSCE Mission. It does not depend on the personality of the Head of Mission. Of course I come with some ideas, and have experience gained in Bosnia and Herzegovina and with conflict in the Western Balkans in general. My experience goes back to the very beginning of the conflict. I hope that I can introduce some of my ideas and that they will be accepted.

What is more important is that we are at the beginning of a process that will probably change the situation in Kosovo. I hope that our mandate can be adapted so that we can contribute to this process. I think there is now a window of opportunity, not only for Kosovo but for the whole of the Balkans. The situation may change considerably and become much more stable, with this area of Europe integrated into European structures for co-operation.

The OSCE is involved in the implementation of two very important standards for Kosovo: the functioning of democratic institutions and property rights. What is your assessment of their implementation - where have there been successes and have you seen any failures?

We have succeeded in establishing democratic institutions, for instance the parliament and government, and many others, including the media commission, the election commission, as well as those that deal with judicial training and police training. Of course they have to be improved and strengthened; capacity building needs to continue. However, I would consider these democratic institutions very successful. We will, in the future, concentrate further on these institutions, principally on the democratically-elected bodies at the central level, including the Assembly, but also on the municipal assemblies that lie at the very core of democratic development. If you have a parliament at the central level and assemblies in the municipalities working as real democratic institutions, then a great deal can change in the political system as a whole. That is why establishing democratic institutions is so important and that is why I offer a close partnership to the Assembly and to its president. I will also do the same with the municipal assemblies.

The property rights and returns issues are very complicated matters. The roots of the problems go back well before the conflict in the region started. It is also partly to do with the former system and, therefore, no easy solutions are possible. On the other hand, it is very important that we achieve some progress here. Resolving property issues and supporting the returns process is very important if you really want to create a Kosovo which is a common home for all the people.

You have had talks with political leaders here in Kosovo and in Belgrade. Do you think that there is genuine political will for dialogue?

I am convinced that this will exists among politicians in Prishtinë/Pristina and in Belgrade. I can see, and this is a feeling I have when I look to other parts of the Western Balkans, that there is an understanding that we are principally talking about the future. This does not mean that we do not deal with the past and with history, but this is an important process that needs to continue. There needs to be reconciliation, there needs to be a common approach towards how to deal with the past and what happened.

There is a growing understanding and recognition among politicians that they have to work towards the future of the region and that it is necessary to make compromises because, whatever happens, you will continue to be neighbours. You cannot change your geographical position. That is why I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a serious process which will bring the whole region - Belgrade, Prishtinë/Pristina, and all the others - closer together in the European integration process.

You come from a country which is one of the initiators of European integration. What is your view on integration of this part of the Balkans?

I have a clear view here. But first of all, let me point out that Germany has been working together with many other partners for more than fifty years now to promote European integration. In fact, European integration is actually a peace process - the most successful peace process in human history. It has turned enemies into friends and partners and I think that this kind of process is possible in all parts of Europe and in this region as well.

I am the Head of the OSCE Mission and it is really not for the OSCE to discuss this, but speaking as a convinced European, I hope that the whole of the Western Balkans can be fully integrated into the European peace process as soon as possible. This is our common task. Not only must the politicians and the people in the region prepare themselves for it, but the people of the European Union also need to work on it and need to help the region arrive at this point.

There is often much confusion about the relationship of standards to the final status of Kosovo. Progress on the standards is a precondition for status talks, but is it true that the fulfilment of standards will also be one of the conditions for the talks to start?

The standards are basically common values - shared by the nations of Europe and beyond - of democracy, human rights, protection of minorities, etc. The implementation of standards is an ongoing process that includes benchmarks. The level of the implementation of standards will determine if time has come to talk about status. However, the implementation of standards will not end with the beginning of the status discussions. Certain standards also need to be met to make further progress with the European integration processes.

To what extent is your experience from Bosnia and Herzegovina of help to your work in Kosovo and what are the main differences between these two places? How much has Kosovo progressed and where does it stand in comparison to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the integration processes?

I can certainly profit from my experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and not only from my time there, but also from my previous engagements with regional affairs, which go back to the very beginning of the conflict. It means that I can probably understand the people, the roots of the conflict and the reasons why things happened much better than a newcomer could. In that sense it is very helpful.

There are differences, of course, when making comparisons with the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The issue there is not to define status or resolve the question of status, but to come up with an arrangement that will allow the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to live together and to proceed towards integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, you do not have one people in the majority, which is a significant difference, whereas in Kosovo, you have a large majority community and you have minority communities, so it's a whole different set of challenges. The first question that needs to be answered is, what will be the way forward when it comes to the status question? You may think that Bosnia and Herzegovina is ahead of Kosovo in this respect, but when you look at the actual establishing of institutions, of democratic bodies, I think that much has also been achieved in Kosovo. I don't think that you could quantify these comparisons in terms of years, or say that Kosovo is years behind, because once certain things have been clarified in Kosovo, I think that it will be very much in the same boat as other parts of the region.

Do you have a message for the people of Kosovo?

My message is that you need to see that Kosovo and the Western Balkans region are welcome as partners in European integration. The doors are open. There is a window of opportunity to change things, to bring lasting peace and stability and to increase prosperity in the region. But that requires that people concentrate on the future. They must see that this is about building the future and not about looking backwards. You might look back, but you should not look back while you are walking forwards. You must keep looking forward.