Nineteen years ago, NATO’s Operation Allied Force ended a bloody ethnic cleansing in Kosovo led by the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, which by then had killed more than twelve thousand people and displaced more than a million Kosovars.
As the conflict drew to a close and the refugees began returning to their cities and villages, I traveled to Kosovo to thank the US forces, and meet the local leaders.
I also visited an elementary school in Ferizaj. I told the parents and children gathered there that while their friends and allies in NATO had won the war to allow them to return to their homes, only they could win the peace.
I knew they were strong enough to rebuild their lives, but rebuilding their society would be harder—building a new nation required former antagonists to work together, to find their common humanity and shared dreams amidst their many differences and grievances.
Today the proud people of Kosovo deserve our congratulations and continued support. Exactly ten years since their independence, we celebrate their achievements: delivering fair and credible elections, strengthening the judiciary, and laying the groundwork for an economy that’s attractive to international investors.
The enduring peace in Kosovo remains a beacon of hope for all conflict-ridden societies around the globe.
To keep and build on these hard-won gains, Kosovo’s modern leaders must keep working to put the past behind them, and to put the national interest ahead of personal gain.
Ensuring future stability and more inclusive growth requires the Government of Kosovo to work even harder to earn the trust of all of its people and uphold the rule of law, including the work of the Specialist Chambers—the courts set up to address crimes committed after the occupation ended.
It’s vital for Kosovo to continue to seek justice, reject attempts to thwart due process, and put on trial anyone accused by credible evidence of committing war crimes, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.
Real democracy is about much more than majority rule; it also requires protection of minority rights, individual rights, a genuine commitment to an inclusive society, shared decision-making, and the rule of law.
That includes protecting the rights of minorities in Kosovo, including Serbs. This is especially important in the wake of the assassination of Oliver Ivanovic, who was a force for reconciliation.
This ten-year anniversary also reminds us of our collective responsibility to remain close partners in Kosovo’s future. It’s long past time for all nations to acknowledge Kosovo’s sovereignty and membership in the United Nations.
I support Kosovo’s ambitions to join the European Union, NATO, and the OECD. And just as we implore Kosovo’s leaders to root out corruption, so too must Kosovo’s friends recognize that overcoming corruption is a long-term process that depends on shedding bad habits and fending off bad influences—a process much more likely to occur if supported by the international community than chastised by it.
We should also support the leaders in Kosovo and Serbia in their efforts to negotiate a “live and let live” future that allows both their peoples to put their history behind them. And, perhaps most importantly, we should help to expand economic opportunity and social mobility for all families in Kosovo.
Those children I met at the elementary school in 1999 are grown now, shouldering responsibilities for their own families and for the country’s future.
For a decade, Kosovo’s citizens have mustered the courage and vision to keep their ship of state sailing.
I hope in the next ten years, all citizens of Kosovo, and all of us around the world who wish them well, will work even harder to preserve and strengthen the peace, expand economic opportunity, and prove to each other every day that cooperation delivers far greater dividends than conflict.