I’m delighted to be here in Pristina, in a free and independent Assembly, in Europe’s youngest democracy.
Because 17 years ago, I was here in Pristina and I saw a very different city in those days. I was there when the British Army came in and I remember seeing the joy on the faces of villagers and how they threw roses in the path of the British Army vehicles. I remember seeing the burning mosques and the villages that were torched, sometimes razed almost to the ground, by the retreating forces. I also remember the expressions of shock on the faces of refugees who were moving in great columns of tractors and carts away from ancestral farms, in many cases not to return.
I wondered then, looking at Pristina, what the future would hold for this ancient and beautiful country, and what kind of government and society we were helping to create. Because we in NATO were unquestionably helping to create a new society. And I remember wondering whether we had got it right, and hoping that out of such pain and suffering a functioning democracy could be born.
And here is your answer to that question. It is a land transformed, with Kosovo’s people in control of your destiny, with elected representatives sitting here in this Assembly, and outside Pristina we have a vibrant and secular society.
At a time when the values I think we share, a belief in democracy and freedom and pluralism, when those values are by no means uncontested around world, Kosovo can be a powerful and shining example to the rest of the world of what can be achieved.
I’m therefore proud that Britain was one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo’s independence in 2008.
We were allies then; we are allies now. And so, in a spirit of friendship, and the candour that comes with friendship, allow me to offer some thoughts about Kosovo today.
You are an independent country, recognised now by 112 other nations. This means that you are responsible now for your own affairs. The duty to serve your people rests on your shoulders. The consequences that flow from that reality are momentous and challenging.
Like many other political systems, yours must continually adapt and improve. The process of reform in Kosovo must not be allowed to stagnate. Rather than being machines for power and patronage, political parties should strive to serve the interests of every citizen.
The people have a right – indeed an obligation – to demand more from their elected representatives and to hold us – their elected representatives - to account. I know that, like me, you talk to your voters about their worries, and I’m sure their concerns will include how hard it is to get a job in Kosovo unless you have the proper connections. Appointing people on merit means, if you’re a student and you work hard, you stand a fair chance of getting a job. You won’t be elbowed aside by some lazy candidate who hasn’t studied at all, but who is lucky enough to have better connections than you.
So I’m glad that Britain is helping you to combat the scourge of nepotism with a British Embassy project, launched recently with the public support of the Prime Minister and you, Mr Speaker.
I’m also pleased that commercial links between our two countries are developing well. There was a successful conference in London only last week to promote British investment in Kosovo; this was the context for my first meeting with Prime Minister Mustafa. We strongly support economic development and job creation in Kosovo. I am only sorry my visit didn’t coincide with skiing season, because I can assure you that otherwise I would be up on the slopes to show my solidarity with the Kosovo ski industry, as I believe tourism will play a vital part in your future.
Britain wants to work alongside you as a partner. There is much that we can accomplish in the common struggle against terrorism, violent extremism, corruption and organised crime. We need to combat these threats together, for example we in the UK have a particular problem with ethnic Albanian crime gangs, and we want to work with our friends in the region to counter this.
When we speak of the wider region, Britain wants Kosovo to be a force for peace and stability in the whole Western Balkans. And that must include achieving a normal relationship with Serbia. I’m looking forward to discussing these issues too in Belgrade. I understand the past is filled with such pain and grievance that no human society can be expected to sweep these memories easily aside. But Kosovo and Serbia share a vital interest in a normal relationship. It will take political courage and visionary leadership, but I have no doubt that it can be achieved.
This will also require a sincere attempt to resolve the wrongs of the past. It should be uncontroversial to say that all those guilty of war crimes, on all sides, should be locked up. I will say the same thing in Belgrade, and across the Balkans. But that’s why co-operating with the Special Court for war crimes is so important for Kosovo, however difficult this may be. Britain and our international partners will be watching the work of the Court very closely.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to the family and friends of Astrit Dehari, who recently died in custody. I endorse the calls made by all sides for a transparent investigation into his death.
I deliver these messages in a spirit of friendship. And I do so with great humility in view of everything that you have achieved since you gained your independence.
I want to close by repeating what I said a city absolutely transformed since 1999. A city buzzing with restaurants and all kinds of fashion, a young country, a country where at least 8 young people rejoice in the name of Tony Blair. There is so much going for it: Olympic gold medal-winning athletes, tech start-up entrepreneurs with links to London, Kosovo pop stars who top the charts and world-class footballers. A beautiful and fertile country whose potential is only just beginning. It is not far off from the time when Brits will be coming with their stag parties.
You face challenges. Which country doesn’t face challenges? But I am also sure you can meet those challenges in a way that seemed completely improbably 17 years ago. I am sure today looking at what you have achieved that you will have a truly great future and as you achieve that great future for Kosovo and realise the potential of this country I want to assure you that you have friends and supporters in the United Kingdom.