HM Ambassador, Ruairí O'Connell's speech during the Queen's Birthday Party.
Mister President, Speaker, Deputy Prime Ministers, Ministers, Mayors, MPs, Generals, Professors, Journalists, Leaders of Business, Friends,
It is so wonderful to see so many of you here tonight. It’s great to think that you are all here to celebrate the unique relationship between Kosovo and Britain.
Oh, and maybe have a party too.
It has been quite a year for both of our countries. In the UK, we had a referendum last summer just days after we last celebrated the Queen’s Birthday. Well, my Government has been crystal clear: they are going to work to implement that decision, and build a new future for the UK, no longer in the EU but with a deep and special relationship between us.
But one thing is just as clear to me. The deep and special relationship that Britain enjoys with Kosovo will not change as we leave the European Union. I hope that the people of Kosovo will help us to make sure of that.
This relationship matters to the UK; to the British Government; to the British People; and to me. It matters just as much as it has ever done. Because Britain’s success depends on the success of others. So a prosperous, secure, happy Kosovo forging ahead is in our interests, too. We want to help you, as you build that Kosovo.
There are lots of people in this room who have done their part to make Kosovo the best it can be. This year, we’ve revelled in the success of Kosovo’s sports stars, like Majlinda Kelmendi, our guest of honour last year, as well as the Pristina basketball team, champions of Balkan League, whose captain Edmond Azemi is with us tonight. We’ve celebrated Kosovo’s pop stars, like Era Istrefi, and of course Dua Lipa and Rita Ora. We’ve praised Lt. Ismail Hoxha and Lt Xhevahir Hasanaj, winners of the Overseas Sword and Overseas award at RMA Sandhurst. And last but not least, we cheered on the Bafta-winning short film HOME, whose producers are here with us tonight.
We’ve marvelled at many many other successes. They all do Kosovo proud.
But tonight there is a special group of people here that I want to single out for praise. It is a diverse group of people. It includes Robert Wilton, Jehona Gjurgjeala and Adrian Davies, who spoke out our BritTalks series this morning about their own experiences with The Ideas Partnership, TOKA and the George Williams Youth Association.
It includes Leona Jahiri, who has organised hundreds of young people in Ferizaj to work on improving the lives of their community, and Vladimir Zivkovic, working with young people in Gracanica.
It includes Denis Dautaj, captain of the Kosovo Roosters Rugby team, who has worked for years to bring the sport he loves to Kosovo.
It includes Edita Dula from our Charity Partner (Happy mothers and kids) for this evening, who on her own has created a network of volunteers across Kosovo to help some of Kosovo’s poorest families. You can support their work this evening by buying a photo graph from the team.
It includes Dr Rabihane Dema who since the 1990s has tirelessly given her time and expertise to help women and children in need; and Dokufest which began with a group of friends working together to re-establish a cinema in Prizren and is now the biggest cultural event in Kosovo. And it includes Aferdita Tahiri, chosen as Kosovo’s volunteer of the year for 2017, for her tireless work with blind and visually impaired children.
They, and hundreds and thousands like them, are part of a community of volunteers in Kosovo, which is the backbone of Kosovo society. They give up their time to make a difference. They don’t wait for others to make a change. They don’t rely on Government, or the Internationals. They know they can deliver it themselves. They obey no-one’s orders. No one is paying them, so no-one owns them.
They get up and do it.
Why do they do it? Well, I am sure that everyone has his or her own reasons. But I am sure, if you ask them tonight, you will hear that they believe that Kosovo can do better, and that volunteering makes them feel empowered to make that change themselves.
They are political activists, community leaders, youth activists, sports coaches, artists and many more. They are an example to us all. And they are the ones who will build Kosovo’s future, and I hope that their selflessness, their dedication to building a better Kosovo, can be an example for Kosovo’s leaders, many of whom are here tonight. I want to take this opportunity to thank them all Kosovo’s volunteers, for all that they do.
Now, there is one more bit of business to do. As we are here tonight to celebrate the links between our two great countries, the British Embassy organised a photograph competition to illustrate the links between Kosovo and the UK. And we had a clear winner that showed the depth of affection that people in Kosovo hold for the UK. Our winning entry was from Ismajl Gerguri from the Kosovo Liverpool Supporters Association. Now, as some of you might know, I am a fan of the great City of Liverpool’s other – and original - club, Everton. So, when we saw the winning photo, we knew that it was a chance not just to celebrate the continued strength of the Kosovo/UK relationship, but also to do a meaningful bit of reconciliation. So to present the award, I want to invite on stage Vigan Hoxha, from the Official Everton Supporters Club of Kosova.
Finally, it remains to thank our Gold Sponsors for this evening, Banka per Biznes and Meridian Corporation, and all our other sponsors who have made this event, and the Brit Talks, possible. I want to thank my team, who have worked tirelessly for weeks to pull this huge event together. And I want to thank everyone here for being part of the relationship between Kosovo and Britain.
So, now it is time to celebrate Her Majesty’s birthday properly!