Interview: Kristian Heldt

Radio Gorazdevac: Your Excellency, welcome to our studio and thank you for taking the time for this interview.

Ambassador Heldt: Thank you for having me. It is good to be back. I am also quite happy that we can have another taste of your wonderful rakia, but after the interview!

Radio Gorazdevac: Yes, of course, we will try it after the interview. We will talk about normal, social, life issues and current topics in Kosovo. You have visited the municipality of Peja. People often talk about the rule of law. What do you think about the state of the rule of law in Kosovo?

Ambassador Heldt: There are still huge challenges ahead for the country.For us Germans specifically we are very concerned with issues of rule of law, because we see this as part of the notion I call citizenship. All citizens, regardless of what community they belong to, what gender they are, orwhat kind of orientation they have, enjoy the same rights the laws in this country provide for.

Radio Gorazdevac: Many court decisions are not respected by municipalities. For example, the situation regarding the monastery of Visoki Decani. Many of your colleagues talked about it in our studio. What do you think about this situation?

Ambassador Heldt: To me it’s pretty clear that the highest juridical institution, the constitutional court, in this country has delivered a ruling. I will say quite frankly that we thought about how to ensure the follow up of the highest court ruling in Germany, for example. We found no provisions for that, because it’s automatic, that if there is such a ruling, then the institutions concerned follow up. In the particular case of Decani there is the well-known subject of the road. The international community, especially the EU, has provided several solutions how to do this, according to the outlines of the Special Protective Zone around the monastery. I just hope that we will not come into serious discussions on this road question. The other thing of course are the grounds which have been ruled by the constitutional court as properly belonging to the monastery. So I would just hope that the rule of law is applied in the sense that you cannot pick and choose rulings when you don’t like them. Respect them whether you like them or not. The rule of law is about respecting institutions and that’s what we are looking and what we are working for.

Radio Gorazdevac: This is a good example of the state of multi-ethnic relations. How do you see multiethnic relations between Kosovo-Serbs and Kosovo-Albanians today in Kosovo? How does politics affect everyday life?

Ambassador Heldt: Let’s first and foremost come back to the notion of citizenship. It’s about mutual respect. Mutual respect means communication, talking to each other, between representatives of institutions. It means trying to respect the basic understanding that all people living here are equal citizens before the law. This is, of course, the constitutional reality, but then there is also a reality on the ground. It very much depends on those who hold responsibility on the municipal level and on the national level. This is about reaching out and saying that for all citizens in this country: We want to respect a level playing field, meaning that all should have access to equal services, all should have an equal say in,for example, planning procedures and budget planning, etc. I would like to see more of a shared concern for people living in this country.

Radio Gorazdevac: We have an example here in Gorazdevac, where Kosovo-Serbs and Kosovo-Albanians united in a protest against chemical waste that has been deposited here.

Ambassador Heldt: Yes, I heard about that. I thought it was an extremely promising sign. Here citizens unite for a joint cause, because they are all concerned by this problem which is endemic in Kosovo. It’s not only the fault of the government I must say. It’s simply that environmental issues are complex. Be it waste water treatment, be it the landfills and storage of toxic waste. So here citizens are joining forces to make municipal and national actors adopt strategies for toxic waste disposal. This is what we want to see on the ground. So we take this as a very promising sign. Environmental issues are a very good example of a field of political decision making which concerns all citizens. Air, water,soil – this doesn’t stop at municipal borders or at borders between communities. So it’s a joint concern and it is wonderful that citizens are now joining together to address these concerns.

Radio Gorazdevac: What should people in Kosovo be told to start taking care of the environment?

Ambassador Heldt: It starts with the waste you see practically everywhere. I often compare it to a home. You don’t drop your waste on the floor of your living room. I seethe wonderful nature in this country as the joint living room of the whole society. There is a huge potential, for example, in tourism. But tourists could get frightened away by the problem of waste. I know that this is a huge concern, not just for this particular region, but for the whole country.That’s why with the GIZ we are very much involved in addressing this. Waste water treatment, for example: For almost twenty years we have been working with our Swiss colleagues on that. Overall environmental issues are a concern,as they also have the potential to endanger the development of tourism, if this is not properly addressed.

Radio Gorazdevac: The media writes about the projectof the church in Novo Brdo. We’ve heard a lot of reports about this, but we’re interested in your opinion.

Ambassador Heldt: Frankly speaking I don’t see it so much as a problem, because it’s about the preservation of a cultural heritage site. I like this place in Novo Brdo very much because it reflects the reality today and also the history and the diversity of this country, its various cultural roots. I’ve seen the site up there before we started with this preservation project. It didn’t look good, frankly speaking. So from our ministry’scultural heritage programme, which we do worldwide, we allocated funds to preserve what is there. Also I would like to speak up against this notion that something else is supposed to be buildthere. No,the project was simply about the preservation of the site and the access to it. The way you see it now, isthe finished project. Maybe some thought this would be the beginning of bigger building work, but this is not at all what it is all about. Our cultural preservation fund aims topreserve sites, not changing them. That’s what we have been doing there. Apart from the new access, basically there is not much new in there. It was simply a preservation of the site. Basically all the work ended last year. Because it was winter, we decided for the inauguration to take place now in May,hoping for better weather. We still ended up in pouring rain on that day.

Radio Gorazdevac: Let’s move on a little more relaxed topic. As for youth activities, today I have prepared a radio and TV attachment on multiethnic cooperation in Kosovo. There are not many cases of cooperation, we have Suri iVizionit NGO in Peja, we have Radio Goraževac, and a few more examples. There are a few of them, but alldeliverpositive results. What’s the situation for the young people now?

Ambassador Heldt: They are facing a lot of difficulties to be quite frank. That’s why your introduction that we are now entering easier subjects… I think this is not so easy, because to my mind the challenge for the young generation in Kosovo is a very complex one. First of all,it’s about communication between the communities. That’s why I am happy about every example where people simply speak to each other. We know this. It’s not me who is going to tell you about history of this region, you know better than I do. But there are other examples. For example, in the part of Europe where I come from: There were also stories about prejudices and misconception – simplybecause people did not speak to each other. That was one of the reasons why the Franco-German Youth Office was founded in 1963. This also served as an example for the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) which was now founded by the Western Balkan countries, and many other forms of cooperation. The more you exchange the better. I see now a problem simply arising from the fact that there is so little communication between young people. Here, I see cultural projects as very important. Media projects and youth communities to simply talk to each other, first of all, because the one thing you realize very quickly is that all young people in the country here are facing the same problems:That’s employment, that’s perspectives and this is something back to the notion of citizenship. There are young citizens in this country who are extremely talented,who have a huge potential. And then they look at the labor market with the problems it has. I’ll spell it out: nepotism, where it’s not always the best who get the jobs, but those who have the best connections. I think this goes through all communities. It is about how to ensure that young people in this country are not just thinking about how can they leave, but how can they build something here.

Radio Gorazdevac: One of the biggest problems that all of Kosovo’s communities have is the emigration of young people. What must change to prevent the emigration of young people?

Ambassador Heldt: I think the most important thing is to be able to change the mindset, in the sense that there is, as I said, a lot of potential, but that there is also the hope in the sense that there are perspectives, including economic perspectives. Let’s face it: If people want to stay, if they want to start families here, they also have to live on something. So it’s getting the economic situation up and running, not just with investments, but by supporting also initiatives which come from here. There are amazing things happening here in all kinds of sectors, from agriculture to IT. In this country my feeling is that at the grassroots level people have much more imagination to develop niches like, for example, in the agricultural sector by developing special products which have very good export opportunities to the European Union. The IT sector is the same thing: This is, for example, a sector where, I think, across all communities there is a good potential for cooperation,simply because English is the IT language. So you could also overcome the hurdle of Kosovo-Serbs not speaking Albanian and Kosovo-Albanians not speaking Serbian. Let’s face it, this is also one of the problems this generation faces, because the points of communication encounter have drastically dropped in the last twenty years. But to get back on a communication level, it’s important to also fund things together. I have an example of businessmen in Pristina and Gracanica working together, who say that if it was just up to businesses, we could do a lot more things together. I see a lot of opportunities. I think this is the most important thing, psychologically to have the turnaround to say, the perspective is not just in leaving the country,but the perspective is right here. But for that politics have to work together as well as all decision-making actors, starting from the municipal level up to the national level.

Radio Gorazdevac: Many young people say they do not have equal chances for work and study. Do you think that something in the system needs to change?

Ambassador Heldt: Yes, in the system, as I said earlier, the legal provisions in general here in Kosovo are very good. The real challenge istheir implementation. What you are making out of it and which people sit in which decision-making authorities. For the example of education, there are so many things you can do. The potential is there. I see this also, for example, from the Kosovo-Albanian side where I know young people with brilliant degrees from North America or from EU countries who come back here, because they want to do something here. And then, as I said earlier, there is still a tendency, I am afraid, not to take the best, but those with the best connections.

Radio Gorazdevac: When it comes to youth in minority communities, where are the minorities in Kosovo, what about their rights? There is a problem with the administration today, where Serbs, for example, cannot get Kosovo documents, ID cards, driver’s licenses, etc.

Ambassador Heldt: Once more the rights on paper are good. But it is in the practical aspectsto see how far we have come. My personal feeling is that a majority community should always try andreach out to the minority communities in general. Once more, I am not the great expert on the history of this part of Europe. I can give you another example: After the First World War there was a small part of Germany which was given to Belgium. I mean, there was still the thinking in territories and giving away something. So suddenly, roughly a hundred thousand Germans –– foundthemselves to be Belgians. If you look at Belgium today, besides Flemish and French, German is the third official language. And then there are people saying that, after the royal family in Brussels, the most patriotic Belgians is the small German-speaking minority in the east of the country.Why?Because they were treated with respect and equally. This brings me back to the very practical question of documents. Administrations should walk the extra mile, also to make every community in this country feel welcome. I see this as part of, once more, sorry to insist on this, but the notion of citizenship and citizens with equal rights. If you want to ensure, even though there is a language barrier, that the Kosovo-Serb community here in Kosovo is treated with equal rights, then they also have to have equal access to obtaining driving licenses, birth certificates, etc. – allthese documents. I mean, it should be normal that citizens who apply for documents get this service which has to be provided by public institutions. End of story.

Radio Gorazdevac: At the end of this interview, I would like to talk about economics. The economy in Kosovo is definitely not at a high level. How can we build a stronger economy in Kosovo? What does Germany invests in Kosovo, what are you doing in this area?

Ambassador Heldt: By the statistics Germany is doing a lot here. We have been for yearsnumber one in direct foreign investments, and we are now the biggest bilateral donor. But I am not simply saying: great, we are doing wonderfully. Germany has a good position, but we have to go further. And this is not just about Germany. This is what I mentioned earlier about investments. The whole region offers a lot of opportunities. Kosovo really also is competing for foreign investments. It’s starting to find its niches, but there has to be more. The country has a huge trade deficit. This is, let’s say, a development that is understandable with the very particular history of this country, but what I would be hoping for, is to have more investors who come into this country, setting aside the kind of feelings, that this place is not secure. If you are looking at the media reporting abroad, Kosovo isn’t always described as a very safe and stable place. If you see the reality on the ground, it is a completely different story. We have to get people here, regardless of where they come from, and give them a real picture of the opportunities in this country. At a certain stage Kosovo will also have to be independent from donor contributions. We alone, through the past twenty years, have been – just in development cooperation – investing around 650million Euro in this county. This is important. But at a certain stage the country should, also economically, stand on its own feet. Now this can only be realized in the regional context. Let’s face it, if you look at the map of Europe, the states of the Western Balkans have an opportunity in cooperation. That’s, for example, what the Berlin Process is all about. We hadthe summit in Poland last week and this is what our Chancellor Merkel also cares about: regional cooperation. We cannot imagine moving on, before a degree of cooperation is reached between the countries of the Western Balkans, because the European Union only makes sense, if there is cooperation amongst everybody.

Radio Gorazdevac: Yes, but people from Kosovo and Serbia lost faith in cooperation and economic development. For example, we have the blocked Brussels dialogue, the tariffs where the response from Serbia was to end the dialogue. What is your opinion? How to influence thisat the local level?

Ambassador Heldt: To influence it on a local level is difficult as long as the general political setting is not there. That’s why also Chancellor Merkel personally engaged herself with the French President Macron to try and see how we can help to move things forward. It’s not about side-tracking the EU-led process, quite on the contrary, but to help this process to get on track again. Because, as I said with the Berlin Process, that’s what we want to see and where we see this region. Chancellor Merkel just recently also renewed that she sees a clear EU perspective for the whole region. So this dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia is maybe the last hurdle to get dynamics going in this region, which could only be positive for each and every citizen. Because then we would have the trickle down also for economic development for trade etc. Now we are in a kind of stalemate. And yes, we have been advocating actively the suspension of these 100% tariffs, but we also have to address non-tariff barriers on the other side. If we want trade to get going, it has to be a level playing field. There can neither be tariffsnor non-tariff barriers on either side. This is about communicating and cooperating. And that’s what we would like to see.

Radio Gorazdevac: Until recently, a day or two ago, we had a crisis on this issue. In North Mitrovica, there was a protest of citizens because of thetaxes. What is your opinion?

Ambassador Heldt: Last weekwe got the news that shops and other institutions are closing down, but the process is still ongoing. We are monitoring it very closely, but I think it is a little early, when things are going on, to already give any kind of founded analysis on it. I prefer first to look at things and then speak about it publicly. One thing I’ve learned hereand in other previous postings, it’s always good to get a good grip on all the layers of a story, because there is never an easy answer to anything and it is better to look at it before speaking about it publicly.

Radio Gorazdevac: For the end of this interview, what is your message for our listeners?

Ambassador Heldt: I would like to repeat my encouragement for taking up the notion of citizenship. This to me is crucial, also for the communication between communities and for getting a joint understanding of what the challenges are that are lying ahead. Be it equality for all communities with respect to the rule of law, be it the environment, or be it job opportunities. There are so many things which can be done together that, I think, it isworthwhile to all adopt this view of the country from a citizen’s point of view. I think that would be the main message of hope, also for perspectives in this country. It’s about this joint feeling: we are all citizens, we have rights together, and we want to engage ourselves for the future of the country.

Thank you.