The World Leaders forum is held every year to coincide with the UN General Assembly. Bwog will hop in and out of the forum throughout the week. On Tuesday night, a former Bwogger and current Bwog Balkanization Fellow ventured to Low to hear Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo.

Atifete Jahjaga does not have an easy job, to put it mildly. The country she leads has been to hell and back, and it controversially declared independence just over three years ago. Despite the challenges her country faces, President Jahjaga used her talk to voice optimism about the progress and future of her young democracy.

After an introduction from Dean/Interim Provost Coatsworth, Jahjaga spoke about her background as a leader in Kosovo’s police force, striving to create a “multiethnic and inclusive” organization that she called “the most respected institution in Kosovo.” The fight for fair and just law enforcement was a struggle with deep personal roots. Her father was born in jail because her family criticized the communist regime.

“I grew up at the height of police oppression,” she explained, “and I wanted a different police.”

Jahjaga went on to discuss advancement of her country since the late nineties, including constitutional safeguards for minority representation in parliament and “a strong affirmative action program” for ethnic minorities. The Constitutional Court recently ruled against immunity for MPs, another mark in the W column for good government. On the economic front, she called Kosovo a “very favorable market” with low tax rates and a strong banking system (on all counts, more than we can say) that is “open for foreign investment.” National privatization efforts floundered in the early 2000s, but in Jahjaga’s opinion, have since gotten back on track.

When it came to the future, Jahjaga had a very clear agenda. She wants Kosovo membership in, well, everything. UN, EU, NATO, INTERPOL, EUROPOL—tensions with Russia and Serbia in particular have prevented Kosovar accession to these groups, but the President stressed again and again how important it is for her country’s growth to “collaborate and cooperate” through these organizations. Appealing to her audience, she called Kosovo a “reliable partner of America in preventing terrorism,” and implied joining global and regional groups would behoove those anti-criminal efforts.

While emphasizing cooperation, the President also staunchly defended her national sovereignty against Serbia. She refused the possibility of any territory exchange or internal rearrangement for Serbia’s sake, calling such proposals “ideas of the nineteenth century.” She asked her perhaps less-than-stellar neighbor to “return of all the documents seized…at the end of the war.” Then everyone looked at Serbia squirming in its chair, and Low got a little awkward for a few seconds.
Jahjaga also didn’t mince words when it came to the “radical Serbian elements” in the North that have rejected her government. These groups have essentially set up a shadow regime in defiance of the central authorities. She compared them hostage takers who “undermined” Kosovo’s democratic efforts.

All this talk about a country’s struggle for independence and self-rule has particular relevance in the year of the Arab Spring, a fact not lost on Jahjaga, who claimed, “emerging democracies have much to learn from our experience.” However, the President cautioned against “a copy and paste” approach. Here’s looking at you, Egypt.

PrezKo via wikimedia.