For the Special Edition of M-Magazine for the New Year 2012, we had an exclusive interview with the French Ambassador in Kosovo, Jean-François Fitou, where he talks about his expectations for the 2012, his favorite traditional dish and gives several messages for the readers of M-Magazine
1. How do you evaluate the current situation in Kosovo, and especially in Mitrovica?
These are different issues. When you talk about Kosovo in particular, there are quite a lot of good things, and the most important is that the EU sends a very positive message to Kosovo, which is the possibility of contractual relations with EU for the next year, and visa dialogue. So I would say that in perspective there are positive and concrete steps for Kosovo as a whole. For Mitrovica as a divided city, my guess for this year is that it could see some improvements. But before we conclude, we all, collectively, need to say the right messages, to take time to sit round the table and to talk seriously about all possible issues.
2. Progress Report for this year stated a specific issue that is the need for different approach of the Kosovo Institutions towards the North. Does this means that the current strategy for the North is failed and how should Institutions of Kosovo proceed?
I think that what the EU said is, as Mr.Mirel very cleverly translated from the Progress Report: we need a vision. Instead of approach, instead of problems, instead of plan let’s call it a vision which is much more positive, which is not a precise benchmark to be reached. It is about telling the people from the north, whichever community they belong to: Guys you belong here. This is the land where your future will be build. This requires a change of mindset. From everybody who is living there. And I suppose what Mirel called a vision is truly something which is more welcoming, more encompassing, than just a program or approach as it is written in Progress Report. This I would call a vision. There are some steps, some first signals, that Institutions of Kosovo, the Government is ready to engage in such role. This is just the beginning, and this is why I guess that it is going to be a long way.
3. In terms of that, how do you see the concrete further developments, in 2012?
If somebody would know, I would want to know the guy (laughs). My guess is that if some positive signals are sent it is possible to sit round the table and to look first to Ahtisaari comprehensive toolbox, and to have a common vision on what the plan is about. What the plan allows, and how different possible players see and understand the plan. In that way they can see what the plan really means, and what the plan maybe lacks. It could be a very huge step. If they could start talking about what Ahtisaari is really about, it could definitively be a positive step.
4. Does this mean that probably Ahtisaari plan could be opened for the further discussions?
I wouldn’t say further, I would say to start the discussions. People do not really know what is in it. It could be possible to have an “Ahtisaari in your pocket”, which is a sort of a simple explanation in people’s language. And this is very important. But also because Ahtisaari is complicated, what is normal, it is a plan made carefully with sophistication. At the same time some people could interpret Ahtisaari in one way, and some people could interpret in another way. Let’s take an example: when people talk about parallel structures. Nobody means the same thing. The first thing that we would talk about is what a parallel structure is in your mind and in my mind. What is it that you call, and I call, a parallel structure?
5.My next question is about two moments in Kosovo’s Assembly. One is approval of a motion for reciprocity towards Serbia, and another is an interesting regulation about media approach in the Assembly? Your comment?
To start with the last one, I am not here to give any kind of lecture to anybody neither the media nor the Assembly. The work in the Assembly has to be transparent without the Assembly being prevented from working because there are several people there with cameras and mikes etc. The best thing to do is to set a working group with media and say: Guys what do you need and what do we need, let’s try to work this way. They have to talk together, to try to reach an understanding.
-And what about the motion. It is supported by the majority of the Assembly, therefore by the majority of the 90% of the population in Kosovo.
I know. It passed by more than 40 MPs (Members of Parliament). Assembly has the right to pass the motions. So it is not on me to comment the work of the Assembly.
6. Is this truly part of the new vision, new approach? How will this contribute in this new approach?
I understand the feeling to speak your mind, and to draw some red lines. My guess is that in 2011, Kosovo has made some very important progresses towards the EU and the best way for Kosovo to achieve its goals and to reach European standards is to engage in the dialogue. The most important event for Kosovo this year except for visa liberalization was that the EU granted Kosovo 4 very important openings. So the motion is not balanced comparing with what the EU gives to Kosovo.. It is not in the same stage.
7. When do you think that Kosovars will travel to France without visa?
As soon as possible. I am not an expert on that and certainly as a diplomat can not take the place of experts. But my hope is that better integrated visa system could be a way for example of fighting organized crime. I do support the idea that the more integrated the borders, the better, so the sooner the better.
8. In what do you think that Kosovo and France alike and differ?
They are much more alike. Of course language, geography, sizes differ but many things differ from France and Germany, France and Italy, or Spain or UK. We differ in many things but what makes us alike is much more important. It just happens that I lived far from EU and if you look at it from central Asia of from Africa, you can see that this is the same fabric.
9. To go back to the situation, do you think that the current situation in the North will overcome? And what is the key to that?
I hope that it will be overcome and I believe it. My answer is yes, I believe and I hope that it will be overcome and of course the EU is the key to the solution. I think that working together is a key and of course in more areas than just Mitrovica.
10. Will the barricades be removed in 2012?
As soon as possible the people from the North need to start to work together for overcoming the situation. To negotiate and to talk but not to block because blocking is not a situation that leads somewhere. I think that the sooner they dismantle the barricades, the better to start to talk about the vision.
11. Would you as Embassy consider cooperating-recognizing, current structures in the North in 2012?
The best way is for the people to vote for their municipality according to Kosovo law. And not to legalize what is illegal as such. A transformation will be better as is would be a fresh start.
12. The process of ethnic conciliation is ongoing for a long time in Mitrovica. How do you evaluate it and what is the role of French Embassy in it?
First, we want to be close to the people and to talk to them and say exactly the same think to the North of Iber and South of Iber. And this is important; not to have two different kinds of visions, there is only one vision. And second, we can support some areas for example a few cultural activities in the North and South. And we don’t judge, we will support.
13. How do you consider the role of NGOs in Mitrovica?
It’s very important because this country is a country that has seen for decades NGOs playing an important role. They have been sometimes a substitute to public structures. NGOs have acquired quite a lot of credit in the eyes of the people and this has given the possibility for the NGOs to act in public life.
- And what are concrete contributions to assist the NGOs to their work?
My contribution is to work together with the NGOs and to support a few projects. We must admit that we don’t have the possibility to assist them much. France has been here through its presence in KFOR, EULEX and the Embassy have a limited possibility to assist in the field of culture and integration. The idea is to work as a partner and to add value as we are able to in different activities, and at least to contribute to the community.
14. When we talk about Mitrovica, we are aweare the current political and economical details. What could be the field or area in which relies the development of Mitrovica?
Maybe Trepca, I am not an expert on that. Maybe Trepca could be used as an asset and bring to the city something new.
Hopefully trade between Kosovo and Serbia in this region, for example tax free zones in Mitrovica as a platform, so it will be a zone of much more importance for trade between the citizens and of course, the international community has to support small businesses. These are just a few ideas.
15. Could you evaluate the current cooperation with the local institutions in Mitrovica?
We work with some local NGOs in North and in South Mitrovica, we work with the municipality. We have established some contacts between the municipality and one municipality in France, Angoulême, so they can be able to work. In this we are involved. I had a meeting with the mayor of Mitrovica and we talked about how we can develop more this interaction.
16 I want to ask you a personal question. Who is Fitou outside his daily occupations?
He is not different as he is during the entire day (laughs). Totally honest, this country takes you all so in the end of the day, there is nothing left from you. I have only two minutes in the morning to finish my personal duties and back to work. Apart from that I have time to read crime novels.
- And which is you favorite novel?
“A taste for death”
- I wonder if you tried our traditional food. Which is your favorite?
“Elbasan Tava”, it is a very easy answer, and no matter Elbasan Tava with lamb or chicken.
17 What is your message to the readers of M-Magazine?
This has been a very bright city in Yugoslavia, and ib Europe. This is now a wounded city. A city with scars. My wish is that from a wounded city, Mitrovica in 2012 will become a fascinating and bright city for the while of Kosovo. I wish a hopeful year for this city, which is not going to be an easy one. And the second wish is that the citizens of Mitrovica, South and North could start working together in this specific area.
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