By Hashim Thaci
As Iowa’s young people learn in their outstanding schools, the Balkans has been a turbulent tinderbox for centuries, from the Ottoman Wars to the outbreak of World War I and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
But on my visit to the United States and Iowa this week, I’m bringing good news from southeastern Europe. With strong support from the U.S. and tireless mediation by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and I recently reached a historic agreement between our countries, 14 years after Kosovo’s war for independence. Today, we’re working together to put the agreement into effect and to promote the inclusion of both our nations in western institutions such as the EU.
After meeting in the White House with Vice President Biden, conferring on Capitol Hill with leaders from both parties, and speaking with business leaders and academic experts, I will travel from Washington, D.C., to Des Moines today.
Kosovo has a debt of gratitude and a bond of friendship with Iowa. As Europe’s newest nation, with a youthful population — our average age is 28 — Kosovo looks to Iowa for inspiration, with its love of learning, its habit of hard work, and its talent for tolerance.
Through a partnership program since 2011, the Iowa National Guard has been training the Kosovo Security Force, helping it to evolve and mature into a professional force.
The program is focusing on noncommissioned officer and officer development, as well as emergency management, disaster response, and medical capacity-building. Thanks to the Iowa National Guard’s men and women, members of the Kosovo Security Force have learned essential skills, such as disposing of explosive ordnance, conducting search and rescue operations, fighting fires, and controlling and clearing hazardous materials.
By helping our country to develop a force that measures up to Euro-Atlantic standards, the Iowa National Guard is preparing Kosovo for NATO membership, at the same time promoting security in the Balkans and throughout Europe. While the Balkans has endured ethnic strife and strongman rule, the Iowa National Guard offers an example of how a well-trained force can serve a democratic society.
In that same spirit, several judges from Iowa have worked with their counterparts in Kosovo to develop a judiciary that exemplifies and enforces the rule of law.
When the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense selected the Iowa National Guard to partner with Kosovo, they chose wisely. More than 700 Iowa National Guard members have been stationed in Kosovo for the NATO-led peacekeeping missions. Demonstrating Iowa’s — and America’s — neighborly spirit, these soldiers have conducted community-service projects on their own time, including teaching Kosovars to speak English.
During my trip, Gov. Terry Branstad and I will announce a Sister State Agreement that will widen the partnership between Iowa and Kosovo. With this agreement, our partnership will expand from the Iowa National Guard and the Kosovo Security force to the “Whole of Iowa” and the “Whole of Kosovo.”
Reflecting the lessons that my southeast European country can learn from this heartland American state, I will be visiting the Iowa National Guard Airbase, as well as an Iowa company with international operations.
Meanwhile, Gov. Branstad and I will make plans for his visit to Kosovo. When Iowa’s governmental and business leaders come to our country, they’ll learn about opportunities to invest in industries including agriculture, energy, mining and tourism, as well as to export to a young and growing consumer market. Kosovo is rolling out the welcome mat to international investors, with robust tax incentives and market-friendly reforms.
When Iowans celebrate July 4, please remember that Kosovo declared its own independence only five years ago, on Feb. 17, 2008. In recent years, Kosovo has drafted a democratic constitution, conducted multiparty elections, and offered representation and respect to ethnic and religious minorities.
The European Union, the United States and the entire world benefit from Kosovo being a free-market democracy, at peace with its neighbors and capable of protecting itself. Kosovo’s almost 2 million citizens look to those in Iowa who help us with gratitude and admiration.
l Hashim Thaci is the Prime Minister of Kosovo