The Ambassador of Spain to Serbia, Raúl Bartolomé Molina, said in his interview with Kurir that his country's position on not recognizing the independence of Kosovo remains firm, widely supported, and immutable, even if Madrid were to open an office in Priština.
Molina pointed out that Spain had always supported adherence to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and urged that the obligations under the Brussels Agreement – which he thinks should form the basis for the ongoing talks between Belgrade and Priština – should be fulfilled.
The question of Spain's position regarding the independence of Kosovo has recently been brought back into focus. How firm is your country's position on not recognizing the independence of Kosovo?
"Spain's position on the issue of the Kosovo territory hasn't changed, nor is it going to change. It is official state policy, which doesn't change with the political party or parties in power at any given time. As a position agreed on by all the political actors, it is based on Spain's absolute respect for international law. Kosovo' unilateral independence, which this territory declared in 2008, was a breach of one of the basic principles of international law – the principle of territorial integrity. In this sense, given that Spain's position rests on objective legal reasons, and that it is widely supported in the country, it is very firm. Any rumours to the contrary are no more than pure speculation."
Are claims that Spain could open an office in Priština also speculation?
"As regards the possibility of opening an office in Priština, you should bear in mind that most EU member states which don't recognize the independence of Kosovo are already present in that territory, and this didn't entail a change in their position. At any rate, any decision Spain makes in this regard will certainly be taken in cooperation with our Serbian partners. And I repeat, it will not mean changing our firm position in the slightest."
How do you comment on the persistent attempts by Kosovo to get into international organizations like the UN, Interpol, and UNESCO?
"Well, it stands to reason that the attempts by the Kosovo territory authorities are aimed at getting as many recognitions of their assumed statehood as possible. Everyone pursues their own interests, no question about that. Problems arise when such gestures put a dent in the trust of the other party in the negotiation process. In this case, constant insistence on getting into international organizations doesn’t contribute to the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština. Alternating meetings can be set up, but if there is no sincere good will, or true commitment of the parties involved – which is necessary to resolve any conflict – it will all be a dead letter. We have been witness to that, unfortunately, since the start of the dialogue, ten years ago. On the other hand, Spain has always supported adherence to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999, and urged the parties to honour the 2013 Brussels Agreement, which should form the basis for the ongoing talks."
Is the EU a strong enough mediator in the dialogue on Kosovo between Belgrade and Priština?
"It unquestionably is and should be. The stability of the Balkans means the stability of the European Union. In addition, there are different sensibilities within the EU, so that EU mediation guarantees – more than that of other possible actors – neutrality and balance in the negotiations. Also, we must not forget that Serbia is a candidate country, and that the Kosovo territory is taking part in the accession and stabilization process."
Should the US, Russia, and China become actively involved in the negotiations?
"This doesn't mean that active involvement of the US, Russia, and China isn't necessary or appropriate. In this way, the participation of as many global powers and international organizations as possible will contribute to increasing the credibility of the dialogue. Nonetheless, we shouldn't shift the focus: with the exception of Belgrade and Priština, everyone else is only here to help. Interference can only jeopardize the outcome of the conflict resolution, to the detriment of all those making up the international community."
Has the further enlargement of the EU been additionally slowed down by the pandemic?
"We cannot deny that the pandemic brought an unexpected standstill in all areas. As for the enlargement process, the candidate countries – like everyone else – were focusing on how to handle, and then how to fight, the coronavirus epidemic, as a result of which they were unable to focus on implementing reforms in order to make headway in the accession negotiations."
Do the Western Balkans have European prospects?
"The two recent intergovernmental conferences with Serbia and Montenegro, held on 22 June, are a clear confirmation that the enlargement process is still very much alive, and that the EU is willing to move forward in that direction. I think it's important to point out and recall the support that EU has given the Western Balkans because, although there is a clear European prospect in these countries, there is also the risk that it subsides, that the 'momentum' is lost in case of fatigue in the negotiations. I understand that there are times when one feels disappointed if the negotiations aren't progressing at the desired rate. Spain too faced very long and difficult accession negotiations – over eight years – during which it was necessary to overcome the doubts of a few member states who saw a risk to their own interests in Spain's accession to the EC. Spain responded to that by even more substantial reforms – some of which were very painful in the short term, but necessary – and by putting in a great deal of effort. Nearly 40 years later, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that it was worth it."
Lastly, is there an answer to why the coronavirus hit Spain so hard?
"Spain was hit especially hard by this pandemic as it is the second most tourist-visited country in the world, with the highest numbers in the international movement of people. We were more exposed than other countries. Our universal public healthcare system – picked out by several institutions, such as the World Economic Forum or the Bloomberg index, as one of the best in the world – was essential in overcoming the crisis. That and our ability to adapt, as well as the introduction of stringent measures – there were times when we were even ahead of the WHO and other international organizations in introducing measures – the expertise of our health workers, and the model conduct of our citizens, have allowed Spain to be returning to normal life bit by bit."
On the coronavirus pandemic
'Serbia has set an example for everyone'
Although new coronavirus strains are appearing, the world is slowly getting out of the pandemic. In your opinion, what are the most important lessons that we can take from all of this?
"The first lesson is that you are never sufficiently prepared. A few years ago, we couldn't even imagine what has just happened to us. However, this pandemic has also taught us that cooperation and solidarity are what's most important in difficult times. And, if I may say so, in this respect Serbia has set an example. As the representatives of the international community in this country, all of us are grateful for the help and the willingness on the part of the Serbian authorities to provide help from the very start. This year and a half hasn't been easy, but it would have been vastly more difficult without solidarity among countries."