Kosovo's quest for independence has long dominated the newspaper headlines but few people know that for over seven years a Maltese national has played a key role in preparing the province for statehood. Alexander Borg Olivier, the son of George Borg Olivier, the father of Malta's independence, is the Legal Advisor and Director of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.
Like his father, Dr Borg Olivier is playing a key role in bringing about independence for a small nation: "This is something which touches me very deeply as I am very conscious of the fact that I am playing an important role which will lead, without any doubt, to Kosovo getting its independence in a very short while," he says in an interview during a visit to Malta.
The UN has administered Kosovo since 1999, soon after Nato intervened to stop the ethnic cleansing by the Serbs against the Albanian population. Dr Borg Olivier has been behind the legal framework that brought Kosovo to its present state since October 2000. This involves drafting, revising and putting into effect draft laws to be signed by the head of the UN in Kosovo.
"I have drawn up more than 300 such laws and legislative instruments, including a new criminal code for Kosovo, a new customs code, elaborate legislation against organised crime as well as laws on banking, labour, employment and education," he adds.
"Because of the unique status of Kosovo - it is not a state but a territory under an interim administration - you can imagine how difficult it has been from a legal point of view to establish all the mechanisms and relationships with international organisations and governments to allow the functioning of what we all take for granted, such as freedom of movement, travel, telecommunications and banking."
Dr Borg Olivier says that thanks to the United Nations, Kosovo today has a fully functioning parliament and a government with 15 ministries, a judiciary and a police force.
He says that although he is very satisfied that the EU, the UN and Nato have considered that Kosovo is at a stage to assume its new status, he acknowledges the problem with regard to Russia's position on the UN Security Council.
"The UN Security Council is blocked but the UN is taking the process forward in close collaboration with the EU. The UN has done all that it could do under the mandate entrusted to it. The people now have their own democratic institutions and capabilities, and clearly there is a high expectation that this will lead to a resolution on status, because without such a resolution, the people will suffer," he says.
He is convinced that Kosovo will soon declare its independence and that a core of international players will recognise this independence.
"This will of course be a supervised independence, as designed in the Ahtissari (UN Special envoy to Kosovo) settlement. I have played a very key role, also within the Ahtissari process, and I am now advising how the UN should respond should a unilateral declaration of independence take place."
He says that it is up to the UN, EU and Nato to ensure that any declaration of independence is a managed co-ordinated process working in full co-ordination with local authorities. "In this way we can guarantee the integration of a new Kosovo into new European structures which guarantees peace and stability in the region."
The European Union does not have a united stand on Kosovo, Serbia is completely opposed to such a move and Russia has said Kosovo will never be a member of the UN. What type of independence will this be?
"What is on offer is not full independence as we all understand it but supervised independence. This supervision will go on for a considerable time. The international community is well aware of the structural weaknesses that have to be addressed before Kosovo is well on its way.
"'Never' is a very strong word and history has shown that there has always been a shift from 'never' to 'maybe'. Yes, Kosovo's membership of the UN will be a complicated matter because it will depend on Russia not casting a veto. On the other hand one can say that Kosovo is being ushered into the community of nations, under heavy international supervision and support. It is entering into European structures and the EU is investing huge amounts of resources and is ready to deploy personnel for this supervision. From a legal perspective it would have been much less complicated had the Security Council given its seal of approval but I am still confident that this approval can come in the near future," he says rather optimistically.
In the interim, he explains, a large number of EU states have an interest in promoting stability in the Balkans, and as the number of international recognitions increases, progress will be made, and this should encourage those who are still sceptical. He also believes that the re-election of pro-EU President Boris Tadic in Sunday's Serbian presidential run-off election augurs well for a solution to be found within EU structures.
"We are confident the positive aspects of recognition will outweigh the concerns expressed so far," he explains. Dr Borg Olivier plays down the possibility of Kosovo's independence leading to instability in the region and the emergence of a new Cold War between Russia and the West.
"It is true that relations are frosty between Russia and the West but some believe the issue is not really Kosovo but issues of a larger scope that are playing a role in the relationship between the two sides. We think it is highly exaggerated to talk of doomsday scenarios and feel a resolution of status will bring calmness and stability in Kosovo," he says.
"We are confident Kosovo is ready to assume higher levels of responsibility, and all the human rights safeguards are in place. Kosovo is a unique case that should not be compared to other places where there are possibilities of secession. In Kosovo the international community had to intervene in full force to stabilise the situation. There is no doubt Kosovo has been taken on its separate course over the last eight years. This is also because unfortunately Serbia did not contribute one iota to progress, not even towards the people of Serb origin in Kosovo; this was left entirely to the UN," he adds.
Dr Borg Oliver acknowledges that there will be disappointment on the Serbian side if Kosovo goes for independence. This reality, he explains, must be addressed in the best possible way. He says the long-term perspective was always a European one for both Kosovo and Serbia.
"The EU now has the potential to play a key role. The UN has played its role. If Serbia and Kosovo are integrated into the EU this will guarantee stability for the region and diminish the importance of the word independence. Which country today can act on its own regardless of the clubs it is a member of," he asks.
He explains that he has worked very closely with all the political leaders in Kosovo. "They know and trust me. The fact that I come from a very small island that has fought for its independence and successfully joined the community of nations in a way that is highly recognised and appreciated makes me very proud," he says.
Dr Borg Oliver, who has had a long and distinguished career with the United Nations, was last year nominated by the Maltese government as the head of the EU's ESDP crisis management mission in Kosovo, which is to be responsible for the police and justice system once the UN departs. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, eventually chose a retired French general, Yves de Kermabon, for the post, which many observers believe was due mainly to France's traditional strong influence within the EU.
It certainly was not due to Dr Borg Olivier's lack of credentials for the job. This is what Soren Jessen-Peterson, the UN Special Representative in Kosovo from 2004 to 2006 wrote about Dr Borg Olivier in 2006 in a confidential assessment report: "A superb performance by a highly skilled colleague in a key function at a crucial time for the mission. Impressive work rate and never failing good advice combining legal and political skills."
Despite the fact that he was not chosen for the new EU job in Kosovo he remains optimistic about his future.
"I have served as a trusted representative of the UN in Kosovo for over seven years. I have served as the right hand of six special representatives of the UN secretary general. It has been a unique experience. This could serve the UN in its transition out of Kosovo and the EU as it assumes greater responsibility. At the same time, I can work closely with elected Kosovo officials who have full respect and trust in me."
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