PRISTINA, Kosovo — As Americans commemorate the birthday of your first president, here in Kosovo, Europe’s newest nation, we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of our declaration of independence. Today more than ever, the confluence of these two days underscores the links between our two countries and our shared destinies.
The people of Kosovo are forever indebted to America for the inspiration you offer and the support you have provided. Just as Americans had to struggle for their independence and democratic institutions after 1776, Kosovars, too, have traveled a difficult path from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the ensuing ethnic conflicts to the building of a multi-ethnic, free-market democracy.
We could not have come this far without the peacekeeping efforts of the United States and NATO, which contributed tens of thousands of troops to the Kosovo campaign. Americans should be proud that, together with your NATO allies, you helped to prevent ethnic cleansing and promote a diverse democracy.
Today, as Congress faces important budgetary choices, we encourage members to further that legacy. Programs at the State Department and USAID have been crucial to fostering the development of Kosovo’s institutions and improving opportunity in our country. We strongly encourage their continued support.
More than two centuries ago, the American Revolution inspired the friends of freedom throughout the world. Almost two decades ago, the conflict in Kosovo served as a catalyst for democratization and integration throughout Europe. Now, working with the European Union, the United Nations and the United States, Kosovo can demonstrate that democracy, free markets and the rule of law are the right road for nations new and old.
Kosovo can point the way to the future because we are one of the world’s youngest countries. Not only are we a new nation, but 75 percent of our people are under 35. While they grew up under communism and their parents endured ethnic strife, today’s Kosovars can demonstrate that people from many backgrounds and with different beliefs can live, work, form families and build businesses in a society defined by free elections, free enterprise and freedom of religion.
Yes, we must walk a long and rocky road toward the society that we seek. But, over the past year, we have taken strong steps.
On July 2, 2012 — only two days before America’s Independence Day — the 25-nation International Steering Group, which had guided Kosovo’s early years of independence, ended its oversight of our country. International overseers turned over full responsibility for the courts, the constitution and the parliament to the people of Kosovo and their elected leaders.
How did Kosovo earn the international community’s confidence? Among other initiatives, our parliament amended our constitution to protect democracy and diversity, with strong guarantees for cultural autonomy, religious freedom, community rights and decentralized government.
Since achieving autonomy, Kosovo has strived to integrate our economy with Europe and to make peace with our neighbors.
In January, the European Commission allocated 65 million euros to support Kosovo’s reform agenda. We’ll put the money to good use by modernizing our systems of justice and administration, investing in education and regional development and providing housing and job opportunities for Roma and Egyptian families in refugee camps.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.