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Kosovo opening embassy in Canada for the first time

By Kristen Shane      

Chargé aims for official launch by Feb. 17, 2016.

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Kosovo is in the process of starting an embassy in Canada for the first time.

Its new chargé d’affaires, Lulzim Hiseni, arrived in Ottawa in late August. He found a house in the upscale Ottawa neighbourhood The Glebe, started meeting with Canadian government officials and members of the foreign diplomatic corps, and got to work finding a proper space to house an embassy.

His hope is to have it officially launch in time for Feb. 17, the anniversary of the date Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. He said in a Sept. 28 interview that he expects another diplomat to join him in 2016, and more staff once the embassy is established.

Canada recognized the breakaway Balkan entity as a state about a month after it split from Serbia. Canada followed the lead of Western allies including the United States, United Kingdom and France, though Serbia recalled its ambassador temporarily in protest.

Other world powers including China and Russia have never recognized the independence of Kosovo.

Serbia has long considered Kosovo’s declaration of independence unilateral and refuses to recognize Kosovo as sovereign. In the last few years, though, the two sides, which both aspire to European Union membership, have started to normalize relations, with the EU’s help.

Kosovo is mostly made up of ethnic Albanians, with a minority Serb population.

Canada and Kosovo have been getting closer diplomatically, with Kosovo’s first ambassador to Canada accredited in the fall of 2012 and based in Washington. The first official visit of a foreign minister of Kosovo to Canada took place the next year, and resulted in a meeting with both Canada’s minister and minister of state for foreign affairs.

Canada is represented diplomatically in Kosovo through its recently-appointed ambassador in Croatia, Daniel Maksymiuk.

Amid the breakup of Yugoslavia, Canada took part in a NATO bombing campaign in the late 1990s that helped drive Serbian forces from the Kosovo region.

Mr. Hiseni praised Canada for its support over the years, including welcoming thousands of refugees during the conflict.

After using its limited human resources to start with embassies in places like Washington and Paris, Kosovo is now moving to shore up its presence in Canada to reinforce its solid ties with the country, he said.

The two started talks toward a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement in 2014. Mr. Hiseni said he hopes to reach a deal in the months after the ongoing Canadian federal election.

There’s Canadian interest in Kosovo’s mining and energy sector, he said.

Kosovo is interested in boosting co-operation in other areas of Canadian expertise as well, he said, including education and health.

On a recognition quest

Given that there are more than 170 heads of diplomatic missions accredited to Canada, it gives him the chance to lobby countries represented here to recognize Kosovo as a state and include it in international organizations.

Mr. Hiseni, a tall, bespectacled man who bears a passing resemblance to Canadian film director Atom Egoyan, named a handful of these organizations, from the prominent to the obscure, to which Kosovo has gained membership or is attempting to join in its quest for international legitimacy. It has full recognition from the International Olympic Committee, for instance, not the United Nations.

His current push is UNESCO, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organization, which is set to decide on Kosovo’s application in November. Serbia’s foreign minister has said accepting Kosovo would go against UN rules. Mr. Hiseni said participating in international organizations benefits the citizens of Kosovo in practical ways.

More than 110 countries have now recognized Kosovo, he said.

“All this work is also our diplomatic missions,” he said, speaking French.

When asked for his response to Kosovo’s new mission to Canada, Serbian Ambassador Mihailo Papazoglu in a written statement said Serbia is grateful for Canada’s support for peace, but reiterated Serbia’s disappointment that Canada recognized Kosovo’s independence.

“We deeply regret it—because territorial disputes or armed conflicts are not that simple. Countries, both friends and partners of Serbia and Canada, like Ukraine or Israel, understand that and that is exactly why they are opposed to do the same.”

He noted that many power players have not recognized Kosovo, including members of the UN Security Council, BRICS and EU.

Regarding the new diplomatic presence, he said, “someone coming from the region of Kosovo and Metohija to Canada is to me a citizen of Serbia, the same as any other—regardless of what his or her religious or ethnic affiliation may be. No less, no more.”

Studied, worked in France before Canada

Mr. Hiseni, 49, was educated at La Sorbonne and speaks perfect French. He learned the language in France, where he spent much of his working life before joining the foreign service of Kosovo.

He earned degrees in political science and parliamentary life and worked or trained in several French institutions, including with the foreign affairs committee of the National Assembly, and as a legal officer for the National Court of Asylum.

He also worked as a municipal chief of staff in Boulogne-Billancourt, a western suburb of Paris.

In 2009 he participated in a public competition to join Kosovo’s fledgling foreign service. He was sent to Kosovo’s embassy in Belgium from 2009 to 2010 and then back to France as first secretary and then minister counsellor.

Arriving in Canada at election time, he said it’s been interesting to watch Canadian democracy and multiculturalism at work.

“It’s very nice to see in a country different nationalities that are very well integrated in the Canadian society,” he said.

When he’s not busy setting up Kosovo’s mission, he enjoys playing tennis. He also skis.

He said he expects his wife, an academic, and 12-year-old daughter will join him in Canada next year.



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