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OTTAWA - The Conservative party may have successfully branded Michael Ignatieff a "just visiting" dilettante before trouncing the former Liberal leader in the last election.
But Kosovo's foreign minister says Ignatieff's writings taught him a crucial lesson: how different ethnic groups can live peacefully together.
"Canada is a good example of building multi-ethnic institutions in society," Enver Hoxhaj said in an interview while visiting Ottawa.
"As a former academic, I was influenced by Michael Ignatieff."
As he prepared for a meeting Wednesday with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Hoxhaj said he wanted to open a new chapter in Kosovo's relations with Canada.
And that goal is influenced by the books and articles Ignatieff wrote in his career before politics, particularly his rumination on nationalism, Blood and Belonging, that took him through the Balkans, Iraq and drew upon his own family roots in Russia.
Ignatieff was not able to connect with Canadian voters, leading his party to its worst-ever defeat in the 2011 election. But his earlier writing helped Hoxhaj understand how Canada's many ethnic groups have managed to live together peacefully.
Kosovars are struggling with that lesson when it comes to their historical foes in Serbia.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, a status Canada and about 100 other countries have formally recognized but that Serbia does not.
The two acrimonious neighbours, whose grievances date back centuries, signed a historic agreement in the spring that works toward normalizing relations.
Canada found itself in the middle of the conflict in 1999 when it sent warplanes, as part of the NATO alliance, to bomb Serbia to end its violence toward the ethnic Albanian Kosovars.
The ethnic violence continued for years, with the Serbian minority in Kosovo — once a province in former Yugoslavia — subject to bitter reprisals.
Ethnic Serbs fled Kosovo in droves and those that remained became reliant on NATO peacekeepers to protect them.
Hoxhaj insists that Serbs and Kosovars are well on the way to burying their historical hatchets.
That's because both share a modern political goal: membership in the European Union.
The EU acknowledged the April agreement by opening membership talks with Serbia and announcing plans to deepen relations with Kosovo as a step toward starting the membership process.
Hoxhaj said he was looking forward to briefing Baird on the march toward a lasting peace in the Balkans. It was the first visit of a Kosovo foreign minister to Canada.
He said Serbs are being integrated into local government while a handful of Serb ministers have been integrated into the central government.
He is also seeking Canada's support for Kosovo's eventual bid to join NATO as well as encouraging new investment in its mining and energy sector.
"Although Kosovo is not formally a NATO Aspirant country, Canada is supportive of the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkan states, including Kosovo, and Minister Baird underlined this support," said Rick Roth, Baird's spokesman.
More than a decade ago, Canada deployed 1,300 troops to NATO's peacekeeping mission for Kosovo and contributed $135 million in development assistance from 1992 to 2010.
"In my view, Canada and other member states of NATO should be very proud of the work done in Kosovo," said Hoxhaj.
In the last five years, Hoxhaj said, Kosovo was able to build a security force from scratch, based on NATO benchmarks.
The goal — like the one that still eludes Canada and its allies in Afghanistan — is to transfer security responsibility to a Kosovo-led force. That includes ensuring that the Serbian minority is protected.
Without the military, diplomatic and humanitarian intervention of Canada, the United States and its allies, the Balkans would still be at war, said Hoxhaj.
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