Honorable excellences, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, participants of this session, it's a great pleasure and honor to share some of my thoughts regarding the situation in western Balkans, which is a region in southeast Europe and where Kosovo, my country, has a very important role to play and we are trying to do our best in order to have, on one hand, peace and security, but on the other hand, also freedom and democracy. We believe that we do not have to sacrifice freedom for the sake of security or vice versa. It has been two years since I'm in government and these two years were years of growth and anticorruption.
These were years of democratic government with institutional stability and that's why we also had an economic dividend to the institutional stability and to the democratic character of our governance.
Average economic growth has been 7% of GDP, which was the highest since we declared independence 15 years ago. In addition, we have had an impressive increase of tax revenues, without changing fiscal policy, of exports and likewise of foreign direct investment. We believe that tax revenues increased even though fiscal policy remained the same because when people see that there is no corruption in the government, they are far more ready to pay taxes and contribute to the society. Likewise, when they have hope for the future, they’d rather spend than save, which is better for the lives of the people, but also for the overall country's economy.
Kosovo is a double success story. On the one hand, it’s a success story of NATO humanitarian intervention to stop the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milošević (1997-2000), who was in power in Serbia a quarter of a century ago. Also, we are a success story of a quality democracy going hand in hand with economic development. We know very well that there are certain powers and superpowers today in the world who want to show that economic development doesn't need democracy. We can do development and growth without minding about democracy and political pluralism.
We believe that development and growth without human rights, without political pluralism, without democracy, without rule of law, is not sustainable, not fair and is harmful for human dignity. We must have human dignity, freedom and rights and liberties for the people, but also overall economic growth which becomes well-being for the citizens. In the past, we have seen that favoring political stability over democratic reforms brought autocrats in power who are afraid about themselves and cynical about others. With solidarity we can make hope and passion win over fear and cynicism precisely by never repeating these mistakes where short-term political stability is more important than democratic and progressive reforms. However, during my mandate very early on I had to face the pandemic COVID-19 and I remember very well that early on there were no vaccines and there were no contracts on vaccines.
However, we were very clear that we were not going to receive vaccines from non-democratic countries. Even though we had to suffer severe criticism that we were not sufficiently dealing with the health situation, however, in record manner we managed to get contracts with Pfizer and with the help of EU and U.S., in the first year 2021, we managed to vaccinate over 60% of the population with at least one dose. In contrast to some other countries, we were clear from the very beginning no vaccines from Russian Federation and no vaccines from People's Republic of China. We knew very well that whatever help we received from someone who is not democratic, it will have strings attached, and at the same time, it will be used as an instrument to pressure you elsewhere. That's why we suffered at the beginning, but we gathered all our strength, and we nonetheless did well. However, when we started to slowly, but surely get out from the pandemic COVID-19 crisis, in our region within our continent, war returned – the unprovoked, unjustified Russian military aggression and invasion in Ukraine.
From early on we decided that we had to align ourselves with the United States, European Union, and United Kingdom, in condemning this aggression and invasion, and in putting sanctions on the Russian Federation, and the despotic President Putin. From the very beginning, we have shown sympathy, empathy, and solidarity with the national liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people. At the same time, we have pledged to receive up to 5,000 refugees from Ukraine. Thirteen journalists from Ukraine are residents of Pristina, Kosovo’s capital city. They are writing their reports from Kosovo, where they not only received shelter, but also became residents of our capital.
We have sheltered 1,893 Afghan refugees. There are already a vast majority of them being placed in other Western countries, but in Kosovo we still have 410 refugees from Afghanistan. As a young democracy, we consider it a humanitarian obligation to help those who are most in need. On the other hand, it is duty to our partners and allies to also help them when they are in need.
Last November we produced good news from the six countries of the western Balkans -- Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. We have signed three agreements in Berlin during the summit there for traveling with ID cards only, for recognition of higher qualification diplomas, and also, for recognizing professional qualifications in certain professions. In this way, the Berlin Process is the platform to bring the countries closer to the European Union, which I believe is the most important political project and historical process of peace and prosperity since the Second World War, and which must be defended, protected and nurtured.
We want to join EU, not only to benefit but also to contribute. People are our driving force. In addition, it is important to note that Kosovo and Serbia are engaged in a process of normalizing relations by means of mutual recognition, but also always helping the process of integration into European Union. We also want to join NATO and we are going to participate this spring in the largest NATO military enterprise for the security of the continent called Defender Europe 23. Agriculture, education, health care and defense are four sectors in which I have allocated the largest amount of annual state budget ever.
We are optimistic about the future. We want to cooperate for peace, and we believe that democracy is not just an instrument to get elected in power, but also a value in which we should adhere every day. Thank you very much.