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New Series no.13/14 December 1999 - February 2000
The Kosovo nightmare
by Sonja Biserko

Kosovo made the international headlines throughout 1999. The focus was initially on the violence inflicted on the Kosovar Albanians by the Serbs, on the international intervention and on the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovar Albanians. Then it shifted to the violence inflicted by Kosovar Albanians on non√ľAlbanians in the wake of KFOR deployment in Kosovo. The impression was created that there was nothing but violence in Kosovo, despite the massive international mission headed by Bernard Kouchner. This whole presentation is one-sided and undoubtedly obscures what is going on behind the scene within the Albanian community in Kosovo.

The Albanians are the last nation in Europe to emancipate itself and they are making enormous efforts to join European trends. This is a laborious and painful process, perhaps the most painful in Europe to date. But for the first time history is on their side. In the past twenty years alone, the Kosovar Albanians have passed through three very difficult phases. In the early eighties the Serbian regime unleashed a media campaign against the Kosovar Albanians, in order to lay the groundwork for amendments to the 1974 Constitution. These amendments, which were implemented in 1989, were followed by a host of discriminatory laws, such as the one banning the sale of real estate to ethnic Albanians. In the early nineties began a phase of physical harassment and violence, which ended in the mass expulsion of nearly one million Albanians into neighbouring countries in the spring of 1999. The trauma in which the Albanians have lived for almost all of the past twenty years has left deep traces on the entire Albanian community.

With the deployment of KFOR and the establishment of a protectorate over Kosovo, the Kosovar Albanians entered a new phase that offers them a unique chance to enter the next century as a liberated people. But the spiral of violence, especially against Serbs and Roma, has cast a shadow over their liberation struggle. If this does not calm down, there is a danger - given Serbian and international propaganda - that the Kosovar Albanians may come to be equated with the Serbian side.

In order to assess the Kosovo situation today, however, it is necessary to define the context in which everything is taking place. The murder of Fehmi Agani, the most important Albanian politician, threw the Albanian community into a kind of political vacuum, which Hasim Thaci clearly navigated best, showing a certain political courage at the moment when Rugova was hesitating about his return to Kosovo. Today there are 30 parties in Kosovo, but they are ill-defined. This is partly a result of Kosovar Albanian non-participation in public political life over the past decade. However, a process of pluralization and differentiation is under way.

The superficially monolithic character of the Albanian population during the past decade was based above all on its resistance to the Serbian regime. Ibrahim Rugova was the symbol of that resistance, which was at a high civilizational level.

It should also be borne in mind that during the short spring war the entire health and education infrastructure was destroyed, and there was a massive influx of rural population into the towns. This was a direct consequence of the 110,000 destroyed local households. The phenomenon is particularly manifest in Prishtina, whose population has perhaps reached 600,000 inhabitants (twice the prewar total). This tectonic upheaval affecting Kosova's capital city has hit hardest the Albanian elite, which is having to fight for its place in the new set-up. The Kosovar Albanians are currently facing a host of problems: a non-functioning infrastructure; a devastated economy; water, power and heating in short supply. International donors have yet to contribute substantially to the economic renewal of Kosovo or the reconstruction of its infrastructure. The Albanians expected much more and a certain disappointment can be sensed, but this has not kept them from rebuilding houses and roads themselves. The Albanian diaspora is clearly not backward in providing means for reconstruction. Kosovo throbs with an energy that may pull the Albanians through.

Crimes and chaos

Many Albanians condemn the crimes and chaos in Kosovo. Many mention uncontrolled groups from Albania which loot and kill. There is no evidence that this is terror organized from a single centre, although many people suspect that. The situation is made worse by the fact that there is a legal vacuum in Kosovo. Only in late November was the decision taken to use the 1989 legal system. The agreement recently sponsored by Kouchner between three political currents - Rugova, Thaci and Qosja - may have a significant effect on the situation for the better, since it will give them a degree of responsibility. Until now this has not been possible, for they have had no control or police. But in the meantime the first class of recruits (some 180 of them) have completed police academy, albeit rather later than expected. The fact is that during these past months only 1,800 international police officers have been available instead of the 5,600 expected, and they cannot work effectively without help from a local police force.

The Belgrade regime is also responsible for the current situation in Kosovo, by maintaining a low-intensity state of war via Kosovska Mitrovica. There are serious indications that this is mainly the work of members of the state security forces. Added to this, the local Serbs do not recognize the changed state of affairs following the intervention and their de facto loss of power. The Serbs are experiencing a kind of trauma because of the loss of their dominant position. The Belgrade regime's propaganda to the effect that its army and police will return to Kosovo (at the latest by June 2000) is widely accepted by the local Serbs, which is an additional block to any turn on their part towards cooperation with the Kosovar Albanians and the international community.

Hardly anyone mentions the 2,000 Albanians in Serbian jails, many of whom have not even had charges filed against them. They include many women, like Flora Brovina, a doctor and humanist, and students like Albin Kurti, a leader of student demonstrations. It is no accident that they are in jail, since precisely they symbolize the emancipation of Albanian society - for the main stereotypes of Albanians are primitive women and illiterate youngsters. Furthermore, still nothing is known about several thousand people who have disappeared. This too contributes to radicalization of the Albanians.

The `Centre for Peace and Tolerance' in Prishtina, founded by the Serbian government and in fact an outpost of the Serbian foreign ministry, collects information on acts of violence against Kosovar Serbs and seems to have as its main aim to defame the international mission. This Centre, although supposedly an NGO, has yet to establish contact with any foreign foundation or international NGO operating in Kosovo. In addition, the Serb leaders in Kosovo refuse to participate in the work of bodies set up by the Kosovo Administrator, Bernard Kouchner. Most of them have no legitimacy in any case, since they helped to create the policy that led to the current predicament. So the Kosovar Serbs are left to their own devices, since under such circumstances KFOR only takes care of their security. For any other form of assistance, the Serbs would have to cooperate. The international community can help only if there is willingness to accept such help. Unfortunately, the Belgrade regime is still bent on undermining the international mission, and Bernard Kouchner in particular.

Partition plans

The Belgrade regime has not abandoned its aim of partitioning Kosovo, which was its plan when it withdrew before the entry of the KFOR troops. According to the testimony of Serbs from Prizren and other parts of Kosovo, the Yugoslav Army and MUP in Suva Reka ordered the withdrawal of Serbs from Prizren. The intention was obviously to partition Kosovo according to prearranged plans. But this did not succeed. The idea of expansion of the Serbian state to the north-west has been defeated, so that partition of Kosovo has become still more important for it. It is an interesting fact that treasures from all the monasteries were relocated from Kosovo as early as in 1992, on the orders of the then FRY President, Dobrica âosic. Thanks to the Russian intervention the Serbs kept Kosovska Mitrovica and they are still hoping that they will be able to effect a partition at least on a small part of the territory, including the Trepca mine, which has mythological economic importance for both sides.

Lipljani, an area populated by about 10,000 Serbs, is the best example of their isolation. The primary school caters to the needs of 200 pupils and is located in a private house, as is the health centre. They all live on minimal humanitarian aid, or possibly on pensions not exceeding 400-800 dinars (DM 20-40). They have no freedom of movement, they sneak along byways and through courtyards. Secondary school pupils are taken to school in Kosovo Polje by a KFOR bus. Most of these local Serbs feel betrayed, which in turn generates anger and dissatisfaction. But they have yet to realize that they have been manipulated by the Belgrade regime. Not a single official from Belgrade has visited them or rendered them any kind of assistance.

Many Albanians think it is important that Serbs, or at least some of them, should acknowledge all that has happened to the Albanians during the past ten years. They think this would ease the situation in relation to the local Serbs. Aside from that, the Albanian elite is in any case more willing to open up to all, including to the Serbs. As in all ghettoized societies, there is enormous curiosity and will to communicate, especially among young people. Having in mind the current context of the Kosovo situation, it is indispensable for the two, both deeply traumatized, communities to find a modus vivendi.

Sonja Biserko is director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia:

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