by Adem Demaçi and Oliver Ivanovic debating on Radio Free Europe
Omer Karabeg (RFE): Mr Demaçi, it is widely held that the March 2004 events in Kosovo have buried for good hopes in the possibility of building a multi-ethnic Kosovo. What is your view?
I think it is not so. I am an optimist. I believe the possibility still exists. After all, we had lived together for five centuries under the Ottoman Empire and even after it. Our problems derive from the existing policy, the policy fashioned in Belgrade. The Serbian state has lost any right, ethical, human or political, to aspire to Kosova’s re-subjugation. The world should understand that Kosova must be free, that it must become an independent state. The Serbian regime should give up its hegemonistic ambitions. But Koštunica, I gather, repeats: ‘We will not surrender Kosovo. We cannot live without Kosovo.’ Yet they lived without Kosova for five hundred years and have done so for the past five years too. People find such declarations very irritating and unhelpful. Herein lies the root of all the problems we have in Kosova today.
It is quite inappropriate at this moment for Mr Demaçi to speak in that way. It is inappropriate to blame the victims for what happened to them. It actually shows the nature and style of the Albanian political elite to which Mr Demaçi belongs. As if the Serbs had not been driven from their homes, their houses and churches burned down, all that is Serb in Kosovo destroyed. Mr Demaçi has mentioned Belgrade’s policy. Belgrade’s policy is a state policy concerned with part of its territory, and is absolutely democratic. The problem rather lies in the irrational, almost romantic, desire present among Kosovo Albanians to have an independent state, which is in absolute opposition to all modern trends, a complete anachronism in the contemporary world.
Demaçi: Serbia is once again in the thrall of extreme nationalism. It is once again being led by totalitarian nationalists, headed by Koštunica. So there is no reason why the Albanians should tolerate a state that has killed 15,000 Kosovars. Over 250,000 houses and farms were destroyed at the time of the NATO intervention alone, not to speak of the period before. I am sorry for what has happened during the past few days, but I cannot forget either what happened in Kosova under Serbian rule. It is difficult to believe that something like that could happen at the end of the 20st century.
Ivanović: Mr Demaçi, you are manipulating figures. You say that 15,000 people were killed when you know that no more than 7,800 died. You know that as well as I do. You talk of 250,000 burnt homes, but which international body has confirmed that?
Demaçi: Those are the facts. After 1991, when the Serbianization of Kosova began, over 150,000 people lost their jobs, children were thrown out of schools, the sick from hospitals, fear and terror ruled. That was a dreadful act of violence; they wished to starve us to death.
Ivanović: How do you judge what has happened over the past few days? What was the cause of that?
Demaçi: It was the consequence of long-term past policies. It was an inevitable revolt.
Ivanović: To kill women and children and to torch houses is not a revolt. What sort of revolt are you talking about? After all, you have been in power for the past five years.
Demaçi: It was an uncontrolled reaction that is difficult to stop once it starts. The Serbian government practised violence in an organized manner, using the police, whereas this was unorganized violence involving thugs and criminals. The events escaped control. I ask myself where UNMIK was, where KFOR, what were they doing?
Ivanović: According to you, then, a spontaneous group armed to the teeth climbed into twenty buses and arrived in Mitrovica. What kind of spontaneity is that? You are talking nonsense. It was a perfectly well organized action as you know very well.
Demaçi: I don’t know where you saw those buses and those weapons. I think Mr Ivanović has dreamt that up. How could so many buses pass KFOR’s patrols? A bird could not have got through.
Ivanović: That is what KFOR says.
Demaçi: Mr Ivanović, do not try to argue on the basis of imagined events. Let us talk about facts. Milošević tried to drive the entire Albanian population out from here, that is a fact. One cannot possible say that those camps in Macedonia and Albania were figments of the imagination. A state responsible for such atrocities is now trying to play the role of victim.
Ivanović: That is all nonsense. Many victims have fallen, there has been much material and historical and cultural destruction, and Mr Demaçi talks about Milošević. Milošević has paid for what he has done; we as a nation have paid for the fact that he was our leader, i.e. the president of our state. That story is over - it cannot always serve as an excuse.
Demaçi: You say you have paid the price, but you have not. What has Kosova gained by Milošević being in The Hague? Nothing. So far as we are concerned, the price will be paid when the Serbian state, Serb chauvinism and Serb hegemonism lose Kosova. As long as Serbia holds the whip over Kosova, the price will remain unpaid. How can you possible rule over two million Albanians who do not want you, who do not want Serbia, who want freedom?
Ivanović: You should understand one thing. If Š trpce decides not to remain in Kosovo, that does not mean that it can leave. Nor can Kosovo leave without the agreement of the owner, and Serbia is the owner. Things are not so simple. Nowhere in the world can such matters be resolved like that, and the same is true here, especially given that the desired path to independence is the path of violence, murder, burning and destruction of places of worship. Such things do not happen in Europe. Only in Africa can one win power and independence in such a manner. There was a deliberate provocation in Mitrovica, designed to divert attention so that twenty other villages could be attacked and burnt down. This, Mr Demaçi, was the work of a well-organized group, a paramilitary unit made up of extremists or terrorists, call them what you wish. Neither you nor I nor our peoples can prosper as long such people operate here. Instead of condemning them and what they have done, you say: we too have our hooligans, but they are a small group. Your public condemnation is never complete, you always qualify it with another sentence. In view of my respect for you, I beg you not to spoil your public image. You should be the same person who, in 1992, said there should be no war. Do tell this now to the Albanians.
Demaçi: It was not the Albanians who made war here, but the Serbian army and the Serbian police. Serbia still wants to break up Kosova. It was the Serbs who took over the road and kept it blocked for three days. Where in modern Europe can one block a road because a youth has been wounded, though I do admit that it was an unfortunate affair, a tragedy.
Ivanović: Mr Demaçi, are the thousand people killed over the past few years an unfortunate affair? Is the kidnapping of people an unfortunate affair? Are the torched houses and churches an unfortunate affair? That is not the right term. It only adds oil to the fire.
Demaçi: I am against it and I condemn it, but I also wish to say who is responsible for it. It is the fault of those who openly seek Kosova’s partition, those who openly work for the return of the Serbian government. This is unacceptable to the people. I have always said that if you wish to avoid new bloodshed, you should let the people decide. We want a referendum and not solutions imposed on us from outside.
Ivanović: You probably speak on behalf of a large number of Albanians. If this means that bloodshed is bound to occur unless you can persuade the international community and Serbia to accept Kosovo’s independence, then I really fear for our future.
Demaçi: And if you continue to insist on the subjugation of Kosova to Serbia, then bloodshed will never cease here. The people are not a child you can manipulate. The people want to be free, just as you wish to be free.
Ivanović: And what about freedom for others, those who are not Albanians? What are we to do? If what you say is true, then there will certainly be no peace. Since if we constantly talk about before and after, what is the cause and what the consequence, then there is no end to it. I thought you were a reasonable man who could say: enough is enough. You should have said that on 16 June 1999, when we became an international protectorate, when the international troops arrived. That was the moment when we should have drawn a line under the past and begun to build something new. But you failed to understand that. You followed the romantic and wholly irrational desire to win independence, the price of which is paid by all those who disagree. That is not the right way. It would only cause a downward spiral leading to this territory becoming mono-ethnic, but that could not last. Believe me, it would only cause further tensions and probably also a new war. That would be no good, you must be aware that this is so.
Demaçi: Rather then forcing the people to revolt again, it would be better to acknowledge the state of affairs, accept facts, accept life such as it is, if you wish for a peaceful Kosova, if you wish us to live next to one another and jointly solve our problems. As long as you wish to play at being the masters of Kosova, as long as you continue your absurd claim to Kosova - which you occupied in 1912 - you will not be able to become a democratic nation. You will begin the process of democratization the day you give up Kosova. If you wish to have a peaceful and democratic Serbia, if you wish for peace in the Balkans, then you must recognize that Albanians have the same rights as you. Would you like to be governed by Hungarians or Romanians? Of course not. No nation would accept foreign rule. Why should the Albanians then accept that 6 or 7 per cent of Serbs should have the upper hand in Kosova?
Ivanović: Who is it in the current Serbian government who, according to you, seeks to govern Kosovo? Why say that? Why the fixed idea that someone wants to rule over you? The current Serbian government rejects violence as a method of rule. It applies only the democratic method. But you must stop believing that any Serb will at any time accept the secession of Kosovo. That will never ever be acceptable to us. A part of Serbia can secede only with Serbia’s permission. That is how things are. Internal administration, on the other hand, will be run by those who are elected, the popular representatives sitting in the provincial assembly. The day will come when you may have your representatives in the Serbian assembly, the federal assembly and so on. That is the right way.
Demaçi: Those are stories for small children. We have had our fill of such Serb stories. Those who came before us made mistakes, but we shall not make the same mistakes. The Communists used to say that the king was bad and they were good, but they too sent people off to Turkey, continued with the policy of injustice, lynching and murder. You now tell the same story: Milošević was bad, but we are not like him. It is pointless. You should find the courage to accept what life demands, and life demands freedom, it demands equality, that all people have the right to their own state. The will of the people is what should decide their fate, not solutions imposed upon them from outside.
Ivanović: Why cannot we seek a democratic agreement? Why should not the representatives of the Serbian government and those from Kosovo sit together and jointly arrive at a solution?
Demaçi: We must ask the people. The solution lies in a referendum. It is wrong to bypass the will of the people. There can be no solutions, no negotiations or dialogue behind the people’s back.
Ivanović: Then we should have a referendum in each local municipality. What should be done with those municipalities and local communities which would refuse to accept such a solution? One should also have a referendum in Serbia itself. What do you think would be the decision of the majority of people in Serbia?
Demaçi: Why should the Serbian people be involved in the decision? It is up to us to decide our fate.
Ivanović: It is because Kosovo is part of Serbia, you must understand that.
Demaçi: This is not Serbian but Kosovar territory, and it is surely those who live here who should decide. It would come to a sorry pass if people in Serbia had the power to decide what should happen to us.
Ivanović: Do you plan to put Goraždovac and Š trpce too into this state of yours?
Demaçi: Why not, that is Kosova territory.
Ivanović: But they do not want to be there. Why don’t you understand that?
Demaçi: They do, indeed they do, but you do not allow it, Belgrade does not allow it.
Ivanović: You are being unserious. We are being killed while KFOR is present, so what would happen to us left alone in this state of yours. It would be a catastrophe for us. If 40,000 foreign soldiers are unable to protect us properly, what would happen to us left to the mercy of the Albanians?
Demaçi: Who killed first? The Serbian state started to kill Albanians in 1912 and has never stopped. That same Serbian state which today describes itself as democratic attacked Slovenia, attacked Croatia, caused innumerable tragedies in Bosnia-Herzegovina and now is doing the same in Kosova.
Ivanović: Who is causing tragedies in Kosovo?
Demaçi: Serbia is responsible for all the tragedies that happened yesterday and are happening today. Your police and army chiefs openly say that they are present and active in Kosova. We have a large number of unsolved murders. Why? Because only Albanians are investigated, but not Serbs. The Serbs refuse to be subject to the judicial process, so these cases remain unsolved. We in Kosova must seek a solution that would be good for all, and that will make Kosova a place where all could prosper. You yourself too, Mr Ivanović, are a citizen of Kosova, just like me. Belgrade should not interfere in our affairs and decide our policies. But you do not wish that. You and your coalition Povratak [Return] say that you represent Belgrade, that you carry out Belgrade’s policy, that you are working for Kosova to be returned to Serbia. This means that you too are responsible for the recent bloodshed.
Ivanović: Unsolved murders are indeed a great problem. They are not being solved because you, Mr Demaçi, and people like you are not prepared to stand up in a court and say that so and so has committed a murder, killed a particular Serb or someone else, regardless of their nationality. Why don’t they use their influence to find out who has killed the people who died during the recent escalation of violence? The Serbs are very keen to see at least one case solved and the guilty brought before a court and punished. It does not matter which court, that of The Hague or a local one, but let at least one case be solved. However, Mr Demaçi, your obsession, your irrational desire for independence means that you do not wish to see the rule of law but the rule of force. Therein lies the problem. Such things, Mr Demaçi, cannot be solved by force. Whoever tries to impose a solution by force commits catastrophic mistakes.
Demaçi: I like to speak of the facts. Since the arrival of international troops in Kosova, three times as many Albanians as Serbs have been killed and the murderers have not been found. It is no easy matter.
Ivanović: Why not? The judges are Albanians.
Demaçi: It is not easy since the courts do not function properly.
Ivanović: You always find someone else to blame. That is your main problem. Mr Demaçi, you as an intellectual, as a person who has been the victim of legal injustice, are not prepared to say that we need justice here, not chaos. Those who rule here are those who have most guns. No murder case can be solved and no crime punished in such a system. When Kosovo is left without Serbs, the Albanians alone will suffer, since the criminals will have no one else to kill. The Serbs will be gone and you will pay the price, be maltreated by your own criminals.
Demaçi: In order for things to work we must begin at the source. The greatest injustice is to deny a people the right to decide their own future. It is you who wish to impose on the Albanians your idea of what is good for them; you who force them to be part of a state which had committed so many crimes against them. This is the essence of our dispute. People here are trying to make ends meet, but Serbia blocks everything. Serbia is preventing the solution of every problem by one artful trick after another.
Ivanović: They are not tricks, Mr Demaçi, but laws. Independence cannot be the solution to all your problems. According to you, independence will automatically bring prosperity. But that is not so. We have many independent states which are undemocratic, you must see that. If, hypothetically speaking, Kosovo did become independent, it would be the most undemocratic creation in the world. You must understand that criminals who shoot and kill do not do so on behalf of independence. They kill because they do not like someone. You really ought to be able to understand that independence of itself brings nothing. Wealth comes together with a properly functioning system and institutions, not with independence. But you are not interested in any of this, apart from your ultimate status. Like a broken gramophone, you constantly repeat one and the same word: independence.
Demaçi: Because that is the heart of the matter. What we lack is independence.
Ivanović: That is quite untrue.
Demaçi: You do not lack it, but we do.
Ivanović: You should condemn crime, you should work more and talk less. You do not need independence for that. You do not need to be independent to prevent corruption. You have UNMIK which is pro-Albanian, which from the start did what you wished, you have a majority in all the institutions. You should change your tune. You are like a child who does not like the ice cream he is holding, but wants the one another child has.
Demaçi: If independence is so unimportant, why don’t you give up your own? Why did you die for your independence, why do you celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the first Serbian uprising as the date of the creation of the Serbian state? You think that what you have is of no use to others. You must understand that we too need freedom. Only when we are free and independent can we create proper institutions that will work, and that will govern this land as it should be governed. I tell you that the Kosova we will create will be an example for others to follow.
Demaçi: You from Serbia too will come to see how we have solved our problems. We shall create a state that will be an example for all. We shall do so because we have the laws of life and nature on our side. Albanians have no other choice. Albanians cannot live without freedom, since life without freedom has no meaning.
Adam Demaçi, one of the most influential independent political figures in Kosova, spent twenty-eight years in prison for political dissent in the former Yugoslavia, and won the Sakharov award of the European Parliament in 1998. Oliver Ivanović , a prominent representative of the Kosova Serbs, is a member of the Kosova presidency. Their dialogue is part of an interview conducted by Omer Karabeg on behalf of Radio Free Europe, and is translated here from the transcript published in Zarez (Zagreb), 8 April 2004.
‘The violence [in Kosovo] is not likely to end until the West stops relying on failed assumptions about a multi-ethnic Kosovo, a united Serbia-Montenegro-Kosovo, and the power of the EU to resolve all difficult political issues in the Balkans. That requires the West to focus now on the final status of Kosovo before extremists of all stripes take over.’
Morton Abramowitz, The Washington Post, 19 March 2004.
‘Partition has long been anathema to the Kosovar Albanian leadership and the international community alike, but there have been some suggestions in the wake of the violence that at least some such individuals are now leaning toward partition as the only sensible way to deal with two apparently mutually antagonistic populations. The problem with this approach, however, is that it potentially opens a Pandora's box of problems in the region. Nationalists of various hues could argue that if ethnically based partition is the cure for what ails Kosova, why should it not be applied to Bosnia or Macedonia as well? And why should the present international borders remain sacrosanct and not give way to a Greater Albania, a Greater Serbia, and a Greater Croatia?’
Patrick Moore, in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Balkan Report,
Vol. 8, No. 12, 26 March 2004