Bracing for the Backlash

In the hours before the onset of the NATO attacks Kosovo collapsed into a state of fear. This was a time for survival, and Albanians were trying to find shelter against the inevitable reprisals.

Bracing for the Backlash

In the hours before the onset of the NATO attacks Kosovo collapsed into a state of fear. This was a time for survival, and Albanians were trying to find shelter against the inevitable reprisals.

We now have a complete deadlock diplomatically, NATO has approved bombing, and things are going from bad to worse. Everything in Pristina is shutting down, and except for security forces, everyone is off the streets. No shops are working, and only a few cars are out.

People are scared, and families are trying to get together and figure out where they will stay. We have reports of heavy shelling on the outskirts of the city, and the population is moving from outside the town towards the city centre, believing it is more secure there.

There is barely any information. During the day, a few journalist crews tried to penetrate the Drenica region, a stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), through side roads, but they were turned back, and apparently they were shot at. The area is completely blocked off, and no one is really sure what is happening there, or in other small cities, such as Glogovac and Produjevo, where there have been offensives by the Yugoslav authorities.

Today is the last day of publication for Koha Ditore, and we will also cease the English-language KD Times edition, and the radio. The Yugoslav authorities have fined Koha Ditore nearly $25,000 for publishing a public statement by KLA leader, Hashim Thaci, which was distributed by the Belgrade news agency Beta. But Beta itself was not fined. Last week, three other Albanian-language papers were fined in a similar way and shut down, and a few days ago I was beaten outside our offices by police and could not get out of my bed for two days.

Like the other Albanian papers, we refuse to pay such a "fine" to the Yugoslav authorities, which would only be a contribution to their repressive regime. So even if we had the cash, which we do not, we would not comply, not even with a symbolic amount. Our publisher, Veton Surroi, said today in his editorial that at least, through this fine, we confirm that we agree with the regime on one thing: we represent a threat to them. At least they got that right, and we are proud of it.

But frankly, in such a situation, the publication of Koha Ditore is a luxury phenomenon, a quirk. The time for such communications as we had, with daily newspapers, is finished. (There are no Albanian-language electronic media.) Any kind of news that you can get is like a breath of fresh air. But there is no distribution, and people are on the move. We cannot get the paper to the people. As for the English-language edition, of which I am the editor, all the foreigners have left, so I have lost my readers.

In any case, now it is simply a matter of priorities: how to preserve yourself, how to find shelter in the coming days. The newspapers can find other ways of publishing again, but for the present, we are thinking of fundamental survival, of running for our lives.

The population of Kosovo, in particular the population of Pristina, is completely unprotected from the Serbian police, military and--worst of all--paramilitaries. Armed Serbian civilians may also mount their own attacks on Albanian civilians. Yesterday bombs went off at cafes in towns. Since the cafes and restaurants, where people would be gathered, are no longer operating, such attacks would probably be directed against Albanian homes, in Pristina and around Kosovo.

Because of the density of the population, people may feel safer in Pristina. But we fear a direct attack on the city, and it may be that "the massacre" is yet to come. This time it may be launched once the air strikes begin, which could be a matter of hours. Local fighting in the villages will cause more people to flee for the centre of the cities, and because of further attacks or unrest or more reprisals, this may spread even more violence to the cities.

At the moment, the KLA is no match for the Yugoslav Army and security forces, which have overwhelming amounts of troops and heavy weaponry. It is estimated that there are some 40,000 troops on the ground and active in Kosovo now. The KLA cannot match these numbers, much less hardware, and for the moment is taking cover in the mountains and other unreachable places.

But the army is not after the KLA. They are after the villages, and ethnic cleansing. They will of course target villages that have been KLA strongholds, but this is mostly just an excuse. What they are really doing is trying to create a Republika Srpska in Kosovo. Recent moves suggest they are intending to cleanse the north and northeast and possibly parts of the east of Kosovo, as well as some portions of the centre. This area includes the main mines, as well as some key Serbian religious sites. The main aim is probably simply to cleanse them and then use this "new reality" on the ground as a bargaining chip. They are using the Bosnian model, only in a smaller area with a much higher density population, and without any real opposing army. So the implications are severe, and the possibility for casualties is in fact higher.

Pristina might suffer the destiny of Sarajevo and be divided into two or three zones. It does not have as large a Serb minority as Sarajevo did, but already there are barricades cutting off certain areas, such as Dragodan and Sunny Hill, from the centre of the city. These barricades, such as the one on the way to my district, are manned by around 50 armed men each.

Air strikes will weaken the Serbian defences, but Slobodan Milosevic will never be persuaded by them to agree to the peace deal. Yet once the strikes begin, the unleashing of reprisals on the urban areas is inevitable. Air strikes are needed, but without a strong involvement of ground troops, the crisis will only deteriorate. A NATO deployment of ground troops is the only way to prevent a vast humanitarian crisis. Either way, this will not be a low-intensity conflict.

Meantime, we just run for our lives. Because of my profession, and being publicly exposed, I will change my place of residence and take shelter for now. According to the news, it could be in a couple of hours. I followed the statement by Tony Blair, the British prime minister. I am quite knowledgeable about what is happening in the House of Commons. But otherwise we have no news. I don't have the slightest idea what is happening 500 metres from my house.

Dukagjin Gorani is editor of KD Times, the English-language edition of Koha Ditore, in Pristina.

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