Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: Now All Kosovo is a Hostage

Renewed violence and the emergence of shadowy leaders show that key lessons have not been learned in the five years since the 1999 conflict.
By Veton Surroi

All of us living in Kosovo have now tasted the revenge of the people of Mitrovica. These people have been held hostage – both the Albanians who are unable to return to homes on the north side of the city, and Serbs living in the northern sector who cannot go back to the south side or to other parts of Kosovo where they once lived.


What began as a spontaneous protest in Mitrovica turned into a mass upheaval, later transformed into a directed, organised revolt.


Within 12 hours, the Mitrovica flashpoint was transformed into widespread attacks against Serb enclaves, and armed responses. Serbian religious and cultural sites were set on fire, and there were violent confrontations with personnel from the United Nations mission UNMIK and even KFOR troops.


Five years after the 1999 conflict, we find ourselves hostages to a brutal round of violence that has taken hold on the back of events in Mitrovica, and is directed both at forcing out the Serbs and accelerating UNMIK’s departure.


Five years on, we are being taken hostage by those who – back in 1999 – wanted to embark on ethnic cleansing as an act of revenge, and aimed to exploit the confusion that surrounded the entry of international troops into Kosovo. That was the origin of the whole problem of Mitrovica, the Serb enclaves and the parallel structures set up by the Serbs.


Now we are hostages to the consequences of actions taken in those days of 1999.


Acts of direct violence, burning of houses, and persecution of Serbs in Caglavica, Obilic, Lipjan and elsewhere will immediately be used as arguments to support territorial division of Kosovo along ethnic lines as the only solution to the question of its permanent status.


This violence - now directed against UNMIK and KFOR – can only make us parties to confrontation, not partners. We will never be able to successfully conclude the project of attaining statehood in this manner.


We are hostages to a kind of paralysis, which makes us believe there is an energy that is driving all this disorder and that will take us forward.


In the last 24 hours, the people leading the mass protests have presented themselves sometimes as veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and at other times as student leaders. And during this same short period we have had a chance to see their organisational capacity, not least from the number of weapons that instantaneously appeared during what were billed as “peaceful demonstrations”.


If our institutional life continues to be dictated by these anonymous figures, there can, of course, be no talk of any kind of real institutional life. Anyone who has seen various public statements that have been issued will grasp that fact.


In the Kosovo assembly, for example, it was reported that a consensus had been reached – but no one ever said what should be done with this consensus, what instruments this consensus should have at its disposal, and who would carry it out.


The only visible outcome of the assembly session was a decision to hold a minute’s silence for the victims. I do not believe that counts as a worthwhile reason to hold an assembly session.


We are also hostages of UNMIK’s distant and arrogant stance.


Yesterday, UN administrator Harri Holkeri accused the Kosovars of forgetting that it was the international community that had liberated them. In saying that, he repeated an elementary mistake made by two of his predecessors. NATO did liberate Kosovo – but the story did not end there.


NATO countries installed a UN mission here with the task of bolstering self-government in the territory. Yet three successive UNMIK administrations, including the present one, have done little to fulfil that mandate. Instead, they have closed in on themselves, and increasingly pointed accusatory fingers at others. “Don’t forget we liberated you!” they tell us.


At the same time we are hostages of the incompetence displayed by the Kosovar leadership, which paved the way for UNMIK’s arrogant behaviour.


Yesterday, for example, President Ibrahim Rugova manifestly failed to deal with a situation that has brought further violence and destruction to Kosovo. Instead, he delivered statements to foreign radio stations, offering a simple, universal cure – “formal recognition of the independence of Kosovo”. This at a time when NATO was making plans to send in more troops to control the chaos.


We are hostages of Belgrade, too, as it is merely playing with the situation. If UNMIK and the Kosovars cannot keep the situation under control, they hope it will serve as ultimate proof to the UN Security Council that Belgrade must be allowed to assume real sovereignty over Kosovo.


Today, Friday, we are even hostages of yesterday. After the terrible violence of Wednesday, March 17, Thursday ought to have presented us with some answers to the question of how we should proceed. Yet all across Kosovo, it seemed to be more a case of hoping that the day would simply pass and that everything would get better.


It is an almost bizarre coincidence that these lines are being written on the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Rambouillet agreement in Paris, through which Kosovo entered into an alliance with the West that led to its liberation from the Serb military and police forces.


Veton Surroi is chief editor of the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore.