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Comment: Time to End Destructive Kosovo Clan Warfare

Albanian leaders must stop feud between the Musaj and Haradinaj clans, which reflects all that is worst in Kosovo.
By Jeta Xharra

When I first saw the map of the Dukagjini region of western Kosovo in a primary school atlas, the book described it as Kosovo's most fertile, pretty and tourist-friendly landscape.

But when I visited Dukagjini on April 17, rather than fertility, the atmosphere was one of death and self-destruction.

That was the mood that had gripped the 80,000 mourners who had gathered under dark and rainy skies for the funeral of 24-year-old Enver Haradinaj.

Enver, brother of Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo's former prime minister who is now in The Hague awaiting trial for war crimes, was shot dead in a drive-by shooting on April 15.

His murder was another chapter in the series of mysterious murders and attempted murders that has rocked the region over the last six years.

As the local and international police have failed to resolve most of them, discussion of the subject necessarily involves a degree of assumption.

But from all the information one can obtain, it appears that all or most of the killings stem from the ongoing feud between the Musaj and Haradinaj families, the two most powerful clans in Dukagjini.

It would be welcome news if the police did their job and actually caught the perpetrators. But in the meantime, society needs to do something to stop further violence in Dukagjini.

Inspiration should come from the events of the early 1990s, when the charismatic Anton Çetta led a campaign to end Kosovo's blood feuds.

Then, a core of about 500 activists visited villages, talked to the families involved and held mass meetings to witness the reconciliation of several hundreds feuds.

Discussing this idea this week, some people remarked that it would be difficult to apply the same principle now, because when Çetta was running his campaign, his most persuasive argument was that Albanians could not afford to kill each other when unity was needed against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

A Haradinaj-Musaj reconciliation would be difficult to pull off. The dispute involves longstanding grudges and with so many angry men on both sides, it would be hard to be sure all the relatives and supporters of both sides would respect a deal to renounce killing, intimidation and provocation.

On the other hand, there is much to lose if this feud is allowed to go on. With so many things at risk and at a time when Kosovar Albanians need to show they are worthy of the independence they seek, the stakes are too high to allow clan killings to continue.

Kosovar leaders should consider it worth putting their reputations on the line to try their utmost, even if an attempt at reconciliation appears doomed to failure. The alternative means the murders will continue anyway.

It is not only the Haradinaj and Musaj families who need this reconciliation, but Kosovo and the Kosovars beyond Dukagjini.

There will be little point of Kosovo obtaining independence if parts of its society continue to live by backward codes that date from the Middle Ages.

If the irrational urge to exact revenge over the issue of pride, (or because relatives expected it), was taken away, it would not suit either the families or their supporters to continue with tit-for-tat murders.

The Haradinaj family naturally wants to see the person who killed Enver behind bars. The Musaj family also wants the police to catch the killer of Sadik Musaj, whose identity is known to the police. This should happen whether these families manage to reconcile or not.

Reconciliation should not involve legitimising previous murders, but should be seen as a tool to stop any more from occurring.

Although it is supposedly now the turn of the Haradinajs to take revenge, it is the last thing that this family now needs, with two sons left at home from originally seven.

Additionally, Ramush Haradinaj is likely to do all in his power to diffuse the situation.

In a speech that he sent to the funeral of his brother, he said - reiterating the message he delivered to Kosovars as he left for The Hague - that it was important to ensure the “protection not only of the lives of KLA soldiers and KLA veterans but [the] lives of every citizen of Kosovo. This is the best way to support the state-building process that is going on in Kosovo now”.

When I visited the Musaj family, on the other hand, after Sadik Musaj was shot dead on February 2, they seemed scared but also full of resentment towards the Haradinajs.

This family believes the feud began in June 1999, when Daut Haradinaj was involved in the killing of Sinan Musaj, then a member of the KLA’s rivals, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo, FARK.

Six years on, with Enver Haradinaj killed, Ramush in The Hague and Daut serving a five-year jail sentence in Kosovo, the time has surely come for the Musajs to show their maturity through forgiveness.

This reconciliation needs to happen before Daut Haradinaj is released from jail, thereby triggering new tensions.

The tension was so high among the Musaj family two months ago that they were already predicting Daut would come after them unless they got him first.

For Daut to be always watching his back and walking around with bodyguards would be a poor exchange for regaining his liberty.

There is no point in presenting the case of how or why each side involved in the dispute feels it is the chief victim. They both have their reasons.

What is needed now is for an authoritative figure, respected by both sides and preferably from Dukagjini itself, to use the window of opportunity that now presents itself to put an end to the feud.

The lives of the young and old Musajs and Haradinajs have to be made more valuable than those of their predecessors were. Their future is a mirror held up to ourselves and to the type of society that we want to build.

What struck me most when I last visited the Musajs was the pressure they clearly faced from people coming to pay their condolences - to avenge Sadik Musaj's death.

For each sign of reluctance from some member of the family to take instinctive revenge, there came a contrary cry from another relative, saying that if it was "their family member, they would know what to do…".

This mentality is heartbreaking. It is Kosovo's greatest misfortune that men who are not willing to take revenge are seen as cowards and as unworthy.

Instead, through the "forgiveness of blood" process, family heads could release this primitive burden from men's shoulders and society should help them to realise that this would, in fact, be a brave act.

Anton Çetta did precisely that, convincing men from Albanian villages like Gllogjan and Strellc that there are times when "forgiving blood" is brave indeed.

This principle needs to be re-applied in 21st century Kosovo, where two families risk complete extinction, if the outside world does not step in and help.

Jeta Xharra is the IWPR Country Director and recently published Kosovo's Wild West, an investigation on the Dukagjini murders.

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