Deadlock In Budapest

Serb opposition politicians are as hard-line as the Belgrade regime over Kosovo's future.

Deadlock In Budapest

Serb opposition politicians are as hard-line as the Belgrade regime over Kosovo's future.

The pro-independence positions taken up by Kosovo Albanian politicians at an international conference in Budapest last week came as no surprise to almost everybody except Serb delegates who expressed astonishment and rage - as if they were hearing the claims for the first time.

Most of the Albanian political leadership and small number of Serb opposition representatives attended the conference, organized by the US-based Project on Ethnic Relations, which aimed to promote Albanian-Serb dialogue in the wake of the Kosovo war.

Debate focused on the issue of Kosovo and its future status, which, at the end of a two day event, raised more doubts about the possibility of an agreed final solution for the troubled region in the foreseeable future.

Albanian representatives all called for independence, while the Serb delegates were equally adamant that Kosovo remain part of Serbia.

"After all that has happened, the massacres, the deportations of the population and, after the victory of NATO, the independence of Kosovo must be recognized," said Ibrahim Rugova, the head of Kosovo's Democratic League (LDK), and long time undisputed leader of the Kosovo Albanians. "It would calm the entire region - Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, even Serbia."

Kosovo Albanian leader, Hashim Thaci, the former Kosovo Liberation Army, UCK, commander and the head of the Party for the Democratic Progress of Kosovo, PPDK, provided a variation on the independence theme.

"The position of Albanians with regard to the political status of Kosovo is very clear," he said. "The people of Kosovo are determined to gain independence but, in order to achieve this, we must work much harder to build democratic institutions."

Since the independence call was the "trade mark" of the Kosovo Albanian political movement over the last decade, all this came as no surprise to observers.

But, strangely, Serb representatives expressed astonishment and rage with the position taken by the Albanian leadership - as if they were hearing this claim for the first time.

Some Serb opposition leaders compared leaders Thaci and Rugova to Nazis.

Vladan Batic, chairman of the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia, DHSS, and coordinator of the Alliance for Change, the main opposition bloc which Western diplomats hope may bring the Milosevic regime down, said in a press conference in Belgrade, "Their (Rugova and Thaci's) stories about a multiethnic Kosovo are like Bormann and Goebbels talking about a multiethnic Dachau or Auschwitz."

Momcilo Trajkovic, representative of the Kosovo Serb community, was equally dismissive of Albanian's quest for sovereignty. "Independence for Kosovo now would be a too radical and extremist goal because others who live there do not accept it now," he said.

If the Kosovo Albanian leaders' position was not much of a surprise to Western diplomatic, that of the Serb representatives was.

"If he [Mr. Batic] really said what he said, then it comes out that he is even more radical than Milosevic himself, " a Western official in Brussels was quoted as saying by the Kosovo Albanian daily newspaper Koha ditore. "Milosevic, at least, used to think that it is worth talking to Rugova."

While Kosovo Albanian leaders maintain that the Serb opposition is little different to Belgrade when it comes to Kosovo issue, Western officials in Brussels want to believe that Serb opposition is really democratic one, dismissing Batic's outburst as an aberration.

What impact, if any, this "stalemate" in Albanian-Serb dialogue will have in the near future remains to be seen. But one thing looks certain - even if the Serb opposition oust Milosevic there's no guarantee the Kosovo's political future will be easier to tackle.

Agron Bajrami is deputy editor of the largest Kosovo Albanian daily newspaper, Koha ditore.

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