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

The Family Feud Turns Serious

The tensions and increased stakes of the war have intensified disputes between the Kosovo Albanians, complicating prospects for a future Kosovo administration.
By IWPR

As the dream of life free from Serb oppression appears about to be realised, the Kosovo Albanian community is deeply divided, with potentially tragic consequences.


What was until recently a highly disciplined and patriarchal society has been turned on its head by the war. For a decade, as Kosovo's Albanians endured apartheid-style rule in silence, their undisputed leader was the pacifist Ibrahim Rugova.


But as waging war became the priority, those politicians who led passive resistance to Serbian rule have found themselves increasingly marginalised.


A review of the Albanian-language press and the insults going back and forth reveals the extent of the animosity between the two camps--the Rugova loyalists and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).


Hashim Thaci, the KLA political leader who was appointed prime minister of the Kosovo Albanian provisional government in the wake of the Rambouillet talks, refers to Rugova as chairman of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). He refuses to call him the president of the self-styled Kosovo Republic--despite his election to that office on two occasions--and has all but ruled out a future political role for him.


Other KLA supporters have gone further and labelled Rugova a collaborator as a result of the meetings he held with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during the NATO bombing, even though they took place under duress. They feel the price for such "collaboration" should be death, a fate which has already befallen other Albanians whom the KLA has deemed to be traitors.


Rugova's defenders have responded to KLA jibes by laying blame, in part, on the KLA and Thaci, for contributing first to the outbreak of open violence in the province, and then war.


Thaci's initial rejection of the Rambouillet peace accords, they argue, played into Milosevic's hands by giving him three weeks "to bring 40,000 troops to Kosovo and prepare them for ethnic cleansing". The radical approach of the KLA unsettled the peace-oriented approach Rugova had charted for years.


Meanwhile, in answer to the KLA's charges against Rugova, they quote him telling a friend, before the Serbs took him "hostage": "My children will not leave Pristina until the last Albanian child has left."


Rugova's supporters believe that the KLA usurped power in the wake of the Rambouillet talks and that in the absence of a popular vote, the provisional government it has formed lacks a democratic mandate.


They also allege that the KLA is attempting to undermine Rugova's achievements in institution building in Kosovo during the past decade: the creation of a parallel state infrastructure, the adoption of a constitution, the holding of an independence referendum and two sets of elections.


Given the lack of political maturity among Kosovo Albanians, many analysts fear that the internal power struggle and with it the province's future political course will be determined by violent means.


Despite attempts by the KLA to smear his reputation, Rugova retains a large following among ordinary Kosovo Albanians and received a warm welcome from several thousand of his co-nationals shouting his name during a recent visit to a refugee camp in Macedonia.


However, the crowd also chanted "KLA, KLA".


At one time, the words Rugova and KLA appeared to go together well. In the wake of the first large-scale bloodshed in Kosovo at the end of February and beginning of March 1998, for example, the standard refrain was: "Rugova, KLA".


Demonstrators thought that the Albanian struggle for an independent Kosovo would benefit if the pacifist Rugova were seen as the movement's gentle face and the KLA as the movement's stick. Now, however, the words "Rugova" and "KLA" appear irreconcilable.


Ominously, both factions now have access to both funds and weapons. A source close to the KLA says that every Albanian in the diaspora can choose whether to contribute to the KLA's or to Rugova's coffers and that many remain as pro-Rugova as ever and have therefore refused to switch their loyalties.


The suffering that Albanians have endured over the past year has failed to build bridges between rival factions. Indeed, it has arguably deepened the rift, by providing more fuel for recriminations and--as return to Kosovo becomes a reality--presenting all sides with the prospect of sharing real political power and responsibility.


The author is a regular contributor for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting whose name has been withheld.