Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Interview: Still Building the New Kosovo
(BCR No. 127, 24-Mar-00)
IWPR: What was in your mind when the bombs first fell one year ago?
Veton Surroi: For the first time, there was an alliance with the forces of progress within the international community that would create a link between Kosovo and the West. It was a gigantic and unprecedented step for the Kosovars that night.
IWPR: So you see the future of Kosovo as definitely linked to the international community for the foreseeable future.
Surroi: We are at the beginning of a historic process of linking the whole region of southeastern Europe to the European mainstream. I see it as irreversible. It may stall from time to time; it will have difficulties. But the big picture in the next 50 years will be an enormous dynamic of integration.
IWPR: Are you worried that Kosovo will become a colony of the United Nations, that Albanians will become second place in their own territory?
Surroi: There is a price to pay for this future development. But sometimes I wish it were a colony, there is such a lack of administration now.
This place has to be a state, viable politically and economically. I am not saying internationally recognised, but with classical state functions. Now it is more an anarchic or chaotic nongovernmental organisation.
IWPR: You were quite critical of the confusion and absence of authority at the start of the UN administration. Have things gotten any better?
Surroi: Not much. But the problem isn't only the international community. We have a coalition of the status quo, both the internationals and the Kosovars, simply keeping things floating.
IWPR: What is most needed from the international community then?
A concept of how to rule this place. The Kosovars need to define a concept as well. They need to organise a roundtable with clear ideas for structuring this place. This should be done in concert with the international community, so that we go beyond creating a protectorate and use it to transform the society.
But we need to be bolder, both the Kosovars and the internationals, in tackling the question of reform. No one can convince me that because there is some UN Security Council resolution this place can't have a constitution. Or because of 1244 you cannot have privatisation.
Today we lack the rule of law. And we have a cohabitation of a wild, revolutionary capitalism - people with arms handing over shops to others - and socialist self-management of 1989. The latter doesn't produce an economy at all, and the former doesn't produce any respect for authority or possibility for transforming this society.
IWPR: The main focus of blame seems to have shifted onto the Albanians, both for political incapacity and for criminality.
Surroi: The Kosovars have a long track record of political incapacity. That's nothing new, and it will change. But on the question of lawlessness, let me say that Kosovo Albanians are the most self-restrained people in Europe today. If in your own country you had to endure not nine months as we have had but even nine days without police, courts, electricity, water, any kind of law, your places would burst into flames. Yes, KFOR is here, but they don't have a mandate for ruling inside Kosovo but only to keep an outside umbrella.
IWPR: You raised a concern last year of fascism towards minorities. Do you stand by that?
Surroi: I still stand by defining anyone who persecutes anyone else on the basis of his ethnicity or race or creed as a fascist or totalitarian. I haven't changed my mind on that. But I think there is a certain degree of awareness that intolerance is not going to pay but will create much greater problems.
IWPR: Some journalists have expressed concern that it may become even more dangerous to speak out on key issues, such as corruption. Is public debate becoming more difficult?
Surroi: I don't think so. Debate is becoming more vibrant: criminality, political monopolies, the unpreparedness of Kosovo political organisations - we have been dealing with all of these things in public. That shows a strength actually in civil society.
IWPR: But is a multi-ethnic Kosovo a possibility?
Surroi: I would advocate a tolerant Kosovo, but not necessarily a multi-ethnic one. This reminds us of "brotherhood and unity" in socialist Yugoslavia, which failed in flames as we have seen.
There is a realistic life for Serbs here. Unfortunately it will be a longer process than we originally foresaw. It is also very painful because at the same time Serbs from Kosovo have to define their local identity. Before they were always defined as Milosevic's Serbs.
IWPR: Are they still, in fact?
Surroi: You can't accuse all Serbs of that. But there are people directly working with Milosevic, for example in northern Mitrovica. If I see a clear chain of command and Motorolla walkie-talkies, and have hints of intelligence information suggesting cross-border communications with the police, I don't need more information: there is a structure that functions with Milosevic like the one that functioned with him before.
IWPR: There has been violence in Mitrovica and in Serbia in Presevo. Have we seen the last of conflict?
Surroi: The last of big conflict, yes, especially in these two places. But Milosevic maintains these sources of conflict simply to keep himself in the game, creating problems wherever he can. Montenegro is certainly one of the potential focuses. But so is the idea of legitimising ethnic divide in Mitrovica. If that succeeds and gets legitimised, the negative message will not be sent directly to the Kosovars but actually to the radical Albanians in Macedonia.
IWPR: I remember you at the end of the bombing, as you emerged blinking from the shelters. Do you think back about that time personally?
Surroi: There isn't a single Kosovar I talk with who doesn't think about the war at least once a day and have to go through it. It has been a painful and traumatic process for everyone, including me. I have to go to the memorial commemorations for our guard who was killed, for friends who were killed with their families. When I open the paper every day and see the death notices, these pictures of people who have been killed, it just brings the pain back.
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