Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
organisations operating in Kosovo.
By Shkelzen Maliqi in Pristina (BCR No. 96, 26-Nov-99)
There are rumblings of discontent among officials of the international
mission in Kosovo where complaints against the ethnic Albanian community
are on the increase.
"They only complain and accuse the foreigners, without showing signs of
respect for what we have done for them," one international official said
recently. "If they continue this way, we will have to abandon Kosovo!"
Persistent demands for independence and revenge attacks on Serbs have
provoked members of the international community - especially those unhappy
with NATO's intervention in Kosovo - into expressing some antipathy towards
The West now faces a dilemma - having become involved in Kosovo to prevent
the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbs, they now run the risk of
becoming implicated in the ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Albanians.
Critics of Western involvement pose the question: why get involved in
ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, where it is clear to everybody that almost
all ethnic groups follow the same policy of the ethnic redefinition,
flouting all the acceptable democratic standards?
No one is trying to play down the reality of Albanian vengeance.
Influential politicians and intellectuals in Kosovo acknowledge this
problem. But the debate has not been helped by the alarmist reactions of
Take, for example, Veton Surroi, owner and publisher of the Pristina daily
Koha Ditore. Surroi rightly denounced attacks on elderly people, women and
children as a clear violation of the traditional moral code of Albanian
people. But he went on to argue that such attacks illustrated the
beginnings of Albanian fascism and presented a real threat to the creation
of a democratic society in Kosovo.
While foreign observers praised Surroi's courage in denouncing such revenge
attacks, the political establishment in Kosovo reacted angrily to his
outburst. Putting aside the extremist, personal threats that ensured,
Surroi has never been denied the right to denounce revenge attacks.
But two of his statements are debatable. Surroi writes in his article that
"here we are dealing with a most vicious, organised system of violence
against Serbs" and that "this system ... is called fascism". [The article
was published in Koha Ditore as "Victims of the Victims".
See version published by IWPR as "Kosovo Fascism, Albanians' Shame," Veton
Surroi, Balkan Crisis Report No. 69, August 25, 1999. See also "Hate Speech
in Pristina," by Anthony Borden, Balkan Crisis Report No. 82, October 8,
Surroi does not explicitly state who "stands behind this system of
organised crime". But in Kosovo, there exists only two "organised" forces
at whom such an accusation could be levelled: Ibrahim Rugova's Kosovo
Democratic League (KDL), leader of peaceful resistance in Kosovo since
1990, and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), commanded by Hashim Thaci,
leader of the interim government in Kosovo. To accuse Rugova, whose KDL
movement has been on the defensive for quite some time, would be ridiculous.
Surroi can only be referring, therefore, to the KLA - lately transformed
into the Kosovo Defense Corps, (KDC) - and the interim government of Thaci.
But there is precious little evidence to support the accusation. Thaci has
publicly condemned the violence against Serbs and other minorities and has
warned that some criminals may try to pass themselves off as members of the
Rather than panic-monger about "organised crime" and "fascism", a more
considered explanation for Albanian violence against Serbs needs to be
understood. An explanation that takes into consideration spontaneous
reactions by individuals and groups who endured traumatic experiences
during the war and who are guided by feelings of hatred and revenge for the
loses they have suffered.
Undoubtedly some individuals are trying to exploit the situation for
criminal purposes, robbing and killing people from ethnic minorities. But
it has to be remembered that during the war an estimated 110,000 houses
were destroyed, mostly in rural areas, and that half the Kosovo population
are currently homeless.
With winter rapidly approaching these people are desperate for shelter and,
perhaps understandably, want Serbs they perceive as supporters of the
Belgrade regime to leave.
Between the departure of the Serb forces and the arrival of KFOR troops,
large swathes of Kosovo were without a single policeman. There was no
vestige of law and order. A complete lack of organisation contributed to
the levels of violence.
The key problem in Kosovo is not the prevalence of revenge attacks on
minorities but the lack of a clear concept for the protectorate. The
situation in Kosovo is unique. There is no model for the UN or the
international community to follow. The military strategists and generals
may well have a clear idea on issues of basic security, but the politicians
have yet to reach any agreement on the political future for Kosovo.
Although independence looks to be the inevitable end result, the
international community is still grappling with a justification for it. The
implications for other potential crisis spots around the world are profound.
The UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
are intergovernmental organisations and require consensus before they can
act. It will be very difficult to achieve a consensus on the independence
of Kosovo. Long-term protectorate status would be unpopular with the
indigenous population and extremely costly to implement.
Obviously, Kosovo Albanians will not accept an undefined status for
purposes abstract and unreal to them, such as the handing back of Kosovo to
a reformed and democratic Yugoslavia.
The international mission in Kosovo is confronting the fact that the
province presents a much bigger problem than originally envisaged. In fact,
far from abandoning Kosovo, the international community is likely to be
burdened with it for some time to come.
Shkelzen Maliqi is a writer in Pristina.
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