The Virtual Country

The initial euphoria of many returning Kosovo Albanians is fading, as the hard work of rebuilding a real life and viable society gets under way.

The Virtual Country

The initial euphoria of many returning Kosovo Albanians is fading, as the hard work of rebuilding a real life and viable society gets under way.

The euphoric days of June have given way to a calmer, more reflective July across Kosovo, now that the queues of tractors and trucks packed with refugees have finally reached home.

People who spent weeks on the run, in fear of their lives or separated from their loved ones, often unaware of their fates, seem happy and almost unaffected by their experiences.

But just below the surface of Kosovo society the outward calm gives way to chaos. The province lacks even the semblance of civil society, and neither the local populace of the international administration appear able to do anything about it.

The British soldiers serving with the NATO-led KFOR contingent are finishing up their tasks with now familiar efficiency, but the newly arrived members of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), are confused as if suddenly dropped out of the sky. They hardly seem to know where they are, let alone what to do.

In the weeks since the heady days when the Serb forces pulled out and NATO moved in, the streets have become unnaturally crowded and the cafes and restaurants are open.

Only the NATO street patrols interrupt the café reverie, and the rolling British tanks which shake up the streets and set off the alarms on the fleets of expensive cars that are ever more common here.

Then come the problems. There is no regular safe supply of water, and the phones don't work, unless you have a mobile and the money to pay 10 marks a minute to the Braca Karic company to route your call through Serbia's Yu Telecom.

Lack of civil authority turns the prosaic into purgatory: a death in the family requires a coroner to rule on cause of death, a notary to issue a death certificate, a health offical for a permit for a burial and the men to do the actual digging. Yet none can be found.

The rubbish is being cleared, but as the streets grow ever more packed, the number of road accidents increase and the people fume. Amidst the frustration and the broiling summer heat, people are fighting and killing each other again, not in war or out of race hate, but out of bad temper, in sudden angry brawls, pretty much like almost anywhere else. A kind of normal life has returned to Kosovo.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has announced a five point plan for Kosovo, with the most trying problem put first: "Consolidation of authorities and administrative structures, including assigning civil police and plan for economic rehabilitation and development".

But Kosovo Serb leaders have already said they will boycott a special transitional council to advise the United Nations' special representative in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, who takes over from Brazilian Sergio Viera de Mello this week.

De Mello had been taken by surprise by the Serbs' boycott, called to protest the UN's failure to stop Albanian reprisals against Serbs who remain in the province.

The NATO troops - with the exception of the hapless Italians and the much disliked Russians - are doing a seamless job now, but will soon be assigned to security tasks. Kosovo needs efficient civilian rule, but this appears to be the one thing that the soldiers cannot unload from their trucks.

From the very start UNMIK has run into problems it cannot solve. For example its efforts to restart broadcasts by Radio and TV Pristina have foundered against a row over the future of its Serb staff.

Kosovo Albanian reporters who were fired to make way for state-approved Serbian journalists at the end of the 1980s want their jobs back. A UNMIK proposal to split the jobs 50-50 has been rejected by the Albanians, who say this fails to reflect their majority in the province.

The same problem exists everywhere, in education, the health services, local government, in the disputes between the 'old' Albanians from before 1989 and the 'new' Serbs from the years since.

Today the Serbs in Pristina are quieter. In the hours after the arrival of KFOR, they were defiant, speaking loudly and without apparent fear on what used to be the 'Serb side' of Pristina's famous promenade.

The city's misnamed Grand Hotel is almost empty, the famous faces from the world media who clustered there when the city opened up to NATO having moved on to other datelines. Also gone are the Serbian paramilitaries and armed gangs, among them the notorious Tigers led by Zeljko ("Arkan") Raznatovic.

Other famous hangouts, such as the Café 23 in front of the one time HQ of the Communist provincial committee, are under new management. 23's owner is gone and a Kosovo Albanian has simply taken over.

Yet for all this activity, Albanian politics seems moribund.

Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander and self-declared prime minister Hashim Thaci seems to limit his time to having his photo taken with foreign dignitaries. It seems that much of the support he enjoyed during the Rambouillet negotiations seems to have abandoned him.

Others are suspicious of his links with the leader of the Albanian Democratic Party (DPA) in Macedonia, Arben Xhaferi, who set up a ground-breaking meeting between Thaci and Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.

They are concerned at the Macedonian Albanians' future influence in Kosovo. Notably, Xhaferi accompanied Thaci when he returned to Pristina on board a German Army helicopter.

There is little news either of Adem Demaci, the KLA's former political representative or Rexhep Qosja, chairman of the Democratic Union League and another key player at Rambouillet.

As for former president Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) came back to Pristina Thursday to mixed opinions. Some had warned that he could be killed for his decision to appear on state TV in Belgrade with Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic while war raged in Kosovo. Others cited the enthusiastic reception accorded to him in the giant Stankovic refugee camp in Macedonia.

In the event, his first press conference was rather sad: he made a few general comments about being willing to cooperate with anyone, and brushed off a question about the Belgrade visit. In any event, as he noted, with the international presence Albanian politicians will not hold real power for some time to come.

Another key player at Rambouillet, now seeking a role in a post-conflict Kosovo, is the increasingly popular newspaper editor Veton Surroi. On of the four Kosovo Albanians who signed in Paris, Surroi protests that his aim is to concentrate on reopening his newspaper Koha Ditore, not politics.

He professes to be more interested in opening a new print works, then starting a radio and TV station. He would also like to become Kosovo's first internet provider. Perhaps with this in mind he told a foreign TV interviewer who quizzed him on his political ambitions that most of all he would like to be the internet president of a virtual country. He may get his wish.

Iso Rusi is IWPR's correspondent in Skopje.

Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo
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