By Slavisa SABLJIC
NN: Why did you not get involved and assume a role in the political life of Kosovo, Serbia and Yugoslavia?
VLASI: I have been involved in politics for as long as politics, in this shaken Balkan region, has been involved with us. I follow developments, I am in contact with domestic and foreign politicians, occasionally I say or write something. I am not a member of any political party. Simply put, the existing political spectrum does not attract me to become practically involved in it.
My life vocation is law. I wanted to be an attorney and my wish came true in a somewhat unusual way and with a certain delay. After everything which I have gone through in politics, after prison, persecution, various kinds of obstacles to my work and my engagement and abuses, I wanted to make up for some things to myself and my family. Under conditions of occupation, after the destruction of Kosovo autonomy in 1989, being involved in politics in Kosovo was uncreative, rhetorical... As an independent intellectual, I gave my contribution to the revelation of everything which is occurring in Kosovo. And I thought, under those conditions, that there is no void as a result of my not being involved in this kind of politics. Besides, while I was in prison, new political forces desiring publicity, affirmation and verification appeared on the political scene. I was a little tired of it all.
For eight years, since 1981, we fought to preserve the autonomy of Kosovo guaranteed by the Constitution of 1974. Especially during the period after Milosevic's climb to power in 1987 this was difficult. Now, I must say that I lack the will to assume a role, as you say, in the political life of Kosovo.
NN: Mr. Vlasi, are you sorry about what happened to the former Yugoslavia?
VLASI: We could have arranged the former Yugoslavia in an optimal manner, to everyone's satisfaction. We could have joined, long ago, a united Europe before any of the other Communist countries. We could have gone our separate ways in a civilized manner and remained in friendly and normal relations. We could have... had there been political wisdom, democratic capacities equal to at least half of the nationalistic madness which surfaced.
I am not nostalgic about times gone by, about the former system, ideology but I am very sorry about our missed opportunities. Instead of going forward, all of us, except the Slovenians, fell back into an abyss.
I am nostalgic about our old land from Triglav to Djevdjelija, from Jahorina to the Adriatic. I am nostalgic about former friends and connections many of which were broken off by force.
NN: What could have saved the now already former Yugoslavia? Could bloodshed in the region of the former Yugoslavia been avoided and how?
VLASI: Now it looks simple. All of us together should have stopped Milosevic in time. By this very act we would have stopped Greater Serbian nationalism, which initiated the chain of bloody dissolution. And then reforms, democratization, support from a democratic, developed world...
NN: Were you surprised by what later happened in Yugoslavia and in Kosovo?
VLASI: I was afraid, I issued warnings and, at that time, recognized many signs but I could not, despite a somewhat quixotic opposition, through efforts which put me in prison, influence a change in the course of events. Nevertheless, I must say that I did not expect such a bloody epilog and a prolonged agony. I hoped that, after the one-party system fell apart, democratic forces would get and take advantage of opportunity. However, bloodthirsty nationalism surfaced which destroyed everything before it and opened the door to everything regressive.
NN: How do you see current conditions in Kosovo? VLASI: Kosovo is taking a long time to heal from long lasting trauma, that is, from ten years of grumbling about our fate under Milosevic's regime. I feel the will and efforts of ordinary people to heal the wounds, to go back to a peaceful and normal life. But they are not succeeding in this because during this transitional period we have phenomena which are characteristic of a post-war period - anarchy, criminal activity, extremism... Things are getting better but, it seems to me, very slowly. Nevertheless, the reconstruction process is well on its way, there are not a lot of homeless people, there are no hungry people, some vital functions of the state have been established. What is missing is ethnic, political and every other form of tolerance. Frustrations, the spirit of revenge, are consequences of everything which happened for more than a decade and especially during three months of last year.
NN: How useful is the presence of the international forces and of international organizations in Kosovo?
VLASI: Not only is the presence of the international factor, both military and civil, in Kosovo useful but it is irreplaceable. We could not do anything now without them. But their range is limited. They cannot arrange things in the best manner in our own house. We must engage some of our domestic resources so that some segments of the international presence are here for as short as possible. In the military sense, I think that the NATO alliance will stay here for a long time which is good for peace not only in Kosovo but in the entire region. We need to take over civil matters gradually into our own hands.
NN: Have the Kosovo Albanians asked you to get involved in politics, that is, in their political battle?
VLASI: Every day, for years already, I have been listening to such requests from many people. Especially from those who expected more from the new leaders. It happens sometimes that they want to retain power at any cost. They want to be in politics because they like it and because it is to their advantage. At the same time, frequently they know nothing about politics, they do not know what is involved but they will not give up the idea. The less they know, the more aggressively they fight to stay in politics. They do not care at all about their own image or the opinion of others. This is a new style of behavior. That is why I do not think of such requests as compliments but more as expressions of disappointment by the people in the new leaders. Nevertheless, I have not allowed such invitations to influence my personal assessments to what degree and in what manner I need to become engaged.
NN: What is your cooperation with the leaders of Kosovo Albanians like, and especially with the current regime in Kosovo?
VLASI: My relations with everyone are more or less correct. We are not colleagues but we talk. With some of them I exchange opinions...
NN: Where were you during the time of the bombing of Yugoslavia?
VLASI: My wife Nadira and I remained in Kosovo where we literally "barely survived". After our telephone lines were cut off on the third day of the bombing, we managed somehow to get out of Pristina and get to the place where I was born. Fortunately, the village where my father and family live is in the eastern part of Kosovo in a region which was somewhat more peaceful. For three months we hid, we were completely isolated, underground. We did not do anything bad to anyone but a human life during that period was not worth anything. Our cottage in the country was set on fire one night. The apartment in Pristina was looted by policemen but we were able to return to Pristina after the withdrawal of the Serbian forces and the arrival of KFOR.
NN: Were war crimes committed in Kosovo and who was most responsible for them?
VLASI: Of course they were committed but what is horrible is that many more crimes were committed against the civil population. Milosevic's regime, on the hand, through its policies blatantly enticed the NATO bombers against FRY; on the other hand, he prepared the expulsion of the entire Albanian population "by fire and sword" during the time of that bombing. That is why he delayed acceptance of the terms. This boomeranged back on him and led to the expulsion of his forces and the Serbian government from Kosovo while the Albanians returned to their homes, frequently destroyed, which they are now rebuilding. The exhumation of mass graves in Kosovo also shows that the people buried in them are not members of the Kosovo Liberation Army in uniform but civilians, peasants, intellectuals, women, children, elderly people...
NN: Would you meet with Slobodan Milosevic, when and under what terms?
VLASI: After my arrest on March 1, 1989, never! What could I talk about with him and under what terms!? When I offered to talk with him to resolve problems, he put me in prison. After other Albanians appeared on the political scene, including these who took up arms to fight with Milosevic's regime regardless of the casualties. Because it is a demonstrated fact that it was not possible to solve any problem or conflict with him through dialog.
NN: Which leader of the Kosovo Albanians are you closest to, that is, whose position do you support?
VLASI: I am not close to any of them. Individual leaders do not interest me nor are the significant. What is important is visions, programs, positions... Besides the Social Democrats, I am close to the position of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo because this concept offers the cooperation of everyone investing in a better future for Kosovo, that is, for ethnic tolerance and a multiethnic and democratic Kosovo turned toward the civilized values of the democratic world.
NN: How do you assess current conditions and the situation in Kosovo?
VLASI: Kosovo has a historic opportunity which will not be repeated. If we know how to take advantage of it, we will have a stable, democratically organized society, it goes without saying, outside the jurisdiction of Belgrade. Because after everything that has happened, no one can, and I think that no one, including the Serbs, want to return Kosovo into Serbia. Because they know that returning Kosovo under the jurisdiction of Serbia would mean a new beginning of the hellish circle of violence and bloodshed. However, Kosovo must be organized according to Western European values, it must cooperate with its neighbors and with everyone in the region of the former Yugoslavia and in the Balkans in order to achieve its place in Europe.
NN: How do you comment on the behavior of the Serbian Orthodox Church in relation to events in Kosovo?
VLASI: The Serbian Orthodox Church bears a good part of the responsibility for everything which occurred because at one time it prepared and showed support for the policies of Slobodan Milosevic which led to a state of war. Now, I must admit, in comparison with all Serbian political trends, it is behaving most pragmatically. It is buying time, adjusting to reality, cooperating with the international community and doing everything possible to stop the Serbs who remain in Kosovo from leaving.
NN: How do you see the future of Kosovo?
VLASI: Kosovo has the chance to become some kind of special European region under a sort of mild continuous international supervision but independent of Serbia and Yugoslavia which no longer exists. I do not see Kosovo as a typical independent country because there cannot be two states of Albanian people. I think that this will be an open region with developed relations with its neighbors, with autonomous institutions of democratic government and self-rule and under the protective umbrella of the NATO alliance. I see Kosovo as a multiethnic community with protected rights of ethnic minorities according to European standards.
NN: Is there and will there ever be room in Kosovo for the Serbs?
VLASI: Hate and intolerance are not permanent phenomena and neither are the events which led to them. Time will heal the wounds. In Kosovo there is certainly room for all who lived here before. However, the Serbs will also have to accept the new reality and that means accepting that Kosovo will built its new authority in accordance with European standards and with the help of a civilized and unified Europe and the European Atlantic alliance. The Kosovo Serbs cannot continue to hope for the return of the government from Belgrade or of the privileged position which they formerly had. They can expect only full equality and civil freedoms.
NN: Can you please comment on the increasingly frequent threats of official Belgrade that the army will enter Kosovo!
VLASI: It is clear that this is propaganda for domestic use. The army, which is in fact Milosevic's personal guard, has provoked a series of wars which it has lost; it has not returned anywhere from where it withdrew. It will not return to Kosovo, either. It was here and it was expelled. Now, with 50 thousand members of international forces here whose framework consists of the forces of the most powerful armies of the world, that is, of NATO, it does not have a chance.
NN: Is it possible that events and disturbances might "move" from Kosovo to Macedonia?
VLASI: No! Macedonia is under specific international protection and the world will not allow any kind of conflicts. The Albanians in Macedonia have decided to work on resolving their problems, that is, to achieve equality with the Macedonians by working through the institutions of the system.
NN: Unlike many of today's politicians, you are both academically and politically educated. You are well acquainted with the technology of government. Can you please comment the flood of amateurs in the political life of Kosovo and Yugoslavia!
VLASI: There are a lot of people who want power who have swarmed into politics and government. They see an opportunity there to derive much personal gain while hiding behind nationalist demagoguery. They talk about democracy without realizing, I think, how far they are from European democracy. They can be recognized by their actions, by their behavior. Undemocratic behavior, of course. They are intolerant and exclusive because only a competent politician can be tolerant and cooperative. Only a competent politician can seek compromises, reach agreements, remain friendly in demeanor even toward those who do not share his convictions...
NN: You are familiar with the situation in RS and BH. How do you assess it?
VLASI: There is no question that in Bosnia-Hercegovina all three constitutive peoples should be equal and that BH is their joint state. It belongs to everyone who loves it. The problem is that very little is being done for the ordinary people, the citizens, the conditions in which they are living. Because a bloody war was waged in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the name of national differences, alleged national interests. The victims are the citizens, of course, most of all from the ranks of the Bosniaks. Finding the strength and leaving the past behind, turning toward the future, toward a unified Europe, is the universal recipe for all the Balkan peoples. I am convinced that the future of the Serbs is not in isolation, in sealing themselves off in their entity but in reintegration and cooperation with the other two peoples in the framework of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
NN: Which politicians in RS do you have an affinity for, that is, which political position is closest to your own political convictions?
VLASI: Your politicians are acceptable to me who are for a unified Bosnia-Hercegovina, who are prepared to bravely and openly confront reality, to distance themselves from those who in the name of myths, revenge, alleged Serb national interests, committed crimes, brought shame to the Serbs. This catharsis of confession, revelation of committed crimes, is inescapable in order to advance further. And the bringing of those who are guilty for them before justice so that the crimes are not attributed to the entire Serb nation. Because criminals and those who committed murder are not patriots. On the contrary, they destroyed others and brought evil to their own people. They never brought good and only misused the name of the people.