By VLADIMIR RADOMIROVIC
A mistake: It is under these circumstances that, on December 11, the transitional administrator of Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, visited Gnjilane and the nearby village of Partes, one of those enclaves in which Serbs live in practically complete isolation. According to the program of the visit, Kouchner was supposed to present the Serbian and Albanian community with a plan for increasing security in Kosovo, to speak with representatives from the Serbian villages, to personally walk through the Serbian part of Gnjilane, and to conclude the visit by addressing local Albanians in the Gnjilane Sports Auditorium. At first glance it appeared that the purpose of the visit would be to give support to the Serbs and to warn the Albanians that they must stop the crimes. It turned out completely different.
According to the pre-arranged schedule, the Nobel prize recipient was supposed to address a larger group of Serbs that evening in the village of Partes, several kilometers west of Gnjilane. However, because of a disagreement between the Serbs and KFOR representatives regarding the place of the meeting and thanks to two local Albanians who succeeded in provoking the villagers, the visit was canceled. Instead of this, Kouchner only met with representatives of several Serbian villages in the empty plant of the Gnjilane Battery Industry at the entrance to Partes.
The administrator immediately addressed the issue on hand. "I know that you have many problems, especially with security. Precisely because of this we have drawn up a plan for protection and greater security which would first and foremost mean securing visits to schools and to health facilities." The first to speak in the name of the Serbs was Father Kirilo from the Holy Archangels Monastery near Gnjilane, the president of the Church National Council of the Kosovsko Pomoravlje district: "We believe that America and the Western nations are strong enough to stop violence. We want to reconcile with the Albanians as soon as possible, to live together with them, because that is how we have been living for hundreds of years."
At this point Kouchner lost control a little and explained to the priest that he did not believe in multiethnicity. "I know the history of the Serbian people; I know that you have been here for 1,500 years; but you must not forget the last ten years of apartheid. We know well that because of the evils to which the Albanian people were subjected, a common life is not possible at this time."
Sympathy: This was followed by questions from the representative of the village of Gornje Kusce, Jovan Simic: "Can you sleep at night while the greatest ethnic cleansing of Serbs is being executed? You are violating Resolution 1244, you have thrown out the dinar, you are refusing to allow our army to return, you are creating an ethnically clean, Muslim state in our land. My municipal administration has no confidence in you; whether you will ever have confidence in us, I do not know, because I do know that during your administration we have been subjected to many evils."
Bernard Kouchner is already putting on a serious, sympathetic facial expression. "I do not sleep well. For me, a man is a man, there is no difference between Serbs and Albanians. I understand that you have no confidence in me but your criticism should be directed toward the international community which has not secured sufficient funds nor manpower. As far as the introduction of the mark is concerned, the dinar has not been abolished but donators do not want to give money in dinars, because that currency is not convertible. In any case, everyone in Kosovo was already using marks. Just look, Montenegro has also introduced the mark as its currency, and I'm certain that half the transactions in Serbia are being done in marks. I know that Kosovo is a part of FRY but the international community, including China and Russia, have empowered me to secure autonomy in Kosovo. This means autonomy similar to that granted by the Constitution of 1974."
"That was no autonomy, at that time the Shiptars had their own state," Simic attempts to explain but Kouchner authoritatively says: "No, no, according to the Constitution of 1974 Kosovo was a part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." Following this Simic stops asking any more questions. He only laughs bitterly. "The only part of Resolution 1244 which I have not honored," continues the head of UNMIK, "and where I am intentionally in violation is with regard to the return of the Yugoslav Army to the borders. This is impossible for now because it would cause a new war." After the meeting with Kouchner, the Serbs who are present do not look any happier. Jovan Simic is approached by foreign and Albanian reporters who ask him to repeat his name. He does not wish to do so. He tells Reporter's journalist briefly that Bernard Kouchner is "talking nonsense". "He claims to know something about our history. He knows nothing about our history. Thaci gave him two or three million marks, or perhaps twenty or thirty million marks, to do what he is doing." All of the ten or so Serbs present agree that unless the transitional administration provides security and employment for them in the near future, Serbia proper will receive thousands more of new "internally displaced persons".
Applause: From Partes to Gnjilane, where Kouchner is met by several thousand enthusiastic Albanians. From the mass one hears whistles of disapproval directed at Father Kirilo, who has returned to the city in a KFOR jeep. Kouchner talks with local public officials, the UN administrator in Gnjilane and American officers. Appetizers and pats on the back for a job well done. Somewhat later, the Frenchman is answering questions from reporters. An Albanian colleague wants to know where Father Kirilo got the idea that Serbs and Albanians could live together when the Serbs show no remorse at all for crimes against Albanians. "They always talk about history," answers Kouchner, "while forgetting forty years of Communism and ten years of apartheid. As far as I know, only Father Sava from Decani has asked for forgiveness for crimes."
Kouchner then exits the municipal building and hundreds of Albanians "break through" the KFOR cordon and escort him through the Serbian part of town. If this walk was supposed to be a sign of support to the remaining Serbs in Gnjilane, it was more than a low blow.
Fifteen minutes later in the sports auditorium in which the temperaturs seems to be lower than outside, about five hundred Albanians gather. "After the elections you will govern Kosovo," Kouchner begins his speech significantly, accompanied by thunderous applause. "Kosovo does not belong to anyone except the Kosovars"; even louder applause. From the public questions from slips of paper prepared in advance for the administrator. "How much do you like the Albanian people?" is one of them. "I feel very close to the Albanian people," answers Kouchner. "This, of course, is nothing new because I have been fighting for Kosovo for ten years already. I love all peoples, but some more than others, and that is the case with you." His earlier statement "For me, a man is a man, there is not difference between Serbs and Albanians" must have been lost somewhere on the road from Partes to Gnjilane.
The day after: Then a statement from the public that Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja are a part of Kosovo and the question what Kouchner intends to do to annex these southern Serbian municipalities to the province. The administrator, dead serious, says: "This must be resolved peacefully, through negotiations." And at the end one of the Albanians asks the most important thing: "When will the Serbian police return to Kosovo?" "There is no chance of that occurring," responds Kouchner and, lauded by ovations, brings his speech to a close, promising to visit again and to wear warmer clothes.
In the late afternoon, a convoy of UNMIK vehicles returned to Pristina. A day after Kouchner's visit, Albanians from the village of Gornja Budriga fired nine mortar shells at the village of Partes, and in the forest near the Gnjilane-area village of Pasjan, Aleksandar Jovanovic, a physical education teacher in the primary school in the village, was killed.