by Nenad Lj. STEFANOVIC
Ever since a new wave of violence and cleansing of Serb enclaves, especially in the central part of the province, started on March 17, the news about a meeting between Albanians from Slovinje and Serbs from Dobrotin (regardless of the tragic occasion), is probably the first good news from Kosovo, without traces of hatred and with a whiff of humanity. Naturally, it remained unnoticed in the sea of other news dominated by hatred and its consequences, or those, as far as Kosovo is concerned, that indicate a diplomatic race between decentralization and standards.
FORGOTTEN SECURITY: Some among more experienced editors perhaps deliberately "missed" this news item - in the past, during disturbances and rebellions in the seventies and eighties in Kosovo, they were usually instructed "from above" to urgently find similar examples of "inter-ethnic tolerance and coexistence" and find stories that would connect ethnic Albanians and Serbs and thereby spread optimism. Ten years later, the situation in Kosovo is such that journalists, even if they wanted to, would hardly be able to verify similar news on both sides. There are hardly any Serbs left (those who still live in Kosovo mostly hide in their houses), while most Albanians are terrified of being mentioned in any sort of context of good neighborly relations with Serbs, because of likely and dangerous repercussions.
The book about Kosovo's multi-ethnicity has been closed and it is unlikely that anyone with a shred of feeling for reality would attempt in the future to open and read it in the same way as before. Except, perhaps, for the representatives of the international community, who have invested too much in a failed policy to now easily give it up. As far as they are concerned, it seems that the prevailing logic is still - true, we have achieved nothing, but let's save what can be saved and continue as until now. Jovan Teokarevic from the Political Science Department of the Belgrade University, noted at the Press Club organized by the Belgrade Media Center that it is highly unlikely that the international community will change its policy in Kosovo and Metohija as that would imply failure of the institutions that have until now defined and implemented that concept, which was irretrievably destroyed together with Serb houses and churches some ten days ago.
And while the houses and churches burnt on March 17 and 18 are still smoldering and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi is diligently (and with surprise) writing down in his notebook what his government must rebuild, repair and pay for in order to satisfy the demands of the international community, all sorts of diplomats and generals have converged on Belgrade and Pristina. Their statements indicate that as far as Kosovo is concerned the international community has too quickly returned to generic issues and that no one is even mentioning the most important issue - safety of the remaining non-Albanians. Except for a few statements by officers of the international forces, it seems that no one is taking the issue of safety seriously, least of all those whose erroneous assessments led to violence two weeks ago.
The fact that most of Kosovo Albanian leaders have condemned violence against Serbs in the meantime is all but meaningless, at least given the developments in Kosovo over the last few years. The Kosovo experience indicates that there is no reason for relaxation, and that it is unlikely that the plan for finishing off the remaining Serbs enclaves in central Kosovo will abandoned, as the goal is to create as much ethnically clean territory as possible before the talks on the final status begin. Everything is additionally complicated by the rather widespread belief that in the case of a similar attack on the remaining and homogenous enclaves the endangered inhabitants of the enclaves would fight back. Also, it cannot be predicted if the administration in Belgrade (regardless of who is in power) would be able to refrain from action in case of a new pogrom of Serbs in Kosovo.
Former UN human rights rapporteur Jiri Dinstibier warned recently that the ethnic cleansing "story" is not over yet. In his op-ed in Czech "Pravo", Dinstibier reminds that as early as six years ago Ibrahim Rugova assured him that Albanians, once they got independence, would protect non-Albanian population and cultural heritage. "How would he protect them, if under UN administration and in presence of NATO, a quarter of million of non-Albanians have been expelled from Kosovo," Dinstibier says and concludes that it is unlikely that Rugova himself would survive independence. If those in charge of Kosovo in front of the international community do not care much about Dinstibier's opinion and similar assertions, and if they ignore the issue of safety for non-Albanians in Kosovo as unimportant, at least they should consider doing more for their own protection. The leader of the National Movement for Liberation of Kosovo (LKCK) Fatmir Humoli has recently stated for "Koha" something that should be a cause for concern of the international community representatives. "It is obvious that the international community intends to create constant conflict between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo with the goal of remaining here as long as possible... The revolt must turn against those who create it. Protests will continue as long as UNMiK and KFOR remain in Kosovo," Humoli threatened. In Kosovo extremist circles Humoli is not exactly a minor player whose statements should easily be dismissed.
THOSE WHO SURVIVE "SABRE" Kosovo has been discussed these days not only in Belgrade (where the emphasis is on decentralization) and in Pristina, but also in Washington, Brussels and Moscow. Russians have announced that they have prepared their own platform for Kosovo, Brussels has demanded that the results of the most recent spate of ethnic cleansing be reversed, which may indicate that some of damaged houses will be repaired in several months, although it is unlikely that their former owners will be prepared to move back to their homes. In the US, a whole series of discussions on the Balkans has started (it seems it will continue during until the end of April with the goal of converting policy in this part of the Balkans into one of election campaign topics). So far lobbyists and advocates of independent Kosovo and those who are inclined to deny the seriousness of the recent events have the upper hand. Some of these events are sponsored by the Slovenian government.
American assistant state-secretary for political issues Marc Grossman has invited last Monday Albanians in Pristina to stop claiming "that lack of final status punishes people" who live there and paralyses them so much that they are unable to fulfill the demanded standards. The following day, this time in Belgrade, Grossman talked much more about the Hague Tribunal, but he also confirmed that the following week new, modified, standards for Kosovo may be published. This American diplomat wrote the first version of these standards in June 2003, and at that time they did not mention organized crime and terrorism in Kosovo. If the new version does not include them, that document may have the value and durability of a drawing in the send. Both before and after Grossman's visit to Pristina local politicians kept repeating their old mantra - if you give us independence next week, Kosovo will become heaven on earth. And who cares if any non-Albanians are left in Kosovo by then.
Coordinator of the Forum for Ethnic Relations Dusan Janjic says that the recent events in Kosovo and everything that followed them haven't changed much. Some international circles, Janjic says, have slowly started to doubt "democratic potential" of the Albanian political leadership, the number of those who trust the Serb side of the story hasn't increased significantly, but it is possible that the number of advocates of independent Kosovo has decreased.
Based on numerous statements by international officials, it is becoming increasingly clear that the international community is shifting its hopes towards Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, who is slowly becoming a new leader. Ibrahim Rugova is slowly becoming a symbol of failure of the international community's policies in Kosovo, a failed investment above all. Attempts to convert Hashim Thaci into a Socialdemocrat continue, although that hardly fits his nickname - snake. All combinations also mention the name of Ramush Haradinaj, the man who today leads the hard core of the former KLA and can with ease convert his supporters into a very concrete force, capable of doing a lot in Kosovo.
Until now international officials have persistently rejected all criticism of their policies in Kosovo, and they also seemed rather upset at assertions that their policies may not have been so bad, but that they relied on wrong individuals, who should be in the Hague, rather than among political leaders. Deputy president of the Coordination Center Oliver Ivanovic has warned these days international officials he met during their visits to Pristina that recent crimes were committed by those who were not punished for crimes committed in 1999, when KFOR arrived in Kosovo. Then, the emphasis was on the crimes of Milosevic's regime.
Early this week, international offices in Kosovo announced that so far more than 200 persons who had attacked Serbs in enclaves or KFOR soldiers on March 17 and 18 have been arrested and that many of them face long prison sentences. That number seems to be on the increase and reminds one of a sort of Kosovo "Saber", which still isn't a proof that a true judicial system is functioning in Kosovo. The public has learned only in a few cases that the arrested include heavyweights such as, for example, Shukri Buja, former commander of one of KLA operational zones, later a rather "colorful" witness in the Hague who has also described himself as a journalist. Last week, during his visit to Kosovo, Javier Solana said rather angrily that Western intelligence services have data about organizers and instigators of the recent violence and warned the local leaders to forget about street protests if some of them are arrested. This statement has created an obligation, although not a very strong one. If someone dies in similar disturbances in the future (including KFOR soldiers), Solana will have to explain why he failed to do anything in connection with the information collected by intelligence services.
Kosovo Saber is so far cutting down only ordinary hooligans, people whose minds were filled with the story that they are poor and jobless because some Serbs still live in Kosovo and the international community refuses to immediately grant independence. Just like the Saber in Belgrade, this one in Kosovo hasn't reached the main culprits, such as Legija. The one from Belgrade has at least been forced into hiding. His Kosovo counterparts are at large and undisturbed in Pristina.