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Czech Republic: Havel Says People of Kosovo, Chechnya Should Determine Own Fate

  • Jolyon Naegele

Czech President Vaclav Havel, in a wide-ranging interview with RFE-RL reporters, says the people of Kosovo and Chechnya should be allowed to determine what form of state system they will live in. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele was among the reporters who spoke with Havel at Prague Castle Wednesday. He files this report.

Prague, 25 November 1999 (RFE/RL) - Czech dissident playwright turned president Vaclav Havel told RFE/RL it should not be up to the international community to determine Kosovo's future status. "I think that the problem of Kosovo similarly to some other problems such as the problem of Chechnya has two fundamental dimensions -- constitutional order and civil rights. I really think that the future status of Kosovo is a matter of the 'Kosovans' and their eventual political negotiations with other subjects. The international community cannot impose this."

Havel notes many alternatives exist for redefining Kosovo's status. These range from allowing Serbia to regain control over Kosovo, which Belgrade demands and Kosovo's overwhelming ethnic Albanian majority rejects, to independence for the province. But the only alternative Havel mentioned specifically was a loose confederative arrangement of Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.

As Havel puts it, "it is really not our task to prescribe something in terms of constitutional law". Rather, he says, the international community "should only apply pressure so that the outcome results from democratic negotiations and elections and not endless military conflicts".

Havel says that in contrast to Kosovo, the international community can have little say in Chechnya's fate. Nevertheless he says there are some parallels between the two conflicts.

"The position of Chechnya and other Caucasian nations in the future is a matter about which the international community can hardly decide. It is a matter of political discussions between the Russian Federation, of which these republics are a part, and these republics or their representatives to agree on the degree of possible economic autonomy or independence."

But Havel says that in Chechnya, as in Kosovo, civil rights are quite another matter. He insists human rights in Chechnya are not Russia's internal affair no more than human rights in Kosovo were solely Serbia's domestic affair. Havel says civil and human rights are "a matter for all people".

"One cannot remain silent to there already being 300,000 refugees from Chechnya living in conditions of poverty, that the civilian population is suffering, and that since the very beginning of the conflict Chechnya has suffered over 100,000 dead. Let no one tell me that they were all terrorists."

Havel says a war against terrorists must not be allowed to turn into a war against an entire nation. He says the peoples of the North Caucasus "have not belonged to Russia for all that long", adding that they have their own culture, traditions, religion, and somewhat different history.

In terms of human and civil rights in Kosovo, Havel says it is the duty of the entire international community, including the UN administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR), in his words, "to do everything to break the vicious circle of hatred, persecution, [ethnic] cleansing, ethnic fanaticism, and murders".

Havel concedes UNMIK and KFOR face a "huge, nearly impossible" task in ending the evil and preparing for civic coexistence. So far, he notes this has not really worked, citing the harassment and expulsions of Serbs from Kosovo.

As for Serbia and Montenegro, Havel says he takes an intense interest in the situation. But the Czech president warns against using the 1989 revolutions in east-central Europe as a recipe for bringing down the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade.

"This is no longer a totalitarian system of the communist type. This is something different. This is an authoritative system of a Mafia character with a nationalist flag in its hand. But I am not sure if this has much in common with true patriotism. This is some sort of new, post-Communist phenomenon and how to deal with it is not quite clear."

Havel says the Serb opposition should be more united. In his words, "it is going to be very difficult for them and they need all the support they can get. We will have to speak with these people and draw them in various ways into the European spiritual and political environment."

Asked to evaluate the performance of the UN human rights rapporteur for Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, Havel reveals a sharp disagreement with his former foreign minister (1989-92) and fellow ex-dissident.

Havel says he "strongly disagrees with Dienstbier's conclusions" on Kosovo and Serbia. He says that ever since Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, Dienstbier "somehow wanted to maintain the former Yugoslavia for as long as possible and wanted Serbia to have a dominant position in terms of constitutional law".

Dienstbier has repeatedly faced accusations from Kosovar Albanians that he is not impartial but rather pro-Serb. Kosovar Albanian groups demanded late last year that Dienstbier be declared persona non grata in the province. Dienstbier has said that the Kosovar Albanian population enjoyed considerably more freedom than he and other dissidents did in communist Czechoslovakia since they were allowed to publish newspapers.

But Dienstbier's critics point out that the communist regime in Czechoslovakia directed its repressive measures against dissident intellectuals rather than the masses. They say in contrast, in the nine years prior to the NATO bombing campaign, the Milosevic regime allowed Kosovar intellectuals to publish their own newspapers, but shut down schools, maintained martial law and fired virtually all ethnic Albanians from state-owned enterprises, thereby victimizing the common man rather than intellectuals.