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Yugoslavia: A Year After NATO Bombing, Kosovo Lacks Order

  • Jolyon Naegele

One year ago Friday (March 24), NATO launched air strikes against Yugoslavia to force President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo. Milosevic capitulated 11 weeks later, and NATO-led peacekeepers, UN administrators and humanitarian aid groups streamed into Kosovo. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele looks at Kosovo's society today.

Pristina, 23 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Youthful Kosovar drivers with no apparent sense of shared responsibility or knowledge of the rules of the road contributed to a day of gridlock earlier this month that serves as a metaphor for the condition of Kosovo today.

The occasion was the commemoration of a massacre of some 50 ethnic Albanians two years ago at Prekaz in central Kosovo's Drenica region, an event that proved to be a turning point after nearly a decade of Serbian repression of Kosovo's Albanian majority. The massacre marked the end of passive resistance and the transformation of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK, from a shadowy terrorist group into an organized force.

On the second anniversary of the massacre, Kosovars by the tens of thousands tried to reach a commemorative rally at Prekaz sponsored by members of the now disbanded UCK. But a complete breakdown of driver discipline -- and the inability of UN civilian police and KFOR peacekeepers to regulate traffic -- ensured that the overwhelming majority of would-be participants never made it to their destination.

Kosovar Albanian society today is beginning to resemble the anarchic state of neighboring Albania in recent years. Its usual exterior signs are a late-model German luxury car of questionable origin for many families and a construction boom that knows few zoning laws or building regulations. More important, organized crime is clearly gaining ground. That's thanks in large part to the absence of courts and police which, in turn, is the result of the international community's failure to heed UN calls for more civilian police and judges.

Pristina intellectuals tell visitors that they should not yet hold Kosovars to the usual standards of a stable society. They say Kosovars are still in an early stage of postwar recovery,

Sociologist Fadil Maloku puts much of the blame for the province's situation today on Slobodan Milosevic's repeal of Kosovo's autonomous status 10 years ago and the Yugoslav leader's subsequent repression of ethnic Albanians. That decade of suffering, Maloku says, held back the development of Kosovar Albanian society by barring any public form of collective expression. Now, he says, despite continuing economic hardships and pervasive crime, Kosovar Albanians are reveling in their liberty:

"For the past eight months, our society has suffered electricity shortages. But the crime rate is decreasing. I don't want to justify the crime, prostitution and corruption. The Prekaz [commemoration] was an expression of our shedding a decade of collective frustrations."

Maloku also says that, while individual ethnic Albanians are very resourceful, collectively they lack coordination. He emphasizes that one year is a very short period of time for the complete resumption of self-discipline in any society in the wake of war and mass trauma.

In addition to the province's high unemployment rate and erratic supplies of electricity and drinking water, ethnic violence remains a key problem. Some ethnic Albanians say that the UN's chief civil administrator in Kosovo, France's Bernard Kouchner must share some of the blame. International relations professor Enver Hasani is one of them:

"The problem [in the ethnically troubled northern town of] Mitrovica is a problem that has been created a result of the inaction of the KFOR troops, the French part of the KFOR troops [who are responsible for Mitrovica's security], and partly the civilian mission of Mr. Kouchner. And it's a problem that has been dragging on for a long time and may have serious consequences for the rest of Kosovo and the overall political relations between the international community and the Kosovo Albanian leadership. Events in Mitrovica are very closely connected with those in Bujanovac, Medvedja and Presevo [in Serbia proper, near Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians say they are being persecuted]."

Hasani says the international community should use the presence of the UN and KFOR in Kosovo to fight crime as well as to resist Milosevic's continuing aggression. He says growing organized crime is filling a void created by the absence of law courts and police:

"You see, these people who have been living without law and order for nine months. In fact, [it's been] the law of the jungle since '89. Because it was a repressive system, [without] law and order, they could do whatever -- kill, rob you -- and now you have this situation."

Hasani, like many Kosovar intellectuals, complains that the international community's frequent proclamations of good intentions are not enough. He says that organized crime cannot be fought by mere public condemnation, but only through a fully functioning judicial and police system.