Veton Surroi is the founder and publisher of Koha Ditore (Daily Times) -- the leading Albanian-language daily in Kosovo -- and a long-time political activist in the province. Surroi was one of two independent members of the Kosovar-Albanian negotiating team at Rambouillet, in France, at the start of 1999. Belgrade's unwillingness to agree to a negotiated settlement at the Rambouillet talks led to NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, which began in March of that year. As the bombs rained down, Surroi remained in Kosovo's capital Pristina -- determined, he says, to be with his people. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten spoke with Surroi this week on the sidelines of the Forum 2000 conference in Prague.
Prague, 19 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Veton Surroi was first asked how the recent change in leadership in Belgrade, and particularly the apparent surrender of power by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, is likely to affect Kosovo:
"I think it's still not Milosevic's exit from the scene. Milosevic can exit from the scene only when he gets to [UN war-crimes tribunal at] The Hague or otherwise is out physically from the region. But in any case, I think it is very important as a movement -- the deposing of Milosevic -- because it is a first step toward democracy in Serbia. That in itself will create plenty of opportunities for the Serb opposition and some of the tests of its will, will be immediate. For example, the release of Albanian prisoners who are in Serb jails, or dealing with questions of the past, or dealing with questions of constitutional relations with Montenegro."
Some commentators have noted that Milosevic's ouster may, paradoxically, hurt the interests of independence-minded Kosovars. According to their logic, as long as Milosevic remained in power as Europe's bogeyman, Kosovars could be sure of Western attention and protection. With democratic rule in Belgrade, the West may seek to reduce its commitment to Kosovo and push for the province's reintegration into Serbia. Surroi was asked for his view:
"I think it would be short-sighted for the Kosovars to think that their future can depend on the life of Milosevic -- that would mean a totally unnatural relationship with the man who is responsible for the death of 10,000 Kosovars and of many other people all over the former Yugoslavia. So in that sense, I think the Kosovars are more realistic. They have assumed there would be a change. This now of course is a serious test for the Kosovars to move forward in their democracy."
Surroi said he does not foresee a time when Serbian forces could return to Kosovo:
"No, I think that process is irreversibly dead. I don't see anyone accepting Serb forces in Kosovo, any Kosovar accepting Serb forces in Kosovo."
Surroi noted that United Nations Resolution 1244, adopted by the Security Council in June 1999, draws no link between democratization in Serbia and a return of Serbian forces in Kosovo. Instead, the resolution gives the UN a mandate to create democratic, autonomous institutions in the province. He said this is what the UN must continue to do, regardless of developments in Belgrade.
"Resolution 1244 has created an engagement that is rather independent from developments in Serbia. So what needs to be done is to strengthen self-rule in Kosovo, deepen democracy, create better economic conditions -- move in a fast-forward mode to fulfill resolution 1244."
Surroi was also asked to evaluate the performance of the UN civil administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner.
"Dr. Kouchner has no doubt had his heart in the right place. The question is always whether a UN administration can replace an authentic government -- and it can't."
That problem will be partially solved after October 28, when Kosovo is due to hold its first local elections since the start of UN administration. Surroi said he was satisfied with the progress of the electoral campaign so far.
"There will be local elections. Despite my initial fears, I think there has been considerable progress on the part of the parties, their responsibility towards the elections and towards maintaining them as non-violent as possible."
Surroi was then asked whether the changes in Belgrade, as some commentators have suggested, may drive more of the Kosovo electorate toward nationalist parties out of fear the province may be pushed toward reintegration with Serbia. Surroi said he does not believe this to be true. In any case, he noted, all political parties representing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo advocate independence for the province -- a goal supported by the overwhelming majority of the province's population.
Independence, Surroi summed up, is not the position of one political party or another in Kosovo. It is, he said, "a consensual position of all the people."