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Yugoslavia: Interview With Newly Freed Kosovar Activist Flora Brodina

  • Jolyon Naegele

The release yesterday of Kosovar Albanian human-rights activist Flora Brovina from a Serbian jail appears to be a first step on the part of Yugoslavia's new President Vojislav Kostunica to restore a measure of trust between Serbia and Kosovo. Correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports on an interview Brovina gave RFE/RL's South Slavic Service shortly after her release.

Prague, 2 Nov 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian secret police detained Flora Brovina in the Kosovo capital Pristina in April of last year during NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Her arrest came only hours after Brovina, a pediatrician by profession, had delivered a baby.

Brovina, who is also a published poet, was the founder of the League of Albanian Women, a non-governmental organization that advocated women's rights and helped organize aid deliveries to refugees of the fighting in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999.

Brovina and nearly 2,000 other Kosovar Albanian political prisoners were transferred to prisons in Serbia during the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province in June 1999. Then in December a Serbian court convicted her of terrorism and of collaborating with the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army, and sentenced her to 12 years in prison.

Brovina denied the charges and appealed the verdict. But an appeals hearing scheduled for last month was postponed due to an announced illness of the judge.

Last week, new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica ordered Brovina's release, but the outgoing old-guard justice minister, Petar Jojic, refused to carry out the order. Only after a new caretaker Serbian government took office last week was the order carried out, and even then there were several false starts. Finally, a senior aide to Kostunica, Filip Golubovic, himself went to the prison in Milosevic's hometown of Pozarevac and oversaw Brovina's release.

Officials of the International Committee for the Red Cross then brought her to the boundary with Kosovo. There she was greeted by her husband Ajri Begu, her son Uranik, and some 200 supporters.

A representative of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Sonja Biserko, said outside Pozarevac prison yesterday that Brovina's release "is the first sign that the new government has a new way of dealing with Albanians."

One of Brovina's attorneys, Branko Stanic, tells RFE/RL that in addition to freeing Brovina, Kostunica also granted a pardon, thereby clearing her of all charges.

"She is cleared. In other words, she is exempt from criminal prosecution. She is a completely free woman and the president of the republic has the right, according to the constitution, to make such a decision."

The 53-year-old Brovina herself says her release did not come as a surprise. She told RFE/RL:

"I feel strange. I knew that after the victory of democracy in Serbia there would be some changes for the better and that innocent people would be freed from jail -- imprisoned Albanians who are incarcerated, among them myself."

Brovina says she expected to be released sooner, but notes members of the former government of Slobodan Milosevic blocked her release for several weeks even after Milosevic resigned early last month.

Still, Brovina expresses frustration at being among the first of more than 800 Kosovar Albanian prisoners in Serbian jails to be released by the Kostunica government.

"I didn't want to be the first to be freed. I always wanted to stay with the imprisoned Albanians, with the political prisoners. Even though I didn't want to be first, I acknowledge the gesture by Mr. Kostunica's government. But he needs to decide quickly to free the others."

Brovina told reporters at the Kosovo boundary last night that she has been informed that all ethnic political prisoners in Serbia will be freed as soon as the Yugoslav parliament passes an amnesty bill in about 10 days time.

Eleven other ethnic Albanians also were freed from Serb jails yesterday.

Prison took its toll on Brovina. She was not allowed to write and, cut off from the outside world, she confused Kostunica's name with that of an exiled Bosnian filmmaker, Emir Kusturica.

But now she says she intends to get right back to work at her pediatric clinic.

"I am a pediatric doctor. Tomorrow or the day after, I want to visit my children in the psychological rehabilitation center for children and women. After all I've been through, I don't want to be a patient but want rather to have the strength to care once again for children -- of whom there is no small number -- who experienced trauma."

Brovina predicts that her release may contribute to a democratic competition between Kosovo and Serbia.

"Obviously my release is a positive gesture which I value. I think there will be a competition of democracies. Kosovo wants to compete in a certain sense with Serbia over which one is building democracy the right way."

The Kosovo which Brovina is returning to has changed considerably in the 19 months since she was jailed. Nearly one million refugees returned from exile and more than half the province's Serbian minority fled. The Serbian forces that terrorized the Albanian majority are gone and in their place are NATO-led peacekeepers, UN civilian police and the multiethnic Kosovo Police Service. Most important, perhaps, Kosovar Albanians for the first time in modern history are living in freedom in their own land.

Brovina says Kosovar Albanians will never again live together with Serbs, as she puts it "in the same marriage." Rather, she says: "we want to live better, as neighbors." The UN's chief administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, who recently called on Kostunica to release the jailed Albanians -- including Brovina -- welcomed the news of her release. He told reporters in Pristina yesterday: "President Kostunica should be congratulated in taking this crucial step toward healing the wounds that exist between the Serbian and Albanian communities."