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Yugoslavia: Leading Dissident Reviews Kosovo Problems

  • Jolyon Naegele

The UN administration in Kosovo, UNMIK, got a new boss this week: former Danish Defense Minister Hans Haekkerup. He's the antithesis of his flamboyant French predecessor, Bernard Kouchner. Haekkerup has been quick to readjust UNMIK's goals, postponing elections set for the spring and delaying the return of some 100,000 displaced Serbs until ethnic violence stops. In Pristina recently, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele spoke with Kosovo's leading human-rights activist, Adem Demaci. Demaci talked about the UN's role in the province and of the many difficulties still facing Kosovo.

Pristina, 19 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Adem Demaci, like many Kosovar Albanians, is sorry to see Bernard Kouchner leave his post as UN administrator for Kosovo, and he is wary about what changes the new administrator, Hans Haekkerup, will bring.

As Demaci puts it, "Haekkerup is a lawyer and a soldier, while Kouchner is a true humanitarian." But, Demaci adds, while Kouchner sought to heal the wounds of years of ethnic violence, the time had come to regulate Kosovo's legal system and government. He predicts Haekkerup's experience bodes well for Kosovo's future.

Haekkerup said this week he hopes to resolve Kosovo's status in three to four years, while faithfully abiding by UN Security Council resolution 1244. The resolution provided the legal framework for the NATO-led military occupation establishing "an interim administration for Kosovo" under which the people of Kosovo can enjoy "substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

But Haekkerup has indefinitely postponed legislative elections expected in the spring. The international community, particularly the OSCE, has been wary of elections that could result in a new assembly declaring full independence from Belgrade.

Demaci, in a lengthy interview with RFE/RL, says it's not clear how the Kosovo question will be resolved because he says everything else remains unresolved:

"Many forces and interests divide the international community. Some say Kosovo should gain independence and thereby resolve this crisis in this part of the Balkans once and for all. Other forces in the West are not interested in seeing Kosovo independent since they are more interested in Serbia. So these conflicting interests are clashing at Kosovo's expense."

Demaci says that criminals are taking advantage of the situation, because the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force and the UN police "are above the events." He says security forces are not inside society and do not have the opportunity to form their own network to track down and apprehend criminals. That, however, is changing with the development of a UN-supervised local police force, the Kosovo Police Service.

"I say nothing has been resolved. We have a situation now in which we don't know who the criminals are. Bombs went off at the Yugoslav mission in Pristina (in November). We've had murders and four Ashkali [Albanian-speaking Roma] were murdered. Albanians from both sides [of the political spectrum] have been killed. Old [Kosovo Liberation Army] fighters and politicians are being murdered. We don't have a real picture [of what's going on]."

Demaci says uncertainty over Kosovo's status is aggravating matters. He says the political temperature in the province has been rising ever since pacifist Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, won a landslide victory in local elections last October.

Demaci says people who fought for Kosovo to be free, who lost family members, who lost everything, cannot look at this impassively. And he says LDK's people did not suffer many casualties but rather watched and waited to see how things would turn out.

At the funeral of Rugova's murdered media adviser Xhemal Mustafa in November, Demaci called on those who lost the elections to accept the result without revenge.

Demaci served as the political representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK, from August 1998 to February 1999. He says 20,000 to 30,000 people were actively engaged as UCK fighters and hundreds of thousands of Kosovar families found themselves surrounded, expelled, attacked, or forced to hide. In the end, he says, almost a million people were affected.

Now that Rugova's LDK has the majority, Demaci says that Kosovar Albanians who suffered think the LDK's victory means they have lost something.

"The political level of our people is quite low and they aren't in a position to take account of things the way they should. They think they have lost something. Among all of the people, you'll always have a tiny group of fanatics who cannot restrain themselves. There were slogans scrawled in towns around Kosovo showing how upset these people were after the elections -- slogans like 'Oh my nation! I will not forgive the blood I shed for your freedom.'"

Demaci suggests Albanians may not be the only ones behind the wave of killings.

"There is a 20 percent possibility that the Serbs have been doing [the killings]. But I tend to think the fault lies on the Albanian side because -- this factor is very important -- the people who suffered the least for Kosovo's freedom have come to power and the lack of accord continues."

Last June, on the first anniversary of the end of the NATO air strikes and the capitulation of Serbian forces, Demaci -- along with various former UCK commanders -- spoke at a mass gathering in Pristina's sports stadium. But when Demaci called for tolerance toward Kosovo's Serbs, the stadium erupted in whistles and jeers.

"Do not forget the Serbian people who have decided to stay in Kosovo. They are in a difficult position. It is our duty and obligation to open up prospects for them. Not even the Serbian regime is interested in their fate. Help them. They are depressed and scared and it is up to you to create safe conditions for them."

Demaci says young people protested in the stadium because they could not understand how Albanians could live together with those who not so long ago tried to kill them, burning down their homes, destroying their property. "We will need quite a lot of time before we are able to soften our stand," he said.

Demaci, who is 64 years old, spent 28 years in communist Yugoslav prisons between 1958 and 1990 for his human rights' activities. He subsequently chaired the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms for five years. This non-governmental organization still occupies most of his time.

He says his mission in life is to set an example to Kosovar Albanians of mercy, forgiveness, and not forgetting -- since, "forgetting only leads to history repeating itself." Demaci says Albanians will not let themselves become slaves to the past: "We Albanians suffered so much from this domination, discrimination, and destruction by the Serbian authorities for 100 years. We know more than anyone what destruction means and we know that it is important to create an atmosphere in which others can live too."

"There can be no freedom solely for Albanians, just as there could not be freedom just for Serbs. The Serbs tried to do that, but they lost everything. So we cannot repeat the same mistake."

Within a month after the Milosevic regime fell, Demaci traveled to Belgrade as the first Kosovar Albanian to meet openly with the Serbian public. No other Kosovar Albanian activist has gone before or since.

"Here is the problem. I was recently in Serbia. I had some good, interesting meetings, but I have no illusions that I succeeded in convincing the Serbs there that they should lay off those old projects -- which call for domination and discrimination [against the Kosovar Albanians]."

Demaci believes Serbs could greatly ease matters by promising never again to resort to hegemony, domination, discrimination, or destruction. But he says Serbs still harbor hopes that they will one day take back Kosovo or somehow disarm the province.

Demaci says this is just a pipe dream. He says the Serbs should decide whether to co-exist with the Albanians or go their separate way.

"There is no cooperation, no community without trust, and the Serbian regime for the past 100 years has only deformed, damaged, and squandered this trust to the point that no Albanian trusts the Serbs. [Albanians] are still killing people for speaking Serbian. It is still dangerous to speak Serbian [in Kosovo]. Trust has shrunk to zero."

Demaci says that he suspects new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic, and federal Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic all harbor strong nationalist feelings toward Kosovo and cannot be trusted by Kosovo's Albanian majority. "Deep down," he says, "the new leaders are all hegemonists, who are children of the old regime."

As Demaci sees it, the new leaders in Belgrade failed to stand up to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In his view, they spent too much time fighting among themselves for power and not enough time dealing with substantive issues.

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