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Balkan Report: June 16, 2000


16 June 2000, Volume 4, Number 45

Kosova Marks First Anniversary Of NATO's Arrival. This past Monday [12 June] marked the first anniversary of the deployment of NATO forces in Kosova and the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province following 78 days of air strikes against Yugoslavia. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that Prishtina's celebrations were shadowed by the recent spate of violence against Serbs.

On Sunday night, tens of thousands of Prishtina residents gathered in a stadium to salute the now disbanded Kosova Liberation Army, the UCK.

Several hundred former UCK servicemen, who are now disarmed members of a civil defense group known as the Kosova Defense Force (TMK), stood on the soccer field as their present and former commander, General Agim Ceku, celebrated what he termed the "great joint victory" of the UCK and NATO. "On this occasion, I want to thank the Americans, the British, and all the other members of the alliance who helped Kosova and, through the air campaign, supported our war. Here I have to mention the names of U.S. President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and General Wesley Clark."

Turning to the present, Ceku said violence is the most worrying issue now facing Kosova, one year after the end of the fighting. Recent weeks have seen numerous acts of arson, grenade attacks, and drive-by shootings, in which Serbs were the targets in most cases. Ceku said the violence shows there are still elements who do not want Kosova to have a good future. He called on all residents to condemn violence, try to stop it, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Ceku's call appears to be stronger than last week's call by former UCK political leader Hashim Thaci, now the head of the Democratic Party of Kosova, for "all citizens of Kosova to refrain from and denounce all violent acts."

But the strongest statement against violence came from UCK's former political representative, Adem Demaci, who now heads the Association for Culture and Tolerance. A long-time veteran of Tito's political prisons, Demaci was known for many years as the "Kosovar Mandela."

Demaci provoked a burst of whistles and dissent from the mainly young audience at the stadium when he called for tolerance toward Kosova's Serbs. "Today I call on all of you to join another battle, the battle for peace, for the future, for coexistence. Do not forget the Serbian people who remain today in Kosova. They are in a difficult position. Not even the Serbian regime likes their presence here. Help them. They are depressed and scared and it is up to you to create safe conditions and freedom for them. Only then will you be able to enjoy your own freedom." Whistling and jeers came from the audience.

The concert that followed the speeches was not quite in harmony with Demaci's message --it featured UCK war songs. A modern dance troupe dressed in UCK battle fatigues performed a brief ballet in honor of UCK co-founder and chief martyr, Adem Jashari.

The music sent hundreds of children and college students onto the field to dance the Balkan round dance (valle in Albanian, kolo in Serbo-Croatian) and wave the Albanian flag as the singer recounted Jashari's exploits in Kosova's central Drenica region.

In early March of 1998, Serbian forces surrounded the Jashari family compound in the village of Prekaz in Kosova's central Drenica region and launched a four-day siege, ending in the deaths of some 60 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1998).

All but four of the victims were members of the extended Jashari family. They are buried in their own cemetery at the edge of Prekaz. Their graves are heaped with wreaths, and a Kosova Defense Force soldier stands guard. Two of the Jashari houses, roofless and riddled with huge shell holes, are now surrounded by scaffolding, enabling visitors to clamber around the houses without going inside.

Up to 40 buses a day filled with pilgrims make the journey down a bumpy country road to Prekaz to what has become post-war Kosova's chief shrine. On the eve of the first anniversary of Kosova's liberation, more than a dozen vendors of soft drinks and biscuits were doing a thriving business along the boardwalk between the parking lot and the Jashari cemetery.

Elsewhere in Drenica, it was just another day of postwar reconstruction. In Polac, five members of the Zani family are trying to make ends meet, living in makeshift wooden huts and gardening. They paid their neighbors 70 German marks to assemble the hut for them from a prefabricated emergency housing kit.

In the course of 1998 and 1999, Serbian forces killed the Zanis' cow, set their tractor on fire, and completely gutted their four-room cottage. They are now dependent on assistance from aid agencies.

The Zanis say the family has neither the money nor the labor to rebuild. Some 40 of their beehives survived the war and are swarming with bees, but the only family member skilled at extracting the honey from these old wattle and daub hives was one of the six male members of the Zani family who have been missing since May last year. One, Mexhid, is known to be in a prison in Serbia (in Sremska Mitrovica). The fate of the other five men--Veton, aged 18; Artan, 20; Tefik, 28; Qazim, 55; and Hamit, 60--is unknown.

Despite their suffering, the disappearance of her father, uncle, brothers and cousins, a surviving Zani woman says she is happy that at least she is home on her own land and not living in exile. But she notes the first anniversary of the end of the war brings mixed emotions: "With six members of the family still missing, we cannot feel the freedom. It is hard for us," she said.

Another of the survivors, Sabid Zani, insists none of the missing were members of the UCK. Sabid suffered leg injuries after the war after stepping on a small ("toe-popper") mine.

Up the hill, workers are putting the finishing touches on the village school, burned down by the Serbs just over a year ago. Rows of tents, each one housing a classroom, are due to be gradually phased out starting this week. Where formerly 1,200 pupils from Polac and nearby villages studied here, today there are only 700. Most of the rest are abroad

A biology teacher, Bate Villi, says that teaching the remaining children has become very difficult. Villi says some of her pupils witnessed some or all of their family members murdered by the Serbs. "They are very traumatized. Before the war, discipline was high, the level of learning was higher," she added.

Villi says Polac had 500 families before the war. She says all but one house was destroyed.

Polac is one of the areas where NATO deployed Russian KFOR troops. UCK and local residents initially opposed the Russian presence, alleging that Russian mercenaries had fought with Serbian paramilitaries.

Now, one year later, anti-Russian sentiment has died down somewhat, though isolated attacks against Russian soldiers continue to occur. As the biology teacher puts it, "There is no hatred here towards the Russian soldiers anymore, they are just like any other soldiers--they were sent here not of their own will." (Jolyon Naegele in Prishtina. The author is a veteran correspondent of RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs. naegelej@rferl.org)

Asking Questions About A Unified Albanian Language. The links between language issues and nationalist movements are long standing and well known. A recent call from Tirana for a unified Albanian-language primer has raised some questions. They may not, however, necessarily be the best ones.

An appeal by Albanian Education Minister Ethem Ruka on 1 June to introduce a unified primer for elementary schools in Albania, Macedonia, Kosova, and Montenegro has triggered a debate as to whether his call is part of nationalist efforts to create a "Greater Albania," AP reported.

But that debate misses the real issue. Ruka does not see his proposal as nationalist inspired, but wants only to support the development of a standard Albanian language. After all, it may seem strange that a language spoken by perhaps only 6 million people has not been standardized, when many languages spoken by far more individuals have long had a generally accepted form. But what Ruka fails to address is the need for pluralism in the field of textbooks.

Ruka called on ethnic Albanian linguists from the four areas, who were attending an education conference in Tirana, to participate in a competition aimed at preparing a unified language textbook for elementary schools. Ruka told the linguists that "the unified Albanian-language book will be a cornerstone for 'all-national' unification," Albanian public television reported.

The linguists present agreed to set down and maintain a standard for the written language that will be used throughout Albanian-speaking communities in the Balkans. They argue that this will improve interaction, give students the ability to study in other countries, and also offer other advantages. In this sense they see Ruka's proposal as one promoting regional and cross-border cooperation rather than ethnic-based segregation.

For example, Remzi Lani, a Tirana-based political commentator and journalist, stressed that a unified Albanian language book would not of itself foster nationalism: "It is normal that Albanians in the Balkans [should aspire to] speak the same language.... What we should worry about is the school texts of history and literature, which should be rid of the doses of nationalism."

In this sense, many Albanian linguists see the suggestion of a common primary school textbook merely in the tradition of the moves toward the standardization of the Albanian language that started in the 1970s. The current standard for the Albanian language goes back to a Grammar Congress that took place in 1972 in Tirana, where linguists from both Albania and the former Yugoslavia agreed on a standard variant. While most linguists both in Albania and Kosova still support that form of the language, there have also been prominent writers who reject it. The 1972 standard is based on the southern Albanian "Tosk" dialect, which differs markedly from that of the northerners, known as "Gheg."

Most critics of the standardized form traditionally come from northern Albania or Kosova and often belong to the older anti-communist emigration to the U.S. and Western Europe. They argue that the communist elite around the late dictator Enver Hoxha came mostly from southern Albania and imposed the Tosk dialect on the entire Albanian-speaking world in cooperation with the communists in Kosova. Despite these criticisms, the linguists in Albania and Kosova are unlikely to substantially alter the current standard form.

But while linguists and writers are discussing and agreeing on the common standard language, they should leave it to the teachers and education experts to discuss schoolbook content and how to present their materials to pupils and students. Throughout the EU countries, one of the highest principles of pluralistic development is regional cultural autonomy and diversity. Education should be part of that. It should be up to the individual teachers and schools, rather than the ministries and politicians, to decide which textbooks they will use, as long as the content of the lessons is in line with generally formulated educational targets.

The notion of unified textbooks is perhaps a legacy of the communist era, even though few people in the region have raised this point. This is largely due to the general absence of a more pluralistic approach to using teaching materials. And this leads to the main problem. Especially in Kosova there is an urgent need for textbooks. Rather than introducing an old-fashioned concept of centralized education, it might be a good opportunity to promote the development of a variety of publishing houses, competing to produce top quality textbooks. In the end it will be the teachers and students who will best be able to choose and appreciate a good textbook when they see and have to work with it. (Fabian Schmidt)

Del Ponte Rejects Ai Claims. Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said on 13 June that she stands by her previous decision not to investigate NATO for war crimes, as the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has demanded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2000 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 June 2000).

She rejected recent calls by Amnesty International for such an investigation: "I can only assume our experts are more expert than the experts at Amnesty International. And especially, my people have much more experience in [investigating]...crimes against humanity," Reuters reported. She added that Hague investigators found no conclusive evidence that NATO deliberately targeted civilians, as Belgrade and Amnesty have charged. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "There are not enough detention cells in The Hague to house all those accused of war crimes here. We are going after the most senior figures." - Tribunal spokesman Paul Risley, in Kosova on 11 June. Quoted by Reuters.

"I was unemployed for 10 years because I belonged to the wrong nation. We have nothing against relations with the Serbs, except for those individuals who have blood on their hands. Just give us independence, and everything else will follow." - Unnamed Kosovar to Reuters in Prishtina on 11 June.

"What you have [in Bosnia] is a patient on life-support systems, political, economic and military. The patient's not dying. The patient's recovering from a terrible illness. But when you can disconnect those, when will the patient really be able to walk on his own without having a neighbor club him again and put him back in the hospital? [That] is the issue. And that's what's unpredictable.... Until that issue of the three [local] armies is resolved, SFOR is really unable to disengage, because the fear would be--and many would argue with you that it could happen--that extremists would once again generate incidents forcing a new conflict." - Jacques Klein, the UN's chief administrator in Bosnia. Quoted by AP at the UN on 13 June.

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