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Balkan Report: June 22, 1999

22 June 1999, Volume 3, Number 24

The Balkan Peoples Must Determine Their Own Fate. Czech President Vaclav Havel spoke to RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 21 June:

I believe unequivocally that human rights take precedence over state sovereignty. Man is the creation of God and has existed tens of thousands of years. The state is the creation of man and is an administrative unit existing several hundred years in the form we know today. It seems that in the future, in the next millennium, in view of the global nature of our civilization and other factors, the importance of people and their rights will grow in significance over the rights of the state.

Many functions now carried out by the state will in the future be handled at a lower level by various civic groups, others will become functions of higher, supernational or transregional units, as is now taking place within the European Union.

It's absolute nonsense to criticize bombing as one evil trying to stop another evil, namely ethnic cleansing. Alas, the world is such, and people are such that evil has to be checked with fire and sword--evil must be met by force. That's why all countries except Costa Rica have armies. That's the way the world is. In this case, a great evil was met with the relatively least of evils. Not one of the critics offered a better solution, except one Czech who said: "Let them all murder each other, and we should take no notice."

If a government takes over a state, as in Yugoslavia, the only way to check its evil is to destroy the structures that support it. That means military structures, transport, communications, and others that serve the regime. NATO conducted thousands of raids and hit some civilian targets, regrettably killing innocent civilians. But compared to most previous wars, the percentage of innocent victims was relatively small.

It's hard for me to imagine that peace and stability can be established while [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic remains in power. He was behind several Balkan wars now for more than a decade, resulting in thousands of deaths.

I am afraid that with him it would be very hard to build a good peace based on justice and civic co-existence, all the more because he stands accused by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. This is a court that has no political biases, because it was created by the United Nations on the decision of the Security Council, with the agreement of both the Russian Federation and China.

I think that an earlier intervention might have meant fewer victims in this past decade and the bombing need not have been so devastating. ...Of course that's hindsight, and everyone is a general after a battle.

NATO must do all it can to create confidence in the international civil administration or protectorate that will be established in Kosova so that people will trust the law and order forces there sufficiently for some Serbs to return to the region, just as some ethnic Albanians are now returning.

That is the great task before us. The question is what will be done now and will happen now.

There is an endless circle of blood and revenge that must be broken. That is an unusually hard and difficult task. It's hard to explain to Kosovar Albanians, who were forced out of their homes at gunpoint. I spoke to some of them in refugee camps, and they said: "We were told you must leave in three minutes or you will be shot and you can take only what you can carry." They thus had to leave with no food, no clothes, nothing. They then had to witness their homes being looted and burned. It is hard to explain [to them] that now that they are back, they cannot steal from abandoned Serbian homes.

Nevertheless, it is the duty of the international community to try to do this and stop this endless circle of bloodshed, revenge, and settling of accounts.

Kosova must decide its future--by referendum or election--not now, but after heads have cooled and can make reasoned decisions. I think at least three years should go by in negotiations. Then, calmly and sensibly, the decision can be made--but it has to be by Kosovars themselves.

I feel some responsibility for the intervention of NATO and the international community in Yugoslavia and Kosova. The action had only one goal, namely to create conditions for civic co-existence and democratic development, as well as to stop human rights violations, murders, and massacres. I feel responsibility for the action and what it led to, regardless of whether or not it achieved its goal. That is why I want to visit Kosova and find out what must be done further to achieve that aim, if it hasn't already been achieved.

One can't create a situation through bombing and then lose interest in the situation. On the contrary, now is the time to get interested. The bombing was not an end in itself but merely the means to create conditions for people to live in dignity.

The international community must do all within its power to make the Balkans a region of peace and peaceful co-existence among ethnic groups. A beginning could be the planned conferences in the region: the first is supposed to be held in Sarajevo. I welcomed the news because I have been saying from the beginning that one cannot decide the Balkans' future in Alaska or Washington or Paris or Moscow. The conferences have to be there in the Balkans. These are proud peoples who would not easily tolerate their fate being decided far away. (Translated from the Czech by Sonia Winter)

Kosovars Rush Back to the Future. People working for international aid agencies have been surprised at how quickly many Kosovar Albanians have packed their things and headed back to their homes. They started doing so just days after NATO forces entered the region. However, the aid agencies have called on the refugees to stay in their camps for at least a few more weeks so that military experts can check roads, villages, and houses for mines and booby-traps, reinstall water and power supplies, and make sure that there is a sufficient supply of food available. They have argued that the refugees are taking great risks in returning so early. But many refugees have not been prepared to listen to such arguments. Some of them have paid a heavy toll for their impatience: within only half a week, 20 people were injured and at least two killed by mines.

Still the agencies have had to recognize that they will not be able to stop the Kosovars from returning--even before the withdrawal of Serbian troops is completed. The fact that some 20,000 refugees have already returned home, despite the various dangers, indicates their eagerness to get started quickly with building a new future after more than a decade of discrimination in an apartheid-like system. They see Kosova as their liberated homeland rather than as the scene of some of the most vicious crimes against humanity committed since World War II. They are willing to embrace a land marked by the horrors of ethnic warfare in their search for a new democratic future.

The example of the thousands of Kosovars who have joined the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) has contributed to the impatience of many of their compatriots to go home. Even though it was NATO that finally assumed control over Kosova and ensured the withdrawal of the Yugoslav forces, most of the UCK fighters view the recent turn of events as "their victory" as well. These fighters come from all walks of life in Kosova--from villagers to university students, and including women's brigades. Many of these guerrillas joined the UCK at the height of Serbian repression in 1998 or 1999 and are not likely to stay with the organization much longer. Essentially, they were "citizens in uniform," and now that the worst is over, they will probably return to their towns and villages. Thus the UCK will diminish in size very soon without any outside pressure. Furthermore, it will also undergo changes as a result of its scheduled demilitarization. In the end, the former fighters will be engaged in the effort to reconstruct their country.

The urge of the Kosovars to go home has generated a vital momentum that the international community should not only respect but support. The initiative these refugees show today could be crucial for the success of Kosova's reconstruction and development in the long run. The more initiative the Kosovars take themselves, the more certain it is that theirs will be a success story. Many of those who have returned so far are not willing to wait because they are confident that they can cope with the challenges facing them at home quickly and efficiently by simply getting started. They do not want to wait for the permission and support that may or may not come from international organizations. Many refugees perceive these bodies--which will have to cope with hundreds of thousands of remaining refugees--as largely anonymous.

In particular, self-reliant villagers from the more remote parts of Kosova do not trust the bureaucracy of government or international aid agencies. Many are prepared to simply drive their tractors home rather than waiting. They know that it is not too late to plant something that they can harvest before the winter. Many even prepared their fields before the beginning of the ethnic cleansing in March and April, and thus are eager to get home sooner rather than later to look after whatever remains of their crops.

Similarly, the traders and craftsmen in the cities and market places will want to reopen their shops and businesses, another essential factor for rapid economic recovery. To this end, the international community and the new UN-led civilian administration should from the beginning focus on ensuring full freedom of movement, not only for people within Kosova, but also for goods and services between Kosova on the one hand and Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, and Albania on the other.

It is important that individual refugees be enabled to go back and forth between their homes in Kosova and the refugee centers. They need freedom of movement in order to create the preconditions for their families to follow later. Therefore, reviving and improving regional public transport--primarily with buses and minibuses--is of paramount importance. Macedonia and Albania should be encouraged to conclude free-trade agreements with the Kosovar interim administration. This will serve all parties concerned. Mobility will thus generate prosperity.

The international community could promote such efforts from the beginning in order to give Kosova's reconstruction a head start. It will serve everyone's interest to reduce customs formalities between the neighboring countries to a minimum in order to facilitate the quick and easy flow of goods and services. The UN administration should install a Western-trained customs administration to help the Kosovars and their neighbors apply liberal policies.

During a meeting in Skopje on 17 June, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski de facto recognized UCK leader Hashim Thaci as his counterpart from Kosova. Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko's administration is the only other government to have done so. These three southwestern Balkan leaders have begun to show a willingness to develop a joint vision of future regional cooperation. They will now have to show that each of their countries can profit from a policy of cooperation. Kosova needs the two others for its own reconstruction and the two need Kosova as a partner to ensure that the still ongoing refugee crisis does not destabilize them. If it is sincere in wanting to build peace, democracy, stability, and prosperity in the region, the international community should encourage these trends. (Fabian Schmidt)

Koschnick Calls For Firmness. Hans Koschnick, who is Germany's special envoy for the Balkans and a former EU administrator in Mostar, told the "Berliner Zeitung" of 15 June that it is "impossible" to use compromise as a means of solving difficulties in the Balkans. He stressed that a willingness to compromise with the parties on the ground will be taken by each of them as a sign of weakness. Any partition of Kosova will lead to demands for a wholesale redrawing of frontiers on the peninsula, Koschnick warned. He stressed that refugees will gladly go home once they feel they will be secure there. He urged that international reconstruction aid be well coordinated and that it be extended to the Serbs as well. The EU must take a leading role in the reconstruction and civil administration of Kosova, Koschnick concluded. (Patrick Moore)

Boston Physicians Investigate Abuses. The "Boston Globe" reported on 16 June about the findings made by the Physicians for Human Rights after interviewing some 1,180 Kosovar refugees. The NGO concluded that Serbian forces carried out a "systematic campaign of violence and destruction in their drive to expel Kosovar Albanians from the province."

One doctor noted: "The level of violence against the Kosovar Albanians was really quite extraordinary. This helps us understand more what the Serb campaign has been about. It wasn't simply to get people out of Kosovo. It was a campaign of destruction."

The 148-page report noted that nearly one-third of the respondents said that Serbian forces had burned their homes. Another 23 percent said that they had witnessed the destruction of medical facilities. Half of those interviewed reported that Serbs had demanded money of them. The study concluded that there had been "serious abuses in a very short period of time." (Patrick Moore)

Minister Vucic Calls RFE/RL 'Illegal.' Aleksandar Vucic is the Serbian minister of information and one of the fathers of last fall's repressive media law, which banned rebroadcasting of most foreign programs, including those of RFE/RL. He recently said in Belgrade that RFE/RL broadcasts continue to be "illegal" and that the government of Serbia has not given a permit for it to broadcast. "That they have a strong FM signal again is not surprising, since NATO cleaned out the radio airwaves over Serbia by targeting our transmitters," Vucic noted. To reporters' questions about whether government agencies will try to obstruct the frequencies on which those radio stations are broadcasting, Vucic answered, "We have obstructed them the whole time." (Patrick Moore)

Government Newscasts Mandatory. The Serbian authorities have recently begun forcing all radio and television stations to broadcast newscasts prepared by state-run Radio-Television Serbia. The non-government Association of Independent Electronic Media said in a statement in Belgrade on 21 June that the move is illegal. (Patrick Moore)

U.S. Promoting Pluralism in Serbia. U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard and other unnamed officials met earlier this month on the Montenegrin coast with prominent Serbs and Montenegrins opposed to Milosevic, "Danas" and AP reported on 18 June. Among those attending were Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda, economist Dragoslav Avramovic, former General Vuk Obradovic, and several others.

The U.S. officials stressed that they want to see greater pluralism in Serbia but added that Milosevic's eventual ouster is a matter for the Serbs themselves. The U.S. representatives added that Washington does not support or finance any one opposition politician or party. The officials noted that U.S. President Clinton will show his support for Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic by meeting with him in Slovenia this week. Kilibarda quoted Gelbard as saying that Momir Bulatovic, who is Milosevic's leading backer in Montenegro, will soon be indicted by the war crimes tribunal. (Patrick Moore)

Montenegro Moving Toward Independence? Social Democratic leader Vujica Lazovic said in Podgorica on 21 June that the Yugoslav federation must be dissolved if Montenegro is "to be a rich, democratic and developed country, to the benefit of its citizens. It is certain that this cannot be achieved in this federation regardless of whether Milosevic is leading it or not," AP quoted him as saying.

Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda, whom the Yugoslav army wants to arrest for urging young Montenegrin men to evade the draft for Kosova, noted that "a number of young men would not be dead now and mothers would not be mourning and wearing black" if people had listened to him earlier.

On 18 June, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said that Montenegro will hold a referendum on independence if Serbia rejects its call for fundamental reforms. These measures are designed to make the two republics co-equal in the federation. Serbs outnumber Montenegrins by about 13-to-1. (Patrick Moore)

Mass Grave Found--In Slovenia. Road construction workers have recently uncovered some 1,000 skeletons in a 1.2 kilometer-long, World War II anti-tank ditch near Maribor, Reuters reported on 16 June. The men were Croatian soldiers killed by the mainly Serbian Third Army of Josip Broz Tito's Partisans at the end of World War II. Few of the remains have been identified, but all will receive a proper burial later this year. Historians believe that up to 7,000 skeletons remain buried in the area, the agency report continued.

At the end of World War II, Tito conducted merciless reprisals against persons serving in Axis formations, including teen-age conscript "Domobrani." Postwar Western governments generally avoided discussion of the major massacre at Bleiburg and other Partisan atrocities. This was partly in the interest of maintaining good relations with Tito and partly because Western forces had often handed Yugoslav prisoners-of-war over to Tito, who then killed or imprisoned them.

Several mass graves have been uncovered in Slovenia since independence in 1991. Local people knew all along where the graves were, but public discussion of them was taboo under communism. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations of the Week. "Russia's conduct [during the bombing] was malicious and much of it involved deliberate collusion with the Belgrade sponsor of ethnic cleansing." -- Zbigniew Brzezinski in the "Wall Street Journal," 14 June.

"It was a Serbo-Russian provocation." -- Hashim Thaci on the Russian deployment to Kosova, on 14 June.

"We'll work the Russian part out because there is good will." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on 14 June.

"Tsar Boris is No Prince of Peace" -- headline in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of 16 June.

"The Russians are sounding like it's Khrushchev all over again." -- unnamed Bulgarian diplomat, quoted in the "International Herald Tribune" of 16 June.

"Failure to apply pressure decisively will mean that Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Yeltsin will have succeeded in de facto partition." -- Brzezinski, in his 14 June article.

"They could find themselves in an Afghanistan situation again." -- UCK political representative in London, Pleurat Sejdiu, on 16 June.

"People wandering around with weapons and shooting at us or each other is clearly not acceptable." -- British army spokesman on 15 June.

"We draw no lines. We treat everyone the same, regardless if it's [UCK], if it's Albanian, if it's Serbian, it does not matter to us. We will disarm the people who have weapons. We will treat everybody fairly, yet we will treat them firmly." -- U.S. Captain David Eiland, on 16 June after disarming 200 UCK fighters.

"We'll have to get to a point where people don't feel the need to go to bed with a Kalashnikov." -- NATO press spokesman Jamie Shea on 17 June.

"I ask the people of Kosovo not to interfere with the withdrawing Serbian army and police units as this could only lead to more violence and a prolonging of the tension in Kosovo." -- British Brigadier Bill Rollo, in a statement in Prishtina on 15 June.

"They were very depressed but cooperative." -- German KFOR commander General Fritz von Korff, on the Yugoslav army, to the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of 16 June.

"The best thing would have been if they had not come here at all--not because we don't want them, but because there are guarantees for their safety in Kosovo. Unfortunately, they don't believe us." -- Milutin Randjelovic of the Belgrade city government, on Serbian civilian refugees from Kosova, quoted by AP on 15 June.

"If you look at history, this has always been Serb land. We have a duty to stay here and protect it. All those who are leaving are traitors." -- Serbian mechanic in Prishtina, quoted in "The Guardian" of 15 June.

"We believe the world has too many refugees already. I beg you not to make the number any greater. Stay at home and we will look after you." -- General Sir Mike Jackson, to local Serbs on 16 June.

"I am not leaving Prizren or Kosovo and Metohija for good, but only to be safe until KFOR can guarantee a safe life here. [Serbs] who leave will only return when KFOR can impose order here and demilitarize" the UCK. -- Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije on 16 June.

"These Albanians are animals. Our president built 160 mosques for them and they show no appreciation." -- elderly Kosovar Serb to the Prague daily "Lidove noviny" of 15 June.

"You add it up and it adds up to a lot of deaths. It's systematic. There were a lot of people involved. It wasn't some aberration that people were killed." -- Human Rights Watch lawyer Joanne Mariner to "The New York Times" of 17 June.

"Every day brings new horrors." -- The Vienna-based daily "Die Presse" on 17 June.

"When NATO came, it was like God came." -- Returning Kosovar Albanian refugee to AP, 17 June. She and her friends were jeering Serbian civilians, who were fleeing northward.

"This is the biggest satisfaction in my life. It's a moment we have been waiting for for a century." -- Middle-aged Kosovar in Skenderaj, welcoming French KFOR troops on 18 June, quoted by Reuters. The Serbian crackdown began in March 1998 with the murder of the Jashari clan in Skenderaj.

"The only reason for the coalition [with the parties of Milosevic and his wife] was to defend Kosovo. Since Kosovo is now under occupation, we have no reason to stay in the government." -- Former Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj on 14 June. He subsequently obeyed an order from President Milan Milutinovic for all ministers to stay at their posts in the interests of "continuity."

"By rebuilding our country, we will renew ties with the whole world, first of all by correcting an image which for the whole decade had been created by those who were dissatisfied with our resistance to [their] colonization of the Balkans." -- Milosevic on 15 June.

"Seen in an historical perspective across centuries, it is difficult to find a man who has led Serbia so badly and actually led it to ruin like Milosevic." -- the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," 18 June.

"It should be evident to every thinking person that [our] numerous internal problems and the international isolation of [our] state cannot be overcome with such a government and under the present conditions." -- The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, on 15 June.

"Just as we have seen Ceausescu and other dictators dissolve like a sugar cube in the morning, we will see something similar in Serbia, I'm sure." -- NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, reported by Reuters on 17 June.

I just "can't wait for the day" that Serbia has a democratic leader. -- U.S. President Bill Clinton in Ljubljana on 21 June.