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Balkan Report: January 27, 2006

27 January 2006, Volume 10, Number 1

KOSOVA AFTER RUGOVA. The death of Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova on 21 January comes shortly before talks on the province's final status are slated to begin. The loss of the ethnic Albanians' most senior leader only makes an already difficult political situation even more complicated.

Rugova was the virtually unchallenged leader of the Kosovars for the past two decades. He championed change through nonviolence and was a tireless advocate of independence, which all Kosovar Albanian political parties now support.

Of course, the Serbian crackdown of 1998-99 and the ensuing conflict that led to the end of Serbian rule effectively discredited the nonviolent approach and brought to prominence a new generation of leaders through their roles in the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). But Rugova retained an unquestioned moral authority, and it is difficult to imagine anyone easily filling his shoes in that respect. Adem Demaci is known as "Kosova's Mandela" for the long years he spent in communist prisons and for his integrity, but he is elderly and has generally shunned active politics.

Moreover, it will not be easy for Rugova's faction-ridden Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) to find a replacement for him, and Rugova did not groom a successor. Although parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci belongs to the LDK, it is not clear who will ultimately emerge as the party's new leader. Some observers have suggested that the LDK, the origins of which go back the ethnic Albanian branch of the former League of Communists of Yugoslavia, might split or undergo some other significant changes.

Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi belongs to the smaller Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK). He took up that job to replace party founder Ramush Haradinaj after the Hague tribunal indicted Haradinaj for war crimes early in 2005. Kosumi's behavior in office has been controversial and tainted by charges of corruption, which hardly recommends him for higher office.

The main opposition leaders are Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), and publisher Veton Surroi of the relatively new ORA party. Thaci and Haradinaj have their respective political bases in different branches of the former UCK. Surroi is well-known both at home and abroad but lacks the sort of large power base that Thaci and Haradinaj have.

In fact, part of Kosova's leadership problem is that the province has passed from oppressive rule from Belgrade in 1999 to a semi-colonial government by the UN's civilian administration (UNMIK) without having had the opportunity to develop its own democratic structures. Consequently, most important politicians like Thaci or Haradinaj have their power bases rooted not in modern political institutions but in their home regions, their clans, or their old UCK networks -- or a combination of the three.

It might yet be possible for the various parties to agree on a neutral figure like a senior university professor to succeed Rugova, but that person is unlikely to have the necessary political authority to lead the status talks. Some commentators have suggested that it might be time to take a different approach entirely and select a young leader untainted by earlier power struggles. Such a person would also be more representative of one of the youngest populations in Europe.

Regardless of how the leadership struggle develops and who leads the Albanians in the status talks, Kosova appears headed for troubled times. First of all, the Serbian side in the talks is unlikely to show flexibility in the run-up to the early Serbian parliamentary elections widely expected in 2006. None of the top Belgrade politicians wants to appear to the voters as "weak" on Kosova, even if in private some of those leaders acknowledge that the province is lost.

Second, some media reports suggest that the major international powers are prepared to impose a status solution in the face of Serbian and Albanian intransigence. According to that scenario, Kosova would become independent but with international guarantees for the Serbian minority. Since the Serbs and Albanians can agree on very little, the foreigners are likely to have a continuing and sometimes controversial role on the ground.

Finally, if and when the Kosovar Albanians obtain the independence they want, the problems of corruption and poverty will remain. Kosova's elected institutions are still shaky and untested, but their performance will have to be credible if Kosova is to get the investments it needs. This is a problem that has confronted many newly independent countries over the past 60 years, and the only way out is the rocky road of learning by doing. (Patrick Moore)

RUGOVA AND HIS LEGACY. Like most towering political figures, the late President Ibrahim Rugova attracted his share of controversy. Kosovar Albanians generally hail him as their undisputed moral leader, but some feel that time had long passed him by, and that his program of passive resistance ultimately played into Serbian hands by leaving the Albanians defenseless. Many Serbs consider him to be a decent man personally -- at least compared to some of the leaders of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) -- but argue that his uncompromising support of independence made armed conflict inevitable.

What, indeed, is Rugova's legacy? Basri Qaprici, who is president of Kosova's PEN Club and a longtime associate of Rugova, and Momcilo Trajkovic, who heads the Serbian Resistance Movement of Kosovo and is a veteran Serbian political leader, recently gave their views to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

Both men agree that Rugova was someone special, albeit for different reasons. Qaprici noted that he was "a symbol of peace in the Balkans...[who sought] a peaceful resolution of the Kosova question and the dissolution of Yugoslavia in a peaceful way." Trajkovic argues that the Kosovar leaders who came before Rugova were communists who were not honest about their ultimate political goals, whereas Rugova was the first ethnic Albanian politician to declare openly that he wanted independence.

On the down side, Rugova said that he favored peaceful means but was unwilling to take into account the opinion of those minorities that did not want independence. Rugova should have realized that one must talk to people who have different views and not only to those who share one's ideas, Trajkovic maintains.

And what about Rugova's tactics? Qaprici notes that Rugova realized in the late 1980s that independence was a viable option only if Yugoslavia began to dissolve into separate, internationally recognized states. Until that happened, he had to put forward the idea of making Kosova the seventh republic in the Yugoslav federation, which was, in any event, totally unacceptable to the Serbian leadership. Rugova later resisted overtures from Ljubljana and Zagreb to open a "joint front" against Belgrade when they began their moves toward independence. Finally, when Serbian repression increased in Kosova in the second half of the 1990s, Rugova resisted calls from the UCK to join their cause, Qaprici maintains.

Trajkovic sees things differently. He argues that Rugova's policies ultimately led to a conflict because he insisted on independence, sought out foreign support to "internationalize" what should have been an internal issue, and failed to seek out common ground with local Serbs. The only Kosovar Albanians willing to talk to their Serbian neighbors were people without real political power, such as veteran rights activist and former political prisoner Adem Demaci.

Qaprici says that this assessment is not quite fair, noting that nobody in the Serbian political establishment was willing to talk to Rugova during the 1990s, and that Trajkovic himself was a political outsider during the rule of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The two speakers differed sharply about the controversial visit of Rugova to Milosevic in the spring of 1999, when Serbian repression in Kosova was in full swing. Qaprici maintains that Rugova was kidnapped in an effort to compromise him, adding that he knew full well that the "only language Milosevic understood was that of force." Trajkovic, however, argues that Rugova was "brave" in going to the Serbian capital to "try to find a [political] solution." In the end, Rugova "outsmarted" Milosevic, Trajkovic maintains.

Rugova's own people subsequently elected him twice to the presidency in recognition of his democratic credentials. Trajkovic adds that Hashim Thaci and other former guerrillas sought after the war to present themselves as democratic politicians to win credibility, but the voters understood that Rugova was the genuine article.

Looking toward the upcoming status talks, Qaprici argues that Kosova's elected institutions now carry more weight than do individual leaders. Trajkovic agrees that the institutions occupy center stage politically, so Rugova's death will not substantially affect the talks. The key players in the negotiations are, however, in the international community, and Rugova's successor will be somebody who will listen to them. Trajkovic concludes that what Kosova truly needs is a leader who understands something about economics and "not just politics alone." (Patrick Moore)

RECENT QUOTATIONS: "We will miss him, he worked a lot for Kosova, he was a wise man, well known in the world." -- Prishtina resident Nazmi Kozani, quoted by Reuters on 23 January.

"It's a big loss for Kosova, it's a big loss for the Albanian nation, it's a big loss for everybody." -- Prishtina resident Hazir Kelmendi, in ibid.

"The best tribute that we can pay to the life, the dedication, the leadership and courage of President Rugova is to stay united. All citizens. All institutions. Work to realize the president's vision." -- UNMIK head Soren Jessen-Petersen, in ibid.

Serbian President Boris "Tadic is not welcome at [Rugova's] funeral, especially after his last comments." -- Unnamed Kosovar "senior government official" to Reuters in Prishtina on 24 January. The previous day, Tadic said he wanted to go to the 26 January funeral on the grounds that he is president of Serbia, and Kosova "is part of Serbia's territorial integrity" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 February 2005).