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Balkan Report: May 12, 1999

12 May 1999, Volume 3, Number 18

Rugova and the Kosovar Power Struggle. The arrival in Rome of Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova last week came in the midst of an internal Kosovar power struggle. All Kosovar politicians know that they have to build an efficient administration quickly in order to win the war and plan for the future, but rivalries from the past prevent them from forging unity.

Paradoxically, the Kosovars were never more united than in March, when a broadly-based delegation signed the Rambouillet agreement. That document offered the vision of peace under NATO protection and the prospect of democratic development based on the rule of law.

Never before had that possibility seemed so close to reality. In early 1990, the Kosovars responded to Milosevic's abolition of their autonomy the previous year by building up a multiparty shadow state, which was dominated by Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK). The following year, the shadow state organized a successful referendum for independence. In 1992, the ethnic Albanians held underground parliamentary and presidential elections, in which the LDK won and Rugova was elected president. The shadow-state's legislature appointed a government led by Bujar Bukoshi, who financed the shadow state's school and health systems through contributions by Albanians in the diaspora.

But despite much international sympathy for Rugova's pacifism, the shadow state failed to gain international recognition. The Kosovars were left out of the frequent international conferences on the former Yugoslavia, and many ethnic Albanians came to the conclusion that the timid international community only rewarded those who made war. When the Dayton agreement ended the Bosnian war in 1995 and gave the Serbs their own para-state, many Kosovars felt confirmed in that belief.

In early 1996, the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) emerged. But despite the intensity of Serbian repression, it was not until Serbian forces began conducting massacres of civilians in several villages in February 1998 that the UCK received wider popular support.

Until that time, Rugova had denied the existence of the UCK, claiming it was the invention of Serbian intelligence agencies. But that changed with the 1998 massacres, when the slogan "we are all UCK" gained currency among many ordinary Kosovars. Furthermore, the shadow state, which had delayed new elections twice, came under increasing pressure to again legitimize itself. It held a vote in March 1998 at a time when Serbian repression was on the rise. Kosovar politicians who favored a more militant policy involving street protests boycotted these elections, in which the LDK again won. UCK representatives also said the poll was neither free nor fair.

By summer, Serbian police had driven about 200,000 ethnic Albanians from their homes, some 98,000 of whom fled Kosova. The UCK gained strength, and the shadow-state politicians had to recognize it as one of Kosova's key players. It also received increasing attention from the international community, marked by a well-publicized meeting of U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke with UCK leaders in a village in Kosova in the summer of 1998.

The guerrillas' importance got another boost when Serbian forces began the first round of Operation Horseshoe in January of this year and drove about 175,000 people out of their homes, some 75,000 of whom fled Kosova. As a consequence, the UCK became the only force on which Kosovar civilians could hope to rely on for protection. The guerrillas' new importance was reflected at the Rambouillet talks, where the Kosovar delegation included Rugova and other LDK representatives but was led by UCK leader Hashim Thaci.

But that unity proved short-lived. Already during the Rambouillet talks, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic began his final "ethnic cleansing" campaign as part of Operation Horseshoe. The remnants of Rugova's shadow state collapsed in the process. On March 31, less than a week after the beginning of NATO air strikes, Serbian forces captured Rugova and his family in their house and prevented them from establishing any direct contact with the outside world.

In the ensuing days and weeks, Thaci and other Rambouillet participants created a provisional government. It is closely connected with the UCK, which had set up bases in Albania and remains the only Kosovar institution still operating inside Kosova.

Meanwhile, Milosevic used Rugova for several propagandistic appearances, including a meeting with Russian Patriarch Aleksii II. The Serbian daily "Politika" on 29 April published a declaration allegedly signed by Rugova and Serbian Premier Milan Milutinovic. The text called for direct talks between the Serbian government and Kosovar leaders, leading to a wide-ranging autonomy and respect for the territorial integrity of Serbia. The declaration said that in these talks representatives of the international community may take part only as "guests." (The long-standing Kosovar position has been that the ethnic Albanians will negotiate only with active foreign participation.)

Meanwhile, the tensions between Bukoshi and Thaci became more heated. The provisional government demanded that Bukoshi accepts its legitimacy, which in practice would have obliged him to surrender most of the shadow-state's funds to the UCK. But Bukoshi's sympathizers refused to give in. They pointed out that they also have a guerrilla organization, albeit smaller than the UCK. It is known as the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosova (FARK), which reportedly operates out of Bajram Curri.

An attempt in early May by Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko to bring the rivals to one table failed because of the two sides' refusals to recognize each other. Meanwhile, the UCK's news agency, Kosovapress, has banned the Swiss-Albanian daily "Bota Sot" from using its news items. The UCK argues that the daily, which is close to Bukoshi, is making a profit by living from news gathered by the UCK's journalists under constant threat of death.

Rugova is now at the center of the strife. He has so far failed to explain what happened to him in Serbian captivity and whether the declaration in "Politika" is authentic. He has also failed to say unambiguously which of the two rival Kosovar governments he supports. If Rugova wants to maintain his position as shadow-state president, he has to try to make peace with the UCK, which now holds the balance of power among the Kosovars. It will not be an easy task. And the longer he maintains silence on key questions, the more difficult this will become. (Fabian Schmidt)

Western Officials Charge Serbs with Killing Agani. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Foreign Policy Advisor Michael Steiner and NATO spokesman Jamie Shea accused Serbian forces on May 9 of killing senior LDK politician Fehmi Agani. Serbian police took Agani from a refugee train between Prishtina and Macedonia on May 6, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Serbian media later reported that his dead body was found near Lipjan on May 8. Serbian authorities blamed the UCK for the killing. German government officials demanded an investigation by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. During a conversation with Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema the following day, Rugova "expressed feelings of indignation and deep sorrow at the murder," Reuters reported. (Fabian Schmidt)

Djukanovic and Djindjic Say Democracy Must Come to Yugoslavia. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and Serbian Democratic party leader Zoran Djindjic said in a joint statement from Montenegro on May 9 that "military intervention [in Kosova] gave way to new problems whether or not that was intended. With intervention, the West has now taken on part of the responsibility for finding the solution to these problems. The international community must throw its weight behind a program of political and economic reconstruction." The two leaders added that "it is impossible to imagine that democracy can be established in our country without a complete political transition in Serbia and Yugoslavia. If the war ends with a signature on a peace agreement and the same political leadership remains in power, with Slobodan Milosevic at the helm, the tragedy and violence will continue." Djindjic and Djukanovic also appealed for free and fair elections, the "isolation of undemocratic forces," and rapid economic development. (Patrick Moore)

Difficult Serbian-Albanian Dialogue. The Serbian sociologist Aleksa Djilas and Kosovar Albanian political analyst Behlul Becaj recently discussed the present and future of Serbian-Albanian relations in the RFE/RL South Slavic Service program "Radio Most" (Bridge). It was the first broadcast since the current conflict began that brought together articulate representatives of the two intellectual communities.

Djilas took a conciliatory approach at the start of the discussion. He stressed that it would be possible for Serbs and Albanians to live together again and noted that Serbian popular anger today is directed against NATO, not against the Kosovars. Becaj, however, said that words are not enough, and that if Serbs are sincere about a new deal for Kosova they should endorse the Rambouillet agreement. He chided Djilas for regretting that the Kosovars have long ceased taking part in Serbian opposition politics and for arguing that the Albanians thereby help keep Milosevic in power. Becaj charged that if the Serbs really want Kosovar participation in Serbian politics and to avoid NATO air strikes as well, they should endorse a serious proposal for restoring the province's autonomy, such as the Rambouillet agreement.

What was perhaps most interesting about the exchange was the extent to which it showed that Djilas, who had spent long years of political exile in the West during communist rule, has meanwhile accepted key aspects of Milosevic's view of the conflict. Djilas stressed that the Albanians are a minority in Serbia, whereas the Kosovars begin with the premise that they are a 90 percent majority in Kosova. Djilas argued, moreover, that the majority of the world's population is on the side of Serbia against NATO, and named China, Russia and India in particular, as does Radio-Television Serbia. Djilas, like RTS, charged that "the UCK has in its ranks terrorists and drug dealers," as though this somehow helped absolve Serbian forces for ethnic cleansing and other atrocities.

Djilas also argued that the West itself has encouraged ethnic cleansing -- namely of Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia -- and refers to certain passages of Holbrooke's Bosnian memoirs as proof. In a perhaps classic Balkan observation that can also be found in the speeches of Serbia's leaders, Djilas claimed that NATO's real interest in the former Yugoslavia is not in stopping war crimes and promoting democracy but in its "own prestige and expansion in southeastern Europe and throughout the world."

Becaj chided Djilas for getting his information from RTS. The Serbian sociologist replied that he gets his information from Western sources as well but charged that the Serbian media do not serve up such "open and blind lies" as do CNN and British and German television.

The Kosovar suggested that the Serbs will some day thank NATO and the Kosovars for helping free Serbia from its dictator. Becaj added that liberation from Milosevic will help Serbia to acquire a "mental infusion" of new ideas that will end the tendency of many Serbs to view the world from an exclusively nationalist perspective. (Patrick Moore)

Westendorp Wants Protectorate in Kosova. Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's outgoing chief representative in Bosnia, told the Madrid daily "El Pais" of May 9 that the international community must not repeat in Kosova the mistakes it made in Bosnia. He argued that Kosova must become a "full-blown international protectorate" with foreign control over "the judges, the police, and the army," which, he regretted, is not the case in Bosnia. (Patrick Moore)

A View from Greece... Greek diplomat Alex Rondos spent the week of April 15-22 in Kosova and in Serbia proper to determine how much humanitarian aid is needed and how Greek authorities might help get it there. AP published excerpts from his report on May 4.

Rondos noted that "hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees are hiding in the mountains" of Kosova. "Numerous -- but not all -- villages are empty, with ground lying fallow, animals roaming unattended, and houses selectively destroyed through ground operations." He added that "Albanians and Serbs have fled: Serbs to relatives north of Kosovo, Albanians to neighboring countries and into the mountains within Kosovo."

Serbian forces told the diplomat that some side roads were closed because of "operations of the UCK." Rondos commented in his report: "One can also presume it might be operations to empty out some locations of their local populations." He also noted that he saw some 20,000 displaced persons "returning to their homes" in Podujeva. Rondos wrote of them that they were "extremely dirty." He added that hygienic conditions could become catastrophic "as the weeks progress and if [the displaced persons] do not have access to food, clean water, and medical supplies." (Patrick Moore)

...and One from Slovenia. Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek told Reuters on April 30 in Ljubljana that "if Milosevic accepts the conditions of the international community at this moment, he will remain a partner to the international community. He is now at the limit where this is still possible. If the war escalates into an armed conflict down to the end, then... Western politicians will find it much harder to explain to their domestic publics why they are making a deal with Milosevic, whom they earlier compared to war criminals." (Patrick Moore)

Quotations of the Week. "Most assuredly, we are not crying wolf. You can see the situation [at the refugee camps], smell it. You can see the sanitation. It's not good." -- UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond in Macedonia, on May 4.

"The West needs Yugoslavia as a base so that they can occupy Russia." -- Mitar Milosevic (81), who is a distant relative of Slobodan, to "The Daily Telegraph" of May 3. The interview took place in Lijeva Rijeka, Montenegro, which is the home of the Milosevic clan. Lijeva Rijeka only recently obtained electricity.

"Members of the army and police prevented the biggest aggressor in the world from capturing an inch of our territory. At the same time, they prevented incursions by terrorist gangs and fully destroyed units, headquarters, and infrastructure of the terrorist organization that calls itself the Kosovo Liberation Army." Milosevic in a statement praising the military, on May 4.

"No amount of gestures on his part can mask the stench." -- U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, on Milosevic, on May 5.

"You cannot belong to the democratic opposition in the Balkans without taking risks." -- Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, on May 5.

"Ibrahim Rugova is far removed from his people and far removed from reality." -- The UCK's Kosovapress agency, on May 7.

"Chernomyrdin should be seen not as a special envoy but as a special demolisher, a special agent, a kind of political screen to conceal the fact that the positions of Moscow and Washington on the Balkans are coming closer together." -- Russian Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, on May 5.

"Of course, [Chernomyrdin] didn't manage to solve everything -- stopping the bombing and so forth -- but we did not count on that. We counted on him bringing the positions of the Americans, NATO, and Milosevic closer together." -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin, on May 5.

"Long live Chairman Mao!", "Kill Americans!" and "Get out, American pigs!" -- Crowds in Beijing, May 9. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" commented that "the outrage was well-orchestrated." Among the buildings attacked was the Albanian embassy.

"In popular opinion, there's not much affinity with the Serbs. We fought them in four wars over the past century. But we still have to go on living with them as neighbors." -- Bulgarian Socialist Party official Sergei Stanishev, to the "Financial Times" of April 30.

"There is nothing that justifies de facto amnesty" for Bosnian war criminals. -- The Hague court's Louise Arbour, in Paris on May 6. She complained of "inertia" on the part of Western powers in catching Radovan Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic, and other indicted war criminals.