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Balkan Report: July 8, 1998

8 July 1998, Volume 2, Number 27

Kosovars With Whom One Can Talk? "The ethnic Albanian leadership is confronting this crisis of war or peace without any coherence. Right now the Albanian side cannot speak with a single voice," U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke said in Prishtina last weekend, on his way to Belgrade. "We're working with the Albanians to strengthen their cohesiveness for the negotiations. They're having a little bit of trouble getting their political act together." Mindful, however, of European and Russian criticism of him for recently meeting publicly with representatives of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), Holbrooke added: "We support [shadow-state President] Dr. [Ibrahim] Rugova as the main Kosovar leader."

Holbrooke's remarks underscored one of the key problems bedeviling those who seek a negotiated solution in Kosova, namely: Who speaks for the Kosovars? It remains unclear whether the UCK at home or in the diaspora is willing or able to speak with one voice, or to engage in serious discussions at all. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has long mastered the old Vietnamese communist tactic of "fighting and talking, talking and fighting," but the UCK remains generally taciturn.

Second, it is doubtful that the UCK will accept the leadership of the Kosovar political establishment headed by Rugova, whom the fighters consider a defeatist. The UCK may be similarly unwilling to enter into a relationship of equals with Adem Demaci or other radical Kosovar politicians, who have neither beaten Rugova in an election nor fought Milosevic's forces on the ground. In Malisheva, the UCK recently set up a National Council, to which it quickly subordinated local officials of Rugova's party. It may be that the guerrillas will say little to anyone until they have consolidated their hold on more territory, and meanwhile make it clear to the civilian politicians there that the UCK alone is in charge.

That is, of course, to the extent that the UCK has a cohesive strategy. Some observers suggest that the UCK is a collection of loosely linked factions consisting of persons with little political or diplomatic experience, who seem ill at ease with the media. Those observers also note that the UCK has made some big mistakes, such as by attacking innocent Serbian civilians and thereby losing its claim to be purely a victim and not a "warring party."

Kosova and Bosnia. Professors Branko Horvat of Zagreb and Gajo Sekulic of Sarajevo recently discussed similarities and differences between the Bosnian and Kosovar conflicts on RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge). Horvat noted that, unlike Bosnia, Kosova has never once been an independent state. Sekulic added that Sarajevo was under a long siege during the Bosnian conflict, but that there is no comparable front in Kosova. Sekulic also suggested that the UCK was better prepared for war than the Bosnian army was. (But Kosovar spokesmen took the opposite view in talks with "Bosnia Report" this spring in Tirana, stressing that the Muslims had a core infrastructure of ex-Yugoslav army officers that the UCK is lacking.)

Horvat argued that there is a strong link between the two crises, namely that the international community has learned nothing about handling such wars in the Balkans. He concluded that the foreigners probably will nonetheless find themselves intervening militarily, which, he and Sekulic agreed, will speed the way to a negotiated settlement. Horvat predicts that the outcome will be an international protectorate in Kosova, while Sekulic expects Kosova to be autonomous within Yugoslavia.

Observation of the Week. "The Times " of London on July 6 quoted an unnamed international aid worker in Tropoja, Albania, as recalling that Holbrooke recently "described a tiny town in Kosova as the 'most dangerous place in Europe.' He should take a walk in these mountains. In the forests there is heavy shelling and ambushes almost every night as the Serbs hit the UCK or else the UCK shoot it out in confusion with each other. In the valleys the UCK drive off Kosovar moderates sent up to rein them in, while the Albanian locals are either locked in blood feuds or plotting to break away from Tirana. The undercurrents here are as heavy as any I have ever known. One incident of serious border violation by the Serbs in hot pursuit of a UCK group and -- 'boom', watch this place go up."

Quotes of the Month. Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in Vienna on June 22: "Only democracy can defeat Serbian nationalism and aggression. It is precisely for this reason that I have presented in all my international contacts the necessity to construct a democratic 'siege' on Serbia, to support democratic forces there and in the Balkans in general."

At the beginning of the month, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told "The Guardian" in reference to the widespread view among Serbs that they are an international victim: "We must turn the criticism directed against us onto ourselves. We must sober up and awaken from our legends and dreams."