27 May 2004, Volume
IS CANTONIZATION AN OPTION FOR KOSOVO?
A program of Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Dusan Prorokovic, chairman of the Committee for Kosovo and Metohija of the Parliament of Serbia, and Ramush Tahiri, political adviser of the Speaker of the Parliament of Kosovo Nexhat Daci.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica proposed in March that Kosovo be divided into five cantons, but it remains unclear what this really means (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March, and 4, 10, 11, and 12 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, and 2 and 16 April 2004).
Some people interpret it as decentralization, others think it can ensure autonomy for Kosovo's Serbs and other non-Albanians, while a third group wants to set up two entities, just like in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mr. Prorokovic, what does cantonization really mean?
Well, it certainly is a combination of the first and second models. Basically, it is a decentralization aimed at ensuring the elementary rights for the non-Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija. [Editor's note: the term Metohija is favored by many Serbs and alludes to earlier Orthodox monastic ownership of land in the area. Albanians do not use the term, considering it a Serbian nationalist expression.]
Whether those decentralized units would be called counties, cantons, local autonomous areas, or something else is of no importance to us. What really matters is to find institutional solutions for Kosovo and Metohija in order to prevent the events of 17 March this year from happening again.
Does cantonization mean that Kosovo should be divided into two [Bosnian-style] entities, one Serbian and the other Albanian?
I do not think it would be possible to divide Kosovo into two entities right now, since the decentralized units that could offer protection to the Serbs do not form a geographical whole.
This is because the Serbs in Kosovo live in often widely separated enclaves. For instance, how can Gorazdevac, Velika Hoca, Orahovac, or Kosovsko Pomoravlje be territorially linked with the northern part of Kosovo, and where does Strpce [in the south] fit in?
I do not like the suggestion that cantonization is aimed at dividing Kosovo and Metohija into two entities. We simply want to change the local [administrative] boundaries within Kosovo and Metohija in order to allow the Serbs to have their own local autonomy. This would enable them to have a normal life and return to their homes.
I am talking about the Serbs and non-Albanians who fled from Kosovo in 1999, more then 140,000 of whom now live in Serbia....
Mr. Tahiri, the political leadership of Kosovo's Albanians has unanimously rejected the idea of cantonization. What is your main objection to the proposal?
We do not think there is a single reason for an ethnically based cantonization or decentralization, since it would really mean [partition]. It would be the end of multiethnicity in Kosovo and serve as a precedent, not only in Kosovo, but also in the entire region....
In my private contacts with some Kosovar politicians, I realized that many of them actually condemn what happened on 17 March but will not do so publicly.
Politicians in Kosovo and Metohija are too frightened to say what they really think. They are afraid of the extremists from some religious, political, and paramilitary organizations....
Mr. Tahiri, do you think that the Kosovar Albanian leadership is afraid of extremists?
No. Kosovo's leadership is no more afraid than the Serbian one. We have never had an assassination of a prime minister, as was the case in Serbia [in 2003].
As far as the events of 17 March are concerned, we did condemn the violence the very same day. However, Kosovo's extremists and criminals do work together, and we are a small country with a population of only 2 million people inhabiting some 10,000 square kilometers.
The citizens of Kosovo are afraid of international crime and the links between the criminal organizations in Serbia, Albania, and Italy. They demand the international community's protection.
As far as the extremists are concerned, one should remember that there were demonstrations and burnings of houses and mosques in Serbia, too, although to a lesser extent [than in Kosovo]. It is the job of the judicial system and police to punish those responsible.
Mr. Tahiri, please be precise when you talk about Kosovo. Kosovo is not a country, it is a protectorate.
The kind of extremism that exists in Kosovo does not exist in Serbia. There have been some 1,000 terrorist attacks against Serbs in Kosovo from the arrival of the KFOR in 1999 until 17 March 2004.... But as far as I know, nobody has ever been charged in these cases.
Mr. Prorokovic says that Kosovo is not a country. It might not be for him, but [it is for those of us who live there]. We have already had elections twice. There will be general elections in October.
It is true that there is a protectorate here, too, but there is also a partnership [between the international authority and] the democratically elected structures of Kosovo.
As far as the murders are concerned, UNMIK and KFOR are responsible for the investigations. Despite the work of international investigators, the cases have not been solved, nor have the motives for the crimes been determined....
Please, Mr. Tahiri, do you really claim that Serbs might have carried out those 1,000 terrorist incidents [against their own people]...and that they organized the 17 March [incidents]?
Normally, KFOR and UNMIK are partly responsible and should be more energetic in preventing these things from happening again. The point is that the extremists were encouraged by the fact that 1,000 cases remained unsolved.
If nobody is punished, the same thing will happen again. That is not good either for Mr. Tahiri or for me. The political situation in Kosovo will become increasingly radicalized, and people will suffer.
As far as the final status of Kosovo is concerned, Mr. Tahiri, the Turkish Cypriots are neither fish nor fowl, neither a state nor a protectorate. Please, be wise and reasonable. Don't get into their situation, when Belgrade joins the EU while you remain out of it, just like the Turkish Cypriots. [Editors' note: the Turkish Cypriots voted in 2004 to accept the international community's proposed compromise to resolve the division of the island, while the Greek Cypriots, already assured of EU membership, turned it down.]