3 June 2004, Volume 6, Number 18
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.
Ramush Tahiri: According to the [UN civil administration] UNMIK police, there were not "1,000 terrorist attacks whose victims were Serbs and Montenegrins." The percentage of the killings of Serbs and Montenegrins does not exceed their percentage of the total population in Kosovo [editor's note: which is probably just under 10 percent]. I am quoting official information published three weeks ago.
The Serbian side's claims are not true at all. Serbian officials claim that since 1999, some 1,300 Serbs and Montenegrins were killed, which is 10 times the real figure. One should not forget that some 127,000 houses were burnt down and some 12,000 people killed during the [1998-99] war in Kosovo, while some 3,000 people are still missing. Serbia does not seem to be particularly interested in that issue.
Finally, I do not consider the Serbs some sort of a special or holy people, [who should be] allowed to cantonize Kosovo just because they are Serbs. Serbia cannot [set up cantons] during the mandate of the UN in Kosovo, since it has no authority whatsoever to do so.
After the end of the UN mandate, it will be the will of the people [that will determine the rules]. I have seen no sign of willingness among the population of Kosovo, which is 90 percent Albanian, [to agree to setting up Serbian cantons]. I have not noticed any readiness to invite back the Serbian government, no matter how democratic Kostunica's latest guise might be.
Quite the contrary, we remember [Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav] Kostunica from [way back], and we know very well his thinking about Albanians and autonomy.
His government can decide to end the UN mandate in Kosovo, just as [former Serbian President] Milosevic's government abolished Kosovo's autonomy. However, that would be playing politics and gambling with the fate of the Serbs and Montenegrins who have stayed in Kosovo, using them as an instrument of the Belgrade regime, which they were in the past, too. The point is that the Belgrade regime always betrays the Serbs living at the periphery of the territory inhabited by Serbs.
Dusan Prorokovic: I understand that Mr. Tahiri is very concerned with the Democratic Party of Serbia and the Serbian government's next moves. You should stop worrying, because we are doing just fine. If we are doing something wrong, we will be the ones to pay for it, not you.
But we are not doing anything wrong, and that makes Mr. Tahiri nervous, because our proposed solutions are both realistic and feasible.
Who can protect some 15,000-18,000 Serbs living between the towns of Vitina, Kamenica, and Gnjilane, in Kosovsko Pomoravlje, now that their representatives in local assemblies are always outvoted, since the authorities there do not want to listen to the minority's voice?
[....Vital security concerns have also contributed to our demand for cantonization.] Mr. Tahiri says that the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija are an instrument of the regime in Belgrade, but they are not. Many generations of their ancestors lived in Kosovo and Metohija, and they have the right to live there, too. Nobody has the right to expel them from their homes, kill them, burn their houses and crops, and subject them to pressure just because they are not Albanians.
And, finally, I must correct Mr. Tahiri: nobody here has manipulated the figure of some 1,300 Serbs and Montenegrins killed during the last five years. We simply want to know what happened to those 1,300 missing Serbs and Montenegrins who disappeared in the course of dreadful attacks by Albanian extremists since the deployment of the NATO troops in Kosovo and Metohija [in June 1999]. All the names and evidence have been handed over to the international representatives and official bodies in Kosovo and Metohija.
Tahiri: The Serbian authorities stress the issue of those 1,300 missing persons. They went missing during the war or in the very last days of the war.
During the war, there was no authority in Kosovo that could be held responsible for kidnappings, murders, and mass executions. We have raised the issue of some 3,000 kidnapped Albanians, and we know very well who is responsible: the Serbian state during Milosevic's rule.
It is well-known that the army and police troops did it, their commanders are known [by name], and there are eyewitnesses, too. Those people were kidnapped and then killed, their bodies were hidden somewhere in Serbia, under bridges and in police training areas. Innocent citizens of Serbia sleep above their dead souls.
The present government in Serbia does not want to send their bodies back to the Orahovac pathology center, where those bodies could be identified. Five years after the war, the government of Serbia is still playing games with those dead bodies, from time to time sending some 20 to 30 of them to Kosovo. I cannot understand [why anyone would consider] those bodies politically useful.
And, finally, the cantonization initiative has shown once again that Serbia is only concerned about the fate of the Kosovo Serbs, since the document does not envisage a program for all the citizens of Kosovo. It is a part of an old tendency to keep Kosovo a Serbian territory.
However, the number of Serbs in Kosovo is not very large, and there have never been more than 200,000 Serbs there. There are not enough to carry out the interests of Serbia and Serbian policy in Kosovo, but they are a very important part of the multiethnic character of Kosovo. They should return to live in Kosovo, like they used to, but not [to live in] isolation, [in cantons].
Prorokovic: The point is what Mr. Tahiri has just said. He says that there are not enough Serbs to make them a significant group in Kosovo and Metohija, but they are a very important element of Kosovo and Metohija's multiethnic character.
Therefore, the Serbs are needed to be a showpiece, living in reservations only to be shown to tourists and international representatives as an element of the multiethnic character of Kosovo. They are not supposed to be citizens with equal rights.
Mr. Tahiri says that the [current] government in Kosovo and Metohija cannot be blamed for the 1,300 missing Serbs, and I do not blame the government. I blame those individuals who kidnapped and killed them.
I agree with you that the same thing must be done on the Serbian side as well. There are trials in Belgrade of those who committed crimes, and similar trials are going on in The Hague, too. Whether those people are going to be sentenced or not, I do not know, but right now they are on trial.
The same thing must happen in Kosovo and Metohija as well. It is well known who were the leaders of the [Kosova Liberation Army] UCK in various villages, who were their commanders, and who were the perpetrators in the cases of killings of both Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija....
I repeat, all the names and evidence are there. I would like to hear a single Albanian politician say that a member of the UCK is a criminal because he ordered kidnappings and killings in a Kosovo village. That is going on in Belgrade, with trials that have already started. The very first one started in 1997, for the crimes some army people committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
As for Serbia's approach to the Kosovo and Metohija issue, believe me, Serbia is thinking about all its citizens. Serbia is very interested in the economic development of Kosovo and Metohija. The unemployment rate there is between 60 and 70 percent, while Serbia's unemployment rate is slowly going down, and its [gross domestic product] is going up.
I am afraid that, if the current way of solving economic problems in Kosovo and Metohija continues, Serbia may be faced with a wave of immigrants in 10, 15, or 20 years. It will be not an ethnic but a social crisis. Albanians will go to Belgrade, Nis, and Kragujevac, looking for jobs, and that might provoke social tensions. This is why we want to take part in the solution of Kosovo and Metohija's economic problems.