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South Slavic: January 6, 2000

6 January 2000, Volume 2, Number 1

Human Rights In Kosovo. Part II

The following is a Part II of a translation of a recent edition of Omer Karabeg's "Radio Most" (Bridge), which brought together a prominent Serbian human rights activist and one of her ethnic Albanian counterparts. Part I appeared on 23 December.

Mr. Nussi, Ms. Kandic thinks that Kosovska Mitrovica might start the process of reconciliation. What do you think, is Kosovska Mitrovica the right place for that?

Nussi: As far as Kosovska Mitrovica is concerned, I think that the most important thing to do at this moment is to fully implement the UN resolution on Kosovo, according to which neither Kosovska Mitrovica nor any other region of Kosovo can be divided in a way that one part becomes inhabited by members of one nation and the other by another. Right now, Kosovska Mitrovica is divided. The situation in Mostar is similar. This is why I believe that Kosovska Mitrovica at this moment cannot be a place of rapprochement between Albanians and Serbs. We have cases of people being killed there every day, we have cases of individuals of one nation destroying homes and property of those belonging to the other. Kosovska Mitrovica cannot be a place where reconciliation between the Albanians and the Serbs should be attempted. Some other regions might be more suitable for that, like those where criminals did not play as big a role as in Kosovska Mitrovica.

What are those regions, then, Mr. Nussi?

Nussi: I think that one might think first of all of Pristina and Prizren. Those are certainly not places like Djakovica, Pec, Kosovska Mitrovica, Srbica, Orahovac, and others where the number of crimes was high.

Kandic: I agree with Mr. Nussi, but when I was talking about Mitrovica, I said that reconciliation might be possible only if there is no more interference from Serbia and with a strict control over those who come to the town. Of course, there will be no reconciliation while there are infiltrated Serb police officers there or others suspected of being involved in crimes.

But when you talk to the natives of Kosovska Mitrovica, no matter what their nationality, you get a completely different perspective. Unfortunately, only a small number of natives are still there, particularly in the Serbian part of town. There are so many newcomers. Mr. Nussi is right when he says that towns like Pristina, Prizren, or Gnjilane are more suitable for the start of the reconciliation process. There were not that many crimes there, and there were cases of solidarity among neighbors and friends during [the recent conflict].

Do you think that the solidarity is more present among the native population?

Kandic: Absolutely so. All the analyses of what has happened in Bosnia and Croatia show that there is something about the native population that is always fully expressed in difficult moments. Before the war, I had an opportunity to see many cases of Albanians, who are majority there, protecting and helping Serbs, who, in their turn, did not forget that help.

I saw such a case during a trial. It was the last trial in which the late defense lawyer Bajram Kelmendi participated. He was killed soon after that. It was the trial of an Albanian father and his sons, who were accused of "association aimed at carrying out hostile acts." Of course, it turned out that there was no criminal activity involved whatsoever. Those were men of high ethical standards who loved, respected, and protected their Serbian neighbors. Those Serbs appeared at the trial to say, with the simplicity of people who live in the country: "We do not know what you are talking about. Which army? Which UCK? We have been living with them for 40 years. They are our neighbors who did everything they could to protect us."

Mr. Nussi, do you think that the native Albanians and the native Serbs are more tolerant than the newcomers?

Nussi: I think they are. There are cases of natives protecting families belonging to a different nation, both during and after the war. There were many cases of native Albanians protecting native Serbs and their families in Pristina, Prizren, and elsewhere, but that is not the case with newcomers.

In the past centuries, Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo used to respect and even protect places of worship of the other people. That tradition was not respected during the latest conflicts. The Serbs were burning mosques and then the Albanians started burning churches and monasteries. How do you explain that, Mr. Nussi?

Nussi: It is true that there were cases of damaged places of worship of the Muslims, Orthodox, and Catholics. But I think that religious buildings were too hard to protect in such a complicated war as the one in Kosovo. There are indications that some Orthodox churches sheltered paramilitary forces and that some places of worship were used as arms depots.

Kandic: As far as religious buildings are concerned, the Albanians had a great respect towards the non-Islamic places of worship. The Serbs--I am not talking about the Kosovo Serbs but about those in Bosnia--have destroyed the most beautiful monuments of Islamic architecture, such as the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka.

But I always tend to point to the positive examples. Let me mention the Decani monastery and Father Sava. If you go there and talk to the Albanians who stayed in Decani during the NATO intervention, they will tell you that without the help of Father Sava, they would have been killed by all sorts of Serb forces.

It is true that some churches and monasteries were destroyed--you can see it with your own eyes--but not all Albanians should be blamed for that. Many of them consider the destruction unacceptable. Someone else did it in their name, someone with the power to do it and who thought that those buildings had to be destroyed. As I said, the Albanians used to respect the Orthodox religious buildings. The Patriarchate of Pec used to be the gathering place not only for the Serbs, but for the Albanians as well, because it was a place of cultural importance, just like the Decani monastery. It is well known that the Albanians were the main guardians of that place, they used to take care of the monastery.

Mr. Nussi has mentioned that some churches sheltered paramilitary forces. As far as Decani is concerned, it is true that near the monastery, in a youth center, some Serb paramilitary forces were based. That is well known. But at the same time, it is well known that Father Sava did everything he could as an individual and a priest to protect the inhabitants of all nationalities.

It seems that the relations between the Serbs and the Albanians in Kosovo have reached their lowest point ever. The distrust is immense, ties between the two peoples have been almost completely cut. Is there any chance for an improvement? What do you think about that, Mr. Nussi?

Nussi: I think that there is always a chance, but some conditions must be met first. I believe that one of the conditions is to neutralize any armed group that is not controlled by KFOR. I also believe that the main obligation of every citizen is to respect the rights of other citizens, no matter what their religion and nationality.

Ms. Kandic, is there a chance for the spiral of violence and revenge that is now determining relations between the Serbs and the Albanians to be stopped so that those relations could start improving?

Kandic: There is a chance, but only through justice. Until we start trying those responsible for what has happened in Kosovo--and, in a way, they are responsible for what is happening in Kosovo now--we cannot talk about establishing conditions for the beginning of the reconciliation process.

I would like to say one more thing. I think that we do not talk enough about the way Montenegro treated the Albanians during the NATO intervention. They behaved in the most humane way. Montenegro welcomed some 100,000 Kosovo Albanians. I was there to see it. I saw the readiness of the Montenegrin police to accept all those fleeing crimes and violence. By accepting all those refugees, Montenegro showed that it is a bridge towards the future, and that not everything in Yugoslavia is connected to crime.

I think that is not very well known in Kosovo. I think that Kosovo politicians should keep that in mind and talk about it. None of the Albanians expelled during the NATO intervention could come to Serbia, while they could go to Montenegro. The responsibility for the crimes lies with Serbia. This is our problem, here in Serbia. We have to start talking about the Albanians being expelled to Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro--in the name of all of us here, and that we did nothing to stop it.

Thank you Ms. Kandic.

Thank you Mr. Nussi.