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South Slavic: January 27, 2000

27 January 2000, Volume 2, Number 4

What Future For Kosovo? Part I

RFE/RL's Omer Karabeg: In today's Radio Most (Bridge) we are going to discuss the future of Kosovo with two historians: Zekerijah Cana, scientific advisor of the Albanian Studies Institute in Pristina, and Milan Protic, research fellow of the Balkan Studies Institute in Belgrade. Part II of this discussion will appear on 3 February.

There are big disagreements about what the status of Kosovo should be like after the departure of the international forces. It is considered in Serbia that Kosovo should remain part of Yugoslavia with a certain degree of autonomy, while Kosovo Albanians unanimously think that Kosovo should become an independent state. No matter what the two sides would like, which option is more realistic? What do you think Mr. Cana?

Cana: First, Yugoslavia is an artificial creation. It does not exist at all. That is an undeniable fact. On the other hand, every solution that denies the will of the people to live in an independent state is unacceptable for Albanians. Therefore, we want no autonomy whatsoever, but an independent state. That is the only solution that can guarantee peace in the Balkans and in southeast Europe. There will be no peace in the region without Kosovo's independence.

What do you think, Mr. Protic?

Protic: We are not the ones who will decide about the future status of Kosovo, it is the international community that will. I am not so much concerned about the ultimate solution, I am more interested to see what it will be like to live in Kosovo and what political and other relationships there will be like. Unfortunately, in the last few months we have seen that the situation has not improved. Maybe it is even worse than during [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's total control over Kosovo. Nothing will be changed in practice if we replace one extremism by another. The same kind of ethnically motivated persecution that used to be carried out by Milosevic's regime is being carried out today. As long as extremists are in power in Kosovo, there will be no substantial progress, just as there will be no progress in Serbia with an extremist regime in power.

Cana: My respected colleague is talking about persecutions. I would ask my colleague to be more specific and explain what persecutions he is talking about.

Protic: Instead of quoting you figures showing how many people were forced to leave Kosovo in the past few months, let me suggest this: try to speak Serbian, publicly, anywhere in Pristina, and wait to see what will happen. I was in Kosovo after the war and I saw the atmosphere there. I can only imagine what would be happening if KFOR and the [UN's] civilian mission were not ensuring some kind of order in Kosovo.

Cana: I assure you that those Kosovo Serbs whose hands are not stained with blood and who did not take part in the crimes against Albanians do still live in peace. As far as extremism is concerned, I do not know what extremism you are talking about. I do not deny that there are some nasty things going on, but that is happening everywhere and not only in Kosovo. There are criminals in the democratic world as well, we should not generalize on the basis of a few cases. As far as those who left Kosovo are concerned, those who had committed crimes against Albanians were forced to leave Kosovo.

Protic: God knows how many times I have been involved in this kind of discussions, not only with Kosovo Albanians but also with others, and it is always the same story. The same thing Milosevic was telling us for ten years, Kosovo Albanians are now repeating. Milosevic used to reiterate about law and order in Kosovo, that everything was functioning the way it should, that only those involved in criminal activities were prosecuted. Now I can hear my respected colleague from Pristina saying the same thing.

What worries me the most is that the same undemocratic, intolerant, aggressive way of thinking has ruled this country for too long and we cannot get rid of it. We will not get very far as long as we avoid facing the truth and realizing how many bad things have happened here just because some people usurped the right to decide things in the name of others, to make others fight wars for them and endure horrible things.

At one point we were close to a mutual understanding. Unfortunately, that opportunity was missed because Kosovo Albanians--or their political representatives--did not want to admit that Milosevic's regime is the problem we all share, and that the best way to fight it would be if we found a basis for a joint action. The opportunity was missed, and today we are all under international community's control, treated as immature and incapable of taking our destiny into our own hands.

Cana: I cannot agree with my respected colleague's comparison between Milosevic and me, as well as with other Albanian intellectuals.... Mr. Protic talks about a missed opportunity. I do not know what opportunity he is talking about. Belgrade has never wanted to sit down at the same table with Albanians and start a dialog in order to find a solution for the Kosovo problem. We used to hope that the Serbian opposition would give a sign of good will and try and understand the situation of Kosovo Albanians, but it turned out that we hoped in vain.

This is how we arrived in this situation of bitter hostility, but the Albanian side is not to be blamed for that. Please let me remind you that, from the moment that Kosovo's autonomy was suspended [in 1989], a state-sponsored terror started. There are documents about it, all the press used to write about it, and books were written about the genocide that took place in Kosovo in the course of twelve years.

Protic: I am not denying any of that, and I have always repeated that Milosevic's regime is to be blamed for that--and not we who have been opposing this regime for ten years.... Nevertheless, one should admit that what is going on in Kosovo now resembles what Milosevic used to do.

There is a kind of terror in Kosovo nowadays. We can call it a state-sponsored terror or we can give it another name--it does not matter. One way or the other, it is terror because people cannot openly say what they think, they cannot even express their feelings. If an unfortunate Bulgarian was killed just because someone wrongfully understood that he was speaking Serbian instead of Bulgarian--and he was a representative of the international community--then it is an impressive example of the terror that rules in Kosovo.

One kind of terror was simply replaced by another and, until someone stops the terror, it will continue in a vicious circle. Ordinary people will be victims of it, whether they are Albanians, Serbs, or something else.

Cana: One cannot blame Milosevic for everything. Milosevic did not come out of nowhere. He is a product of the Serbian people. Milosevic was created by the Serbian people. The great majority of Serbs took part in the creation of Milosevic's chauvinist, genocidal policy, and therefore the Serbian people must--whether they like it or not--admit their guilt before history.

What have Serbian intellectuals been doing in the last twelve years? Why did no single intellectual condemn the policies towards the Albanian people in the last twelve years? It is pitiful that the Serbs today have no more intellectuals like Serbia had in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. There is only one man--the highly regarded Bogdan Bogdanovic--who talked about those things and condemned what was done to the Albanians. No one else did.

Protic: Those who hold the absolute power--Milosevic and his regime--are absolutely responsible. Whether there were voices that condemned what was going on in Kosovo and how many of them--that is another question. Talking about the responsibility of an entire people for what was going on in Kosovo is dangerous to say the least.... It would be as if I said that the entire Albanian people is to be blamed for what is going on in Kosovo today.

Neither the Albanian nor the Serbian people are responsible. Those who have power to do those things are to be blamed. Until we point out their responsibility and start the fight against their absolute power, we will not get far.

The same thing that Milosevic and his regime used to do, [former Kosova Liberation Army leader] Hashim Thaci and his regime are doing today. Milosevic's extremism has provoked extremism on the Albanian side. The responsibility for what is being done is on both sides.

The Serbian people cannot be held responsible for what was done in Kosovo, just like they cannot be blamed for what was done in Bosnia and in Croatia. This is because no one asked them whether they agree with it and the people could not decide about it. I am afraid that Albanians cannot decide about what is going on in Kosovo now. Those people are, if not victims, then silent observers of the calamity in Kosovo.

Cana: Some 92 percent of the Serbian population in Kosovo was mobilized and took part in the paramilitary and other units that were killing, burning, and committing other crimes. The son of my neighbor--a Kosovo Serb, an intellectual--took part in the paramilitary units and killed Albanians.

We are enduring the consequences of an insane policy conducted and created by Milosevic with so many other "Milosevices" in Serbia. By the way, I have publicly condemned all those nasty cases of robbery, looting, and the few killings committed by Albanians. But I would like to ask Mr. Protic to tell me how many Serbs have been killed in Kosovo since the end of the war?

Protic: How many Serbs were killed, how many churches and holy places were destroyed, how many people were mutilated and ruined--you know that better than me. We should not talk that way and compete whose figures are higher.

What is going on there is sad and shameful for both Serbs and Albanians. We will all be tarnished for the way we have treated each other, for destroying the foundations of our cultures. No one will be proud of it. If we are able to understand how senseless and nasty it is, how many people were killed, then we should make another effort and lay new foundations for our future relationship. No matter what the status of Kosovo will be in the future.

The most important thing is to look each other in the eye and try and overcome the intolerance among us and the evil that was created by--let me reiterate--the catastrophic policy carried out by Belgrade for more than ten years. In order for us to succeed, the government in Belgrade must be changed and that is a task for us from Serbia.

Then--I hope--we will be able to find common ground for talks. It would be good if the Albanians took a similar approach. They should also realize what ideas are being defended and by whom. I am very sorry that people like Mr. Cana are not more numerous among Albanians because I would be glad to talk to them. I am afraid that those whose policy is based on intolerance are running the show today.

Cana: I have just asked my colleague Protic to tell me how many Serbs have been killed since the end of the war, but he switched instead to a discussion on the abstract level. I admit that there are cases of extremism in Kosovo, but those are isolated cases. I hope that the situation in Kosovo will gradually calm down, that the dust will settle, without euphoria like in the first days after the war. But these are my wishes--while the reality is very bitter.

My colleague has mentioned destroyed churches. No one denies that. Nevertheless, let me give you another example. There was a monument of "brotherhood and unity" in Djakovica, built after World War II. After almost half a century, the monument was destroyed and a Serbian church was built there instead. Or, let me give you another example. An Orthodox church was built in central Pristina, near the national library, as if there was no other place to build it. The town-planning complex of the heart of the city was ruined that way.

Protic: You want facts. I've been avoiding it, but since you insist, let me give you some. My wife was born in Prizren. Many generations of her family lived there. Three old aunts of hers used to live there, but they were forced to leave Prizren. Their house was burnt down and they arrived here, in Belgrade, without anything. We are taking care of them. Now, if you tell me that those three old women were dangerous, that they committed crimes in Kosovo, that they were propagating Milosevic's extremism, then I might agree with you.

But I think that things are quite different. I would rather say that their case shows how the intolerance and aggressiveness of one side has created a reaction from the other side. The three unfortunate old women whom I see every day cannot cope with the fact that they do not live in Prizren anymore, that they will have to end their lives here, in a big city where they do not belong. There is absolutely nothing left of what they used to have. When I was informed that their house does not exist anymore, I had no courage to tell them. They do not know it yet and they hope that they will be back in Kosovo, at least to spend their last days there, but I know that it will never happen.

Cana: I am very sorry for those old women. I am sorry for every man and woman who endures things like that. Nevertheless, my dear colleague, you wanted Milosevic, so you have him. You Serbs created Milosevic, but he played a trick on you. You wanted Milosevic, now you have him.

Now you can, Mr. Protic, demand that he face the Serbian people. He started wars against all the [neighboring] peoples in order to create Greater Serbia, he even started the war with NATO. But he never gave up his murderous policy.

You got the worst of it, and the consequences are grave. I think that all the Serbs who have left Kosovo should, as soon as possible, start to overthrow Milosevic. And not only him, but the whole team of criminals who are supposed to appear before the Hague tribunal and be held responsible for crimes that have never before taken place in the 20th century.