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South Slavic: February 3, 2000

3 February 2000, Volume 2, Number 5

What Future For Kosovo? Part II

In today's "Radio Most" (Bridge), moderated by the South Slavic Service's Omar Karabeg, we are going to discuss the future of Kosovo with two historians: Zekerijah Cana, academic advisor of the Albanian Studies Institute in Pristina, and Milan Protic, research fellow of the Balkan Studies Institute in Belgrade. Part I of this discussion appeared on 27 January.

Protic: What I cannot accept is [your assertion] that [all Serbs] wanted Milosevic. We did not want him, nor have we chosen him. He imposed himself, rigged all the elections so far, and manipulated them. If he really enjoyed a majority support of the people, he would not have to abuse the election procedure in order to stay in power. That is one thing. The other thing is that I agree that crimes were committed and that those who did so should be held responsible--Milosevic in the first place.

But, somehow, it seems to me that the international community played an inconsistent role in all this. I wonder whether Milosevic has been charged with war crimes for what was done in Kosovo, or because he had refused to sign the Rambouillet agreement [in early 1999]. If he had signed it--and most of the crimes were committed before it--he would have remained a factor of peace in the Balkans, like he was after the Dayton agreement. Unfortunately, the international factor played a very important role in the events that affected us. It was not always fully sincere and fair toward us, you, or other parts of former Yugoslavia. Still, we are responsible for having allowed their policy to determine our fate.

Cana: If Milosevic had faced reality, if he had followed in the steps of those wise Serb politicians from the 19th century--including Nikola Pasic--if he respected the Albanian element, none of this would have happened. If he had done so, there would have been no foreign intervention, there would have been no Rambouillet. But Milosevic wanted Kosovo without Albanians. He wanted the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, with no Albanians left there.

He wanted to repeat the same thing that had already been done during the Serbian-Turkish war in the 19th century [i.e. in 1877-1878--ed.], when four districts of eastern Serbia--Nis, Prokuplje, Vranje, and Kursumlija--were ethnically cleansed. The Albanian population was expelled from those districts during the winter. There are documents in the Archives in Belgrade testifying to this Golgotha of the Albanian people.

Protic: First, let us make things clear here. We are historians, therefore we have to be consistent with the facts. The Serbian-Turkish war, as you said, was fought between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire. The Albanians did not constitute a special political factor in that war. They were a part of the Ottoman Empire and many of them took part in the war on the side of the Empire. Therefore, whatever happened to them was caused by their belonging to one of the warring sides. And, when the war was over, the winner imposed its own terms to the other side. That is what happened in the Serbian-Turkish war.

Serbia fought for independence, like the Kosovo Albanians have been fighting for their independence in the last decade. That is one thing. The second thing is that I agree with you that Milosevic is to be blamed for everything that has happened and that there was a way to achieve an agreement between the Serbs and the Albanians.

This is why I cannot understand why the Albanians did not try to come to an understanding with the Serbian opposition in order to remove Milosevic from power [in several Serbian elections over the past 10 years, which the Albanians boycotted--ed.]. They could have realized their political aspirations after the elections, with guarantees from the Serbian opposition that their agreements would be carried out. I will never understand that, and none of the Albanians to whom I have spoken could ever explain it to me. All they could say was that they expected that Milosevic's extremism would help them make their dream of an independent Kosovo come true.

Cana: Since we are talking about the Serbian-Turkish war, I would remind my colleague Protic that we cannot pass over the role of the League of Prizren [that marks the beginning of the modern Albanian national movement--ed.]. You certainly know that the League of Prizren was an uprising against the Ottoman Empire for the independence of Kosovo. Therefore, the Albanian people in Kosovo did not take part in the war against Serbia on the Turkish side. On the contrary, the Albanians rose up in arms for their own autonomy--just like Serbs, Montenegrins, and Bulgarians. This is what we have to acknowledge.

Protic: Did Albanians obtain autonomy within the Ottoman Empire?

Cana: They did not, and it is known why they failed. That was partly a result of the policies of Constantinople, and partly because of the attitude of the great powers during the Congress of Berlin [in 1878]. It is well known. The Albanian people in Kosovo were returned to slavery.

Protic: I do not deny any of that. All I wanted to say is that the 19th century fight for national emancipation brought different results for different peoples. Serbia succeeded in fighting for its independence and for its independent state, which was internationally recognized by the Congress of Berlin in 1878. After that, Serbia continued to fight for those territories that were not yet liberated, but only against the Ottoman Empire and later against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. After the First World War, Serbia became the main power in the Balkans, the winner of the war, and that is how it created Yugoslavia. Albanians, unfortunately, were not an independent factor in all these events; they were forced to share the fate of the Ottoman Empire.

Cana: My dear colleague, with all their uprisings between 1905 and 1912, the Albanians contributed a lot to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. They weakened the Empire in the Balkans and helped the Balkan allies to fight the [1912-1913] war against Turkey with more success and in less time. Why don't you acknowledge that contribution, the role of the Albanians on the eve of the Balkan wars? Why does Serbian historiography deny and gloss over the role of those uprisings?

Protic: I think that one should not overestimate the importance of those uprisings. The fight against the Ottoman Empire was won thanks to the fact that the large Balkan states and their correspondingly large armies confronted the Turkish army in the First Balkan War. This is what determined the fate of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. The Albanian uprisings were of symbolic importance; let us not overestimate them in comparison with big armies and big battles. I am not talking only about those fought by the Serbian army, but also about the battle fought by the Bulgarians in Edirne which, finally, threw the Ottoman Empire out of the Balkans.

Cana: I would like to remind you that many Albanians did not want to fight in the Turkish army. That is one thing. The other thing is that the Albanians were ready to accept any alliance under condition that they would become independent and free. That was not accepted. We cannot deny nor marginalize the role of the Albanian insurgents, especially those in the 1912 Albanian general uprising. I would like to remind you that 45 insurgents entered Skopje in August 1912. The power of the Turkish army was quite shaken by those uprisings....That created conditions for a successful war by the Balkan allies. Even Serbian documents speak about that.

Protic: It is all very clear. The Balkan Alliance was created in 1912. Independent Balkan states--Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania--created it. The war against Turkey was a serious one, with many troops and much artillery. There were very, very serious and bloody battles, starting with Kumanovo and many others. The Albanian uprisings cannot match these big and serious military operations of the Balkan allies against Turkey.

Karabeg: What we have in Kosovo today is a confrontation between two uncompromising principles. Serbs consider Kosovo their holy land, since the most important monuments of the Serbian spiritual heritage and culture are there. Serbs therefore consider the loss of Kosovo unjust and their biggest defeat of all. Albanians consider Kosovo their own territory according to historical rights and thanks to the fact that they represent some 90 percent of the population of Kosovo. But is there any middle ground? What do you think about that, Mr. Cana?

Cana: Many studies and books have been written about historical rights. For me, that right is an anachronism [and pointless to discuss]....We have to be realistic.

Protic: I am not certain that Jews would agree with Mr. Cana. But let us not talk about history. As far as I am concerned, I do not think that either the Serbian or the Albanian position is realistic enough because they both lead us into new conflicts. We have to find a compromise, and the best way would be if we considered what would be the most beneficial for those who live in Kosovo.

So far, we have not had opportunity to hear what those who live there--Serbs and Albanians--really feel, what they dream of. Political leaders have always been those who usurped the right to explain what their people want. Milosevic has spoken for the Serbs, Albanian leaders for the Albanians, and that is how we ended up in this unfortunate, terrible impasse.

The future of Kosovo must be determined independently of one absolute position or the other. It remains to be seen whether the international community--which has a decisive role and which will make the final judgment--will have the sensitivity to deal with something as delicate as the Kosovo problem. They have not been very inventive so far. Nevertheless, we hope that the international community--as well as the Serbs and Albanians--will understand that the solution must be an historic compromise between the two nations.

Karabeg: Mr. Cana, is an historic compromise between the two nations possible?

Cana: I do not like the word "compromise." We have to think about reality, and the only realistic solution is an independent Kosovo where all the peoples will have equal rights--not just on paper but in practice, according to international standards. I cannot see any other solution.

Karabeg: Mr. Protic, is an historic compromise between the two nations possible?

Protic: My hopes are so far from the present situation that it makes no sense talking about them. Therefore, I will talk about what is realistic. Kosovo will be an international protectorate for at least 20 years, maybe more. I do not know whether democratic institutions will be established in that period, but I hope so.

Cana: I agree with Mr. Protic that we will remain under an international protectorate for a long time. No one should deny it.

I would like to conclude by saying that I am pleased with this conversation. We do not have to agree with each other, but we certainly need these kinds of dialogues. If nothing else, we need it for the history and future of the people in Kosovo, who must be allowed to live in peace. There has been enough blood and genocide, enough graves. There are too many graves in Kosovo. Anyway, I am an optimist. I hope things will become better.

Protic: I wish this kind of open dialogue could be held in Belgrade and Pristina, with no fear involved. I would like even more that all those who live in Kosovo--Serbs and Albanians, as well as those belonging to other nations--might be able to sleep in peace, without foreign troops to protect them. The fact that someone from abroad had to come and protect us from ourselves is the biggest shame we could have brought upon ourselves.