Another 'unfinished peace'

Remzi LANI

SUN, 14 MAY 2000

Tirana, 4 May, 2000 - Nine years ago, in spring 1991, just a few months after the fall of communism in Albania and just a few weeks before dissolution of Yugoslavia, I entered the Grand Hotel in Pristina for the first time. My hosts from Zeri and Bota e Re newspapers, probably for the sake of reciprocity, reserved accommodation for me in the most luxurious hotel in Pristina. (During their visit to Tirana in autumn 1990, as guests of the newspaper I worked in they were accommodated in Tirana Internacional Hotel, at the time the best hotel in Albanian capital). In that year 1991 I was among the first journalists from Tirana to visit Pristina, perhaps way back since 1981 when demonstrations of Kosovo students had broken out.

Naturally, I was not the only guest in the 15 or 16-storey hotel, but I most certainly was the only one on its fifth floor. At the reception desk they addressed me only in Serbian. The same was the case in its big dining room which resembled a basketball ground.

My colleagues from Kosovo waited for me in front of the hotel. They did not wish to enter it. Although "Entrance forbidden for dogs and the Albanians" was not written anywhere, like it was done by Arkan and his bands several years later, the atmosphere in the hotel was cold, hostile.

I stayed in the Grand for just one night. The next day I packed my suitcases and went elsewhere.

Nine years later I arrive in Pristina and the first place I go to is the Grand Hotel.

And while nine years ago it resembled more a forgotten museum than a hotel, nowadays it reminds of a marketplace somewhere in the Balkans, or more precisely an international bazaar.

Albanian is spoken at the reception desk, and English of course, but it is impossible to hear a single word in Serbian. Nowadays, it is very difficult to get a free room. The Palestra restaurant, where people dine, is full of foreigners: Americans, Italians, Spaniards, Jordanians, Irishmen, Ukranians, people of all nationalities and professions. The big café is full of ethnic Albanians: citizens of Pristina and refugees from villages burnt down by Milosevic's gangs.

The rooms for meetings are also occupied: a conference of journalists which I will go to in a few minutes together with my colleagues from IFJ, Bettina Peters and Ronan Brady; a meeting of one of the two Social Democratic Parties of Kosovo which have the same name but different presidents; foundation convention of a new party of the liberal centre by one of the main leaders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Nowadays, it is impossible to remain alone at the Grand, even for a minute. The hotel has become one of the gravitation centres of the capital of Kosovo and certainly one of its symbols. If one used the language of the Middle Ages, one could say that this gigantic hotel resembled a fortress which one party (the Serbs) did not wish to abandon, and the other (the Albanians) wished to conquer at any cost. It is not by pure coincidence that during the war Arkan put up his bands on one of the floors of the hotel, and perhaps it is not by pure coincidence either that, immediately after entering Pristina, the KLA sought the keys to the hotel.

The hall of the hotel with its grandiose dimensions has something surreal in it. In fact, Kosovo as a whole is surreal. The only real thing about it is that the Albanians are free. Freedom is like the air, says George Soros, people talk about it only when they do not have it. I am saying this because whenever postwar Kosovo is described this fact is forgotten: the fact that the people oppressed for decades, the people banished no more than a year ago, feels free. Freedom of Kosovo Albanians is something worth remembering due to the very fact that it exists for the first time.

A Year After

It certainly is not the "day after", as some people are trying to make it look like. Nevertheless, a year after the ethnic war or the post-heroic war, call it what you will, Kosovo remains a traumatised country.

First, there is the trauma of disappeared Albanians, mass graves, burnt down houses. None of these can easily be forgotten.

There is the trauma of displaced Serbs or those forced to live shut down in enclaves under protection of international troops. This is certainly another sad page.

It has become customary to speak about the trauma of the defeated. Of course, the Serbs are still a traumatised people. It is very hard for them to believe that they have lost Kosovo. It is even harder for them to believe that NATO, the Americans, and the Europeans attacked them with airplanes and bombs because of the Albanians who they used to consider inferior to the extent that they believed it was only natural.

I certainly do not think that the Serbs are collectively to blame, but I do think that the Serbs are collectively responsible for what has happened in the course of the past decade and during four Milosevic's wars. But I am afraid that the bombs that fell on bridges in Belgrade are used as an additional argument in favour of the philosophy of victimisation and not as a chance to think in favour of the philosophy of responsibility.

I tried to understand and justify reactions of my Serb colleagues against the bombs that fell on their country, but I can neither understand nor justify the fact that, with a few rare exceptions, they have not uttered a single word against ethnic cleansing in Kosovo or that they let displacement of a whole people be forgotten as if it had never happened.

"I speak about my shame, let the others speak of theirs", Berthold Brecht wrote.

It has become customary to speak about trauma of the defeated and the trauma of the victors is disregarded. But the Albanians in Kosovo have their trauma which they do not shrink from mentioning. The Albanians, like all the people in the Balkans cannot exactly brag that they have been able to control their freedom. For Kosovo Albanians, perhaps more than those in Albania, it is hard to accept Others (not to say Each Other). They tend to consider the aid of NATO and the West in general more like "paying back a debt" Europe had toward the Albanians ever since the Berlin Congress, than like a wonderful operation in the name of the rights of man, in the name of their rights violated by Milosevic's regime.

Boasting and a kind of typical Balkan triumphalism is felt primarily in cafes where people communicate very loudly from one table to the other, but also in the streets where from tape recorders of sellers of casettes loud banal patriotic folklore music is played, similar to the one created in Albania at the time of Enver Hoxha. I understand that the warning against triumphalism and retaliation of Veton Surroi a few weeks after the end of the war could not have been heard in such an atmosphere.

It is a coincidence that a few days ago James Rubin, spokesman of the State Department and Chris Hill, special envoy of president Clinton, also arrived in Pristina. Their message to the Albanian leaders is clear and resolute: assume responsibility that belongs to you as the leaders or else you will lose American support.

It seems that the USA are not only tired of endless quarrels of Albanian leaders, that they are not only concerned because acts of revenge of the Albanians continue, but that they are in a difficult position in relation to their European allies some of which quite unwillingly, not to say that they were forced to do it, joined in the campaign of bombing Yugoslavia.

"Look what your Albanians have done", I am imagining this phrase uttered by a foreign minister of some European country, while I am talking to Hill in a Pristina café. Of course, nobody has actually uttered it, but some people must have thought it. Especially those who were inclined to believe in what is called the symmetry of crime or to say the least the symmetry of developments. According to this logic, ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbs caused retaliation by the Albanians or if we go further back into the past, the barbaric siege of Sarajevo in winter of 1993 is symmetrical with bombing of Belgrade by NATO in spring 1999. This is more than cynical logic.

According to another logic, everything positive that has been achieved during the past year in Kosovo is the achievement of UNMIK, and everything negative is the failure of the Albanians. In fact, it would be more just to say that both UNMIK and the Albanians have played certain parts both in the achievements and the failures in Kosovo. In a protectorate, before he shows his authority, the protector must show responsibility. After all, Resolution 1244 entrusts UNMIK with control of Kosovo and not Rugova or Thaci.

A year later, it is evident that if not exactly living in an unfinished war, Kosovo certainly is living in an unfinished peace. Many problems have remained unresolved. Divided Mitrovica (that is, the fancy of divided Kosovo) threatens to blow up not only the bridge on the Ibar but also everything that has been achieved so far. The danger of a conflict breaking out in Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac is increasing. The Serb minority has either left or is forced to live with KFOR soldiers guarding their doors. On the other hand, Milosevic is doing his best to discredit the NATO mission which would, without doubt, be his greatest victory.

A year later, to be realistic, Albanian-Serb reconciliation, regardless of everything done by the international community, is more impossible than ever. Neither do the Serbs intend to ask forgiveness, nor do the Albanians intend to forgive. "It is first necessary to ask forgiveness, and then to forgive", says a journalist from Kosovo."This is true, but nevertheless this is partly the story about the egg and the hen", a Serb colleague told me later on. (I remember a question at a conferences in Madrid about whether the Albanians could live with the Serbs. I answered affirmatively. I think that the Albanians can live with the Serbs but not under the Serbs. That is the problem. What is called co-existence of the Albanians and the Serbs was in fact a kind of subordination for the Albanians, which is certainly unthinkable from now on).

This game in Kosovo is a game with three players: the Albanians, the Serbs and the international community in between, which has tried with Resolution 1244 to find a compromising formula which is increasingly becoming unrealistic.

"In fact we see a clash of two illusions", says Baton Haxhiu, editor-in-chief of Koha ditore. "On the one hand there is the illusion of the Albanians about quick and momentary independence, and on the other the illusion of the Serbs about return to Kosovo".

Between these two illusions is the international protectorate which, when one watches KFOR soldiers patrolling the streets of Pristina, prevents creation of a third illusion.

It is a game with three players which, instead of satisfying everyone, may leave everyone dissatisfied if, instead of solutions imposed by a compromise as it happened in Bosnia, solutions imposed by created reality are not implemented.

Walking Between Dilemmas

"Will you construct Kosovo with a democratic or an authoritarian protectorate?", I ask Daan Everts, head of OSCE mission in his office. (In fact, I have doubts about my question: can a protectorate be democratic, i.e. unauthoritarian, because the very essence of a protectorate is the need of an external authority).

"There can be no democracy without institutions that result from free elections", says Everts.

Head of OSCE mission is right, but my question actually referred to the Decree on Hate Speech, one of the first signed by administrator for Kosovo Bernard Kouchner. Journalists in Kosovo reacted nervously to this decree which prescribes high punishments for those who spread speech of ethnic hatred. Known publisher Shkelzen Maliqi called the decree a "paper scarecrow", others compared it with an article on propaganda of the criminal law of communist Yugoslavia.

In fact, it seems that Kouchner and his men have been the victims of a negative approach to things. And instead of first passing an act on freedom of expression and information which has never existed in Kosovo, they hurried and signed the decree which determines prohibition. The order of things was not what it should be like. It would have been better to begin with recognition of freedom and then proceed with bans.

In any case, nowadays in Kosovo hardly anyone can complain about authoritarianism. It would be more justified to complain about chaos. The protectorate for the time being is neither democratic nor authoritarian - it would be more precise to say that it is an anarchic protectorate.

The dilemma of freedom of the press is neither the only nor the main one.

The main dilemma is the one about future status of Kosovo. A year after the war, Resolution 1244 of the Security Council sounds both contradictory and unrealistic. Resolution 1244 speaks about substantial autonomy of Kosovo within Yugoslavia, but less and less Western diplomats in Pristina think that it is possible to find an Albanian who would agree to apply for a passport of Yugoslavia again. The protectorate may last for a long time, but its end can hardly be the return under Serb umbrella.

This is the end of a chapter for the Albanians

"A semi-war corresponds to semi-peace, a semi-protectorate to semi-independence, semi-government to semi-anarchy", these are the words of Pierre Hasner and the best characterisation of Kosovo dilemmas a year after the war.

Of course, the future status of Kosovo is the hostage of fear of creation of an unwanted precedent for other zones where ethnic conflicts exist (Chechnya, Tibeth, Kurdistan), but especially the hostage of possible scenarios for expansion of the conflict in the Balkans.

The Balkan tangle is indeed very complicated. Independence of Montenegro would certainly be of great help in winning independence of Kosovo, and Yugoslav federation would in that case fall apart altogether, and the name Yugoslavia would belong only in histoty textbooks and it would become unnecessary to ask the Albanians to remain under Serbia.

Independence of Kosovo causes great disturbance in Skopje, because there is fear of revival of federalist feelings, if not separatist, among the Albanians in Macedonia. Both independence of Kosovo and independence of Montenegro could induce re-opening of the sacred Dayton map which the Americans absolutely refuse to accept.

But for Kosovo Albanians all these geo-political formulae do not have much significance. Followers of Thaci or Rugova, peasants who roll their tobacco and intellectuals who translate Hobsbawm, are united concerning one issue - the independence of Kosovo.

The latest dilemma in Kosovo refers to the forthcoming elections: who will win, Thaci or Rugova, DSK or former KLA.

The taxi driver who is taking me from the Grand Hotel to Hani I dy Roberteve restaurant says: "I fought with Hashim (Thaci) in the hills, my two brothers and I we were all with the KLA. If need arises I will take up arms again, but I will give my vote to Rugova".

Thaci and his supporters are still advocating greater involvement, perhaps it would be more precise to say partaking, while Rugova remains shut up like Oso Kuka in his tower, as people in Shkoder would say.

Western diplomats speak of public opinion polls according to which, if the elections were to take place at this moment, Rugova would be the winner.

Thaci's camp has lost its unity from the time of war and the former influence on the "freedom fighters".

Naim Maloku, one of the most influential leaders of former KLA, founded the Party of Liberal Centre of Kosovo. Ramush Hajradinaj, one of the popular leaders of former KLA founded his own party - Alliance for Future of Kosovo. Bardhyul Mahmuti, the second man in Thaci's party (PPDK) has resigned. All things considered, Thaci will have to spend much more energy campaigning within the camp of former KLA than against his old rival Rugova. The split within what is called the left block certainly works in favour of the latter.

KLA does not have the licence of NATO from the time of the conflict when it was looked upon as the ground forces of the Alliance, but Rugova has also lost his former monopoly as the only authority who could speak in the name of Kosovo.

Although in many reports KLA is considered as the "former KLA", few people really believe that it has disappeared. Evil tongues, but also certain international reports speak of involvement of its prominent members in narcotics trade or organisation of the crimes against the Serbs and murders of the Albanian "collaborationists". Some do not hesitate to call them the "new regime of Kosovo" which does not sound untrue.

However, it seems that along with the truths, Balkan mythology also served well in satanisation and demonisation of those who have managed more than anybody else to change the history of the Albanians. The whole propagandist kitchen in Belgrade, but unfortunately also in Tirana and Pristina, greatly contributed to this.

The almost mystical isolation of Rugova and his strange passivity for ones is simply consistent following of his Gandhist peaceful instincts, but for others it is just a continuation of his political irresponsibility. Perhaps both theses have certain amount of truth in them. However, regardless of what is happening behind the scene, the Kosovar Gandhi remains a significant protagonist on the political scene of Kosovo. To support him seems to be contradictory in its very nature. For some people Rugova represents the people's will for peaceful life, and his political opponents stress that he is an alibi for the part of the population which sat on its hands during the conflict.

And What About Albania?

"We have never been so close, but paradoxically, we have never been so distant as now when the barriers have fallen" Blerim Shala, known publisher of Zeri newspaper, tells me. A year after the conflict, the influence of Albania in Kosovo appears to be rather symbolic. Political elites are divided and operate either on the basis of ideological divisions or simply on the principles of interest.

Rugova has not set his foot in Tirana since the war and much before. Thaci visits Tirana almost every month. Rugova prefers old connections with former president Berisha, and Thaci with former prime minister Nano.

In any case, the most popular person from Albania is former prime minister Majko. This 31-year old was the prime minister during the war and the Kosovars like him. "He is a patriot", everybody repeats. Majko came to a private visit to Pristina on the occasion of the engagement of his brother with a girl from Kosovo.

Intellectual elites remain somehow distant. On the other side of patriotic slogans it is not hard to feel the split. I understand the need of Kosovar intellectual elite to win recognition for its identity in freedom, but I do not understand why this needs to be done by exaggerating the evil coming from Albania or by treating Albania as if it did not exist.

Things are quite different among the people. Half a million Kosovars who found refuge in Albania last year have not forgotten the hospitality of "brothers in blood and language". A poll of the Foreign Office, which is also quoted by ICG, shows that about 90 per cent of interviewed refugees think that Albania will play a significant role in the future of Kosovo.

What is that role? The period after the conflict in fact showed that the role of Albania in Kosovo is fading.

In the sphere of the economy, Albania has not succeeded in winning over the market of Kosovo because of its destroyed infrastructure. The road that connects the port of Durres and the Albanian capital with Kosovo is only 250 kilometres long, but it takes almost ten hours to travel it. Those who travel by car from Tirana to Pristina also prefer the roads via Macedonia.

This is not the only reason why Macedonia and not Albania has won the market of Kosovo. The commodities which pass through Macedonia to Kosovo are exempt from double taxes thanks to the agreement on mutual exemption of these taxes signed by Yugoslavia and Macedonia while the commodities which cross over from Albania are subject to this tax and therefore more expensive.

More than that, every initiative coming from Albania is observed with suspicion by the international community which fears the idea of Greater Albania. Nobody is mentioning the project of the road between Durres and Kukes any more. Paradoxically, the Albanians in Albania are stimulated to integrate with the Macedonians, Bulgarians, Montenegrins within the Stability Pact, but they are hindered in integration with the Albanians on the other side of the border.

This may be counter-productive. As usual, radicalism is fattened by walls, not by bridges.

And what about Greater Albania? It would be better if we tried to dream of a Balkan Sans Frontiers.

Original article