UNMIK employee murdered in Kosovo

Who is guilty?


MON, 29 MAY 2000

Pristina, 24 May, 2000 - Murder of an employee at the seat of OUN Civilian Mission in Pristina last week raised a lot of dust. It met with condemnation not only of representatives of the international community in Kosovo, but also of politicians from Western countries. Condemnation also arrived from OUN Secretary General Kofi Annan who among other said the following: "Once again a member of OUN staff has become the victim of unreasonable ethnic hatred which has tortured Kosovo for a long time. This is a dark day for Kosovo."

Twenty-five year old Petar Topoljski from Pristina just got a job as an interpreter. He had returned from Nis where he had found refuge after the end of the war in Kosovo. With his family he had withdrawn from Kosovo with the police and the army.

His arrival did not pass unnoticed. The "city boy" was known to many, especially his neighbours in one of the parts of Pristina, unfortunately, not for anything good. But when news got around that a body found near Pristina was identified as Petar Topoljski, the civil administrator said: "Many times until now I have felt like an Albanian, today I feel like a Serb". He explained this by the current position of Kosovo Serbs who are living isolated and under very difficult security conditions. That evening at the reception of the Alliance for Future of Kosovo where numerous prominent figures from the sphere of politics were present and the intellectual elite and journalists, an official of UNMIK burst into tears. He asked out loud: "What did we intervene for". Some were surprised by this question and his behavior, others did not pay any attention.

Since he had returned to Kosovo, Petar Topoljski lived in nearby Gracanica where a part of Kosovo Serbs are concentrated. He came to Pristina to work and back by a UN vehicle. As an interpreter he had no need to leave the UNMIK building. But he, nevertheless, disappeared from his office one day. Although they knew about it, UNMIK officials did not notify the public. Only after a person had been found a week after disappearance and the body identified, spokeswoman of UNMIK, Susan Manuel said that international police had "suspected that he had been kidnapped". The body was stabbed all over with a knife and found in the village of Rimaniste in the region impassable for vehicles. It will certainly remain a secret how Topoljski was kidnapped and who might have intercepted him in front of the building of the Civilian Mission, that is, how he got to the place where he was murdered. Kouchner said that the protagonists of violence had "unfortunately entered the UNMIK building". With this assessment Kouchner opened the space for new assumptions about possible perpetrators of the murder. The investigation has not been completed yet, it is carried out by two teams of international police: one inside the seat of UNMIK among colleagues of late Topoljski and another in the field. However, there are no results or even hints about possible perpetrators.

The facts about the investigation on the murder of an UNMIK employee this time is not completely hidden from the eyes of the public. Probably because the editor of daily DITA (Day) Belul Beqaj and its two journalists were interrogated. The reason for this was that three weeks before Topoljski was murdered this daily published an article titled “When Petar Becomes Peter”. It was stated in it that together with his father, in the part of the city where he used to live, Topoljski mistreated his neighbours, participated in banishing them and that he had been a member of paramilitary forces during NATO intervention, and even his, by now, former address in Pristina was published, it was stated that he introduced himself as Peter and that he liked to say that he was Polish. Did this text contribute to the death of Topoljski soon after?

OSCE and UNMIK officials often stressed that in an ambience of intolerance, retaliation and ethnically motivated violence, the press should not take over the role of prosecutors and judges, mostly when “others” are concerned, because it makes it an accomplice in creation of an atmosphere of intolerance, violence and crime. This is a story déjà vu in other conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia.

Majority of representatives of local media in Albanian language, however, do not share this opinion.

Mr. Beqaj is resolute that he has not violated the decree against hate speech signed by administrator Kouchner according to which spreading of inter-ethnic hatred and similar shall be punished. On the contrary, in his short reaction published in his newspaper he states that the article was just “evidence of tolerance”, in other words that not all members of the Serb community should suffer because of those who committed crimes. The interrogated journalists, as those well informed claim, did not wish to reveal to international police their sources of information about Petar Topoljski, referring to their journalistic rights. This might be revealed only at court if charges were raised, they said according to the same sources.

This case has raised new questions? Not only concerning the act of murder itself of an employee of Serb ethnic origin (an employee of Bulgarian ethnic origin met with the same destiny on the first day of his arrival to Kosovo, because he replied in Bulgarian language, similar to Serbian, to a few young men who asked him “what is the time?”). Some time ago, another worker of UNMIK of Serb ethnic origin was murdered in Gnjilane. To what extent, therefore, can similar writing in newspapers contribute to undesired consequences.

Public Radio Pristina even organised a live show on the topic of the murder of Topoljski. Analysts from Pristina participated in it, as well as the publisher of Dita daily, a representative of a non-governmental organisation, and representatives of international community. While some advocated that no-one ought to take the law in one’s own hands, and that, had there been evidence against him, Topoljski should have been taken to court and prison once guilt was proved, others insisted on the fact that the Albanians were also the target, but also that the main problem of UNMIK was that it employed persons of dubious past. This debate could have gone on for days but all the participants would have remained firm in their stands.

To the question of the journalist whether employees who signed the contracts were checked, that is, whether they had information on their past, Susan Manuel answered that this a regular practice, but that it was impossible to be certain that all the data were procured. “When Topoljski is concerned, we had no evidence. He returned in order to get a job”, said Manuel at a meeting with journalists. However, inhabitants of Suncani breg where Topoljski used to live, do not share this opinion. In the mentioned show many citizens and his former neighbours, ethnic Albanians, phoned and “testified about numerous misdeeds” of Topoljski and his father. One of them even asked whether his father had been arrested. Another issue that was discussed was whether media should write about such persons who were “still at large in the city” or not. Again some of the participants advocated the thesis that such persons had to be taken to justice, while others spoke about “the truth” which had to be said and that passing over in silence was not working in favour of Kosovo, rejecting every connection of such texts with possible subsequent murders.

It is very difficult to say anything after such an atmosphere prevailing among intellectuals and journalists. OSCE still has not passed a law which media would have to abide by. Journalists and the press often act irresponsibly. In any case, Topoljski is yet another person who has not been taken to court. Certain persons who believe that they are entitled to pass judgement have sentenced him. It will probably never become known who the real perpetrators of this murder were. Petar’s mother stated assumptions that he was killed by someone who knew him well… It seems, however, that representatives of international community will never understand why it is easier here to personally pass judgement than take the indicted to court. Nor will numerous citizens of Kosovo…

At the commemoration meeting held on the occasion of the murder of Petar Topoljski, Kouchner among other said: “If we are realistic, we know that peace, no matter what we do, will always have its enemies… However, we are not here to be realistic, but to change reality”…

Whether it can actually be changed, time will show. According to a certain poll of the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy in Pristina, the pollees were concerned the most by questions of security. However, only three per cent of them believed that it could be improved by greater engagement of the media. More than 60 per cent of them thought that creation of local police would contribute to safer environment. Also a high percentage, almost 50 per cent of the pollees, believed that minority communities in Kosovo should enjoy all rights. Although small, a significant number of people declared that minority communities could practice just certain rights or none at all. Perhaps this poll, a year after the end of the war shows best how much time will be needed to change the current reality…

Original article