The Future of Kosovo How High Is the Price for Peace?

As the decision over the future of Kosovo approaches, tensions are growing in the western portion of the province. A return to violence is a distinct possibility. Meanwhile, a presumed war criminal remains in power with the blessing of the international community.

By Renate Flottau and

No decision has been reached yet, and Kosovo is still part of Serbia. But history is already being rewritten in the villages of Kosovo Polje and Metohija, where ethnic Albanians are building heroes' memorials to fallen brothers -- pilgrimage sites for post-independence Kosovo.

A Kosovo Albanian seen behind an Albanian flag at a market in the regional capital Pristina.

A Kosovo Albanian seen behind an Albanian flag at a market in the regional capital Pristina.

Glodjane, a tiny village at the base of the Prokletije or Cursed Mountains, is that kind of a place. More and more dead Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters are being reburied in the heroes' cemetery there. A museum designed to resemble a Kulla -- a traditional Albanian stone house with deep-set windows -- towers over graves adorned with plastic flowers. Behind the museum, two additional stone towers are being constructed to honor the Haradinaj clan.

Three of the family's sons are already buried in the hallowed ground. A fourth son was recently released after serving a prison sentence for manslaughter. A fifth son, former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, has been summoned to appear before the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

There are only a few Serbian areas left in Kosovo.

There are only a few Serbian areas left in Kosovo.

In and around Glodjane, where Kosovo borders Albania and Montenegro to the west and where Albanian freedom fighters are based, conflicts with the authorities -- and the kind of deadly toll the Haradinajs have suffered -- are considered badges of honor. This is especially true of those who died fighting the Serbs, long the heavy-handed rulers of Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian population.

The Haradinaj house has had the air of a rebel fort from the beginnings of the guerilla war against Belgrade's forces in 1997. The family's farmhouse stands on the outskirts of Glodjane, where its four whitewashed walls present a defiant front against the outside world. The coat of arms of the KLA, established in the mid-1990s, is emblazoned over the front door.

After calling out several times, we are greeted by an adolescent boy standing in the hallway. He leads us through the inner courtyard to the living room, to a roaring fire under the Albanian flag, adorned with its twin black eagles. Plum brandy and cigarettes are served, and then the master of the house appears.

Hilmi Haradinaj is a white-haired patriarch in his early seventies. He asks us to excuse the "poor circumstances" in which he lives. The war against the Serbs, he says, has destroyed much of his estate, leaving him with only five cows, a handful of sheep and this house. Then he discusses Kosovo's imminent independence and the hope that the years of violence will soon come to an end. He nods quietly and his son refills our glasses.

Nowadays Hilmi Haradinaj performs his host duties with a mixture of traditional politeness and professional coolness. Haradinaj's quiet life on the farm ended when his son, Ramush, a former bouncer in a Swiss nightclub, rose to prominence as the commander of the KLA and then became Kosovo's prime minister in 2004. In the process the Haradinaj farm developed into a stage of sorts for secret diplomacy in Kosovo.

In the early days, when the war was still raging, it could easily happen that a retired German military officer turned Kosovo war observer would be greeted with a Kalashnikov jammed into his belly during a surprise visit to the Haradinaj homestead. But in March 2005, when high-ranking United Nations and NATO representatives met in Kosovo, the farmhouse was turned into a banquet hall where the officials could meet with Haradinaj to discuss bringing peace to the region.

On that evening, the Western representatives were already aware of the charges brought against Haradinaj by Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. According to the indictment, Ramush Haradinaj, a.k.a. "Smajl", was accused of 37 counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, kidnapping and torture, during the Kosovo war in 1998.

The indictment also stated that his brothers, Daut, Frasher and Shkelzen, were among the members of the "criminal organization" headed by Haradinaj, and that the family home in Glodjane was periodically used as a command center to plan and commit the crimes. Thirty-two corpses of Serbs, gypsies and Albanians, some severely mutilated, were found near the farm. So far Haradinaj has denied all accusations.

Sören Jessen-Petersen, the former UN administrator, long viewed the presumed war criminal as a "close partner and friend" who "sacrificed and contributed so much to a better future for Kosovo." He was eventually replaced, but there has been no fundamental change in course. When he returned from The Hague in June 2005, where the case against him was temporarily suspended, Haradinaj -- with the blessing of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) -- simply picked up where he left off.

Today he obtains UNMIK's approval for his public appearances, is chairman of the small governing party, the AAK, and sips whisky and smokes Cohiba cigars with hand-picked guests at his ostentatious mansion in the diplomatic district on Dragodan Hill in the Kosovo capital of Pristina. At a ceremony to honor the Kosovo Protection Corps (TMK), the most prominent seat, between representatives from Washington and London, was reserved for Haradinaj.

Despite the indictment, it is entirely possible that Haradinaj's level-headedness in the past two years helped keep the situation under control in the province. The price, though, has been high. The international community, with UN Resolution 1244, obligated itself to protect human rights and respect for the law in Kosovo. It is hard to see how continued cooperation with Haradinaj is consistent with that obligation.

It gets worse. A report by the UN police force in Kosovo has linked Haradinaj to the cocaine trade. And according to a 2005 analysis by Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Haradinaj and his associates play a key role in "a broad spectrum of criminal, political and military activities that significantly affect the security situation throughout Kosovo. The group, which counts about 100 members, is involved in drug and weapons smuggling, as well as illegal trading in dutiable items."

If the BND analysis is correct, Haradinaj has apparently made himself a major player in one of Kosovo's key industries. According to experts, the €700 million budget of this province, 90 percent of which is populated by ethnic Albanians, pales in comparison to the revenues earned in the drug trade in Kosovo.

Indeed, aside from the drug trade, there isn't much else to do in Kosovo. It has minimal economic growth, over 40 percent unemployment, and a growing number of young people in a region with little manufacturing. And Kosovo's population has almost tripled within the last century. The result is that exports make up barely 6 percent of the volume of foreign trade; aside from a bit of scrap metal, little of value leaves the province.


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