The Future of Kosovo How High Is the Price for Peace?
Part 2: Part II: A Resurgence of the Revolutionaries
For many young people, the proposal for a Kosovo with limited independence -- presented by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari in Belgrade and Pristina on Friday -- doesn't go far enough. The dissatisfaction with the region's de-facto rulers from the West, represented since 1999 by a string of envoys from the UN, NATO, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the European Union, is deep seated.
"Wish you were not here," reads a sticker Albin Kurti, a self-proclaimed popular leader and head of the "Self-Determination" movement, has been handing out for some time. The message Kurti and his group seek to convey is that they want Kosovo's secret masters -- the Land Rover-driving international contingent of administrative officials with padded expense accounts, the academics who come here to satisfy their curiosity about Kosovo's ethnic groups and the veteran technocrats with lengthy international resumes who come to foist their solutions on the province -- to disappear as quickly as possible.
There are only a few Serbian regions left in Kosovo.
"The UNMIK people openly admit that they use the double salaries they earn here to buy apartments in London," says opposition leader Kurti. "And people like Haradinaj are also making money on the status quo. UNMIK protects them so that they keep the people under control, meanwhile allowing them to continue making their fortunes."
Kosovo has yet to develop a civilian elite, says former Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi, now in exile. Three former rebel leaders from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), party bosses Haradinaj and Hashim Thaçi, as well as Prime Minister Agim Çeku, are the key players on the province's political stage. The Democratic League of Kosovo, formerly the strongest party, has broken apart into two camps. The party's internal differences have become so contentious that finger pointing among its members recently escalated into an all-out brawl in parliament. Bukoshi derisively referred to the incident as "a painstaking process of democratization with fists and chair legs."
He too favors immediate independence for Kosovo, at least in principle, says the former prime minister, but adds that no one will be served by a new republic headed by thugs and drug dealers. "I don't want an independent Kosovo ruled by scoundrels like Haradinaj," says Bukoshi. "One needs European people for a European country."
The UN's final decision over Kosovo's future will ultimately depend on what happens in Haradinaj's native region in the western portion of the province. The Serbs reverently refer to the area as Metohija, or the Land of Monasteries, while the Albanians call it Dukagjini, after a freedom fighter from the Middle Ages. But whatever name one attaches to the region, it represents the nucleus of the Kosovo conflict, a place where the pride and wild customs of Albanian mountain tribes collide with the cultural traditions and sense of mission felt by the area's Serb population. "Your soul is in our body," the Albanians say to the Serbs, meaning that while the Serbs may have their monasteries, the Albanians have their young people.
Because of its proximity to Albania and the large sums of money family members who have emigrated send home to their families, money and weapons abound in the area surrounding the small city of Deèani. To this day an impressive contingent of KLA veterans in the region stands ready for its next mission. According to a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, "the groups in Deèani could easily muster a substantial force to either attack UNMIK or respond to Serbian intervention in northern Kosovo."
"Making predictions is difficult," says Nazmi Selmanaj, the mayor of Deèani, "but if the UN fails to meet our expectations I cannot rule out anything." He is one of the power players who will play an important role in the region if Ramush Haradinaj is forced to pack his bags and head for The Hague in February, as has been announced. Like the Haradinajs, Selmanaj comes from Glodjane and has the necessary connections to those in power. His brother, a cabinet minister in Pristina, made headlines shortly before Christmas when he dismissed an advisor who had been arrested in connection with the seizure of antitank weapons, machine guns and ammunition.
Although everyone is conjuring up peace these days, the real tone is being set behind the scenes.
That was the case at a ceremony to commemorate the death of Yusuf Gervalla, the poet and champion of the Albanian cause who was murdered in 1982 and whose legacy the KLA veterans invoke. The cultural center in Deèani is packed when a thin young man in a dark suit walks up to the microphone.
The announcer barely has a chance to introduce the evening's featured speaker as "the former commander of the heroic Jusuf Gervalla Brigade, General Daut Haradinaj," before Ramush Haradinaj's younger brother begins his speech. He mentions milestones on the road to independence for Kosovo and says: "We are closer to this goal today than ever before."
The audience applauds. The fact that Daut Haradinaj, released in March 2006 after serving a prison sentence for manslaughter but now in mortal danger because of an ongoing feud with a rival clan, is appearing publicly once again is seen as a sign of self-confidence. Many also see his appearance as a sign of his willingness to fill the breach if his brother Ramush is sentenced at his upcoming trial in The Hague.
When the event ends Haradinaj jumps into a waiting car in front of the center and is taken to a secret restaurant. At the restaurant, Besiana-F, he meets Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the 2001 Albanian uprising in Macedonia. Ahmeti and his equally famous uncle, Fazli Veliu -- both of whom are on a US terrorism watch list and have been banned from entering the United States since May 2003 -- have crossed the border into Kosovo to join in the day's celebration.
Upon leaving the restaurant Ahmeti and Haradinaj embrace briefly. Then they climb into SUVs with darkened windows. As a decoy, their bodyguards drive a black Mercedes S-600, followed by a truck with two gun barrels protruding from a load of cabbages on its bed.
While the UN continues to wrestle over Kosovan independence, radical forces in and around Deèani are already a few steps ahead. "We are all Albanians. Enver Hoxha was our president," protestors chanted last year at a demonstration in front of the city hall to commemorate the former Stalinist Albanian dictator's 98th birthday. Then they dispatched a congratulatory telegram to Hoxha's widow in Tirana.
Do such events reflect confused dreams of a Greater Albania or are they a coolly calculated provocation? Everyone in Deèani -- including the international administrators -- knows that the Hoxha commemorative ceremony was organized by the same KLA veteran leaders who routinely stage protest marches whenever one of the Haradinajs is in trouble or someone wants to intimidate the orthodox monks in the monastery on the outskirts of Deèani.
But for the international administrators this is no reason to take the agitator himself to task. After all, they still have Ramush. The commanding NATO general simply reaches for the phone and calls Ramush personally whenever there is an incident -- as when seven rocket-propelled grenades landed on the monastery grounds in 2004. Ramush also knows how best to deal with protestors, such as those who blocked the access road to the monastery in April 2006. He simply reaches for the phone, chastises the agitators -- his former compatriots from their days on the front -- and the case is resolved.
For some time now, the monks at Deèani's almost 700-year-old Orthodox monastery haven't dared set foot in the city without an escort. "I am very concerned, almost more so than during the war," says Father Sava, the deputy abbot. "We would like to be part of the new society, but we don't know what it will look like. Everything here is resolved through family channels. The law means nothing."
An eerie silence hangs over the monastery grounds on this evening. As always, Italian armed personnel carriers are in position in front of the monastery, which has been declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. While Father Sava sits in the monastery library and talks about the future, church bells ring to announce Thursday prayers.
At precisely seven o'clock, the abbot, standing in the flickering candlelight in the church's central space beneath 14th-century icons, opens the coffin of King Stefan, the founder of the monastery, who died in 1331. The smell of incense fills the air, and the hand of the dead king protrudes visibly from beneath a thick layer of gold brocade in the coffin. The hand is long and delicate, and a gold ring on one of the fingers contrasts sharply with the brown, almost leathery skin. Before the war even Albanians came to the church at the Decani Monastery to see the Medieval king's miraculously preserved hand. Nowadays the Serbs are the only ones who come to visit their reliquary -- 28 monks, four old refugee women and a few laborers wait in the shadows between the church's stone walls.
According to the monastery's abbot, one Albanian has inquired several times recently about visiting the monastery -- Ramush Haradinaj. But, the abbot adds, he felt compelled to deny Haradinaj's request. "That step would be too early," he says. "Haradinaj still has The Hague ahead of him."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: How High Is the Price for Peace?
- Part 2: Part II: A Resurgence of the Revolutionaries