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.Foto: AFP
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.
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.
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.
People like the seven Irish businessmen who came to Kosovo on a €10 million contract to clean up the books of a local power plant are simply no longer as welcome. It has become too obvious that the protectorate in Kosovo primarily serves those in the seats of power.
"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