Updated: Aug 11, 2018
THE ALBANIAN NATIONAL QUESTION
KOSOVA: WHERE WE STAND IN 2002
by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
Although the focus of the Bush administration and the Congress is of necessity on the war in Afghanistan, it behooves our government to pay attention to other trouble spots around the world. As we know, Macedonia is one of them. Although the Slav Macedonian leadership signed the Oher (Ohrid) agreement with the Albanian political leaders and NATO in August 2001, they have yet to implement it. The Albanian American Civic League is concerned about the potential for another conflict in the Balkans, one that would result in the deaths of thousands of Albanians, if the package of reforms outlined in Oher is not put into practice very soon. This spring, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold the first hearing on the Balkans during the 109th Congressional session. The Civic League will advise the Senate that the United States, especially at this time, can ill afford another war in the Balkans and that, therefore, ending the conflict in Macedonia is of paramount importance. Furthermore, we will insist that a just and lasting peace can be achieved in the Balkans only by resolving the Albanian national question. This means bringing self-determination and independence to Kosova, human rights and equality to Albanians in Macedonia, Montenegro, Presheva, and Chameria, and genuine democracy and economic development to Albania. This article, the first of a series, will summarize the issues confronting Albanians in each of the six political jurisdictions where they live side by side, beginning with Kosova:
The independence of Kosova is the one issue around which all Albanians are united. Albanians understand that the independence of Kosova is the only way to begin to resolve the Albanian national question and to insure lasting peace and stability in the Balkans. And since Kosova is more than 90 percent Albanian and has a right to self-determination under international law, the Albanian American Civic League believes that the Bush administration and the Congress should map out a plan for transferring more and more domestic powers from the UN administration to the Kosova Assembly, leading to independence. No one is asking for independence in the short term. However, if Kosova does what the U.S. government expects from a sovereign state by demonstrating a
commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and respect for the human and civil rights of Serbs and all other minorities, then it is hoped that the Bush administration will stand up to Europe, which remains stuck in nostalgia for the former Yugoslavia, and become a proponent of independence. Albanians understand that there will be no Kosova without Serbs. Albanians are ready to respect the rights of Serbs and to approve the return of non-criminal Serbs to Kosova. But, at the same time, Kosovar Albanians will never accept a return to Serbian domination. Albanians would like the U.S. government to make this clear to the international community and, if possible, to hold a major hearing on Kosova’s final status (ideally including witnesses such as Ambassador John Menzies, head of the U.S. Office in Kosova, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal Richard Goldstone, Albanian political leaders from Kosova, Balkan expert Noel Malcolm, and General Wesley Clark). The fact that much of the international community (notably Serbia, France, Greece, Russia, and China) continues to oppose independence without mounting any convincing arguments, while simultaneously those who favor independence fail to make their case on the basis of international law, has created a foreign policy “gridlock” that now imperils the stability of Southeast Europe.
In the past few months, we have seen an acceleration in Serbia’s anti-Albanian propaganda campaign and call for the reintegration of Kosova under Serbia. Recognizing the danger inherent in this development, the Independent International Commission on Kosovo (known as the Goldstone Commission) decided to issue an addendum last month to its 2000 report, in which it concluded that, “It would be a tragic sequel to the NATO war of 1999, if…Belgrade is granted a free hand to obstruct the realization of the right of self-determination for the people of Kosovo. The most recent assertions of the FRY government are not reassuring. This Commission feels obliged to remind the leaders of the world community that the status of Kosovo has not yet been decided, and that leaving this issue unresolved is both cruel to the Kosovars and dangerous for the stability of the Balkans.”
Both the United States and Western Europe, in a premature embrace of the new Kostunica government in Serbia as a “democracy,” have often failed to use the leverage that they have to resolve some of the key problems facing Kosova and the region. In order to bring peace and stability to Kosova and the Balkans, the Albanian American Civic League believes that the Kostunica government and the international community must resolve the following problems:
Belgrade must cease its interference in Kosova’s political life
The Serbian government must allow the Kosova Serbs to become part of Kosova, not an extension of foreign policy in Belgrade. The signing of the “UNMIK—FRY Common Document” on November 5, 2001, by Serbian Deputy President Nebojsa Covic and then- UMIK administrator Hans Haekkerup illustrates the problem. Neither the Albanian political leaders nor the Albanian citizens of Kosova, who make up the majority of the population, were informed about the content of the agreement. While the agreement was ostensibly designed to encourage participation by Kosova’s Serbs in the general election that was held on November 17, in reality it was used by Covic to bolster his international
propaganda campaign to win support for the reintegration of Kosova under Serbian rule. He heralded the signing of the UNMIK—FRY Common Document as “the start of Yugoslavia’s return to Kosovo.” Meanwhile, Kosovar Albanians will never allow the reintegration of Kosova within Serbia, and any attempt to make this happen will lead to war.
The appointment of UNMIK administrator Michael Steiner is promising in this regard. In February, he stated in an interview with Suddeutsche Zeitung that “there is a boundary in relations with Belgrade: There can be no parallel structures in Kosovo and no influence through backdoors.” And he was even more forceful when Nebojsa Covic attempted to disrupt the formation of the new Kosova government on March 6, by accusing newly elected Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi of war crimes when he served as a field surgeon for the KLA and by demanding that the Povratak coalition receive additional ministerial and deputy ministerial posts. Reject6ing the absurd charges against Rexhepi, Steiner asserted that he “would not interfere in Belgrade’s affairs, and Belgrade shouldn’t interfere in Prishtina’s affairs.”
Kosovar Albanian prisoners of war must be released from Serbian jails
The long overdue release of Kosovar Albanian student leader Albin Kurti in December 2001 was a salutary event. Nevertheless, the United States should withhold aid to Serbia in the amount of $115 million, if the remaining 194 Albanian POWs are not released from
illegal detention Serbian jails by March 31. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has called for an “exchange” of prisoners. However, there are no Serbian prisoners of war, only forty Serbian prisoners in custody in Kosova who have been charged with war crimes by international judges. Any attempt by Belgrade to tie the release of Albanian political prisoners to the return of war criminals should be roundly rejected.
Serbia must comply with the International War Crimes Tribunal
Surrendering Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague, while highly significant, was not enough. One of the reasons Bosnia is in the deplorable state that it is in is that the West did not insist on rounding up the perpetrators of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and mass expulsion. If the United States is serious about reinforcing the rule of law, then it should withhold aid to Serbia until it extradites to The Hague the thirty-seven other people wanted for committing atrocities during the Balkan wars, most of whom are still at large in Serbia and Republika Srpska, including the notorious Bosnian Serb commanders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
The de facto partitioning of Mitrovice must be ended
Mitrovice is in a de facto state of partition, first and foremost, because the French KFOR forces permitted the creation of the partition in defiance of UN Resolution 1244. (This is the source, not the result of the postwar violence in Mitrovice.) The French prevented Kosovar Albanians from returning at the end of the war to their homes in the northern, now Serb-dominated, sector of Mitrovice. There were approximately 11,000 Serbs in Mitrovice before the war; now there are more than 15,000. Meanwhile, 10,000 Albanians have been unable to return to their homes in the north, and this has caused tremendous
resentment in the Albanian community, now forced to live in close quarters in the southern sector. Furthermore, the French have prevented Albanians from gaining access to the city’s only hospital and university in the north. The French have failed to keep Serbian paramilitary and army troops five kilometers behind Kosova’s borders. The French have stood by and watched, rather than intervened in, violence against Albanians, especially by the notorious “bridge watchers” on the Ybar River. If the French will not comply with UN Resolution 1244, they should be asked to leave Mitrovice and KFOR
altogether. Recently, French troops have come under attack by members of the Serb population in Mitrovice, and it is not yet clear how this will affect French decision-making. It must be acknowledged that, apart from the French, no other nationality has shown a willingness to take charge of the situation in Mitrovice, fearing retaliation.
The problem of Mitrovice poses one of the most serious challenges to peace and stability in Southeast Europe today, and it is the most neglected. If the international community is serious about not changing borders in the Balkans, then the de facto partitioning of Mitrovice cannot be made permanent. To prevent this from happening, Albanians must be returned to their homes in the north. Serb squatters who occupy their apartments and homes must return to their original pre-war homes in either Serbia proper or in other parts
of Kosova. Also, parallel Serbian institutions, controlled by Belgrade, such as the university and the hospital, must be rejected, and the Trepca mining complex must be placed in its entirety under the jurisdiction of UNMIK, if Mitrovice is to be reintegrated.
Serbia must apologize to Kosova and to Bosnia for its genocidal campaign
If Serbia would apologize for the genocidal warfare that it conducted against both Kosova and Bosnia and also engage in a serious “de-Nazification” process, this would lay the groundwork for the beginning of genuine bilateral foreign and economic relations between Serbia and Kosova.