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Resolving The Albanian National Question

Updated: Aug 9, 2018

A Public Declaration by the Albanian American Civic League

September 1999


For ten years the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic terrorized the southern Balkans-invading and occupying Kosova, and fighting wars against Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia while the world watched and waited.

Even though the warning signs were evident everywhere in 1996 that Milosevic would next attack Kosova, the United States and Western Europe kept the status of Kosova off the table at the Dayton Peace Accords and excluded Albanians from the negotiations. The Dayton Accords, established to bring an end to the war in Bosnia, reflected a decade-long strategy of appeasement and containment in the face of Milosevic’s region-wide aggression, based on the erroneous belief that this would avert the spread of the Bosnian war to the south.

In February 1998, the consequences of Dayton and of allowing Milosevic to tighten his police-state grip on Kosova for a decade came home to roost, when the Serbian military and paramilitary forces launched a fullscale genocidal war against the Kosovar Albanians. In the face of irrational slaughter and untold human suffering, the United States and Western Europe were finally forced to show the resolve that they had been lacking. Under the auspices of NATO, a bombing campaign was launched to drive the Serbian military out of Kosova.

With Kosova under the protection of NATO and the UN administration, Albanians no longer live daily at risk of death. However, with Kosova still technically under Serbian sovereignty, the longterm survival of the Albanian people is still under threat, both from without and from within. The purpose of this declaration is to focus world attention on the internal and external factors that stand in the way of creating a free and independent Kosova and therefore of bringing a just and lasting peace to the Balkans. The Albanian American Civic League believes that there will be no peace in the region until Slobodan Milosevic’s barbaric regime is defeated, a century of anti-Albanian racism is eradicated, and the Albanian national question is finally resolved.

Kosovar Albanian Political Prisoners Must Be Released

NATO’s failure to make the release of more than 5,000 Albanian political prisoners in jails inside Serbia a condition of the war-ending agreement with Slobodan Milosevic was a reckless omission. The identification of these individuals and their whereabouts, followed by their speedy release, is essential to creating a bona fide peace in Kosova. Also, many of these prisoners are intellectuals, professionals, and political activists, whose participation in the economic and political reconstruction of Kosova is urgently needed. The Milosevic regime should be told that the Serbian people will not receive any kind of aid, including humanitarian assistance, until the incarceration of these prisoners, in violation of international law, is ended.

Serbian War Criminals Must Be Arrested and Convicted

Although the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has indicted Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Bosnian Serb commanders Radovan Karazdjic and Ratko Mladic, the paramilitary leader Zelijko Raznjatovic known as “Arkan,” the architect of the Racak massacre, Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, Colonel Dragoljub Ojdanic, Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Vlajko Stojilkovic, and several other Serbian military officials, the international community has yet to make a serious attempt to apprehend them. Unless the perpetrators of the worst genocide in the heart of Europe since the Nazi era-first in Bosnia and then in Kosova–are brought to trial, brutal dictators throughout the world will believe that they can oppress their populations with impunity.

In the short term, compromise with any of the perpetrators, including the many Serbian paramilitary troops and civilians yet to be indicted for their atrocities, will not only place Albanian survivors at further risk, but will amount to collusion in mass expulsion and mass extermination. Leading NATO countries should direct UN member states to make every effort to enforce the warrants issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. If NATO does not act to bring indicted and suspected Serbian war criminals to The Hague, then Albanians and Bosnians throughout the world should follow the example of their Jewish brothers and sisters after the Holocaust by mounting an international campaign to arrest and try these individuals.

The De Facto Partitioning of Mitrovice and the Future of the Trepca Mines Must Be Resolved.

The Albanian American Civic League considers the de facto partitioning of Mitrovice by NATO forces under French command into Albanian and Serb sections to be one of the most misguided and dangerous developments in “postwar” Kosova. It is the source, not the result, of the current violence in Mitrovice. The Trepca mines in Mitrovice, one of the largest mining and metallurgical complexes in Europe, form the core of Kosova’s economy. The mines should be wrested from Serbian control and placed in the hands of the Kosovar governing council and the UN administration immediately.

Although the U.S. government insists that the Trepca mines will not remain in the hands of Milosevic and his family, France, more than any other Western power, has colluded openly with Serbia and therefore should not be left in charge of Mitrovice. In addition,Serbia signed a deal in 1998 with a Greek mining company, Mytilinaois SA, to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars against profits from the Trepca mines for a five-year period. Especially because Greece is a member of NATO, its role as a principal financier of Milosevic’s war against Kosova should become the subject of an international inquiry.

The Creation of a False Parity between Albanians and Serbs Must Be Ended

From the time that Serbia attacked Drenice at the end of February 1998, until NATO was forced to launch a bombing campaign against Serbia after the Rambouillet peace talks failed a year later, policy makers in the United States and Europe attempted to establish a false parity between the Serbian military and paramilitary forces, engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, and the Kosova Liberation Army, a grassroots self-defense force surviving on money and arms from the Albanian diaspora. Their purpose was to adhere to a policy of appeasement and containment in Kosova, no matter what the cost to Albanian life, in order to maintain Serbian sovereignty over Kosova and Western control of the region.

In postwar Kosova, the effort to establish a false parity between Albanians and Serbs continues, but now in the guise of creating a “multicultural” Kosova. The Albanian American Civic League opposes the UN administration’s effort to create a socalled multicultural Kosova and to recast the aim of the NATO bombing campaign as a fight for a multiethnic Kosova. This effort is transparent on the face of it, as yet another way to prevent the independence of Kosova from Serbia.

Unlike Bosnia, which was a multiethnic state until Slobodan Milosevic destroyed it, Kosova was and is more than 90 percent Albanian. Kosova was an autonomous region with near republic status until Serbia destroyed its autonomy and subjected its people to state-sponsored terrorism. Until Milosevic attacked Kosova in 1998, Albanians lived peacefully with the minority populations of Serbs, Turks, Roma, and Muslim Slavs. Interethnic strife became a reality only after Serb civilians and Roma collaborated with the Serbian military and paramilitary forces in the expulsion and extermination of Kosovar Albanians.

Anti-Albanian Racism and Ultranationalism in Serbia Must Be Overcome

The overwhelming majority of the Serbian people are guilty of supporting a decade-long, systematic campaign to murder and expel Kosovar Albanians. Slobodan Milosevic rose to power in 1987 on a platform of anti-Albanian racism, which has been endemic to Serbian culture for more than one hundred years. Like the German people who were forced to visit the death camps as part of a “de-Nazification” program in the aftermath of World War II, Serbs must confront the truth about their government’s war against the Albanians of Kosova and acknowledge their complicity in it.

Until the Serbian people publicly denounce the crimes against Kosovar Albanians and make a serious attempt to bring war criminals to justice, Albanians cannot be expected to live in peace with Serbs in Kosova and the international community cannot expect an end to violence in the Balkans.

Although there are a small number of courageous Serbs who opposed the destruction of Kosovar Albanians and Bosnian Muslims before them by their government, the majority of Serbian opposition figures are ultranationalists who supported the racist and expansionist aims of Slobodan Milosevic. The Albanian American Civic League believes that the U.S. effort to consolidate the existing opposition against Milosevic is premature, and that the $10 million pledged this year to support democratic opposition in Serbia should be used to finance the independent media and to initiate a nationwide educational campaign against racism and genocide.

The Quest for Greater Serbia Must Be Terminated

Throughout Serbia’s brutal ten-year occupation of Kosova, until the eruption of war in the spring of 1998, the West has justified its inaction in the face of Milosevic’s destruction of Kosovar Albanians by hiding behind the threat of “Greater Albania.” In reality, the only genuine drive for hegemony in the Balkans has been the drive for Greater Serbia. Spearheaded by Belgrade and supported by Russia, the conquest for Greater Serbia began with the invasion of Kosova in 1989 and was followed by the invasion of Vojvodina, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, resulting in the deaths of more than 350,000 civilians and the creation of two million refugees.

In July 1999, Serbian army and paramilitary units began expelling Albanians from southern Serbia (Presheve, Medvegje, and Bujanovc) and the Muslim population of the Sandzak region and repressing the Hungarian majority in Vojvodina with barely an outcry from the international community. Steps must be taken immediately to determine the fate of these communities and to ensure their welfare.

On August 5, 1999, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic proposed that the Serbian-Montenegrin federation be abolished in favor of establishing a “commonwealth of the states of Serbia and Montenegro.” With Belgrade’s wholesale rejection of this proposal, Montenegro’s referendum calling for independence is in the offing and the prospect of a Serbian invasion looms large. The Albanian American Civic League calls on the international community to support the democratic aspirations of the people of Montenegro and the outcome of the referendum.

Kosovar Reprisals Are a Result of Western Indifference and Inaction

The Albanian American Civic League agrees with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Albanians are in danger of losing the support that they deserve and urgently need if they persist in taking the law into their own hands by killing Serbian civilians. The Civic League does not condone the retaliation of Kosovars against Serbian civilians in Kosova, and the provisional government of Hashim Thaci and the UCK commanders have also made it clear that they do not condone acts of retaliation.

Nevertheless, the Albanian American Civic League believes that it is grotesque for anyone to equate Albanians engaged in acts of revenge with the Serbian perpetrators of genocide. The Civic League asks the United States and Europe to recognize that, after a decade of Serbia’s brutal occupation, followed by a year of mass expulsion and mass extermination, it is not surprising that Kosovar Albanians would retaliate against the Serbian population in Kosova. This is regrettable, but all the more understandable, because a large number of Serbian civilians were directly responsible for the torture, murder, and flight of their Albanian neighbors during the war, and because they continue to prey on Albanians in postwar Kosova.

In order to put a stop to violence against Serbs, the West must also examine its own role as a catalyst of ethnic revenge. NATO and the UN Mission have yet to confront the fact that Albanian reprisals are the direct result of Western indifference to and complicity in the destruction of Kosovar Albanians since the beginning of the occupation, inaction while Serbian war criminals go free, insistence that Kosovar Albanians work together with their tormentors, reneging on the promise to transform the KLA into a national police force, failure to protect Albanians from armed Serb civilians and paramilitaries who have remained in Kosova, and lax enforcement of the KFOR’s mandate in the French and Italian zones, which has led to the creation of protected Serbian enclaves in cities of economic and political importance to Albanians, such as Mitrovice and Rahovec.

Demilitarization of the KLA Must Be Linked to Albanian Security

General Michael Jackson, head of NATO’s defense force in Kosova, and Clinton administration have emphasized since the end of the war that the provisional government of Hashim Thaci and the KLA were cooperating with the interim administration in every way. The cooperation has included the surrender of UCK’s weapons to the occupation force.

However, the Albanian American Civic League believes that the KLA should not comply with the September 19, 1999 deadline for demilitarization and disbanding as long as Serbian civilians refuse to turn over their weapons to NATO and as long as Serbian paramilitaries and Russian members of the peacekeeping force who previously fought in the Yugoslav Army as the “Czar’s Wolves” remain in Kosova.

Until the perpetrators of genocide are arrested and removed from Kosova, the Albanian people will need protection. The need for protection has intensified, now that the Yugoslav army has threatened to invade Kosova if the UN administration does not allow a quota of Serbian soldiers and police to return to Kosova, as it indicated it would in the war-ending agreement.

The Albanian American Civic League believes that because the KLA has the respect of Kosovar Albanians they should be transformed into the Kosova Army. As the KLA has recently demonstrated in Mitrovica, where they have stopped the rioting in favor of organizing nonviolent protests against the ongoing partitioning of the city, they have the ability to provide security to the entire population of Kosova.

Throughout the summer, NATO accused the KLA of not doing enough to stop the arbitrary seizure of Albanian property and businesses and the imposition of taxes and the terrorization of Serbs and Roma. Some of this activity is coming from Albanian gangs who have crossed the unpatrolled border to subject Kosovar Albanians to intimidation and extortion, and some of this activity is being carried out by local thugs and rogue elements within the KLA. But the onus should be placed not on the KLA, but on NATO, as the only organization capable of preventing the criminalization of Kosova. The Civic League calls on NATO to stop the flow of criminal elements across the Albanian border.

The Future of the KLA

The Albanian American Civic League was the first organization in the United States to come out publicly in support of the KLA in February 1998. From that time onward, the Civic League has played a major role in promoting political and material support for the KLA within the U.S. Congress and the Clinton administration. At the conclusion of the NATO bombing campaign, the Civic League announced support for the provisional government of Hashim Thaci, until democratic elections could be held in a free, unoccupied Kosova. The Civic League went public with its support because it believed that Albanians everywhere owed a debt to the Kosova Liberation Army.

In spite of the fact that some members of the provisional government are committed and able patriots, today we find it necessary to seriously question support for the Thaci government. The Civic League is concerned about: 1) the provisional government’s exclusion of many Albanian intellectuals and professionals in Kosova and in the diaspora from the political reconstruction effort, 2) the breakdown in its relationship with many of KLA’s commanders, 3) its maintenance of close ties with the Communist government of Tirana, after the need to transport weapons through Albania has passed, 4) its enduring relationship with some of the people who were responsible for the Communist takeover of Albania in 1997, and 5 ) its alliance with some of the people in the U.S. government and in the Albanian American community who support Kosova’s independence half-heartedly.

The Civic League calls all Albanians to support the development of a democratic process in Kosova, including the establishment of a multiparty structure leading to elections, the creation of a new government, and the holding of a national referendum on the independence of Kosova. A people’s assembly, including the KLA Supreme Command, should be structured and convened immediately to discuss the short-term future of Kosova and the long-term strategy for achieving independence. This assembly should call for delaying elections until a multiparty system can be created and also call for limiting the time period in which Kosova is a UN protectorate.

The Political Reconstruction of Kosova

The Albanian American Civic League deplores the statement by Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN Mission in Kosova, that his willingness to share executive power in Kosova with Albanian leaders, who currently are limited to an advisory role, is contingent on Hashim Thaci and Ibrahim Rugova working together. Europe’s interference and reinsertion of Ibrahim Rugova into the political process is ill-advised, and ultimately it will backfire.

By continuing to bolster the false polarity of the socalled “radical” Hashim Thaci, leader of the KLA, versus the socalled “moderate” Ibrahim Rugova, leader of LDK, the West is sowing the seeds of political and economic failure in postwar Kosova. Ibrahim Rugova played an important role, and saved many lives, at the beginning of the Serbian occupation of Kosova in 1989, by adopting a nonviolent stance. Nevertheless, over time, his strategy of passive resistance degenerated into political paralysis in the face of Serbian oppression and addiction to his own political perpetuation through LDK. (It should be noted that when Rugova was “reelected” in 1997 by more than 90 percent of Kosovars, Kosova was under occupation and he was the only candidate. The vote amounted to a vote against Milosevic.) Finally, since the early 1990s, some LDK operatives have advanced their personal and political agendas through fear and intimidation using millions of dollars from the contributions made by Albanians worldwide to the “Fund for Kosova,” much of which remains in the hands of Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi. This has been well established in the international press.

Ibrahim Rugova’s ability to lead Kosova is now seriously in question. Having witnessed the carnage in Bosnia from 1993 to 1995, he failed to prepare Kosovar Albanians for the Serbian onslaught in 1998; he opposed the KLA publicly, calling them “terrorists” and Serbia’s creation; he failed to place demands on the international community to intervene in Kosova as Serbian ethnic cleansing escalated; and during most of the war he ran from Kosova seeking personal security as Kosovars fought and died. It is disturbing to note that in postwar Kosova, Rugova enjoys popular support from those who did not help the KLA and compromised Albanian resistance against Serbia. Equally disturbing, in postwar Europe, Rugova enjoys support from the governments of France and Italy, the two countries most invested in continued Serbian domination over Kosova.

By portraying Thaci and Rugova as extremes on the political spectrum and as the only political options, Europe increases the likelihood of one-party rule and therefore imperils the emergence of a democracy in Kosova based on consent of the governed. The international community has already seen the consequences of this in Bosnia and Russia, where a small number of ruling elites control all of the resources and are engaged in rampant corruption in conjunction with criminal syndicates.

Kosovar Albanians have an opportunity to build real institutions of the future State of Kosova and to become a vital part of a united Europe. But this can only happen if the UN administration and NATO forego the easy path of acting as an occupying force and instead provide a framework in which Kosovar society can become self-governing. To this end, the KLA commanders deserve to be taken seriously. As the people who defended Kosovar Albanians when the world had abandoned them, they should not be sidelined, but integrated into the UN Mission’s reconstruction program.

At the same time, there are many able, committed politicians, academics, and activists who should be at the forefront of creating a democratic system. They include, among others, Adem Demaci, who served as the head of the political wing of the KLA until he resigned over the West’s anti-Albanian demands at Rambouillet, Hydajet Hyseni of the United Democratic Movement, Mazllom Kumnova, mayor of Gjakova, economist Muhamet Mustafa, political philosopher Shkelzen Maliqi, jailed political thinkers and activists Nait Hasani and Ukshin Hoti, Christian Democratic Party leader Mark Krasniqi, Social Democratic Party leader Luljeta Pula, jailed Independent Students’ Union leader Albin Kurti, and Dr. Flora Brovina, the jailed president of the League of Albanian Women. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, but to illustrate the point that Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci do not represent the sum total of Albanian politics.

The Albanian American Civic League believes that elections should take place in Kosova only after the mechanisms for reaching the public, including a free press, have been established and equal access to the electorate is made available to prospective candidates. In keeping with the creation of a democracy, prospective candidates should be given the opportunity to present their platforms and plans to the public in person and in the press on a nationwide basis. Anything else will only serve to harm the development of Kosova as a stable and democratic State.

The Economic Reconstruction of Kosova

The UN Mission has been widely criticized for its failure to move quickly to rebuild Kosova and to create a safe and secure environment in Kosova. The Albanian American Civic League is deeply concerned about the international community’s delay in providing reconstruction funds and expertise to restore local government, along with sewage, water, healthcare, educational, and judicial systems. The Civic League is especially concerned that delays will deny 200,000 homeless Albanians from securing temporary housing before the winter starts in October, forcing them to leave Kosova. Above all, the Civic League is concerned that the UN’s top-heavy political infrastructure, whose managers have thus far excluded Kosovar Albanians from the reconstruction process, will doom Kosova to Bosnia’s fate as an unproductive enclave, dependent for its livelihood and security on Western benevolence.

Most Kosovars are hardworking, resourceful, and independent. They want to be engaged in the building of a new society. It is important for the international community to remember that during the decade-long Serbian occupation, Kosovar Albanians created parallel institutions in education, media, and healthcare with financial help from the Albanian diaspora. Many Albanian immigrants in the United States, Western Europe, and throughout the world who were forced to flee Kosova, also want to contribute their business and professional expertise to the rebuilding of Kosova as a democracy and as a free market economy. Without the direct involvement of the people of Kosova and Albanians in exile, international aid may impose structures that do not meet the realities and the needs of the people.

Dr. Muhamet Mustafa and his colleagues at Riinvest Institute for Development

Research, for example, produced the first and only economic analysis of Kosova and a blueprint for its inclusion into regional and European trade structures before the war. Since then, Riinvest has conducted a major survey on the impact of the war on families, launched eighteen task forces to evaluate the status of commercial enterprises in Kosova, set up educational programs for business and local administration, and held a seminar to inform the international community about the human resources in Kosova. The UN administration and other international groups involved in Kosova should pay serious attention to Riinvest’s strategy for the reconstruction of Kosova, which gives priority to the involvement of the local population, and take steps to give this and other qualified NGOs and professionals a major role in the economic reconstruction effort.

Kosova’s economic independence from Serbia should be a first priority. Kosova’s banking system must be divorced immediately from Yugoslavia’s, and its currency must be tied to either the deutsche mark or the dollar, instead of the dinar. Modern banking and securities law should be established, along with the secure repatriation of foreign investment. Financing systems should be instituted that create real economic opportunity and that spread the ownership of wealth among the broadest possible number of families. The UN administration should grant licenses immediately to Kosovar banks, such as the Bank of Kosova, so that they can recommence operations.

The European Union has agreed to provide $30 billion over the next five years for reconstruction. The United States has agreed to provide $500 million in refugee aid and another $350 million in investments and credits. The Albanian American Civic League insists that the international community account for the use of all financial resources in Kosova, and that no one party or group is allowed to control the resources committed for reconstruction. Under no circumstances must the reconstruction funds get into the hands of the criminal syndicates that have plagued Albania and much of the former East bloc.

The Official Language of Kosova

The Albanian American Civic League opposes the institution of English as the official language in Kosova, making it impossible for able Albanian-speaking journalists to operate effectively and strictly limiting Albanian involvement in the reconstruction process.

The official language of Kosova should be Albanian and the first foreign language should be English. The second foreign language should be determined by Albanians. The teaching of foreign languages should begin at the elementary school level.

National Sovereignty Must Be Linked to Respect for Human Rights

The argument that NATO’s bombing mission was illegal because it violated the territorial borders of the sovereign state of the Serbian-Montenegrin federation of the former Yugoslavia has been widely discredited. Apart from the fact that national borders have been altered many times throughout the last century, international legal experts have made clear that a sovereign state forfeits its legitimacy when it commits genocide against any portion of its population or when it deprives minorities of meaningful participation in the political process.

In addition, the international community has yet to fully recognize the former Yugoslavia, and therefore should not ask Kosovars to do what it will not. Yugoslavia was an artificial creation that has been in the process of dissolution since 1991. As Balkan scholar Noel Malcolm has rightly observed, Kosova was legally a federal unit of the former Yugoslavia and therefore should be granted the same right to independence under international law as Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia.

The Independence of Kosova and a United Europe

If there was ever a chance that Kosovar Albanians would resign themselves to a future within Serbia, that was lost when Serb paramilitary and police attacked Drenice in February 1998 and launched a war that drove a million Albanians from Kosova and killed at least 20,000. The people of Kosova have suffered too much and too long to remain tied to Serbia. Asking the Kosovar Albanians to cooperate with Serbs as part of a “multiethnic” council, as the UN’s Sergio Vieira de Mello asked them to do in July 1999, is obscene and ludicrous. Especially because the council included known members of (continued on Serbian paramilitary death squads, this act was like asking the Jewish survivors of Auschwitz to sit down with Nazi war criminals.

The agreement that ended the war omitted the provision in the Rambouillet agreement that promised some kind of referendum on Kosova’s independence at the end of a three-year transition period. Believing that justice delayed is justice denied, the Albanian American Civic League calls the international community to recognize the independence of Kosova now. This will mean finally confronting and expunging the fear that lies behind Western reluctance to free Kosova from Serbian domination.

The fear of the emergence of an Islamic state in the center of Europe-from Bosnia to Kosova to the Sandzak to Iran-lies at the heart of U.S. and European foreign policy in the Balkans. Fearing acts of Islamic terrorism against European states, we have allowed the previously multiethnic, multireligious, and multicultural State of Bosnia-Hercegovina to be carved up into ethnic enclaves and have left Kosova vulnerable to partition. And yet, from a strictly Realpolitik perspective, if protecting Europe from acts of Islamic terrorism is indeed our concern, then the West needs the help of Albanians and Bosnians. Albanians are moderate, secular Muslims who have lived side by side their Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters for centuries. Albanians are purveyors not of an Islamic idea, but of an Albanian idea, which is westward leaning and democratic.

The Civic League also asks all political leaders in Kosova to demand the independence of Kosova and to encourage the people of Kosova to actively demonstrate their will for the world to see. Kosovar politicians who are advocating independence “eventually” are guilty of trying to trade away the opportunity that exists now for achieving independence in favor of maintaining their political standing with U.S. and European officials.

Finally, the Civic League calls the political leadership of Kosova to map out the steps to independence with members of the European Parliament working to achieve a United Europe.


The Board of Directors of the Albanian American Civic League

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