For Immediate Release
Contact: AACL at (914) 762-5530
THE ALBANIAN AMERICAN CIVIC LEAGUE RESPONDS TO THE INDICTMENT OF KOSOVA PRIME MINISTER RAMUSH HARADINAJ
NEW YORK, MARCH 10, 2005—On behalf of the Albanian American Civic League, Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, Balkan Affairs Adviser, issued the following statement today:
A NewYorkTimes editorial on March 9 stated that Ramush Haradinaj’s resignation from his post as Kosova’s prime minister, following his indictment by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, gave “Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians a new chance to show that they deserve independence.” On the contrary, the indictment of Ramush Haradinaj amounts to a lost chance for Kosova and for the international community to bring lasting peace and stability to the Balkans now and not at some indefinite time in the future.
Ramush Haradinaj did not commit atrocities. He fought to free his people from Serbian domination, following ten years of the most brutal occupation in the heart of Europe since the Nazi era. He is a decorated hero of the 1999 NATO war in Kosova, which claimed the lives of two of his brothers, Shkelzen and Luan. After the war, he played a leading role in transforming the Kosova Liberation Army into a civilian protection corps and then became a politician. He is a progressive thinker and humanitarian who built a political party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, won a seat in parliament in three national elections, earned a law degree, and then was overwhelmingly endorsed by his peers to become prime minister. In all of this, Ramush Haradinaj resembles South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, whom we must not forget was at one time called a “terrorist” by his adversaries and detractors for trying to free his people from apartheid.
Contrary to Western press reports, Ramush is respected and trusted by Albanians, many Kosova Serbs, and the representatives of the international community in Kosova. The latter have repeatedly praised him for his excellent work ethic, his ability to achieve results, and his genuine democratic spirit. On March 8, Sorren Jessen-Petersen, the administrator of the United Nations Mission, expressed his regret that he would “no longer be working with a close partner and friend,” and he applauded Haradinaj’s “dignity and maturity and his bravery in putting the interest of Kosovo before his own” by resigning his post and voluntarily turning himself in to The Hague.
Serbia has conducted a smear campaign in the press against Haradinaj, partly because he was one of the most effective commanders against Slobodan Milosevic’s forces, but primarily because he is probably the only Albanian politician with the ability to unite the disparate Albanian political factors and the ethnic minority communities on the way to achieving an independent state. He therefore presents a threat to Belgrade’s continued ability to manipulate the Kosova Serbs and to destabilize the region for Serbia’s political advantage.
For his part, Ramush Haradinaj, at his press conference to the people of Kosova, said, “We have come a long way since make the necessary sacrifices in order that our country, after centuries of sacrifice and suffering by our people, finally achieves the independence it deserves. Today I was called to make one more sacrifice that I never believed I would be asked to make. I feel insulted by this process. I feel that they are taking me away from my job at a time when I am giving the maximum for my country. But I have to accept it for the sake of my country and for all of us.”
We believe that Haradinaj’s unjust indictment and voluntary resignation as prime minister is a sacrifice that he should never have had to make. Ramush is in prison, because Kosova is not a sovereign state, and therefore the former members of the Kosova Liberation Army do not have the same protection as others. Meanwhile the real war criminals, such as Bosnian Serb Commanders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karazdic—who are responsible for the genocidal killing of 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srbrenica—remain at large. And this is the crux of the matter: Under pressure to seem politically balanced and in yet another bid to coax Serbia into turning over Mladic and Karadzic, the Hague Tribunal has indicted Ramush Haradinaj. In so doing, it has abdicated its historical mission to bring justice to the victims of the Balkan wars. If the goal is to achieve lasting peace in Southeast Europe, then the international community should not be party to creating a revisionist view of history in which the victims of Milosevic’s reign of terror are repositioned as the perpetrators. There is no moral equivalence between Serbia’s state-sponsored terrorism at the hands of former dictator, now indicted war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic and the Kosova Liberation Army fighters who had the courage to defend their people against great odds.
Since the Kosova war ended in June 1999, Belgrade has been desperately trying to create a false parity in the minds of policymakers and the public between the atrocities committed by the Serbian military and paramilitary forces and the KLA’s efforts to defend innocent civilians. It is time for the international community to remember that Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen waged four wars of aggression in Southeast Europe in the1990s, resulting in the forced expulsion of four million Bosnians, Croats, Albanians, and Roma and the murder of more than 350,000 men, women, and children, including at least 10,000 Kosovar Albanians (3,000 of whom have not yet been found) at the hands of Serbian forces. The number of Albanian dead would have been multiplied many times over if the Kosova Liberation Army and NATO, led by the U.S. government, had not intervened. We must bear witness to this history and insist that the killing of Serbs after the war by individual, psychologically-shattered Albanians (as well as some criminal elements, both Albanian and Serb), albeit lamentable, is not equivalent to Serbian anti-Albanian genocide. We also must insist that the West finally confront its own complicity in the Balkan wars, which were based in part on more than a hundred years of anti-Albanian racism.
The indictment of Kosova Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj is a travesty of justice, a tragedy for Kosova, and a setback, hopefully only temporary, for the cause of lasting peace in Southeast Europe.