By Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
Balkan Affairs Adviser, AACL
On November 5, Serbian Deputy President Nebojsa Covic and UNMIK head Hans Haekkerup signed the “UNMIK—FRY Common Document” in Belgrade in the presence of Serbian President Vojislav Kostunica. Neither the Albanian political leaders that make up the joint administration with UNMIK nor the people of Kosova were informed about its content. While the agreement does not contravene UN Security Council Resolution 1244, it emphasizes “the need for enhanced cooperation between UNMIK and the Republic of Serbia” to improve the “general security” of Kosova’s Serbian community. It was ostensibly designed to encourage participation by Kosova Serbs in the general elections on November 17, which will determine which parties and politicians will govern Kosova with UNMIK.
While Kosova Serb participation in the national elections is important, no agreement with Serbia should be made prior to consultation with the Albanian side. Because Albanians were not consulted in advance of Haekkerup’s trip to Belgrade, the agreement makes a mockery of the joint administration and is bound to undermine trust in the merits and motivations of the international community’s work in Kosova. The fallout has been swift. The people of Kosova were outraged by the document, and Albanian members of the joint administration rejected it. Ramush Haradinaj and Hashim Thaci, in particular, have harshly criticized the agreement and publicly refused to recognize it. Meanwhile, Zeri’s editor in chief, Blerim Shala, wrote on November 12, that, “Kosovars’ subordination to UNMIK should end. Henceforth, there should be cooperation and collaboration. From November 17 onward, Kosova’s parliament and government should be the only places to deal with issues related to Kosova.”
An even deeper problem lies in the contradictory interpretations of the “common document” by the co-signers. No sooner had the document been signed than Nebojsa Covic declared that it heralded the “start of Yugoslavia’s return to Kosovo.” He told the Associated Press that, “It is proof that we are not giving up on Kosovo. Considering all the past violence and terrorism [emphasis mine] in Kosovo, this day is a landmark. The task ahead now is to get Kosovo Serbs to show up at the polls in as large numbers as possible.” Hans Haekkerup immediately demurred, insisting that the sole purpose of this document is “to get the support of Belgrade for Serb participation in Kosovo institutions.” He assured Kosova that the agreement does nothing more than reassert the principles of UN Resolution 1244. UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that “the document does not return Serbia to Kosovo and does not bring an end to the Kosovars’ dream of independence.” not return Serbia to Kosovo and does not bring an end to the Kosovars’ dream of independence.” From Belgrade’s perspective, however, the agreement represents an important “legal” step to achieving Serbia’s goal of winning parity with the United Nations in the administration of Kosova and ultimately usurping it. The document’s affirmation of the recently established joint working group between UNMIK, on one side, and the FRY and Covic’s “Coordinating Council for Kosovo and Metohija,” on the other, strengthens Covic’s hand in Kosovar politics and his ability to block Kosova’s progress by creating turmoil in Kosova’s new assembly following the general elections. And this is why support for this document by NATO General Secretary Robertson, the European Union, and the U.S. State Department, who view it as a stimulus to increase Kosova Serb participation in the November elections, is so short-sighted. Anyone who thinks that Nebojsa Covic intends to play a positive role in Kosova need only recall that Serbia has repeatedly violated the terms of the peace agreement that he signed with NATO and the Albanian leaders in the Presheva Valley last March and has failed to remedy its record of human rights abuses there.
Equally important, the “common document” plays into Nebojsa Covic’s larger project—his international propaganda campaign to win support for the reintegration of Kosova under Serbian rule. Before the document was signed, Covic gave an interview to Serbia’s Beta that was reported in Kosova’s Koha Ditore, in which he said that there could be “no solution until the international community deals with the issue of the violence, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing visited on the Serb community in Kosova.” In casting the Kosova Serbs as victims of Albanian violence, he asks the world to forget that Serbia was responsible for the arrest, torture, and murder of thousands and the mass expulsion of a million Kosovar Albanians. Covic asks the world to ignore the reality of mass graves in Serbia containing hundreds of Albanian men, women, and children whose bodies were taken from Kosova in refrigerated trucks at war’s end. He asks the world to overlook the continued incarceration of Kosovar prisoners of war illegally held in Serbian jails. It seems ludicrous that Serbia can wage any propaganda campaign in light of this history, a history that is being recounted almost daily in The Hague as Slobodan Milosevic and his colleagues in terror stand trial for crimes against humanity and genocide in Bosnia and Kosova.
The signing of the FRY—UNMIK agreement also coincides with the Serbian government’s attempts to exploit the events of September 11 by discrediting and defaming Albanians as “terrorists” connected to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network and Islamic fundamentalism. Bogus reports have proliferated since the bombing of New York’s World Trade Center about Bin Laden’s forays into Albania and the existence of mujahedin training camps in Kosova. Originating in the Serb (as well as in the Macedonian and Russian) media, these attempts to tie Albanians to terrorism have been picked up by an array of U.S. and European newspapers. This effort is not new; it is the continuation of a carefully orchestrated disinformation campaign that was implemented by Serbia during the Kosova war in 1999 to try to direct anti-Muslim sentiment in the West against the majority population of secular Muslims in Kosova. The attempt to tie Albanians to Bin Laden has persisted in spite of the fact that every U.S. ambassador in the region and State Department officials have denied any connection whatsoever between Albanians and Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, and in spite of the fact that Albanians have been Albanians first, and Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians second, who have lived in harmony for centuries. Not only that, Kosova was the only place in Southeast Europe where thousands of men and women, upon hearing the news of the September 11th catastrophe, took to the streets in an outpouring of grief and support for America, the country that saved them in their hour of need in the face of Serbian state-sponsored terrorism.
Serbia during the Kosova war in 1999 to try to direct anti-Muslim sentiment in the West against the majority population of secular Muslims in Kosova. The attempt to tie Albanians to Bin Laden has persisted in spite of the fact that every U.S. ambassador in the region and State Department officials have denied any connection whatsoever between Albanians and Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, and in spite of the fact that Albanians have been Albanians first, and Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians second, who have lived in harmony for centuries. Not only that, Kosova was the only place in Southeast Europe where thousands of men and women, upon hearing the news of the September 11 catastrophe, took to the streets in an outpouring of grief and support for America, the country that saved them in their hour of need in the face of Serbian state-sponsored terrorism.
The purpose of the propaganda campaign has always been to deflect attention away from decades of Serbian state-sponsored terrorism against Albanians and to thwart Kosova’s legitimate aspirations for self-determination, leading to independence. If the international community allows this campaign to continue, the result will be more bloodshed. As the Independent International Commission on Kosovo concluded this month in its addendum to its 2000 report, “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.”
November 15, 2001
Ossining, New York