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03 July 2002

Life under the constant guard
Even elderly Serb women are targeted by Albanians,
Poljka Katratovic in Djakovica lives under Italian protection

Democracy cannot be built on ethnic discrimination
Father Sava (Janjic)

Father Sava (Janjic), the ‘cybermonk’ based in a Serb Orthodox monastery in Kosovo, laments the condition of human rights in the territory, and says that the building of an inclusive civil society is the only way to a lasting settlement.

Three years after NATO intervened to protect human rights in Kosovo, the situation in this Yugoslav province is far from normal. Normal integration is hardly possible because of serious security threats and overwhelming discrimination against ethnic minorities, as has been recently highlighted in a report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Elderly Serbs and children still cannot receive regular medical treatement in Albanian-run hospitals just because they belong to another ethnic group or speak a different language. Furthermore, Kosovo is the only part of Europe where Christianity is openly persecuted, and the clergy reviled and stoned. More than a hundred Christian Orthodox churches have been destroyed by Kosovo Albanian extremists since the war ended three years ago, and Serb cemeteries are being desecrated and destroyed almost daily.

Directly responsible for a rule of terror, which endures despite the international presence, are the remaining criminal structures which evolved from the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). These groups still enjoy the support of most Kosovo Albanian political leaders and parties. Recently, the UN police arrested several top-ranking officers of the former KLA under suspicion of organising the murder not only of Serbs and Roma, but also of dissenting Albanians. It emerged that the officers are close to the PDK and AAK, two political parties which evolved from the KLA after the war.

With Milosevic and his closest allies at the Hague Tribunal, many Serbs find it hard to understand how former KLA commanders, who are seriously suspected of war crimes, can be acceptable as ‘democratic political leaders’. This is seriously compromising the moral authority of current Kosovan institutions and discouraging Serbs from seeing them as their own.

Three years after the war Serbs can travel only in escorted convoys
Summer 2002

A complex history

The history of Kosovo is not one sided. Since the second half of the 19th century, it has been a region of confrontation between Serbian and Albanian nationalist ideas. Although Kosovo Albanians usually see themselves as the sole victims, the situation is far more complex. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the number of Serbs in Kosovo has been constantly diminishing while the population and economic power of the Kosovo Albanian population has increased.

In Tito’s Yugoslavia, Kosovo enjoyed a wide political and cultural autonomy as a province within Serbia; the 1974 Constitution made it de facto a republic. An Albanian-language university was set up in Pristina, and in the mid 1980s an ethnic Albanian politician served as the president of Yugoslavia’s rotating presidency. Nevertheless, Kosovo Albanians campaigned throughout the 1980s, demanding the status of a republic for Kosovo, while some of their leaders advocated secession from Yugoslavia and the creation of a Greater Albania.

Milosevic’s regime tried to prevent secession by imposing an undemocratic rule which inevitably ended in a civil war in which civilians, the majority of whom were Kosovo Albanians, suffered.

Unfortunately, after the war, former KLA structures were transformed into an intricate network of mafia and organised crime which is seriously impeding the development of the region. In only three years of international rule, Kosovo has become notorious throughout Europe for prostitution, white slavery and drugs trafficking. The Albanian mafia, which operates all around Western Europe, is using Kosovo and North Albania as its bases. According to the Guardian “Kosovo has become a ‘smugglers’ paradise’ supplying up to 40% of the heroin sold in Europe and North America”. Illegal cigarette factories have popped up all around the UN administered region, sometimes even close to KFOR military facilities.

Amongst the Western media reports during the war there were those detailing KLA links with Islamic militants from the Middle East. Osama bin Laden himself created a network which supported some KLA groups in Kosovo and Macedonia. With its predominantly Muslim background, Kosovo Albanian society, although not overtly Islamist, has nevertheless shown little tolerance for centuries-old Orthodox Christian monuments, which were devastated and obliterated after the war. Medieval shrines, which survived five centuries of Ottoman rule, now lie in ashes. Kosovo Albanians can hardly hope to join modern Europe and resist the alluring funds profered by Islamic fundamentalist circles through continued desecration of Orthodox Christian churches and monuments.

After the war, while international organisations reconstructed thousands of Kosovo Albanian homes and dozens of destroyed or damaged shrines, inexusably few funds went to rebuilding non-Albanian communities. Thousands of Serb homes were burned down by the KLA. Orthodox Christian churches are still lying in ruins or turned into public garbage dumps.

Desecrated Serb cemetery near Pec, October 2001

A multi-ethnic future

It would be unfair to say that there have been no improvements at all in Kosovo since the war. But it is also disturbing that this improvement, including primarily the return of war-time refugees, economic development and the building of institutions, has almost exclusively impacted on the Kosovo Albanian community. Although the current government is formally multi-ethnic, at present only the rhetoric of the Kosovo Albanian leadership has changed slightly, while intolerance is widespread at the local government level. This is why many Serbs see the pressure that the international community is putting on them to fully participate in Kosovo’s institutions as gestural, not a genuine opportunity for building a better future.

Kosovo Serbs feel that their rights, cultural heritage and indeed their lives can only be protected if their enclaves retain stronger links with Serbia proper and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). At the same time, areas of Kosovo with an Albanian majority should exercise a high level of self-determination, short of formal independence.

This could only be a temporary solution to ensure the physical, spiritual and cultural survival of the Serb people in an atmosphere of extreme intolerance and ethnic violence. But, with the improvement of human rights and the establishment of the rule of law, Kosovo might then become a more integrated society.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is the only legal document which defines Kosovo’s unclear status within FRY. Many of its provisions have not been implemented because the new Kosovo institutions stubbornly reject any dialogue with the new democratic authorities in Belgrade, and fail to provide basic freedoms and rights to the non-Albanian communities. As long as many Kosovo Albanian politicians and political parties continue to support their fellow Albanian separatists in southern Serbia and Macedonia, one can hardly expect the normalisation of relations with Belgrade and Skopje.

Kosovo cannot exist in the future as an isolated island, entirely dependent on Western taxpayers, but neither can it attain sustainable economic development and industrial production without regional integration and cooperation. Although many Kosovo Serbs are aware that direct administrative rule by Belgrade is not an appropriate model at present or in the future, they nevertheless strongly oppose the full independence of Kosovo. They know from their experience that in such an Albanian-dominated state there would be no place for non-Albanian communities.

An independent Kosovo would be a dangerous precedent which would destabilise not only the Balkans and its fragile peace but also other countries with similar problems. Instead, Kosovo Albanian leaders should understand that a national group does not have to be independent in its own nation-state, to have control over its own fate. If it did, Europe would look very different.

The priority for Kosovo should be the building of a stable, civil society which would respect human rights and freedoms regardless of one’s ethnic or religious background. Only thus will all its residents be able to overcome the anachronisms of the past. Meanwhile, as a result of the continuation of these old nationalist feuds, Kosovo is becoming the black hole of south-east Europe.

Images from UN and NATO run Kosovo Province
Kosovo is the only part of Europe where Christianity is persecuted