"Moderate" Leader with Extremist Goals
17 April 2000
Are a Divided People
Interview with Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova
Renate Flottau, Olaf Ihlau
Spiegel) Mr. Rugova, where will Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic start the next war in the Balkans?
Belgrade can do so in the entire region -- in Bosnia,
Macedonia, in Kosovo, and naturally in Montenegro. A dramatic
development cannot be ruled out there if Montenegro insists on its
Spiegel) Belgrade constantly announces that it will recapture
Kosovo. Is a confrontation with NATO that seems so absurd conceivable?
Belgrade continues to be a military power; NATO has not
destroyed the Serbian army. Milosevic's main objective is Kosovo's
lasting destabilization to prevent our democratization and an improvement
of the economy. New riots might break out in southern Serbia, where
100,000 Albanian are still living. Yet Kosovska Mitrovica is also a
permanent trouble spot.
Spiegel) Not only Belgrade is playing with fire. Extremists
of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) are also active in southern
We are trying to stop this kind of provocation so as not
to supply Belgrade with an excuse for an armed operation. Some
extremists among our ranks apparently do not assess the possible
consequences of such actions in the right manner. In fact, Milosevic
is planning to ethnically cleanse southern Serbia. The
Thessaloniki-Belgrade corridor, the railway line are running through
this zone, and it also provides access to the Aegean.
Spiegel) If Montenegro should become independent, this would
mean the end of Yugoslavia. Would this not also open up an opportunity
for Kosovo, which is still "part of Yugoslavia" according
international law, to become independent?
I beg your pardon, we are already outside Yugoslavia....
Spiegel) ...but not on according to UN resolution 1244.
The resolution was a big compromise to end the war in
Kosovo. Yet it does not rule out future independence. The doors are
open. Anything other than independence is inconceivable for us.
Spiegel) But what will happen if the international community
insists that Kosovo must remain part of Yugoslavia?
Then there will be a new war. All of us,
the people of
Kosovo, would take to the barricades. And there would also be political
circles in Kosovo demanding that all Albanians should be united in one
sate. In Macedonia, there are 35 percent Albanians at present, and
their number is also increasing in Montenegro. We are a divided people.
Spiegel) Would that be a step toward a Greater Albania?
A confederation with Albania is an option for the future.
At present, the population of Kosovo is only interested in an
independent state -- to be realized yesterday rather than tomorrow.
Spiegel) The Albanians might be the largest ethnic group in
the Balkans in the next decades. This scares numerous people.
This development is possible. Yet it need not be threat
to other ethnic groups in the Balkans. Once we are independent, we will
all live like friends -- everybody in their own homes -- also with our
Serbian neighbors. In addition, economic progress will dampen our high
Spiegel) It would hardly be possible for an independent Kosovo
to survive economically.
Kosovo's economy and infrastructure would naturally have
to be rebuilt with Western aid. We had an unemployment rate of 80
percent before the war because of the Serbian reprisals, and our
resources were exhausted by the Serbs. Yet we used to produce 600,000
metric tons of corn and wheat, we have the largest lignite resources
Europe, and large quantities of minerals. We are also autonomous as
as energy supply is concerned.
Spiegel) One year ago, you demanded that Kosovo should have
its own army. Is NATO not sufficient for your defense?
NATO will stay here forever, maybe with a different
mandate. We want to be integrated in the Atlantic Alliance. But we
should also have our own army so that we can protect ourselves against
Spiegel) During the war, you promised security to the Serbian
population of Kosovo and urged them to stay. Now the Serbs are being
driven away brutally.
Basically, we Albanians are tolerant. Yet there were, of
course, traumata and frustrations when our displaced population saw
destruction and the mass graves when they returned. Only recently did
we find out how many volunteers of the Belgrade regime came to Kosovo,
committed atrocities for 10 days and then left again. Many Albanians
are still looking for their relatives. Several thousand are apparently
still in Serbian prisons. Yet there was never a campaign aimed at
killing Serbs wherever they should be found.
Spiegel) The main task of KFOR (Kosovo Force) is now
apparently the protection of the Serbs.
A total of 100,000 Serbs are still living in Kosovo.
Before the war, their number was 200,000. In addition, there were
military officials, police, and administrative officials.
Unfortunately, the local Serbs in Kosovo were also involved in numerous
massacres. In an independent Kosovo, the Serbs could decide for
themselves whether they want to remain citizens of Kosovo.
Spiegel) Do you expect an apology from the Serbs?
It would be an initial step toward calming down the
situation. The moderate Serbs in Kosovo have already signaled that
they are ready for that. Yet I do not expect a sign of repentance
Spiegel) Why don't you yourself set a sign and attend the
funeral of Serbs who have been killed?
Our population would not yet understand that.
Spiegel) Your image was tarnished one year ago when your
meeting with Milosevic became known during the war. Your UCK
counterpart Thaci called you a traitor who should be executed.
Do still enjoy the confidence of the population?
The population never questioned my behavior. This was
only primitive propaganda from Tirana and Belgrade. If presidential
elections were to be held tomorrow, I would win again. The Kosovars
appreciate valuable things.
DOES US GOVERNMENT SAY?
Kosovo independence unlikely, State Dept. official says
Albania, April 21 (UPI) -- Soon after a top Kosovo
leader warned that ethnic Albanians will go to war unless the province
becomes independent, the State Department said the United States doesn't
The leader, Ibrahim Rugova, who is considered a moderate, was
speaking in an interview to Koha Jane, Albania's largest newspaper.
"For us, anything other than independence is unacceptable,"
told the newspaper.
Rugova said he considered U.N. Security Council Resolution
1244 a "big compromise." He ruled out the possibility of Kosovo
with Yugoslavia and said if the international community were to insist
this, there would be another war in Kosovo.
"If it happens (Kosovo as part of Yugoslavia) then we will
have a new war," Rugova said. "All of us, the whole of Kosovo,
barricades," he said.
In Washington, however, State Department Spokesman James. P.
Rubin said the United States sees the province's future unfolding in
different way. The issue should be resolved at the appropriate time,
the views of the international community and the people of Kosovo are
taken into account in some diplomatic process, he said.
Rugova's statements are seen as surprising because of his
earlier stance of peaceful resistance. He has been described as the
This stance, however, has not satisfied all of Kosovo. The
Kosovo Liberation Army's emergence was seen as a reaction against his
peaceful resistance and Belgrade's policy toward ethnic Albanians in
Meanwhile, his main opponent for power, the KLA leader Hashim
Thaci, who is seen as radical, is trying to portray a more moderate
A few days ago, Koha Jane quoted him as saying he did not mind
an interim status for Kosovo; a move that would postpone any moves for
"An interim status is not in accordance with Kosovo's calls
for independence," he said. "But it is a better alternative
continuation of a state without any kind of status," Thaci said.
Rugova was the self-proclaimed president of Kosovo from May
1992 until January 2000.