The following text is thel commentary on the speech of Mr. Veton Surroi at the Balkans Working Group Meeting at the United States Institue of Peace (June 10, 2002): Three Years Later: The State-Building in Kosovo.
or Simulation of Democracy
The presentation by Veton Surroi at the Balkans Working Group meeting in the US Institute of Peace under the title "Three Years Later: State-Building in Kosovo" (June 10) is a kind of disappointment which one could hardly expect from such a renowned public figure as Surroi. The entire presentation seems to follow quite a misleading pattern and ignores the most crucial problems which the Kosovan society is facing at the moment.
In fact, Surroi's message is quite concrete but excessively simplistic -- the situation in Kosovo is not quite good because the society cannot be stabilized without state prerogatives (i.e., independence). Almost all of Surroi's blame now falls on UNMIK, which is seen as being responsible for corruption, bad management, bureaucracy and failure to let "the Kosovars" build a stable society by themselves. Just few years ago it was Serbia which was solely blamed for all. Surroi still sees a significant part of responsibility in Belgrade, which is accused of supporting the parallel structures in North Mitrovica. In fact, for Surroi the sole reason why Kosovo's final status issue cannot be raised now, after three years, as promised by the former Secretary Albright at Rambouillet, is not the incapability of K/Albanian leaders to demonstrate political maturity and basic ethnic tolerance, but the alleged obstructive policies of UNMIK and Belgrade. Apparently K/Albanians still seek to justify themselves as perpetual victims of others and fail to demonstrate a minimum of self-criticism.
Listening to Surroi's eloquent presentation, one can get the impression that Kosovo is a place where only people like him live. In that case, all what he said would be quite appropriate because one could hardly doubt that Surroi could play a much more constructive role than many other K/Albanian leaders at this moment. But the problem is that the majority of Kosovo's "political elite" share rather unrefined visions and in reality do not leave Mr. Steiner much room to give them more authority in running the region. Granting more authority to predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovan structures while the human rights of non-Albanians (primarily Serbs and Roma) are being so grossly violated would be a serious mistake which would once and forever destroy all prospects of a multiethnic society. One should not overestimate the role of the new Kosovo Parliament because non-Albanian MP's are only a facade for non-existent multiethnicity. Was not one of the first important decisions by the Kosovo Parliament a direct attack on international borders and violation of UNSC Resolution 1244? Was it not a clear message to Serbs that their interests can be so easily disregarded?
Surroi nevertheless lobbies for more state prerogatives, ignoring the fact that such powers might be disastrous for the vulnerable Kosovan society for the time being. This appears to be the weakest point in Surroi's analysis, which might impress at first glance, but only as the personal reflection of a sophisticated intellectual who fails to understand the predominantly uncouth society in which he lives. Either Surroi lives in his own dream of "a civilized and European" Kosovo or he is intentionally trying to create a false picture of what is going on and lobbying for a long-awaited independence. It seems that many K/Albanians do not quite understand Surroi, either. His efforts to impose himself on the political scene have mostly failed so far because his ideas are still too remote for the political taste of the average Kosovo Albanian accustomed to lusty myths of blood and revenge. Therefore, Surroi can hardly be seen as an objective observer of the Kosovo's reality. His observations fit far better in the world of an academic analyst and could not serve as a reliable foundation for serious decision-makers.
Another, astonishing weak point in Surroi's presentation is his total indifference to human rights issues, which are seen both by UNMIK and Western Governments as a crucial benchmark on Kosovo's way towards the final status settlement. In fact, one gets the impression that Surroi thinks that the human rights problems, returns of IDP's and relations of Kosovo Albanians with other peoples in the region would magically be resolved once a Kosovo flag waves over the East River. Amazingly, this is the opinion of many K/Albanian politicians, among whom one can immediately perceive an enormous gap between their unrealistic wishes, and their ability and readiness to demonstrate responsible leadership. Surroi's answer to the question on returns is rather abstract and tends to create an impression that Serbs have given up on going back to Kosovo after all. He may be right that not many K/Serbs are ready to go back to the Province under the present conditions, but the reason for this is not their wish to stay in Serbia or Montenegro but the fact that K/Albanians have created an atmosphere of such overwhelming intolerance and discrimination against everything which is not ethnic Albanian. Of course, Surroi, as a devout "Kosovar", would hardly be expected to speak of Albanians and Serbs, but this is the reality which cannot be ignored. One cannot abstractly speak of "Kosovans" as long as their rights and freedom directly depend on their ethnicity, language and religion. As long as the national anthem of the Republic of Albania is played openly by the UCK fledglings in South Serbia and Macedonia, and Albanian national flags are waved all around in "Albanian inhabited lands", one can hardly ignore the reality that the Greater Albanian idea is still alive in some shape or form. Although Kosovo Albanian politicians do everything to make it clear that Great Albania is not on the agenda at the moment, the pulse of Albanian pride beats strongly among the common people, and it is they who chose their political leaders and dictate the dynamics of political life. The riotous spirit of UCK is still the strongest symbol in post-war Kosovo and hardly any politician, including relatively urbane Rugova, would dare question its moral authority.
The most recent positive signals from the new Kosovo Government have not demonstrated that anything essential has changed in K/Albanian visions except the rhetoric. Everyday news of desecrations of Serb Orthodox cemeteries and the toppling of the last Serb monuments in the Province, sometimes even by Kosovo's Ministers, give quite a different picture of the real situation on the ground. Despite "serious concern" for returns, there have been almost no preparations in terms of allocating new funds and repairing infrastructure for the returnees by either UNMIK or local K/Albanian municipal councils. The remaining Serbs in their enclaves do not feel any significant changes in their miserable lives despite rosy promises. Many younger Serbs decide to leave Kosovo while K/Albanian business crop up everyday on the recently sold Serbian-owned fields which surround relatively poor and isolated Serb villages. Calls for integration within the Albanian dominated society sound more and more like cynicism because three years after the war, few Serbs enjoy relative freedom of movement and they still have almost no free access to medical and educational institutions. A society in which elderly women cannot buy bread in a shop only because they belong to a different ethnic group and speak a different language can hardly encourage Serbs to believe in good will of their K/Albanian neighbors.
At the same time, Kosovo is overwhelmed by organized crime, corruption and mafia which are definitely not a result of UNMIK's failure to give the power to Albanians. In fact, without UNMIK the things would be far worse. It would be quite absurd to believe that giving more authority to Kosovan political leaders would stop the organized crime because it is directly or indirectly sponsored by many of those leaders themselves. An independent judiciary could hardly become effective in the atmosphere of prevailing Albanian tribal laws of silence and gjakmarrja (blood feud). Companies which operated with much fewer personnel in pre-war times can now hardly cope with the new challenges despite ample funds from the EU/UN and professional assistance. Even the most optimistic economic experts cannot easily believe that Kosovo can become self-sustainable state with the present mentality. That is why it is surprising indeed that Surroi uncritically overestimates the ability of Kosovan society to create a viable state with absolutely no state-running experience in its long history. The Kosovo region has always been a part of one state or another without a clearly distinct cultural and political identity. Without UNMIK, efforts to keep things under relative control would quickly fail and the Kosovan society would implode, like Albania a few years ago. One has to remember how substantial funds were sent to Kosovo during Tito's time, mostly from Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. At that time, Kosovo was not ruled by Serbia, being an autonomous province, but nevertheless, it was a bottomless hole. It is no secret that the largest portions of money went into private hands. How else could K/Albanians build such an opulent suburb like Dragodan despite the Serbian repression? Surroi is definitely aware of all this but it is hard to understand why he assumes that others are not.
One of Surroi's complaints is regarding too much administrative control over RTK (Kosovo's Radio Television). This might not sound positive in the U.S. but every international official in Kosovo is aware that RTK is often disseminating highly discriminatory news and programs which are almost exclusively made to suit Albanian ethnic interests. RTK, the recipient of a lot of international funds, should not be allowed to undermine the efforts of the UN Mission to create an atmosphere of tolerance and reconciliation. The same is true of other media as well as school curricula. In September 2001 the Serbian Orthodox Church strongly protested to UNMIK because of preposterous writings against the Church which appeared in a few leading K/Albanian newspapers, including Surroi's Koha Ditore. It is really disappointing that some renowned K/Albanian publishers and journalists strongly oppose administrative control of media while at the same time turn a blind eye towards the defamation of Serbs in those media. While dozens of newspapers were published and printed in pre-war Kosovo, not a single Kosovo Serb newspaper is printed in the Province at the moment, not to mention a television program. There is no need to speak of press distribution problems in face of the overwhelming lack of free movement. At the heart of this one-sided liberalism lies the perception of many K/Albanian leaders that the freedom of Albanians can develop freely at the expense of other discriminated communities. This is a totally misguided vision which will eventually drag Kosovo back to a monoethnic and totalitarian society. Free media without professionalism and responsibility may be disastrous weapons in hands of those who use their freedom to oppress others.
Finally, paraphrasing the last ICG report, Surroi pointed to North Mitrovica as an example of Belgrade's open involvement in Kosovo. One cannot deny that certain former Serbian structures survived in Kosovo after the war but it is really not Dr. Covic or the Serbian Government who are pushing the Serbs towards Belgrade but Kosovo Albanian leaders themselves. In a society in which Kosovo Albanians are not ready to offer anything but empty words (in the best case) to the Serb population, one can hardly expect Serbs to look towards Pristina as their capital and forget Belgrade. This is seen primarily in North Mitrovica which is the only urban center where Serbs can normally walk in the streets, go to a hospital, work and build their homes without fear of being killed or abducted for speaking a hated Slavic language. Many bridge watchers undoubtedly used to live on Belgrade funds in the time of Milosevic but they have long ago created their own sources of income through extortion, racket and smuggling and are less and less tolerated by the Mitrovica Serbs themselves. Many Serbs there would now prefer to see Serb Kosovo Police officers instead. The common Serb people there have, nevertheless, a legitimate right not to allow themselves to be expelled from Kosovo and they should not simply be identified with the agenda of the bridge watchers and some bullheaded political figures behind them who act on behalf of their personal interests. In short, ethnically divided Mitrovica is a problem, but a much less serious problem than an ethnically clean Pristina, Prizren or Pec. Even the latest ICG report had to admit that North Mitrovica is, paradoxically, one of most multiethnic areas in today's Kosovo. One can hardly expect to resolve Mitrovica problem by taking it out of the Kosovo wide context.
It is still not quite clear whether Surroi's one-sided analysis comes from his academic aloofness or whether he just came to Washington D.C. to lobby for independence, presenting Kosovo as the American success story. Besides many crucial benchmarks which should precede the final status settlement, Surroi, not surprisingly, mentions U.S. involvement as the most decisive. Of course, no one can deny the importance of the U.S. role in the process but hinting that all things can be resolved in Washington D.C. despite lack of progress in human rights, multiethnicity, regional dialogue, etc., gives a clear idea of the present K/Albanian strategy. This point makes the entire Surroi's analysis much less independent and objective in the eyes of any expert on the Balkan issues.
Surroi's claim that Kosovo is "the most pro-American society in Europe, despite its Muslim background", is puzzling and even humorous. It is not quite clear whether he meant that a pro-American sentiment is better demonstrated by following the American patterns of democracy and freedom or by waving U.S. flags above gas stations and displaying "Winston" billboards along bumpy Kosovo roads.
Commentary by Fr.