(Susan Manuel, the former UNMIK spokeswoman, speaks about the UN Mission in Kosovo, its successes and failures)
I'll definitely come back
By Dragana Zecevic
Soon Susan Manuel will leave the post of UNMIK spokeswoman in Kosovo. Ms. Manuel arrived for the scheduled interview in the Kukribar Cafe in downtown Pristina across the road from the former Yugoslav Army headquarters before me. We were late for the interview as a result of the traffic jam resulting from the visit of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Pristina on the same day. Ms. Manuel met us on the street in front of the cafe. She agreed to answer all questions, adding: You must understand that I'm still working for UN so I have to retain a certain diplomacy.
When did you first arrive from the US to Yugoslavia?
My life in the Balkans began as far back as 1994 with my arrival in Croatia, more precisely, to Slavonia. I lived there for about a year. Then I was in Bosnia for about two months, and then I spent two and a half years in Belgrade, from where I went to Pakistan. Leaving Belgrade was really very difficult for me. I was depressed to be leaving the city to which I had strong emotional ties.
The bombing of Yugoslavia and Belgrade followed soon afterward. What was your opinion of it?
When the air raids began, I spoke with friends in your country and tried to keep up their spirits. I wrote letters to US Congressmen in opposition to the bombing. In April I was sent to Macedonia where I saw refugees from Kosovo crossing the Albanian border every day. It was a very strange situation. During the day I watched these people crossing the border and during the night I watched the planes that were going to bomb Serbia. For me there were a lot of mixed emotions. Then I got a call from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who told me to go to Kosovo as the chief UN spokesperson.
When did you arrive in Kosovo and what were your first impressions?
I arrived here on June 13, 1999 but one week later I was replaced. (When asked why she was replaced, she replied that she did not know.) However, I found a way of resuming my job as spokesperson for the organization where I still work. As far as my first impressions here, they were very confusing. Serbs and Roma houses were burning on all sides and I saw corpses in the street. An enormous number of journalists flocked to Pristina and everyone was staying in the Grand Hotel. There was no water or electricity, sewage was flooding the toilets; in short, living conditions were extremely poor. It is difficult to talk at all about that period because everything was very chaotic. The Albanians were returning to their homes. They were throwing firecrackers, celebrating all night. They were incredibly happy. That was nice but they were also killing people. I remember there were some Serbs who remained living in downtown Pristina under the protection of the UNMIK police. For a while they resisted the pressure of the majority but nevertheless, eventually they were forced to leave.
Do you remember any other events going on in Kosovo at that time?
I remember the massacre in Staro Gracko, a village near Lipljan. It was in July 1999 when 14 Serbs were killed in the fields. I also remember well when a Bulgarian was killed in downtown Pristina. He was murdered only because someone asked him what time it was and he answered in Serbian. He was attacked by a mob from the street. I also remember the brutal murder of Professor Basic under similar circumstances. It was a real nightmare.
Could you have prevented events such as this from happening?
As UNMIK we were responsible but at the same time we were also powerless because these people were attacked by mobs. Over the course of time the situation changed but what occurred was a complete separation of the communities. As a result I'm not sure we have progressed much in changing things. For example, the University of Pristina is open but there are no students from national minorities attending it.
Slavic languages are not taught there, not even Russian. We have a hospital where only Albanians are treated; the others don't dare to go there. There are Serb enclaves but the Serbs still lack complete freedom of movement. I think, however, that the situation with respect to movement will improve when the Serbs get Kosovo license plates for their vehicles. Some people say that it is much better here but I'm not sure to what extent they are accurate.
Could you have done more about protection of Serbs and their return to their centuries-old homes?
I think that the return of Serbs to Kosovo could have been encouraged much more than it has been. I remember, for example, an incident when some Ashkalis who returned to their homes were killed. This crime horrified the international community. We were afraid that something similar would reoccur. I think that many of us, including KFOR, had to intervene before certain incidents happened, for example, before the killing of passengers on the Nis Express bus near Podujevo. KFOR intelligence could have foreseen that something like this would happen, perhaps not on that very day but certainly they should have found the perpetrators. In conclusion, I think we could have done more but I'm not sure how.
KFOR is justifying the removal of checkpoints and the reduction of troops in Kosovo with claims that the security situation is improving. However, it is a fact that Serbs here are still not safe.
Two years ago we had more than 40,000 troops in Kosovo and now there are some 30,000. The withdrawal of troops is directly dependent on the politics of the countries from which they come. In order to justify the withdrawal of their troops, they have to say that the situation has improved. And they justify this claim with statistics such as, for example, a decrease in the number of murders. But the Serbs can refute them and say, yes, there are fewer murders because we are living in our enclaves. Albanian political leaders could greatly influence the security situation. They should call for tolerance, understanding and common life.
What is your vision of Kosovo and Metohija in the future?
I think that UNMIK and some individuals, such as Prime Minister Rexhepi, have good intentions and that they want multiethnicity but the irony is that the Albanians desperately want an independent Kosovo. At this time it is difficult to say what will prevail. We are currently in the phase of assessing where people are part of the political solution. Maybe that is why some people think we are working for the Albanians but nevertheless, the international community is working for a multiethnic Kosovo. Whether it will become multiethnic in the end I don't know. That is why I think there should be a neutral government that would demonstrate its neutrality in practice.
In your opinion what is the role of Belgrade in resolving the Kosovo issue?
I think that it is increasingly constructive; however, as long as Belgrade concerns itself only with the Kosovo Serbs and not with all people, and as long as Serbs in Kosovo subjugate themselves to Belgrade we will continue to have an unresolved situation.
The Albanians want independence; the Serbs are opposed; and Kosovo is a protectorate of the international resolution and Resolution 1244. What's the solution?
I don't know exactly how but I know that Carl Bildt recently said that the way out would be one that will not satisfy many people.
Does that mean that the solution is already known?
Perhaps Mr. Bildt, whom I've already mentioned, has a potential solution but I don't know what it is.
At the end of our discussion, can you please tell me what are your impressions as you depart from Kosovo and Yugoslavia?
Different than when I left Belgrade in 1999 because my emotional ties with Kosovo are not as strong. I think that the job I've been doing for three and a half years was very challenging in the intellectual sense but in many situations I was extremely frustrated because people on both sides manipulated the truth. At the same time, I've met wonderful people, both Serbs and Albanians, and I'll definitely come back. Soon I'll leave for New York, where I have a new job in the UN as head of the Peace and Security Office in the Department of Public Information. I think that in this organization there's a lot of bureaucracy but that it's intentions are good. If that weren't the case, I wouldn't work for it.
I think that the life of the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo is best illustrated in the example of the Government. Despite existing problems I hope that they'll continue to work together. I think that Prime Minister Rexhepi is sincerely working for a multiethnic Kosovo but many around him are opposed to this. Nevertheless I believe that the middle class of civilian society will be the ones deciding on common life, said Susan Manuel.
GOOD AND BAD MOMENTS
Susan Manuel says she experienced both good and bad moments in Yugoslavia.
I was sitting in a restaurant in Belgrade. I was approached by some man who told me that all Serbs hate me. I was very hurt by this because I have very deep and sincere experiences with Serbs, said Manuel. But I'll never forget a visit to the Montenegrin seaside. It was right after one of my interviews for "Novosti". I was approached by a complete stranger who greeted me and invited me to lunch.
I'd like to tell all the people in Kosovo to stop hating each other and all the politicians to stop fanning their hate. I know that there are still many sincere friendships between Serbs and Albanians but people don't dare to demonstrate them publicly.
I can't say at what speed the return of displaced Serbs and non-Albanians from Kosovo will take place. The biggest obstacle is that others have occupied their houses and apartments. It will take quite some time to resolve this problem. I think that people are returning to their native villages much more quickly than to the cities, said Susan Manuel.
(Translation S. Lazovic, KDN. Translation was made with comparison of the original English transcript provided to the Info Service ERP KIM by a journalist who interviewed Susan Manuel)