decade-long leadership in Kosovo
By Jan Oberg
9 January 2002
Ten years ago, it was not impossible to see...
Ten years ago,
the Transnational Future Foundation's conflict-mitigation
team started working with Dr. Ibrahim Rugova and the Democratic
League of Kosovo (LDK) people in the belief that (a) they
were the best dialogue partners Belgrade could hope to
get, and (b) they were the only political leadership in ex-Yugoslavia
that advocated non-violence, albeit pragmatic. I have no
evidence that they have ever read a line by, say, Gandhi.
We participated in formulating characteristics of the independent
Kosova they aimed at: it should be a region with no military,
open border to all sides and politically neutral. We helped
devise negotiation strategies and facilitated the only
dialogue between them and governments in Belgrade between
1992 and 1996. The foundation produced a concrete plan
for a negotiated solution. See Preventing war in Kosovo (1992)
and UNTANS (1996).
Our team quickly learned to respect the
complexity and difficulties of the Kosovo conflict. We
were privileged to repeatedly
listen to the deep-held views and animosities among various
Albanians, Serbs and other ethnic groups in Kosovo as well
as to many and different parties in Belgrade. We knew that
the international community played with fire by not attending
to this conflict and tried to alert it. This shaped the
basis for our later scepticism about the faked 'negotiations'
Rambouillet and NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia including
Kosovo. A committed, impartial and competent international
intervention could have mitigated the conflict in the early
1990s. And even if this opportunity was missed, bombings
would not produce peace, trust, tolerance, reconciliation
or a willingness to live and work together.
The West chose
Kosovo's militants as allies instead
ten years ago, Dr. Rugova was the undisputed leader of the
Kosovo-Albanians. He received a lot of lip service
during missions to Western capitals. The reality was that
Western governments in typical 'covert operations' from 1992-93
helped create, equip and train hard-liners behind his back,
who later became Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA or UCK. Dr.
Rugova was marginalized and the US in particular played with
the KLA, which at the time was officially categorized by
US diplomats as "a terrorist organization".
Later on, NATO performed the role of KLA's airforce and the
civilian UN mission (UNMIK) and the military KFOR-NATO missions
were set up. These missions officially declared UCK disbanded
and illegal but let it continue operating partly as UCK/KLA
and partly as the civilian Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC).
The internationals consistently kept on allying themselves
more with the leaders of the KLA, (Hacim Thaci, for instance)
and KPC (Agim Ceku, for instance) whilst de facto accepting
the illegal violence and mafia-based power structure established
by them immediately after the war throughout the province.
other words, Rugova and LDK were marginalized during the
period when a negotiated solution could have been found,
then during the Rambouillet process, then after the bombing
and, finally, after the municipal elections when LDK won
a landslide victory but did not get proportional backing
by the international administration. As the standard response
runs among the internationals: "we want to control and
democratize the hardliners and keep them in the process,
therefore we cannot also antagonize them". Dr. Kouchner,
the former head of the UN mission (UNMIK) was instrumental
in institutionalizing this cozy Western relationship with
warlords and mafia leaders. Since July 1999, this policy
has yielded absolutely no results, except ethnic cleansing,
destruction of democratic potentials, more mafia economy
and criminality, and two KLA incursions, one into Southern
Serbia and one into Macedonia.
UNMIK must now stop its vain
courting of warlords
perspective, Ibrahim Rugova is an extraordinary figure
in Balkan politics. He has survived Western and Albanian
extremist attacks as a credible, however somewhat weak,
political leader who has no blood on his hands like all the
the international community. Although Rugova's LDK party
got less support than in the local elections and did not
achieve a majority of its own in the elections to the new
Assembly a couple of weeks ago, it is, beyond all doubt,
the leading and most experienced political force in today's
Kosovo. Compared with other Albanian political leaders
such as Hacim Thaci and Rasmush Haradinaj, Rugova is in a
of his own, and he has moral integrity. What does this
imply? It implies that the UN and NATO-KFOR must now, finally,
the will of the people and give proportional support to
the man who is most popular, a decent intellectual and who
an advocate of nonviolence. It's time for the head of the
UN mission, Mr. Haekkerup, and other internationals to
stop the vain courting of former warlords as democratic peacemakers.
They are not. The US and the EU must finally recognize
simple truth that they consistently made the wrong choices
during the 1990s and caused much of the hurt, harm and
hatred in today's Kosovo/a.
Interview with Dr. Rugova
I last met Dr. Rugova in July at
his home. He is deeply grateful to NATO, of course ,and
wants some kind of KFOR force to
remain for quite a while in Kosovo, but with a different
mandate than that of US SC 1244. He puts the historical
blame on the Serbs and Milosevic and is happy that the province
is no longer run from Belgrade.
Rugova repeatedly emphasizes
that independence for Kosova should come sooner rather
than later; he believes it will
make it easier to build institutions, create law and order
and open a faster road to membership in the EU and other
international organizations. He merely thinks that he and
the international community differ in terms of timing.
Admittedly, he has devoted his life to it but I also feel
that the insistence
on 'independence now' is a somewhat tired program statement.
When we leave the question of status aside, Dr. Rugova
is highly aware of all that needs to be done in the province
- whether independent or not. We talk at length about the
need for economic development, institution building, local
security and police, psychological healing, and finding
identity as a society, as a potential future country. Rugova
knows that corruption and the mafia must be eradicated
and points out that there is better border control now than
This July morning he hopes that LDK will get 60-70 per
cent of the votes in November. He is fully aware that there
other players coming up and that democracy is by no means
around the corner in Kosovo.
Reconciliation and the future
What about reconciliation?
I ask him. "I want the Serbs
to come back, for sure, but it cannot happen before there
is security. There has to be in an environment of safety.
I am glad there are Serbs in the Transitional Council, I
want them to live and move freely in Kosovo. But we must
also get our [Albanian] prisoners of war back from Belgrade
and we do not want criminals to come back here, of course.
I do see multi-ethnicity coming, but it will have to take
Here he points out that Albanians know about
reconciliation, not the least because they stopped the tradition
revenge among themselves in 1990. He also tells me that he
would consider any proposal for an international truth and
reconciliation commission. Finally, I ask him whether his
independent Kosova shall still be non-military, neutral and
have an open border to all sides. "Well, after all we
have been through I think we either have to have a small
military force -perhaps- or some kind of international protection".
Dr. Rugova is uncompromising when it comes to the long-range
goal: independence. He is a moderate, however, when choosing
his means. During my many meetings over the last 9 years
I have never seen hate in his eyes or heard aggressive talk.
He is a nationalist but too much of a humanist to have chauvinist
leanings. His career in Balkan politics is unique, and he
would rather think and wait until tomorrow than hastily do
something that later will be regretted.
To learn anything
we should ask: "what if?"
help wondering about the answers to the obvious "what
ifà" questions: What would have happened if the
West had supported him and the parallel non-violent civil
society he and LDK spearheaded ten years ago? What if Western
governments had allied themselves with the comparatively
most democratic political structure, instead of boosting
the militants, extremists and economic criminals? How much
suffering would the locals have escaped? What would Macedonia
look like today? How much less hatred would there be between
Serbs and Albanians? And how would arms-exporting governments
and private arms profiteers have felt if non-violence had
led to a solution and even an independent Kosovo? Could the
United States have built the biggest military base since
the Vietnam War in Kosovo if the whole issue had been solved
by political and other non-violent means?
We shall never know
the answer but one thing is crystal clear -and totally
missed by Western leaders and media: ten years
of non-violence has proven to be stronger and has a broader
base among the large majority of Kosovo than violence.
Copyright © 2002
by Jan Oberg, TFF, and the News Insider
Oberg is the director of TFF. Copyright notice
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