The surrender of Kosovo's prime minister is an act of real courage
Friday March 11, 2005
Occasionally, the greatest grounds for optimism are that nothing has happened. Kosovo this week provides a good illustration.
On Wednesday, its prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted by the war crimes tribunal and surrendered himself to stand trial in The Hague. Hundreds of extra troops were rushed to Kosovo in expectation of nationalist riots in protest at his arrest, but at the time of writing none has materialised. In part, this must be a result of the dignity of Haradinaj's appeal for his people to accept that it was the right decision for the honour of their country.
I had a number of contacts with the Kosovo Liberation Army before and during Nato's intervention to halt the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovans. Its fighters undoubtedly demonstrated real courage in taking on the formidable Serb military machine with no artillery, armour or air cover to match their opponents. But they were as ruthless as any other guerrilla force in history, and it would be naive to imagine that in the middle of the vicious ethnic cleansing by Slobodan Milosevic they made a neat distinction between Serb combatants and Serb civilians.
It is therefore all the more to the credit of Haradinaj that he has made the transition from KLA field commander to advocate of tolerance. The irony of his indictment is that Kosovo has made more progress under him on key standards such as minority rights and conditions for the return of Serb refugees than in the previous five years.
By resigning as prime minister and giving himself up, Haradinaj has presented a sharp contrast with the conduct of the governments in Croatia and Serbia, who are still to hand over their most notorious indictees. General Ante Gotovina, who commanded the violent expulsion of Serbs from Croatia, is still at large four years after his indictment. Far from arresting him, the Croatian defence ministry continues to pay him a war pension, while the interior ministry claims it cannot find him.
Belgrade has adopted a policy of permitting indictees to surrender themselves voluntarily but refuses to pursue those who decline to do so. This has left at large Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, who are wanted for their role in the murder of 8,000 Bosnian civilians at Srebrenica, which was the most infamous massacre of those blood-soaked years. Both remain concealed by the surviving network of aggressive nationalists and mafias that Milosevic welded into a support base for his regime.
Karadzic is probably the last person whom Milosevic currently wants to see arrive in The Hague. They were hand in glove in plotting the Bosnian war, and his evidence could bring to a close the epic length of Milosevic's trial at The Hague in a way that the former Serbian president would not find comfortable. While Milosevic was in power, Karadzic was protected by a couple of hundred armed guards, but it was never clear if they were there to defend him, or to assassinate him if he looked at any risk of being arrested by the international forces.
Bizarrely the two first met when Karadzic acted as psychiatrist to Milosevic, but in this case the patient seems to have had greater influence on his therapist's mental state than the other way round. I had some insight into why Milosevic might have needed a psychiatrist when I spent a long afternoon vainly trying to reason with him to withdraw from Kosovo and avoid the need for military action. At the time I felt deeply frustrated that I had been unable to get him to grasp that we were serious, but I subsequently heard he had spent the rest of the day blind drunk on brandy, which encouraged me to believe I had been more successful than I first thought.
Milosevic may be out of power, but the Balkans will not be free of his legacy unless it confronts the violent ethnic hatred he promoted. Otherwise, in the words of Veton Surroi, one of the new non-nationalists to be found in the Balkans, "the war continues in people's minds". That is why the British government is right to hang tough in demanding that all countries of the region cooperate with the war crimes tribunal. There must be no culture of impunity for those who did not believe killing was a crime if the victims belonged to a different ethnic group.
It is equally important that there is seen to be a process of holding to account individuals for their personal responsibility. Without it we will never break the cycle of conflict in which whole ethnic groups are held collectively guilty for the acts of a few. That is what distinguishes justice from revenge.
Haradinaj has done a greater service to Kosovo by encouraging his people to accept the rule of international law than any action he could have taken by staying in office. As a result, Kosovo may now be nearer to international acceptance of eventual independent status. Conversely Serbia will find it more difficult to resist that outcome if it persists in failing to demonstrate the same degree of cooperation with the tribunal.