Kosovars growing weary of foreign bureaucracies, says Haroon Siddiqui
He is called the Gandhi of the Balkans, a pacifist in a land of ethnic cleansing that killed 300,000 people in the heart of Europe.
Ibrahim Rugova, president of Kosovo, speaks like the professor of linguistics and literature he was — until 1989 when he joined the movement to resist the murderous Serb nationalism of Slobodan MilosEvic.
Had it not been for the 1999 NATO bombing that forced the Serbs out and placed Kosovo under United Nations control, "I'd not have been alive and talking to you," Rugova told me in 2001. Today, his campaign for Kosovo's independence is about to bear fruit.
A U.N. report recommends that Kosovo begin the process of formally breaking away from Serbia and Montenegro, the leftover state of the former Yugoslavia, of which Kosovo is still nominally a province.
However, on the eve of this momentous moment, Rugova is down with lung cancer.
"He's undergoing therapy and improving daily and will lead the negotiations to independence," Skender Hyseni, his chief political adviser, says over the phone from Pristina.
The Pristina-Belgrade talks, expected to last a year, will have much to untangle.
The 1998-99 Serb attacks on the Muslim Kosovars left at least 10,000 dead and a million homeless. About 800,000 have since returned, including most of the 5,000 who had found refuge in Canada.
Kosovo exemplifies the Canadian idea of the world community overriding state sovereignty to intervene on humanitarian grounds. It also offers a sobering lesson in the difficulties of nation building by a myriad of multinational agencies.
Of the 30,000 NATO troops originally sent, 17,000 from 30 nations remain. The Kosovo Force (KFOR) is supposed to report to the U.N. Interim Administration Mission (Unmik) but doesn't. It operates on its own.
While KFOR keeps the peace, Unmik runs the civil administration, gradually devolving departments to Rugova and the elected national assembly.
A separate 6,000-strong police force, the Kosovo Police Service, under an international commissioner, keeps domestic law and order, or tries to. Then there's the Kosovo Protection Corps, successor to the Kosovo Liberation Army that was supposedly dismantled after 1999 but wasn't. This contingent of 5,000 is an army-in-waiting.
The three forces don't work together. Which is why a minor incident against the minority Serbs last year got out of hand. Mobs destroyed Serb homes and churches, leaving 19 dead and 4,000 homeless.
The European Union is responsible for most of the reconstruction and redevelopment, while a six-nation Contact Group — the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia — guides overall policy.
Meanwhile, much to the chagrin of most parties, the International Criminal Tribunal, which is trying Milosevic, among others, has indicted a former Kosovo guerrilla commander, Ramush Haradinaj, for crimes committed by his unit in the events leading up to 1999.
He was, however, popular and rose to become prime minister. The Hague tribunal was seen as scoring brownie points while being impotent in apprehending notorious Bosnian war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic. Embarrassed, the tribunal last week announced that Haradinaj, out on bail since June, could re-engage in politics.
The cumulative result of all of the above has been that six years after being welcomed as liberators, the various international contingents in Kosovo have outlived their welcome. The Kosovars see them as a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, which must be resisted as if it were an occupying force, even a benign one.
The deeper problem lies with the international community that has kept Kosovo in limbo. It must provide enough carrots to Belgrade to let Kosovo go (perhaps a promise of membership in the EU). It must ensure protection for the Serb minority.
Partitioning Kosovo is not in the cards. Doing so would be to condemn Bosnia, where the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats were cobbled together into an uneasy union under the 1995 Dayton Accords.
Nor is the idea of ethnically Albanian Kosovo joining Albania. The Kosovars themselves do not want that.
The best way forward is for Pristina and Belgrade to begin negotiations, under international supervision, with the goal of Kosovo becoming independent, as did Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia.
Haroon Siddiqui's column appears Thursday and Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org.