Presumed for Dead - A True Patriot
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia--There are few ethnic Albanians who enrage Serbian nationalists
more than Adem Demaci, and many would love to see him
dead. Yet he refuses to leave Kosovo or even go into hiding. Demaci, until recently
the longtime political leader of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, is not only alive
and well here in the capital of Kosovo but walks the streets each day. He buys his
vegetables from farmers at a local market and shows no fear amid the war-weary police and
soldiers he passes on the way. Demaci has found his own peace in this province of
Serbia, Yugoslavia's main republic, by living with the enemy--even when arrested and
threatened with shooting, as he was for a second time Tuesday.
That Demaci stays put and survives is a surprise to many, not least of
all given NATO's assertions that Yugoslav forces are intent on emptying Kosovo of ethnic
Albanians. He is courageous enough to take shots at all sides in the war.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's biggest mistake in the conflict
over Kosovo, he said, was that the alliance "chained its hands" by repeatedly
threatening airstrikes if Yugoslavia did not accept a peace accord protecting the
province's ethnic Albanians. The threats didn't work, forcing the alliance to launch
airstrikes just to save face, Demaci argued. "All this was done so clumsily,
like when an elephant enters a porcelain shop," he added. "You cannot first say
you will not send ground troops and then start bombing. That way, you not only allow the
other side to survive but you are also prolonging the agony."
Demaci, who declines to give his age, lives with his 70-year-old sister,
who refuses to leave Kosovo without him. She handles the cooking, takes care of the house
and sometimes keeps Demaci company during his walks.
He quit after criticizing KLA guerrilla leaders such as Hashim Thaqi for
accepting a peace agreement being negotiated in Rambouillet, France. The plan called for
Kosovo to be given interim self-rule within Serbia for three years under the protection of
about 30,000 NATO troops. Earlier during the Rambouillet talks, Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright phoned Demaci thinking she could persuade him to get the KLA to
compromise. He reportedly hung up on her.
In the early days of NATO's airstrikes, Serbian police, soldiers and
paramilitary forces rampaged through the capital and forced thousands of ethnic Albanians
to leave on trains and buses. As the chaos spread across Kosovo, NATO officials
insisted that several ethnic Albanian leaders had been killed; since so many Serbs despise
Demaci, he was widely presumed to be among the dead.
He continues living quietly in his neighborhood in Pristina, free to go
where he wants and speak as he chooses. He agreed to the interview on Tuesday only
if he could first do his morning shopping at the vegetable market. With his bag full
of onions, butter, lettuce and radishes, Demaci sat on a bench outside an apartment
building in central Pristina and explained why he stayed when so many others fled,
offering a philosophy that seemed to mix fatalism and Eastern religion. It should
seem strange only to those still bound to their egos, people who see themselves as
separate from the universe rather than merely pieces of the energy that exists in all
things, he explained. Some call that energy God, others Allah or something else
altogether, but accepting that you are part of it is the key to beating fear, Demaci said.
"We are on our way to perfection, and in that process there are clashes, there
are collisions. There is fire, wind and such. That is how everything is cleansed.
Unfortunately, this part of the Balkans is the most backward in this sense," he said.
"People in Europe are laughing at the fact that we're now beating and
butchering each other like yellow ants because they have forgotten about these
problems," he went on. "Unfortunately, we have to get through this disease in
such a tragic way." Even though about 80,000 ethnic Albanians still live in
Pristina--by some estimates, half the number who were here before the NATO bombing
began--Demaci turns heads when he walks through the city, stopping frequently to chat with
friends or supporters who weren't sure he was still alive. As Demaci spoke about the ways
of the universe and war on the wooden bench, several police and regular soldiers walked by
without paying him much attention. But 40 minutes into the conversation, three
reserve soldiers came along and were so angry at seeing Demaci with two reporters that
they led all three off to a nearby command post on suspicion of spying for the KLA.
Finally, Demaci walked off into central Pristina alone, an elderly man dressed elegantly in a suit and tie, a brown trench coat and silk scarf, bringing home the vegetables for his salad.