THE HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE
And now to the issue of independent Kosova. Let me start out by saying that my colleagues and I conducted several long conversations between 1992 and 1996 with moderate Kosovo-Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, to make the idea of an independent republic more concrete and present various models and ways to achieve it to government circles in Belgrade. At the time such an independent republic had already been declared after a referendum and our personal sympathy for the movement Dr. Rugova headed was based on two facts: the utterly clear repression of the Albanians in the province and that the Kosovo-Albanians were the only actors in ex-Yugoslavia who embraced the idea of non-violent struggle. Under no circumstance would they achieve a de facto and de jure free Kosova by means of a new war like in Croatia and Bosnia.
They were not "Gandhians" and actually never trained the population in non-violent methods. They were pragmatic and should some, like the US or NATO, be willing to come around and liberate them through military action they would not mind, they said with a touch of self-irony. The concept of a state had three features: a) absolutely neutrality vis-a-vis Europe, b) open borders toward all, and c) it would not acquire an army. This was a vision, of course, that a peace researcher could only sympathise with.
Would it join Albania? At the time, this was not the main issue for them. We even discussed that an agreement with Belgrade perhaps could include a provision not to raise that issue within the next twenty years or so - something we knew was important to Belgrade where the fear/opposition against exactly that scenario was no less strong than the fear/opposition against independence itself.
We at TFF saw it as our task to try to explain to the leadership in Belgrade that a state with clearly defined characteristics and realised through a negotiation and transition process might be better than continued repression, mutual fear and hatred and - eventually - warfare. The economic and political costs of keeping Kosovo in Serbia by force were indeed remarkable. We also had the opportunity to carry messages and report back to Belgrade about the repression in the province. It must be pointed out that many Serbian leaders had spent much less time in Kosovo than we had and had little first-hand knowledge about the region in general and the attitudes of the Albanians, stereotyping on both sides being very strong. (In the beginning we were surprised to meet so many Serbs who spoke at great length and depth about their love for Kosovo, but had no desire to go there or had only passed through perhaps twenty years ago with their parents).
We also clearly said that Rugova was about the best player we thought they could hope to deal with. TFF published its report "Preventing War in Kosovo" (1992), an analysis with a series of possible steps, big and small, that could be taken. It stated that the only thing that would not go well in the long run was for the parties to stick to their present positions and refuse direct, serious dialogues &endash; which both did at the time.
In Kosovo we saw it as our task to say: "Look, you stand quite firmly on a maximalist goal: full independence and no less. We understand your motives, but can you define that goal and the process towards it so creatively that it becomes acceptable also for Serbia and for the Serbs and all other nationalities living in this future Kosova?" No easy equation, of course!
What we knew was that a peaceful solution could not be implemented without some kind of negotiations, with or without foreign mediation. Belgrade accepted NGO involvement, such as TFF's, even at the highest level, but not foreign government involvement.
We also knew that the Kosovo-Albanian side would have to give away something at such a table given that they had already proclaimed a state without prior negotiation and given that it was recognised only by Albania. We jokingly said to Dr. Rugova that that was the nature of LDK's "policy of symbolics" and I believe he knew that.
What was the situation? Beyond doubt, the human rights violations and the overall repression of Albanians were manifest. As visitors we were checked repeatedly, we were also arrested and interrogated by Serbian police; books given to us by Dr. Rugova were confiscated by Serb police, suitcases searched at the province border in a manner I have not experienced anywhere else. One early morning a young Albanian was shot to death outside the police HQ behind the Grand Hotel where we stayed, a place only few Albanians frequented, at the time also hosting a recruitment office for Arkan. So, Albanian fears were real and certainly not invented.
The Serbs, on their side, feared to lose Kosovo - Kosmet i Metohija. Demographic trends were one reason and the Serb minority in the Kosovo province felt isolated there and craved more, not less, protection and involvement by Belgrade. Many Serbs had what one might call a dominance complex and saw Kosovo as their cradle (exactly as Croats see parts of Krajina as theirs) and they remembered the Albanian position during World War II. They also saw Serb minorities in other republics being increasingly harassed. Being a divided nation - in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro - the Albanians have a victim complex which, naturally, could fuel their vision of Greater Albania, of living in one country. Many Albanians felt that the autonomous years from 1974 were quite good, but in 1981 after Tito's death, the problem had rapidly escalated.
So we are faced with a minority-in-minority complex: Albanians are a numerical minority in Serbia and Yugoslavia and among that minority live minorities of Serb and other non-Albanian origin. If the Commission believes that the regime in Belgrade ran an apartheid-like policy and was genocidal, the very least it could have done would be to investigate how Serbia - the most multiethnic society among the former Yugoslav republics &endash; treated Albanians and other non-Serbs in Serbia (outside Kosovo) before the war. Figures vary but tens of thousands of Albanians lived in Belgrade. It might also have asked itself why there has been no comparable conflicts and violence in, say, Voivodina and Sandjak.
Constitutionally, the autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo meant that Serbia proper could constantly risk being a minority position; if the two autonomous provinces joined to vote together against a law being proposed for all of Serbia, it would fall. Thus, this was two numerical minority provinces overruling a majority. Tito's model worked because there were always 6 republics and two autonomous provinces which could make criss-crossing coalitions in most decision-making processes and thus maintain a balance &endash; and Serbs could certainly see themselves as powerful, at least in proportion to the 43 per cent of ex-Yugoslavia's inhabitants.
But years before the war broke out in 1991, the signs were plenty that Yugoslavia was about to break up in smaller pieces. Thus, while Croatia and Slovenia set themselves on the path to independence, Serbia wanted to assure that, at least, it was not going to break up in three parts should Tito's Yugoslavia finally dissolve. They wanted to be masters in their own house. The Croatian leadership acted on the same principle, namely refusing autonomy for the 12 per cent Croatian Serbs who did not want to live in an independent Croatia but had done so when Croatia was part of the larger structure. And Tudjman used no less violence to back his policies; only he was assisted in his ethnic cleansing by the US and other Western countries.