Impasse in Kosovo

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia discourages visits to Kosovo. Before I returned there this summer with my colleagues from the Open Society Institute, the government had for three years turned down my requests for a visa. Many others seeking to go there have met the same rejection, whether they were trying to look into claims by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians that they have been mistreated by the Belgrade government or simply were asking permission to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance. A monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was expelled several years ago. Though the United States Information Agency succeeded in establishing a small office in Kosovo on June 5, 1996, no other foreign government or intergovernmental agency is represented in Kosovo.

The Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of Kosovo’s population of more than two million, are subject to Serbian martial law, Serbian courts, and Serbian police. They have been demanding independence. Although the signers of the 1995 Dayton Accords agreed to resolve peacefully the status of Kosovo, no negotiations over the territory’s political future have taken place between the government of President Slobodan Milosevic and the Albanian leadership. Instead of negotiating, the Serbs have maintained their military control.

Kosovo’s Albanians have made no progress at all toward independence. When I last visited Kosovo in 1994, virtually all of them were committed to nonviolence: their strategy, they said, was to peacefully resist their subjugation by Belgrade and the brutality of the Serbian police, and to create their own parallel schools and other institutions. That nonviolent strategy no longer has near-universal support in Kosovo. In the past year, there has been more violence there than in Northern Ireland. Young men who are presumed to be members of an Albanian underground movement calling itself the Kosovo Liberation Army are attacking, and in some cases killing, Serbian police. A Kosovo human rights group, which contains no Serb members (though it claims it would welcome them), says the number of Albanians who have been killed by the police, or beaten or otherwise mistreated while in custody, is increasing at a comparable rate. The group presented evidence of fourteen police killings in 1996. It found that another twenty people had been killed during the first half of 1997, and it has collected information on many cases of arbitrary searches and detention, beatings, and torture.

Ibrahim Rugova, a literary critic with a gentle manner, was named “president” of Kosovo in 1992 after unofficial elections in which 90 percent of Albanians voted, and which were boycotted by Serbs. He now faces challenges to his leadership, particularly for his policy of nonviolence. (His leading rival, Adem Demaci, who spent twenty-eight years in Yugoslav prisons and whom some see as Kosovo’s Mandela, also favors nonviolence.) But during our visit, we were often told that Rugova’s strategy of peaceful resistance had failed.

While Kosovo’s Albanians are becoming more drawn to violence, they have also been getting more news about …

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