SPECIAL REPORT: Kosovo: Blurred lines

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Graffiti on a wall in downtown Pristina reading, “Where is Ukshin Hoti?”

Editors note:  On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.  

A little reported story in the United States is that of the survivors of the Kosovo War.   The country which is still under struggle for human rights fought a war for independence which by some estimates lasted from 1998-99.  But survivors say that the war continues for independence and freedom for some groups of Kosovars.  As per the mission statement of The Nation Report, we are here to report on the less-represented voice of the area.

After a series of interviews with members of the Vetevendosje opposition political party, our reporter reports being followed by unknown persons after the last two interviews.  We are not certain of the origin or reason for the surveillance, but members of the Vetevendosje party also report regularly being followed.

This four-part series will continue weekly.

PRISTINA, Kosovo- The people of Kosovo want their own nation. However, Serbia’s choke hold on the country is blocking the most basic human rights according to political activists. There has been much unrest in the area even after the war and many Kosovars are frustrated.  A concern among young people about their future permeates society.  As Communication Director for opposition political party Vetevendosje Frasher Krasniqi stated in an interview, “Our political and economic fate should not be discussed, it should be decided by the people of Kosovo. Why should we discuss with people of Serbia, about our own state, about our own culture?  America doesn’t discuss with Iraq about what is going to happen in California.”

With the occupation of universities and institutions throughout Kosovo by Serbia, many Albanian students became frustrated with, and weary of a passive response by President Ibrahim Rugova to the blocking of Albanians from universities and work.  Rugova became the first President of Kosovo from 1992 to 2000, and then again from 2002 to 2006 as the republic was forming.

Tensions rose quickly in response to this perceived passivity and on October 1, 1997 a peaceful protest was organized in Pristina by students asking for sanctions on universities and institutions that were blocking Albanians from entering.

Albin Kurti, now leader of Vetevendosje, was one of these students who reported a growing anxiety with the lack of change for Kosovars in the country. He became a political staff member of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a resistance army desiring change to Serbia’s hold on Kosovo. Hashim Thaci, the current president of Kosovo, was the leader of KLA.

During these years violence against the people continued rising.  Around 12,000 Albanians were killed, more than 20,000 were raped, 150,000 homes were destroyed, countless were disappeared, and one million people were expelled from Kosovo.  Among those was Ukshin Hoti, a prominent activist in Kosovo.  It became evident that ethnic cleansing was occurring throughout Kosovo.

In 1999 a Peace Treaty called the Rambouillet Agreement was drafted in attempt to mitigate increasing tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Drafters of the agreement hoped that the move would return Kosovo to its 1990 status quo.  This would allow for NATO administration of an autonomous province in Yugoslavia, and would allow for the entering and free movement of 30,000 NATO troops with immunity and right of passage.  Henry Kissinger, former United States Secretary of State was quoted as referring to the agreement as, “an excuse to start bombing.”

KLA was in support of the agreement, however Albin Kurti did not support the degree of power for international intervention and Kosovo seemed left without rights.  Kurti ended up resigning.  After his resignation in 1999, he was arrested and held for about three years in a Serbian prison where it was later learned that he was considered the most tortured prisoner. Krasniqi recalls hearing, “Three times they thought he was dead. A lot of them tell stories how, when they went to the kitchen to eat something, you would see all the walls, red with the blood of Albin Kurti because they tortured him a lot.”

When NATO approached the United Nations Security Council for approval of military intervention during the crisis, the Albanian, American, and British delegations all agreed and signed, however Russia and Serbia did not agree thus vetoing the request.  On March 23, 1999  NATO used military force for the first time without the approval of the UN Security Council – thus violating international law – and bombed Serbia.

In 2006, Massachusetts Institute for Technology professor Noam Chomsky said that US backed NATO used altruism as an excuse for intervention, “Now take bombing of Kosovo; that was an incredibly important event for American intellectuals and the reason it had to do it, all was for what was going on during the nineties. And the nineties are for the West, not just the U.S. and France and England were the worst – probably the low point in intellectual history for the West, I think. I mean it was like a comic strip mimicking a satire of Stalinism, literally. You take a look at the New York Times or read the French press, the British press, there was all full of talk about how there is a “normative revolution” that has swept through the West, for the first time in history, a state namely the United States, “the leader of the free world” is acting from “pure altruism.”  Clinton’s policy has entered into a ‘noble phase,’ with a ‘saintly glow’ on and on.  I am quoting from the liberals.”

Amidst the violence and unrest throughout Kosovo, tensions escalated among the population. Questioning their future, the forming in 2004 of the group Vetevendosje (Self-Determination Movement) offered hope to those frustrated with an uncertain destiny.  Krasniqi recalls from recent protests,  “It was very interesting how most people resisting, throwing stones to the police and not afraid, were youngsters, 18 or less- not our activists, but people who took part in protests [voluntarily].”

Albin Kurti has since been the leader.  The group’s ideals follow the works of Ukshin Hoti.

The party declared a policy of nonviolence and during protests no individual was harmed voluntarily.  According to Krasniqi, “We invited media [who witnessed] not one person was injured during our protest.  [But] protesters [were] injured by police.”  The movement called for the removal of international presence in Kosovo.  Many of the actions carried out by the mostly youth-led movement of the opposition proved to be profound in challenging the status-quo.  The youth challenged the passivity of Ibrahim Rugova, party leader for the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDR) who once suggested that continued opposition could lead to eventual consequences, “Remain quiet because Serbia has the power to kill you.”

Arbar  Zaimi said in response to international intervention, ” of course we need help, but we don’t need around 3000-4000 policemen, if you want to help us, let them bring teachers, let them bring here professors. ”

The opposition movement did not start as a political movement, but leaders say it was forced into challenging oppression.  The movement worked to give Kosovo the power to decide its own fate, have control of its own economic resources, and have its own army.  According to Krasniqi the party is primarily funded by its own members as a result of the special pay structure. The highest wage within Vetevendosje is not more than 3 times the average wage in Kosovo, anything over goes to the movement.  Amber Zaimi said in response to this structure, ” we believe this should be applied to the public administration in the future, there should be a certain equality. ”

During a debate in Fall 2016 between LDK and KLA members, Titran Sidmori, representative for Vetevendosje said, “If you say to me I am young, then you are an old man.  You are old, but you know why?  Because you represent old politics, which is a very backward one and which is blocking this society.  So that is why you are old, not because you have older age than me, but you have older ideas than I do.”

Numbers increase in members to Vetevendosje according to leaders.  With the demand from youth for control of their own future, Vetevenjosje offers optimism to a growing segment of the population.   As Kosovars’ increasing demand for control of their nation, youth are demanding a future that Vetevenjosje seems to offer them.

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