Ibrahim Rugova’s decade-long leadership in Kosovo

By Jan Oberg

TFF Pressinfo 140 – December 14, 2001

Originally published here.


Ten years ago it was not impossible to see…

Ten years ago, TFF’s conflict-mitigation team started working with Dr. Ibrahim Rugova and LDK people in the belief that a) they were the best dialogue partners Belgrade could hope to get, and b) they were the only political leadership in ex-Yugoslavia that advocated non-violence, albeit pragmatic. I have no evidence that they have ever read a line by, say, Gandhi.

We participated in formulating characteristics of the independent Kosova they aimed at: it should be a region with no military, open border to all sides and politically neutral. We helped devise negotiation strategies and facilitated the only written dialogue between them and governments in Belgrade between 1992 and 1996. The foundation produced a concrete plan for a negotiated solution. See Preventing war in Kosovo (1992) and UNTANS (1996).

Our team quickly learned to respect the complexity and difficulties of the Kosovo conflict. We were privileged to repeatedly listen to the deep-held views and animosities among various Albanians, Serbs and other ethnic groups in Kosovo as well as to many and different parties in Belgrade. We knew that the international community played with fire by not attending to this conflict and tried to alert it.

This shaped the basis for our later scepticism about the faked ‘negotiations’ in Rambouillet and NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia including Kosovo. A committed, impartial and competent international civil-political intervention could have mitigated the conflict in the early 1990s. And even if this opportunity was missed, bombings would not produce peace, trust, tolerance, reconciliation or a willingness to live and work together.


The West chose Kosovo’s militants as allies instead

Already ten years ago, Dr. Rugova was the undisputed leader of the Kosovo-Albanians. He received a lot of lip-service during missions to Western capitals. Reality was that Western governments in typical ‘covert operations’ from 1992-93 helped create, equip and train hard-liners behind his back, who became the later Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA or UCK. Dr. Rugova was marginalised and the U.S. in particular played with the KLA, which at the time was officially categorised by U.S. diplomats as “a terrorist organisation.” Later on, NATO performed the role of KLA’s airforce and the civilian UN mission (UNMIK) and the military KFOR-NATO missions were set up.

These missions officially declared UCK disbanded and illegal but let it continue operating partly as UCK/KLA and partly as the civilian Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC. The internationals consistently kept on allying themselves more with the leaders of the KLA, (Hacim Thaci, for instance) and KPC (Agim Ceku,for instance) whilst de facto accepting the illegal violence and mafia-based power structure established by them immediately after the war throughout the province.

In other words, Rugova and LDK were marginalised during the period when a negotiated solution could have been found, then during the Rambouillet process, then after the bombing and, finally, after the municipal elections when LDK won a landslide victory but did not get proportional backing by the international administration. As the standard response runs among the internationals: “we want to control and democratise the hardliners and keep them in the process, therefore we cannot also antagonise them.” Dr. Kouchner, the former head of the UN mission (UNMIK) was instrumental in institutionalising this cosy Western relationship with warlords and mafia leaders.

Since July 1999, this policy has yielded absolutely no results, except ethnic cleansing, destruction of democratic potentials, more mafia economy and criminality, and two KLA incursions, one into Southern Serbia and one into Macedonia.


UNMIK must now stop its vain courting of warlords

In this perspective, Ibrahim Rugova is an extraordinary figure in Balkan politics. He has survived Western and Albanian extremist attacks as a credible, however somewhat weak, political leader who has no blood on his hands like all the rest, including the international community.

Although Rugova’s LDK party got less support than in the local elections and did not achieve a majority of its own in the elections to the new Assembly a couple of weeks ago, it is, beyond all doubt, the leading and most experienced political force in today’s Kosovo. Compared with other Albanian political leaders such as Hacim Thaci and Rasmush Haradinaj, Rugova is in a class of his own, and he has moral integrity.

What does this imply? It implies that the UN and NATO-KFOR must now, finally, respect the will of the people and give proportional support to the man who is most popular, a decent intellectual and who remains an advocate of nonviolence. It’s time for the head of the UN mission, Mr. Haekkerup, and other internationals to stop the vain courting of former warlords as democratic peace-makers. They are not. The US and the EU must finally recognise the simple truth that they consistently made the wrong choices during the 1990s and caused much of the hurt, harm and hatred in today’s Kosovo/a.


Interview with Dr. Rugova

I last met Dr. Rugova in July at his home. He is deeply grateful to NATO of course and wants some kind of KFOR force to remain for quite a while in Kosovo, but with a different mandate than that of US SC 1244. He puts the historical blame on the Serbs and Milosevic and is happy that the province is no longer run from Belgrade.

Rugova repeatedly emphasises that independence for Kosova should come sooner rather than later; he believes it will make it easier to build institutions, create law and order and open a faster road to membership in the EU and other international organisations. He merely thinks that he and the international community differ in terms of timing. Admittedly, he has devoted his life to it but I also feel that the insistence on ‘independence now’ is a somewhat tired program statement.

When we leave the question of status aside, Dr. Rugova is highly aware of all that needs to be done in the province – whether independent or not. We talk at length about the need for economic development, institution-building, local security and police, psychological healing, and finding an identity as a society, as a potential future country. Rugova knows that corruption and the mafia must be eradicated and points out that there is better border control now than before. This July morning he hopes that LDK will get 60-70 per cent of the votes in November. He is fully aware that there are other players coming up and that democracy is by no means around the corner in Kosovo.


Reconciliation and the future of Kosovo

What about reconciliation? I ask him. “I want the Serbs to come back, for sure, but it cannot happen before there is security. There has to be in an environment of safety. I am glad there are Serbs in the Transitional Council, I want them to live and move freely in Kosovo. But we must also get our (Albanian) prisoners of war back from Belgrade and we do not want criminals to come back here, of course. I do see multi-ethnicity coming, but it will have to take time.”

Here he points out that Albanians know about reconciliation, not the least because they stopped the tradition of blood revenge among themselves in 1990. He also tells me that he would consider any proposal for an international truth and reconciliation commission.

Finally, I ask him whether his independent Kosova shall still be non-military, neutral and have an open border to all sides? “Well, after all we have been through I think we either have to have a small military force – perhaps – or some kind of international protection.”

Dr. Rugova is pretty uncompromising when it comes to the long-range goal: independence. He is a moderate, however, when choosing his means. During my many meetings over the last 9 years I have never seen hate in his eyes or heard aggressive talk. He is a nationalist but too much of a humanist to have chauvinist leanings. His career in Balkan politics is unique, and he would rather think and wait until tomorrow than hastily do something that later will be regretted.


To learn anything we should ask: what if…?

I can’t help wondering about the answers to the obvious “what if…” questions: What would have happened if the West had supported him and the parallel non-violent civil society he and LDK spearheaded ten years ago? What if Western governments had allied themselves with the comparatively most democratic political structure, instead of boosting the militants, extremists and economic criminals? How much suffering would the locals have escaped? What would Macedonia look like today? How much less hatred would there be between Serbs and Albanians?

And how would arms-exporting governments and private arms profiteers have felt if non-violence had led to a solution and even an independent Kosovo? Could the United States have built the biggest military base since the Vietnam War in Kosovo if the whole issue had been solved by political and other non-violent means?

We shall never know the answer but one thing is crystal clear – and totally missed by Western leaders and media: ten years of non-violence has proven to be stronger and has a broader base among the large majority of Kosovo than violence.

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