Two visits to Kosovo
Last September, I went to Kosovo to visit a friend who works for one of the international agencies. He was living in a rented six-bedroom house in a Serb village in the west of the province. We had a wraparound front porch and a long pergola from which fat purple grapes hung. In the garden there were roses, and rows of peppers, tomatoes and cabbages. From the upstairs balcony, I could see farm houses with red-tiled roofs and fields of corn yellowing in the heat.
One afternoon I took the dog for a walk up the hill. The crest overlooked fertile, carefully tilled land, surrounded by a ring of rolling blue hills. I could see the odd tiny human figure making its way under the benevolent warmth of an autumnal sun. Back at the house I wanted to have a shower, but, due to some relationship I didn’t understand, when we had no electricity we had no water, and just then we had neither. So I poked around the yard, retrieving an array of shoes and socks that the dog had nicked from inside, then sat on the porch pondering the six ceramic lions perched sentinel on the various pillars and the spreading field of rubbish pushing towards us from the road. Because the house had been unoccupied for some months, and because there was no rubbish collection in the village, our large yard had become the de facto dump. Every morning there was more; mongrels were nosing through it. We, in fact, were the only ones in the village who didn’t dump our rubbish here; J brought it to the skip outside his office.
Just as I heard the hum from inside that signalled the return of electricity, a KFOR helicopter passed overhead, curving lazily westward towards the mountains, its distant drone deceptively comforting, like the buzz of bees on some languid suburban Saturday. KFOR arrived in 1999: forty-two thousand NATO troops to patrol an area of 100,000 square kilometres in the aftermath of the seventy-eight-day bombing campaign. The US built Camp Bondsteel in the south of Kosovo, its largest base since the Vietnam War. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians welcomed Americans (in the form of NATO) like they haven’t been welcomed anywhere since the Second World War. Though the fondness is not as starry-eyed as it was, evidence of it remains. When we drove into Pristina on Bill Clinton Boulevard, I could see, affixed to the exterior of a building several stories up, a large photo of Clinton, smiling and waving the presidential wave, as though welcoming us all to Kosovo. On the road south-east out of the city, there is the Restaurant Familja Clinton. There is even a replica Statue of Liberty atop Pristina’s Hotel Victory. On the final page of A Narrative About War and Freedom, an extended interview with former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Ramush Haradinaj (now Kosovo’s controversial Prime Minister), Haradinaj is asked about the ‘happy moments’ of the war. ‘It is impossible,’ he says, ‘not to remember the beginning of the NATO air strikes. We all looked, with admiration, at the first missiles and aircraft.’
Kosovo is still a province of what remains of the former Yugoslavia (now the state union of Serbia and Montenegro), but it has been under UN and NATO control since 1999. NATO’s expulsion of Serbian forces from Kosovo in 1999 partially achieved the aims of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which had been fighting a guerrilla war against Serbia. The KLA’s ultimate goal was – and is – independence for the province, the population of which is about 90 per cent Albanian.
UN Security Council Resolution 1244 marked the end of the bombing campaign and put in place a UN Interim Administration Mission – UNMIK – to prepare Kosovo, ‘pending a final settlement’, for ‘substantial autonomy and self-government’. The resolution also recognized the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’ of what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Tim Judah, in his book Kosovo: War and Revenge, described the province as ‘both dull and bizarre’, an assessment that, five years later, still stands. When you cross the border checkpoints from Serbia or Macedonia, a feeling of incarceration sets in. There is something muffled and oppressive about the place, a bad energy that runs deeper than the military presence. Entering Kosovo feels like hitting a dead spot on a wooden floor.
In the afternoons, when I’d finished writing for the day, I would get into J’s car and take the ring road into Gnjilane, the nearest large town. The ring road was one long building site. On either side, monstrous four-storey homes and other structures of uncertain purpose were springing up, often painted pink or purple or lime green. Those recently completed seemed mostly to be empty. (Numerous new, huge and fairly empty-looking hotels also dotted the landscape; it was as though preparations were being made for a vast upsurge in the population.) The buildings were mostly flush up against the road, and one felt pressed upon by these colossal structures that looked haunted before they’d even been inhabited.
Kosovo’s building boom is taking place in the context of an Albanian unemployment rate of between 60 and 70 per cent. (The unemployment rate for Serbs in some areas reaches 90 per cent.) The construction is funded partly by the hard-working Albanian diaspora, and partly by illegal activities. Alternating with these clusters of gleaming glass and luridly-coloured concrete were groups of burned or fire-bombed houses and churches and sometimes just the odd one, hunkering darkly in a field. They were mostly Serb homes destroyed in reprisal after 1999. (Nearly all Albanian homes destroyed under Milosevic have been rebuilt under the auspices of such organizations as the European Agency for Reconstruction.) Some of the ruins, like those in Prizren, were burned in March 2004, in a three-day wave of violence throughout Kosovo that targeted Serbs, Ashkali, Roma, and UNMIK.
In September, the riots were still on everybody’s mind. The 17th of March – the day on which they erupted – had become a point of demarcation, particularly for Serbs and internationals, who regularly prefaced sentences with Before 17th March …, or Since 17th March … Nineteen people died in the riots (eleven Albanians and eight Serbs) and over nine hundred were injured. More than seven-hundred Serb, Ashkali and Roma homes were destroyed, thirty-six Orthodox churches and monasteries were set on fire or seriously damaged, and nearly 5,000 people forced to flee (over 4,000 of them Serbs). UN buildings were attacked and at least seventy of its cars were burned.
The violence was the most serious and sustained in Kosovo since 1999, and its effects were still being felt everywhere. Talks between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia – on such matters as energy, communications and the return of refugees – stalled instantly. The ‘standards-before-status’ process – whereby the UN asked Kosovo to meet a set of criteria regarding human rights, equality and civil society – looked suddenly like wishful thinking. Relations between Serbs and the UN soured further. Serbs charge that the UN knows exactly who was behind the riots but has done nothing to bring them to justice. Pristina’s Grand Hotel – once the hang-out of Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan – claimed that five thousand advance bookings had been cancelled since the riots, though it is hard to imagine who those five thousand people might have been. When I mentioned to one departing UN employee that almost all the internationals seemed burnt-out, she said, ‘After 17th of March, we thought: is this what we’ve been working for all this time?’ As a report by the International Crisis Group put it, Kosovo Albanians ‘squandered in two days the moral capital amassed during Milosevic’s campaign of atrocities and mass expulsions perpetrated against them in 1998–99’.
For ten days in early October, I had what felt like something caught in my throat. After numerous attempts to convince myself that it was stress, I decided I needed to see a doctor. It was ten at night when my panic reached an unignorable level, but J insisted on taking me immediately to his friend Milorad, a paediatrician in our village who is a member of the Serbian parliament and who was also, at the time, serving as Interministerial Coordinator for Returns within Kosovo’s Provisional Institutions for Self-Government. (‘Returns’ refers to the repatriation and rehousing of Kosovo residents displaced by the conflict.) Milorad, who is 6’2” and looks very like Liam Neeson, took one look at my throat and said, ‘Ah, it is burned totally red with acid from your stomach.’ He phoned an Albanian chemist in Gnjilane, who agreed to go to his shop that night to fill my prescription, which Milorad wrote out while discussing the pros and cons of a Serb boycott of the upcoming Kosovo Assembly elections. Milorad and his wife, a nurse, ran a practice in Gnjilane until 1999. The majority of their patients were Albanian children. When the children saw them on the streets, they would wave cheerfully. Now, he said, when they pass Albanian children on the streets of Gnjilane, the children look at them and run their index fingers across their throats.
Milorad left his home village of Cernica in 1999, after his house had been attacked on five occasions and his father pelted with stones. (Following the NATO expulsion of Serbian forces, reprisals against Serbs began almost immediately.) At that time, 712 Serbs lived in Cernica. Now there are 150. Eight Serbs from the village have been killed and forty-four homes destroyed.
Still, he says of 17 March, ‘I was ready to swear that something like that was impossible.’
As the late autumnal warmth gave way to pre-winter dreariness, J and I took a day trip to Mitrovica, near the Serbian border. Mitrovica is a divided city. Serbs live north of the River Ibar and Albanians south of it. In 2003, patrol of the bridge was handed over to UNMIK police and the multi-ethnic Kosovo Police Service, KFOR no longer viewing it as a flashpoint; they have since resumed control of it. As we were with a Serbian friend, we parked and headed straight over the bridge on foot to the northern half (the only vehicles allowed on the bridge are those of the international agencies). Just as we reached the other side, I spotted a souvenir shop – the Sasna Boutique – and led the others in.
Three women in their fifties were inside the small cluttered shop. We exchanged pleasantries and they offered us small shots of rakia and little squares of some unidentifiable goodie. Lining the shelves were old coffee grinders, small urns, and Orthodox iconography. There were candle holders in dusty glass cases and rows of postcards I didn’t look closely at. It was like any collection of quaint bits and pieces. Then I noticed some T-shirts hanging against the wall, in a display style reminiscent of the campus store of an American university, except the T-shirts didn’t have lions or tigers or eagles on them but rather the skull-and-crossbones motif of the extreme Serbian nationalist Chetniks, notorious for their brutality during the Second World War but officially no longer in existence. On the t-shirts was printed: ‘We’ll Be Back’. When one of the women saw me eyeing the shirts, she cheerfully held up different sizes for my inspection.
I took a closer look at the postcards. There was one depicting ‘Serbian Heroes’ such as Radovan Karadzic. Another said, ‘Sorry, we didn’t know it was invisible’, referring to a plane the Serbs shot down that the Americans had claimed was undetectable. Yet another showed an Asterix-style map of the Balkans, with a magnifying glass trained on Kosovo and a caption: ‘The year is 1999 A.C. [sic]. Europe is entirely occupied by the Americans. Well, not entirely … One small country of indomitable Serbs still holds out against the invaders …’
In amongst these political postcards were, oddly, curling cards of Pamela Anderson. I half expected them to say Pamela Anderson says YES! to Serbia. But they bore no political message. It was just her, in all her mammary glory.
A couple of hours later, having trudged our way around downtown Mitrovica, we headed back in the direction of our car. As we passed the kiosks next to the north end of the bridge, I noticed all the same postcards on sale, including those with Pamela Anderson.
Gnjilane is a town of about 120,000 people in the east of Kosovo. On 17 March 2004, the few Serbs remaining there fled. It is an ugly mix of small cluttered shops selling cheap merchandise, smoky cafes where unemployed men linger, apartment blocks, pizza places and internet cafes. During power outages, shopkeepers rev up their generators, and the footpaths are crowded with these grey, greasy monsters, roaring like lawnmowers. The traffic lights never work. A handful of men stand on the corners, each with a dozen or so bottles of milk for sale on the ground in front of them. A few wear the traditional Albanian plis hat, white and conical. The young women strut through town in twos and threes, dressed like Britney Spears. The point, for most of them, is marriage. The unfortunate paradox is that marriage means the end of such freedoms as being able to strut through town with one’s girlfriends: a new wife is expected to stay home cooking and cleaning for her husband and his extended family. Young women don’t (except in Pristina) meet up for coffee in the cafes. Nor do they drive. They seem, in fact, to largely disappear after marriage, and (except in Pristina) I rarely saw women in their twenties, thirties, or forties. What I saw was either Britney Spears or the prototypical work-worn peasant woman: black skirt, black apron, black shirt, kerchief, pendulous breasts.
The courthouse in Gnjilane is an ugly yellow and orange affair on the town’s main street. In October I spent a day there, watching the UN trial of eleven young Albanian men. Seven of them have been accused of the murders of five members of the Hajra family – also Albanian – as they travelled home in their car from a pre-wedding party in 2001. The other four defendants, three of whom are Kosovo police officers, are accused of aiding and abetting the crime. The alleged motive for the murders was the ‘collaboration’ of Hamez Hajra – the father of the family – with Serbs prior to 1999. A daughter, Pramvera Hajra, miraculously survived the attack, shielded during the shooting by the bodies of her mother and sister. Having fled Kosovo – witnesses in such trials are rightly fearful for their lives – she has testified for the prosecution. The defence team is Albanian, the prosecutor American, and the primary judge from Mauritius.
A group of Ukrainian policemen led the defendants in and formed a ring around them until everyone was seated. We all donned headsets, to follow along in the language of our choice. Several minutes into the session, the defendants, seated at the front of the room with their backs to the gallery, already looked bored, like college students at a lecture, squirming in their seats and occasionally resting their elbows on each other’s shoulders.
The trial had been going on for nearly a year. The proceedings, like most court proceedings, were mind-numbingly tedious (one guard, whose precise responsibility I was unable to determine, was reading a W.E.B. Griffin novel). There was yawning, fidgeting, stroking. (‘No holding hands in the court,’ the judge announced, presumably to the defendants; young Albanian men often hold hands.) Jokes were even cracked, mostly by an elderly Albanian in a plis, who played the role of class clown, eliciting chuckles from the defence team and, ultimately, a reprimand from the judge. This, the judge reminded us, was a ‘serious murder trial, not a cinema hall’. If the crowd could not behave, he would clear the courtroom.
That day, attention was focused on a single witness, whose unreliability all concerned seemed to agree on. The witness’s stock answer – ‘I don’t remember’ – was issued with such regularity that both the defence and the prosecution were hissing and shaking their heads. His testimony was becoming pointless. Eventually the American prosecutor, in perfect prime-time copspeak, said: ‘You’re real close to havin’ somethin’ happen to you that you’re gonna remember for a long time …’
The defendants themselves were each allowed to question the witness, and one of them said, ‘This person is the biggest liar in the … world and I would like to thank him for giving a false testimony …’ The witness – a member of the Kosovo Police Service who was originally arrested as a suspect – was seated facing the bench, the defendants lined up directly behind him, their eyes trained on his back.
The October Assembly election generated a turnout of 53.4 per cent – a surprisingly low figure in a place as politicized as Kosovo, where a guerrilla war of independence was so recently waged. The threatened Serb boycott came to pass, and Serb voter turnout was less than 1 per cent. The election resulted in a surprise coalition comprising the Democratic League of Kosova – psychologically unreformed ex-communists, headed by Ibrahim Rugova, who received the largest share of the vote – and the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, headed by former KLA commander Ramush Haradinaj. (Rugova declined to form a coalition with the more popular of the KLA-linked parties, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, apparently because he feared being overshadowed by its increasingly popular leader, Hashim Thaçi.) The Assembly re-elected Rugova to the post of President of Kosovo, a position of largely symbolic importance from which Rugova can exert influence behind the scenes. Haradinaj, proposed and backed by Rugova, was elected Prime Minister by the Assembly, although his party earned only about 8 per cent of the vote. In Kosovo, the Prime Minister wields real power; he nominates the fourteen-member cabinet for Assembly approval (and can, once he has assumed office, replace ministers without the Assembly’s consent), defines the general lines of policy for the government, and sets the agenda for government meetings.
For Serbs, the rise of Haradinaj was a clear message that they should not feel safe in the new Kosovo. Only a couple of weeks prior to his election as Prime Minister, Haradinaj was questioned by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. (Three KLA leaders are currently on trial before the Tribunal.) The Serbs accuse Haradinaj of committing atrocities in the Decani region of western Kosovo during his time as KLA commander. Although Haradinaj denies wrongdoing, he has made clear he will go to the Hague if indicted by the tribunal.
Despite the obvious inflammatory potential of Haradinaj’s election, Soren Jessen-Petersen, the UN Special Representative, didn’t interfere, stating that he ‘could not and would not intervene to block a fully transparent democratic process’. Haradinaj’s cabinet was announced. One cabinet position in the Kosovo Assembly is set aside for a member of the Serb community, and the Ministry of Returns, Human Rights and Communities was offered to our doctor and friend, Milorad. However, as Milorad’s party has said it will not negotiate with a government led by Haradinaj, Milorad didn’t take up the post.
If Haradinaj is indicted, some believe the violence across Kosovo will be worse than that of 17 March 2004. Others predict that an indictment would be a sort of collective martyrdom for the Kosovo Albanians – a sacrifice they (and he) will be willing to make because they believe it will strengthen their case for independence.
For the first time, in this assembly, Kosovo will have a real opposition, in the form of Hashim Thaçi’s Democratic Party of Kosova, as well as ORA, the new party of newspaper publisher Veton Surroi. The son of a former Yugoslavian diplomat, Surroi – who looks like Terry Eagleton with a tan – studied literary criticism at university in Mexico. In 1999, in the midst of the Albanian revenge killings of Serbs, and the burning of their homes and churches, Surroi, in his Pristina-based newspaper Koha Ditore, voiced his shame at the ‘organized and systematic intimidation’ of Serbs: ‘from having been victims of Europe’s worst end-of-century persecution, we [Albanians] are ourselves becoming persecutors’. His stance earned him threats in another newspaper, i (former mouthpiece of the KLA and then linked to Thaçi), which stated that Surroi and his paper’s editor risked ‘eventual and very understandable revenge’ and suggested that people like them had no place in the ‘free Kosovo’.
I went back to Kosovo for a second visit in early December. Winter had unambiguously arrived. A white furry frost covered everything: not the sparkling frost of a crisp early morning, but something thicker and heavier, something mythical. The first snow hadn’t fallen, but it would any day. The temperature in Kosovo can dip to -30°C, which means that extended power cuts – especially for those without wood-burning stoves – can be dangerous. (When J got here in January 2000, it was -30°. He said he considered climbing inside his refrigerator, which was only -8°.)
In June of this year, ESBI – a subsidiary of the Irish national power utility ESB – won a two-year 8.8 million euro contract for the management of Kosovo Power Corporation (KEK). The company is losing 1.25 million euro per week, and its debts are estimated at 200,000,000 million euro. Roughly two thirds of consumers simply do not pay their electricity bills. Power cuts occur daily, as they have since 1999. And electricity, like everything in Kosovo, has become an ethnic issue. In December, certain Serb-dominated areas were without any power whatsoever for up to two weeks. (As Serbs make up less than 10 per cent of the population, clearly they are not alone in not paying their bills.) The Serbian National Council and the Serbian Orthodox Church accused KEK of a premeditated plan to target Serb villages for disconnection so as to render their survival in the province impossible. KEK officials denied the charge, saying the situation was instead the result of KEK’s new management policy, which states that the company will simply not carry out repairs in areas where bill payment is very low.
Everyone we knew had a generator, an inverter (which stores power in batteries when the supply is on), some form of gas-fuelled heat, a gas camp stove for cooking, or a combination of these. We had two gas cooking rings and two inverters, as well as a gas heater we couldn’t figure out how to ignite; after the last 24-hour outage (when the stored supply in the inverters ran out), we were considering buying a generator. In the course of my two stays, J and I made half-a-dozen trips to Bajram, an Albanian engineer living in Gnjilane, because of inverter-related problems.
During our last visit to Bajram, the three of us agreed, chuckling, that if KEK ever got the situation under control, people like him would lose a nice sideline. That night he invited us in for tea and we ended up discussing the election results. Bajram – who is young, thoughtful, interesting – voted for Surroi. He himself never considered joining the KLA but he understood the appeal of Haradinaj. ‘He wasn’t just like some general giving orders, he was out in the field fighting, and that is why our people respect him.’
The fourteenth-century Serbian Orthodox monastery of Visoki Decani is in the heart of Haradinaj territory, where he was born and where he operated as a KLA commander. Of all Kosovo’s Orthodox monasteries and churches, Decani is the most highly prized. Last July it became the first cultural monument in Kosovo to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
We went on a Thursday, because every Thursday evening the monks open the sarcophagus of the monastery’s founder, King Stefan Decanski, and sing hymns in his honour. On the road approaching Pec, we passed a long line of burnt-out houses. The sky was low and grey, and by four o’clock it was already getting dark. Kosovo looked exactly like it did in the papers: abused, forlorn and colourless.
Like many of Kosovo’s Orthodox churches, Decani is guarded by KFOR troops (though for various reasons KFOR failed to protect thirty of them from damage or destruction during the March 2004 riots). The monastery sits at the foot of the Prokletije (‘Cursed’) Mountains in the western part of the province. Italian KFOR are stationed at the sandbagged entrance to the long drive. The drive itself is a slalom through a series of cement pylons and curled cylinders of barbed wire. At the small parking area, within site of the monastery, more Italian KFOR man another guard shack. We parked and made our way carefully down the short slope, slippery with ice.
It was night by then and the interior of the church was lit only by beeswax candles and oil lamps; the chipped frescoes were barely visible. We took our places at the back of the small church, waiting for the prayers to begin. Black-robed, hooded monks glided to and fro in the darkness. Besides our group of six, there were three stocky peasant women (whom I later learned live at Decani, having fled their nearby homes on 17th March). Then, about twenty Argentinian KFOR troops in camouflage filed in behind us. They were from a battalion stationed nearby.
One priest in an elaborately embroidered robe led the prayers – a call-and-response session in Serbian. We could see the priest, though we couldn’t see the area from which the other voices were emanating, a fact that increased exponentially the resonance of the performance. I’d been told before coming that Decani was something special, but I hadn’t really believed it. A kind of cathedral-fatigue had washed over me just hearing the claim. It turned out to be true, though. There was something mesmeric and humbling about the place; an insistent – and insistently discreet – beauty.
The cover of King Stefan’s sarcophagus had been lifted, but it was elevated such that we couldn’t see over the rim of the wooden box. The priest was swinging his censer. I sneaked glances at the Argentinians, who maintained a disciplined stillness. When the thirty minutes of prayers had ended, it was time to file up to the front to kiss the King. Although it was ridiculously obvious in retrospect, it didn’t occur to me at that moment that King Stefan was kept under glass. I wondered, briefly, if I had the stomach for it, and decided it wasn’t a sight I could afford to miss. When my turn came to ascend the three stairs, what I saw as I bent to kiss the glass was one single brown and wizened hand, which I knew to look for because I’d seen a photo of it, but I couldn’t linger long enough to glimpse much else.
Afterwards we adjourned to the narthex, where, in one corner, the monks sold postcards, candles and candlesticks, incense, icons and booklets; there were CDs of the prayer session we’d just heard. The walls around us were covered with fourteenth-century frescoes. It was so dark we couldn’t make out the reproductions on the postcards. A small hooded figure hunched over a wooden drawer was making change. Everybody whispered. One can imagine, if life in Kosovo ever normalizes, Decani besieged by tourists, a queue snaking up the slope, past a sign, perhaps, noting that KFOR once stood guard here. Now, despite the thirty monks living there, the monastery has an air of desertion, and anyone (except for the local Albanian population) is free to wander around.
Because one of our group was a regular visitor to Decani, we were invited to eat dinner in the monastery’s spartan dining room. We had buttered noodles, bread, some kind of tinned-tuna concoction, an unidentifiable red spread, boiled potatoes, and apple juice – everything homemade, simple, and inexplicably delicious. The monks had already eaten, but the one from the gift shop joined us at the table. He smiled easily and often. There was a lightness about him, as well as something that felt like loneliness. His eyes were twinkly, like the Dalai Lama’s are twinkly, and he seemed genuinely happy to answer (through the multi-lingual among us) my basic questions, and to ask me his.
Two days later, J and I went back to see the frescoes in daylight, and there he was again, hunched over the change drawer. J and I didn’t say so to each other, but I think we both wanted to see him again, as much as we did the frescoes. The delight seemed mutual. Before we left, he presented us each with a gift: a diptych and a triptych, small Orthodox icons.
Before we left for the Christmas holidays, J and I attended the ‘end of year reception in honour of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government and the Liaison Offices’ at UNMIK Headquarters. All the Albanian leaders were due to be there – Thaçi, Surroi, Rugova and Haradinaj. We happened to arrive just as Haradinaj was pulling up – black car, a couple of relaxed-looking bodyguards – and followed him up the short ramp to the HQ entrance. A woman from UN External Affairs who had been appointed to meet and greet him smiled a little too widely and said, ‘Good evening, Prime Minister.’
Haradinaj, who is in his mid-thirties, has the bulk of someone who works out. He looks wholesome and well-meaning, and is undeniably handsome. But for his past, and the possibility of a Hague indictment hanging over his head, he could be the ideal young face of Kosovo politics: dark suit, smartly cut hair, a rather stylish pair of silver wire frames which add a whiff of intelligence to his otherwise American-football-quarterback mien. Yet Haradinaj appeared uncomfortable. He hasn’t learned the politician’s trick of smiling at anyone in his path, or of pretending to pay attention to people, or even to look them in the eye.
Inside, on the sixth floor of HQ, Haradinaj was, in a peculiar way, the centre of attention. People – UN people, higher-ranking military men – seemed to want to shun him, and yet couldn’t help sneaking glances at him. He was the elephant in the room. He didn’t circulate, he didn’t work the crowd. Nor did the crowd appear particularly eager to be worked. The international community does not, after all, like to party with someone who may, any day, be indicted as a war criminal. The only time Haradinaj appeared comfortable was when surrounded by his cronies, and then they seemed like guys goofing off at a wedding rather than politicians. His discomfort, though, didn’t look like that of the haunted. He is probably too robust and healthy to look haunted, even if he feels it. Veton Surroi, on the other hand, looked haunted. Rugova appeared pale and somewhat abstracted. Thaçi didn’t show.
The UN Special Representative, Soren Jessen-Petersen, prefaced his speech by saying that the gathering was for the purpose of wishing everyone a happy holiday. He thanked those in the room for all the work they had done over the previous year. He did not mention the new PM – who was standing ten feet in front of him – nor did he say that the UN was looking forward to working with Kosovo’s new government. He reminded us that violence will not further Kosovo’s ends. (Jessen-Petersen had recently been quoted as saying, ‘The Kosovars better than anybody else fully understand another outburst of violence means that they can wave goodbye to immediate-status talks.’) Before closing, he stressed that in the new year, the priority would be to build a Kosovo for everyone, for all citizens. The implication was clear. Everyone means Serbs, too. But that night, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t a single Serb in the room.
The question is what will happen here if Haradinaj is indicted. The former UN Special Representative, Michael Steiner, once said that if indictments were issued against Thaçi and Haradinaj, ‘we all might as well pack our bags and go home’. On the other hand, failure to indict would be seen by Serbs as further evidence of the international community’s weakness, another capitulation to the demands of Kosovo Albanians. In any case, international security forces, taken by surprise last March and roundly criticized for their largely disorganized response to the riots, will certainly be more prepared. This time, KFOR has the authority to fire.
Read more in The Dublin Review issue No. 18 Spring 2005.