TUE, 31 OCT 2000 23:08:22 GMT
AIM Athens, November 1, 2000
The headline of the October 30, 2000, International Herald Tribune trumpeted "Moderates Claim a Big Victory in Kosovo Polls" and the human rights group International Helsinki Federation hailed "A Major Step Towards Democratic Transition in Kosova". The victory of Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo over the Democratic Party -- linked closely with the Kosovo Liberation Army -- was a welcome relief to many. In the year-and-a-half since the West championed Kosovo's Albanians as popular victim-of-the-year, Kosovo's Albanians had failed to live up to expectations: they brutally expelled the greater parts of Kosovo's Serb and Romani populations; they killed, raped, tortured and abducted; they torched entire settlements in the presence of KFOR soldiers; and they expropriated property wholesale (ii). Over the brief window of attention during which international journalists peopled Kosovo, Kosovo generated such memorable images as elderly women slashed to death in their own bathtubs, and a local character styling himself after Hitler. What a relief, then, that charming, soft-focus Rugova, still sporting his paisley scarf, again secured the endorsement of the Albanians in the October elections -- it is again possible to imagine democracy in Kosovo.
A lot of people really wanted this election to go off right. After all, an election sanctioning more of the same in Kosovo would mean more of the same in Kosovo: the massive outlay of huge sums of money by Western governments, and the Bosnia program all over again -- years of supervising and subsidizing a cause in which no one locally has any faith, name it what you will -- democracy, tolerance, the rule of law, multi-cultural society. By simply holding the election in a Kosovo still plagued with exploding grenades and a populace explicitly committed to ethnic vengeance, dominance or isolation, the international powers administrating Kosovo sent one clear message: give us a result we can live with, so we can leave. And because Kosovars of all ethnicities register messages sent by internationals with the astuteness of a ham radio, they delivered in spades.
Thank goodness no one was looking too closely. They might have noticed that not a single Roma or Ashkali in the camps for internally displaced persons in the northern half of Mitrovica voted. The 500-600 persons there weren't registered, and in fact the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) registration teams apparently never visited the camps during the registration period. Elsewhere in Kosovo, according to reports, Roma enlisted by the OSCE to conduct voter registration discovered that whereas prior to volunteering, they had been unable to go to neighborhoods inhabited by ethnic Albanians, once they began work on voter registration, they weren't able to leave the Romani quarter at all, either to Serb or Romani areas. Similarly, in Macedonia, among the Kosovo Roma in the refugee camps, very few voted. Why should they vote in Kosovo? They can't even go there.
According to information received by The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) one day before the Kosovo elections, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had abandoned plans to attempt returns of Roma before spring to the (ex) Romani quarter in southern Mitrovica (burned to the ground in July 1999), a scheme that agency had been working throughout summer 2000. According to reports, when OSCE and UNHCR visited the area around neighborhood recently to find out what ethnic Albanians thought about the return project, they heard things like: "We'd rather have the Serbs move back," and "We are ready for revenge." At least one other Romani community targeted for such returns -- Mali Alas -- had been subjected to murderous grenade attacks in recent months (see http://errc.org/rr_nr3_2000/snap4.shtml).
>From being an obscure province in Tito- and post-Tito Yugoslavia, Kosovo advanced to total isolation after 1989. In 1999, having achieved near-perfect ethnic unity, Albanians in a fever-pitch of euphoria ran amok on the skins and property of Serbs and Roma. That was just last year. Some people now are trying to convince us of Kosovo's democratic credentials-- what are they thinking of? ----------------------------
i Claude Cahn is research and publications director at the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC). For more information on the ERRC, see http://errc.org. ii For detailed information on the situation of Roma in Kosovo, see: http://errc.org/publications/indices/kosovo.shtml.
Claude Cahn (i)