The UN’s political prisoner


2007. 10. 04. 07:00

According to Albin Kurti, the leader of the opposition movement Self-determination (VETEVENDOSJE!), under the present negotiating format is impossible to get independence for Kosovo. In his opinion the government of Kosovo and the internationals stationed there are reciprocally blackmailing each others, and more, there is a behind the scenes agreement developing: Hasim Thaci, as the next prime minister is ready for a bargain with Serbia. Exclusive interview by FigyelőNet with the politician in Pristina, who is still under house arrest.

For how long can this situation last, that is, the house arrest? I just read in the news that the decision of the tribunal is not expected too soon.

Well, they gave me another two months of house arrest now, and at the same time they decided about the date the trial would begin, which was the 19th of September, in one way to justify themselves before the extension of the house arrest. They also fixed the date of the trial, to say that the trial is beginning now, but I think that their main goal is isolation. I’ve been five months in detention and they interrogated me only once for half an hour. So I don’t think they care too much about the investigation process or about finding out the truth of what happened on the 10th of February, what they care about is isolation. This house arrest has the same goal now, to isolate me from political events here, because they know that our concept is just and our analysis came to be quite accurate, and likewise our predictions about how we are not going to get independence, which was in opposition to almost everybody else one year ago, two years ago. So, I think they want to continue this indefinitely.

Would the upcoming elections be one cause for isolating you?

I don’t know, I don’t think so. I don’t think that even they believe in elections. You know, because we are not registered as a political party, they know that we would not run for elections …

But you are registered as a civic organization …

No, we are not registered at all. So, what they want to do with these elections is to divert the energy of the people from fighting for freedom and independence to voting for political parties. They are going to give legitimacy to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and to the negotiating team with these elections, and at the same time they are trying to create a broader, stronger coalition between the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). Besides centralizing domestic politics with this negotiation team, they want a stronger government, because they foresee some kind of future agreement with Serbia, which is going to be in between the Ahtisaari package on one hand, and autonomy on the other. In order to have some more legitimacy for the next agreement with Serbia, they do not need this coalition of LDK-Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), which is doubly weak; weak because it doesn’t really have the majority of MPs backing it, and weak again because Agim Ceku as prime minister, in addition, is very weak in his own political party (without a real base there). Therefore, they want this LDK-PDK coalition to feel sure and certain they’ll make that future agreement. Meanwhile they are managing the desire of Hasim Thaci to become prime minister, who wants that by all means.

Albin Kurti (Photo by Angyal Ágnes)

You mean that after independence Thaci will become prime minister?

No, there will be no independence with this process. After elections Hasim Thaci wants to become prime minister, but they want to have Hasim Thaci sign future agreements as a price for that. That happened in Rambouillet for example, where he signed. (Ed. note: The collapse of negotiations in the winter of 1999 between the Kosovar team and the Yugoslav delegation at Rambouillet castle in France led to the bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO, which started on 24 March 1999. Slobodan Milovesic instructed his negotiators not to sign the draft agreement put forward by the French and British mediators.) According to that accord, Kosova is part of Serbia and Yugoslavia, nominally. In addition, that accord included the demilitarization of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UCK), which is terrible, because politics without force does not mean much. And they then used the desire of Thaci for recognition and for self-promotion to link to his signature of that Rambouillet agreement. Thaci at that time became prime minister of the Provisional Government of Kosovo. And if it was effective once, why not do it twice, why not do it again?

They are going to do it again, and it is very likely that just in order to become prime minister he is ready to enter into these dirty games – experience shows that he does not hesitate. He will accept some sort of federation of Kosova with Serbia in exchange for being prime minister. One thing is very unfortunate here in Kosova after 8 years: you can no longer see either party interest or collective group interest, but only personal interest. However, this kind of political elite was fabricated by this neo-colonial administration. It is a very neo-colonial situation here. Yes, we have mobile phones and laptops, but all that does not really mean much regarding freedom and social wellbeing. There is a happy marriage between UNMIK and this political elite, because they have become a shield for each other against the people.

Where would you place your own movement in this political spectrum? How would you define your movement?

AK: We are a political movement, which is fighting for a referendum for Kosova, as an exercise of the right to self-determination, because we believe that the official way towards independence (i.e. with negotiations) is wrong. The problem is not that independence is being delayed; the problem is that independence is impossible in the way in which they are going. It is like asking when we are going to arrive in Portugal when we are in fact going toward Hungary. It is the wrong way. Through negotiations with Serbia you cannot have independence, because independence was your initial position. With the very fact that you got into negotiations you are going to go lower and lower, also because Serbia is stronger than you. So, independence is impossible with these negotiations. That is why our movement is not pointing at the outcome, at the result, but at the method, at the principle. We want to point out that only with the right method can you achieve the desired outcome. So this is why we are conceptually different. When we say no to negotiations, we do not mean categorically no negotiations, but no negotiations with Serbia about our own country. There are many things we should talk about with Serbia, but only after they give up Kosova. We cannot at this point negotiate about our own home with Serbia, where there is no regret, no penitence about the past. And, in addition, Serbia wants to take over Kosova again by carrying out a territorial rearrangement beforehand, first with this Ahtisaari package: decentralization, ‘ex-territoriality’ of the orthodox churches and monasteries, and so on.

While Albanian politicians are always talking in terms of freedom and rights, Serbia talks in terms of territory. They always speak about borders. They wanted territories in Croatia, but could not get them in the end; they wanted territories in Bosnia, and they got Republika Srpska there; now they want territories in Kosova. They want to create a kind of territorial entity of Serbs, an autonomous entity in Kosova, which is going to blackmail the independence of Kosova forever. That is why they are most concerned with the territorial continuity of the enclaves, and that is what the package of Ahtisaari is actually about – and this package is a result of Serbian aspirations, as a result of wrongly addressing the issue of Kosova, and as a result of the weakness and ignorance of Albanian politicians.

The international community, because it does not really have any great strategic interests here, followed mainly the path of least resistance – so they exercised more pressure where the resistance was lower, and that happened to be in Pristina, not in Belgrade.

So you say basically that – going back to the previous question – your movement is “the opposition” now in Kosovo.

Yes, we believe that we are the only true opposition, because the (Pristina parliamentary – ed. note) opposition is not the opposition. They are all under UNMIK, so this “Unity Team” (the Kosovo negotiation team led by President Sejdiu – ed. note) is the most anti-democratic formula. It is completely above our institutions, which are institutions without sovereignty, very powerless institutions, and it is completely under UNMIK. It is like a one-way filter: it enables UNMIK to control our institutions and the people, and it prevents the people and our institutions from touching UNMIK.

Your position on the way towards independence is clear. Regarding other political issues on the agenda, such as economic and social questions,, is your movement ready to debate such issues?

Well, yes. We are ready to debate, however we think that these are interlinked somehow. Now we see this very bad situation, which is a crisis about to explode, and unfortunately for UNMIK only the explosion of a crisis is a crisis. They don’t care what is happening here today, with this huge poverty and unemployment. The very fact of considering that “only the explosion of a crisis is a crisis” leads to the militarization of security as such. They think that security has to do with sending more NATO troops here and more policemen and so on. They do not link security, stability and peace with the social wellbeing of the people. Over 60% are unemployed, 40% live on less than 2 euros per day, another 15% are in extreme poverty, living on one euro per day, they are basically hungry on a daily basis. This is because some extreme neo-liberal policies have been applied here. The ideal of neo-liberalism is to privatize energy and communications, and this is what is happening here now. They are planning to give the airport to a concession, and then they are going to privatize even mines. They are talking now about privatizing the Post and Telecommunications of Kosovo (PTK). They usually start with a debate, with different options, but then they strengthen their most favourable option, and that option becomes exclusive. And all the money from privatization is abroad, in some foreign banks. The Kosovo Trust Agency (KTA) owns Kosova in the sense that both social and publicly owned enterprises are owned by the KTA. They control us, they have us here. I think that the economy has failed here; there is a terrible economic stagnation, with social misery on one hand, matched with political disappointment on the other. This is the actual situation.

The salary of a doctor or professor is 250 euros, while if you are a driver at the OSCE it is 800 euros. Why would a person come here and become an UNMIK administrator? It is for the double salary, low expenses, rapid advancement in career, no accountability, no taxes, and the fact that they don’t live with the consequences of their decisions, and I am sorry to say this, but the majority of them are mediocre in their own countries. As with every bureaucracy, they seek some kind of self-perpetuation, and this is combined with their desire to show Kosova as a real success story. For that reason, they have to hush the opposition, because their legitimacy comes from above, not from the people. Nobody voted for Ruecker and these guys. They came from above with a parachute. They lack local legitimacy, and they try to compensate for this lack of legitimacy in two ways. The first way is through our institutions that they created and they control, and obedient politicians, who are repaid for their submissiveness by tolerating their corruption (politicians are the richest people in this country), and on the other hand by having the people silent. With the very fact that you are silent, you somehow give your consent to them. Now, they see that people are not that silent, there is VETEVENDOSJE! and some other organizations and individuals, and they don’t like this. Precisely because their legitimacy is being built indirectly, it is very fragile. They are very much concerned about having as strong legitimacy as possible. You know, the UN went into Cyprus for a couple of years, but they are still there 33 years later, and here they came for a couple of years, and that is why Albanians received UNMIK administrators with flowers. If you had told the Albanians in June 1999 that after 8 years they would not have their independent and sovereign state, they would not be welcomed here at all. The simple people thought it is OK, now they are going to have their independent state, and that is it.

But unfortunately, this was a kind of collective misunderstanding of Albanians in Kosova who thought that collective salvation is final victory as well. They didn’t see the big gap between the two that has to be bridged. What we are pointing out is a fundamental choice: self-determination. We believe that first we need sovereignty, first we need a state, and then political pluralism can be effective. Political parties were allowed by Milosevic here, we organized demonstrations in the nineties, Milosevic was beating us. We had the KLA, Milosevic was killing us. You were in a political party, Milosevic said: fine, because that falls ultimately within the discourse of ‘divide and rule.’ When political parties, have no real power, all they do is like improvisation, it is making a carnival out of democracy. So this is happening here, the same again: if you hold demonstrations, they shoot at you, they imprison you. If you have a political party, again, it is fine. In the years 1999 and 2000 in the OSCE, you could register a political party with 50 signatures! They wanted as many political parties as possible here: 39, 40, 45 political parties, even 62 in total now, let’s just have a bloom of political parties, that’s great (they think rightly). They don’t want you to problematize the framework, they wanted you to choose within the framework. It is like when the guards put you in prison and ask you whether you want to sleep up or down, as a freedom of choice (sic). And you say, I want to get out of prison. No, no, no. You have to stay here, but in which bed do you want to sleep? Likewise: Do you want to sleep with the PDK, the LDK or the AAK? You can choose between political parties, but there will be no referendum. And that is why we say that it’s not five people in the negotiation team, or five bureaucrats, who decide about your country, but 2 million people. Let the people decide.

Let us suppose that a referendum would end up with 99% pro-independence Albanian votes. How would you translate that into practice?

First, I think that kind of referendum is not possible for the time being because of the political path in which our institutions are heading. What we need is huge, massive demonstrations. Hopefully, hundreds of thousands of people are ready to protest, for weeks and months if necessary, to block these institutions and to ask for a time limit for UNMIK. UNMIK is here for eight years, as an interim mission without a deadline, even though interim means a deadline by definition. So, that time limit, that deadline, should be matched with the free will of the people of Kosova, with a referendum. And if we are committed enough, well-organized and strong, I think that the international community will change its mind since they too have had enough of Belgrade’s expansionist aspirations. After a referendum we would have a period of three months or six months until new elections. Meanwhile, we have to prepare our constitution, we have to make the KPS (Kosovo Police Service) our police, because it is now Richard Monk who is the first pillar of UNMIK and in control of our police. (Imagine, we pay for our police and the internationals control them!) Then, we would have the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) as our own army. NATO should stay in Kosovo, but should stay in Kosovo in agreement with Pristina, under a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), just like in Albania or in Macedonia. KFOR is here according to the June 1999 Kumanovo agreement, which was concluded with the criminal Jugoslav Army. Maybe the content of NATO would be the same here, but the principle would be different.

I am not saying that after independence Kosova will become a beautiful garden immediately, , but we are going to have an opportunity for progress. Now we are deprived of that opportunity. Businessmen got into politics, politicians became businessmen, and they are destroying our system of education with these private universities which function as a tool of reproduction for these ignorant political elites. It is really sad, because nobody thought that after the withdrawal of Serbian police and military forces we would end up in this kind of situation.

For the sake of our Hungarian readers, who may not know the situation here very well, could you please summarize briefly what happened on the 10th of February 2007?

Let me explain something first about self-determination. What we are seeking is not ethnic self-determination. Ethnic self-determination was what Milosevic was saying. Milosevic said: We want everywhere where there are Serbs to have self-determination, ethnic self-determination. He wanted self-determination for ethnic Serbs in Croatia, for Serbs in Bosnia, but not for Hungarians in Vojvodina, and not for Albanians in Kosova, not for Bosnians in the Sandjak. Therefore, it was not a principle, but an interest of his, a way of wrapping his military aggressions in former Yugoslavia. What we want is self-determination for Kosova as an entity, as a political and territorial entity which constituted a part of former Yugoslavia, and as the next phase in the ongoing process of disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.

Then you would exclude ideas about the partition of Kosovo?

If partition happens, then it will mean the partition of the North (the zone of Kosovska Mitrovica – ed. note), then the Valley of Presevo will obviously seek the same, then Western Macedonia, etc. New borders mean new wars. If we can hold on to these borders of Kosova, we can hope for some peaceful solution. If you start to talk about new borders, that is going to generate new conflicts. We think that sticking to these borders of Kosova somehow enables hope for peaceful solutions.

Regarding the 10th of February, we were protesting against the package of Ahtisaari. There are five municipalities at present, which are controlled by parallel structures of Serbia (Novo Brdo, Strpce, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Zvecan). According to the Ahtisaari Plan you have another five Serb majority municipalities (North of Mitrovica, Gracanica, Ranillug, Partesh and Vrbovc) and tripling of the territory of Novo Brda. What Serbia wants, and is getting according to Ahtisaari’s package, is to link these new municipalities in the eastern part of Kosova territorially, bit by bit. Why? To isolate the Valley of Presevo from Kosova, which is mainly inhabited by Albanians.

Before they go ultimately for the North, they want to isolate the Valley of Presevo so that Pristina cannot use Presevo as a balancing argument for the North. And they want to extend the North towards the North-West since there are mountains, very important from the military and strategic point of view. Again Ahtisaari’s package enables this: Wherever there are 5,000 inhabitants and 75% of the population belongs to a minority, automatically that will become a municipality where this minority becomes the majority and rules. Serbia wants to take over this part and this part (the part with red dots in it). And then to have some kind of federation between Kosova and Serbia out of these negotiations in a future conference like the Rambouillet or Dayton format, and this, which is in white here, to be a sort of Albanian Republic in Serbia as a balance for Republika Srpska in Bosnia.

Once you have abandoned the concept of rights and principles then you end in trade. Negotiations are about trade and there you enter into bargaining. In trade, Serbia wants to be compensated. The only way that Serbia can give up 70% of Kosova’s territory is if it is compensated by Republika Srpska (after 7-8 years). This is how Belgrade thinks and plans.

Will this be accomplished?

Well yes, if we stay quiet and if we keep on going with these politicians who give a lot of concessions to Serbia, thinking that by being obedient to the international community in the end there will be independence as a reward or gift. Politics does not function like that.

This is why we demonstrated on the 10th of February 2007. We started a demonstration for a full referendum, full vetëvendosje (self-determination) – the name of our movement – and no decentralization before sovereignty. First sovereignty, then decentralization. Decentralization before sovereignty makes sovereignty impossible. Through decentralization they are making the territorial unity of Kosova impossible. Likewise, through this double majority principle in our assembly Serbs could veto any kind of amendment, any new amendment in our future constitution. They are going to prevent Kosova from declaring independence according to the Ahtisaari Plan, even though he said “supervised independence.” Supervised independence refers actually only to the new EU mission here, as a follow-up to UNMIK. Like in Bosnia, this means corrective powers to change our laws, and substitutive powers to sack our ministers. He (the new EU representative – ed.) is going to be like a post-modern monarch there, who has the supreme power, who has the last word on everything, and tries to look cool. In sum, this is why we are protesting against the package of Ahtisaari.

We started to march on the 10th of February, like always, and then we saw the police metal barricades. Through loudspeakers we told them to remove those barricades after several speeches were held there, but they did not do anything. Then we moved to the metal barricades and removed them, and then linking arms, we formed a human chain and started to walk through the police lines. They immediately fired tear gas and pepper gas. After no more than 15 seconds they started to shoot with rubber bullets. It was Romanian and Polish units who were shooting, especially the Romanian one, with rubber bullets from a very short distance at the heads of people. Two people (Arben Xheladini and Man Balaj) were killed, 82 were injured, some of them severely, and some 16 were arrested, and it is only me who is in prison now. I am facing a sentence of one to ten years. What they really wanted was to destroy our movement, and they saw the demonstration as a chance for that. They want that nobody should demonstrate here again. But we held many other demonstrations afterwards, and now the streets are open somehow. They put barricades near institutions and let us march, but do not block our streets anymore. The Romanian police, after they had a license to kill, had permission to leave the crime scene, because they have immunity. And moreover they were promoted back home in Romania.

All the international judges who deal with me have immunity from the law which they apply on me. They have categorized me as Category A, as a dangerous prisoner, and this is why they keep policemen at the door here. During the night, in the second house arrest (because this is the third house arrest), they wore machine guns and bullet-proof vests staying 24 hours a day here at the door of my apartment. Someone thinks that I am the biggest problem in this country!

It is going to get even tougher in the year 2008. The EU mission is bringing 1,300 policemen and judges here. Like Pierre Bourdieu said: The state has two hands, the left hand and the right hand. The left hand is to stroke – like when a mother strokes a child: education, culture, art, social insurance, healthcare, and so on. The right hand is the fist with which they punch you: the judicial system, army, police. They are investing here only in the fist, not in the left hand. Why? Because they know that the solution for the status of Kosova will lack compliance with the will of the people. And when you lack compliance between the political system and the will of the people you need some mechanism of repression. That is going to happen because I do not think that Kosova will gain independence taking into consideration how the issue is being addressed.

The other problem with Ahtisaari’s Package and why we demonstrated against it is this cultural heritage. All the Orthodox cultural heritage here is now going to be called Serb cultural heritage. So, for example, if an Albanian Muslim wants to convert to an Orthodox, he will become a Serb! That is according to the package: he automatically becomes a Serb, because the Orthodox Church here is now the Serb Orthodox Church. Skanderbeg was an Orthodox. His gift to the Monastery of Decani is still there. The Orthodox heritage belongs to all the people of Kosova, because it’s part of our history, because religion isn’t just particular to one ethnic group or another. And it’s not just our heritage that they are usurping, but also more territory. One could understand if a monastery would need 3 or 4 hectares, but why one thousand hectares?! The special zone contains one thousand hectares around the monastery of Decani: 7 km by 1.5 km.

The people who own the land now only have the right to cut the grass there, nothing more. They want to take the mountains – here is the monastery of Decani, 8 km by 1 km by 200 m. Why? There will be 45 zones like this, all autonomous from local and central government. Including 250 hectares for the Gazimestani monument, which was build in 1953 (during the infamous Rankovic’s period) and where Milosevic’s notorious speech in 1989 announcing future wars took place. Here they want to take Saint Archangel, which is in the outskirts of Prizren; here in the middle of the town of Lipjan the same, which could turn Lipjan into a second Mitrovica. Belgrade is playing this clash of civilizations card as well, saying that ‘Serbs are somehow defending European Christianity in Kosova’, which is nonsense. Kosova is not the cradle of Serbia, but they want to make it so. When they say ‘Kosova is the cradle of Serbia’, they tell you their project: With this cultural heritage, they want to make Kosova dysfunctional, and at the same time to develop this new thesis about Albanians.

The old Serbian thesis (from Garasanin to Cubrilovic and even Ivo Andric) is that Albanians are primitive people, not really civilized, and that Serbs should rule over them. But because this is merely a racist theory (which however fit in with colonialism a century ago), now it is very inappropriate. So they have come up with this new thesis that Albanians are not native people. According to them, Albanians came from Albania. They want to take over the medieval phase of Kosova, to remove the link between antiquity and modernity. To say that Albanians came in the best case after 1690, after Carnojevic. Obviously, this is Milosevic by other means. Milosevic was trying not only to have Kosova, but to have it without Albanians. To expel them to Albania as they are not native people! Kostunica is just somewhat more sophisticated than Milosevic, since now, of course, after Milosevic lost the war with NATO, he knows that militarily he cannot really win and he has to prepare something else.

However, Milosevic was compensated for military defeat with political victory by sending the issue of Kosova to the UN Security Council (SC), where it got stuck probably for a very long time. There is an interesting interview with Milosevic, from 22 April 1999, in The New York Times. He said he would accept an international presence in Kosova if it would be the UN, not NATO. Thus he gave the first sign of compromise, and then Cernomyrdyn and Ahtisaari came and had an agreement with him, and consequently we have SC Resolution 1244, which makes Kosova’s address a global address: the Security Council. Even though nominally Kosova is the Security Council’s issue, this council practically kicked us out recently, because Kosova might be an important issue, but it is not urgent, it is not an emergency issue with which they usually deal. On the other hand, Kosova is neither a ‘success story’ issue, which would be the case if Kosova and Serbia would reach an agreement, and then the Security Council would be there to formalize it. Lacking both these situations, the SC sent us back to the Contact Group. That’s what happened really.

We heard that the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team submitted a draft treaty agreement with Serbia in London recently. There is a provision in it saying basically that Albanians would forgive all the sins of the past committed by the Serbs, just to reach the agreement. What’s your opinion of that?

They say that (translating from the original text in Albanian – ed.) “We express pity for the periods of conflict and war which separated us, and in particular events that had to do with the violent collapse of Yugoslavia in the nineties.” You know what? This was not written by them (the negotiating team), this is a ‘translation.’ Who cares about the violent collapse of Yugoslavia? Yugoslavia was an artificial creature. Yugoslavia was our prison. Why do they put the ‘violent collapse of Yugoslavia’ as something bad? This implies: Let’s go back then! Yugoslavs means South Slavic peoples. We Albanians are not Slavic peoples at all. So why is this? It is the kind of neutral language which is a malevolent neutrality, just to please some international circles, and still stupidly believing that in this way they are taking away the arguments of Serbia and Russia and in the end they won’t have anything to say and we’re going to get independence!

Yes, it is indirectly forgiveness for Serbia’s crimes of the past. The entire process of negotiations has been something that makes the aggression of Serbia equal with our war of liberation; that equates us as victims with the Serbian police and army forces as criminals. NATO had no political mandate: not to liberate Kosova, just humanitarian intervention; human rights, not collective freedom. It was an intervention about human rights, and that is the edge they still keep. When you say only human rights, that somehow leads to autonomy, not to an independent state.

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