17 March 2006

Rugova's death leaves tragic legacy, dim future for Kosovo Serbs

SERBIANNA (USA), January 23, 2005 02:30 PM (18:30 GMT)

While the world press describes the late Kosovo Albanian President Ibrahim Rugova as moderate, the human rights violations against non-Albanians dramatically escalated under his leadership and not once did he condemn it, say many Serbian leaders.


Albanian girl steals from the remains of a Kosovo Church painted with a graffiti saying "Death to Serbs".


As a result, many see Rugova's death as the turning point for the worse as Kosovo's already beleaguered minorities may have to endure more violence, ethnic intimidation and threats of a large scale pogrom like the one in 2004.


"After 1999, Rugova, with his silence, gave support to the most extreme and violent elements of the Kosovo Albanian society," says Randjel Nojkic, a representative of Kosovo Serb Return Coalition.


"Not once did he ever condemn atrocities committed by his fellow Albanians," says Nojkic.


In 2004, Kosovo Albanians initiated one of the worst Christian pogroms in Europe by destroying churches, burning Serbian houses, killing civilians and their livestock.


"Let's not forget that Rugova was considered a moderate politician while in fact he was a skillful extremist," says Aleksandar Vucic, leader of the Serbian Radical Party.


"Now Albanians may bring in someone similar, like Veton Suroi, also considered moderate, yet it may turn out to be even worse for Kosovo Serbs," say Vucic.


Since 1999, when Ibrahim Rugova was elected president, over 100,000 Kosovo Serbs have been forcefully expelled out of the province.


However, others disagree.


Nebojsa Bakarec, a high ranking official with the Democratic Party of Serbia, believes that Rugova's death will bring no change for the minorities because their situation is so bad that he believes it cannot get any worse.


"I do not expect any change in Kosovo, not even an increase in extremism against Serbs because how much worse can it get for them," says Bakarec.


While equally pessimistic at the current situation of Kosovo Serbs and other minorities, Dragan Sutanovac, an official of the Democratic Party, is optimistic that Kosovo status talks may precipitate change for the better.


"The most important thing is for status talks to continue so that radicalization of Kosovo Albanians does not escalate," says Sutanovac.


"Despite the belief that he was a moderate, Rugova was no man of compromise," says Sutanovac. "Rugova worked with Milosevic and that made his position with Albanians harder so to compensate, he was uncompromising on the issue of independence and advocated no negotiations."


"After his death, there may be a chance for compromise at the negotiations," says Sutanovac.


Many, however, fear that Rugova's death may cause deeper ethnic polarization and deadlock, the sort of climate that could lead to violent Albanian extremism.


"We can't help noticing that the Kosovo Albanians have some serious problems. There is no clear successor to Mr. Rugova, except for people who are unable to talk about compromise," says Radomir Diklic, a leader of Serbia's negotiating team.


Mr. Rugova, a literature scholar, was seen as a moderate Kosovo Albanian leader, but western circles fear fragmentation and radicalization on the Kosovo Albanian side following his death.


Many of the figures who are poised to replace Rugova have rejected the entire concept of the UN-sponsored status talks, proposing instead an armed uprising against the rule of the UN, the remaining minorities, and a unilateral declaration of sovereignty.


EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has called for "unity and responsibility" among Kosovo politicians.


Leader of the Kosovo Serbs, Oliver Ivanovic, says that minorities in Kosovo have to be particularly careful now, because the Albanian power struggle frustrations may scapegoat into violence against Kosovo Serbs.


"When Albanian political parties argue with each other, Kosovo Serbs become collateral damage," says Ivanovic.


Ivanovic did appeal to the UN forces in the province, KFOR and UNMIK, to increase security for the minorities.


The jostle for power in Kosovo has already impacted the decision on funeral preparations leading to confusion over the date of Rugova's burial and the length of the mourning period. A 5-day mourning period and a Wednesday funeral were initially announced, but that eventually turned into an extended, 15-day mourning and burial on Thursday.


Before a new leader for the talks can be elected, Rugova's Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (LDK), the largest party in Kosovo, must find a new chairman. However, the LDK is fractured into two or three influential clans and an agreement among clans may first be necessary.


These clans, largely Muslim, have already rejected the candidacy of Rugova's close adviser Berisha Kolj. Kolj is a Christian.


Kosovo Albanian daily Koha Ditore also warns of a possible chaos and anarchy.


"For many people, Ibrahim Rugova was, first of all, the man who avoided chaos and anarchy. Now, all of a sudden, many people believe, perhaps reasonably, that the peace will be ruined and chaos and anarchy will return," writes Koha Ditore.