Sunday, February 12, 2006

Fatmir Sejdiu: Ibrahim Rugovas Spirit to Guide Kosovo

Can Karpat, AIA Turkish and Balkan Section
One could have never dreamt of a better president for Kosovo: Ibrahim Rugova’s double. All major external powers support the second Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu. In Kosovo he enjoys a large base of support.

The “second violin”
The new President of Kosovo Fatmir Sejdiu (photo: Tagesschau)
The new President of Kosovo
Fatmir Sejdiu

Italian Osservatorio sui Balcani summoned up the situation that the new President of Kosovo Fatmir Sejdiu finds himself in a musical way: “He has never been the ‘first violin’ in political milieus of Kosovo. The greatest challenge will be to turn him into the first violin”.
Within the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), Sejdiu was definitely the “second violin” so far. He was one of the co-founders of the party. Since the 1990s he has been on the presidency of LDK and a very close associate of the late President Ibrahim Rugova.

Following the decease of Rugova, some proposed a neutral figure like a senior university professor for the presidency. As far as the “senior university professor” part of the proposition is concerned, they had what they suggested. The same analysts also added that such a neutral person would be unlikely to have the necessary political authority to lead the status talks. What political authority Fatmir Sejdiu really has is to be seen in the future. However, Sejdiu is not that “neutral” as those analysts foresaw in their proposition since he is one of the veterans of LDK. He took part in the working out of almost all the major documents of the party and a number of legislative texts as well.

There is not much to tell about Sejdiu’s past. His political register is brief. Sejdiu was born on the 23rd of October 1951 in Pakastica in the municipality of Podujevo (north-eastern Kosovo). He graduated from the Law Faculty at the Pristina University. He also has a PhD in law. Later he taught at the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Political Sciences. Sejdiu, who is from the moderate wing of LDK, is the current secretary general of the party, and also the head of its parliamentary delegation. He is the assembly presidency member. Moreover he is member of the Committee for the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly and the Committee for International Cooperation and European Union Integration.

Sejdiu is considered as more realistic than Rugova was: “I am realistic and I know Kosovo well. I know its strengths and its weaknesses”. So far Sejdiu always kept himself behind the scenes. For 15 years he followed the path led by Rugova. Now he is to lead the way alone. His perspective for Kosovo is identical to that of Rugova: To create an independent Kosovo through peaceful means. Even during the NATO intervention in 1999, Sejdiu expressed himself against the use of violence, just as Rugova did. At that time Sejdiu forbade his three sons to carry weapons. He does not have a military past. And this is indeed remarkable in the context of Kosovo. Oliver Ivanovic, head of Serbian List could not help emphasising this point: “It is very important that he does not have military past. Till now this was an obstacle for communication between Serbian community and such people”. Although Ivanovic did not specify whom he meant by “such people”, one of these must be the ex-guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci.

In fact no one really expected that the new Kosovo President could be elected so quickly and easily. Many analysts prophesied violent clashes for power, at least within LDK. However, Sejdiu managed to be the sole candidate for presidency by the 30th of January. Analysts said that Sejdiu's quiet, reserved manner won over the LDK's various factions. According to Kole Berisha, a LDK member: "[Sejdiu] is a man of tolerance, cooperation and understanding". Even the assembly speaker and LDK member Nexhat Daci, who was one of the most probable candidates, supported Sejdiu.

Fatmir Sejdiu (photo: Xinhua)
Fatmir Sejdiu
The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) requested to postpone the vote until next week (13th of February) due to Hashim Thaci's schedule. However, the Special Representative of UN Secretary General Soren Jessen-Petersen sharply criticised any delay, saying it is urgent to move the process forward. On the 10th of February, contrary to the expectations, DPK did not field a candidate. According to the Constitution, a two-thirds majority in the 120-seat assembly in either the first or second round of voting is needed to elect a president. If two attempts fail, a simple majority (61 votes) is enough in the third round. Sejdiu was elected president in the third round with 80 votes “in favour” and 12 votes “against”. The parties, which voted “in favour” were LDK and its coalition partner the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), the Turkish - Bosniak alliance “G-6 +” (including the Kosovo Turkish Democratic Party and Vakat) and ORA Party. Serbian MPs boycott the Assembly since the bloody riots in March 2004. Only two Serbian parliamentarians from the Serbian Democratic Party participated in the voting. The eight representatives from the "Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija" did not participate in the session.

Fatmir Sejdiu, who became the second Kosovo President, received a standing ovation as the vote passed. Sejdiu is also expected to head the Kosovo Albanian negotiation team in Vienna: “I assure you I will lead the negotiating team as president Rugova created it, to finish this process as soon as possible within 2006”. He is definitely the best “stabiliser” that one could ever wanted for Kosovo during this fragile transition period.

Reactions are reassuring

There were many others, often more powerful than Sejdiu, who could have been expected to apply for presidency. The popular Nexhat Daci and the powerful opposition leader Hashim Thaci were the most
Nexhat Daci (photo: LDK official web site)
Nexhat Daci
probable candidates.

However Sejdiu is backed by all major western powers. Supporting Sejdiu, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) seems to refute the international criticism, which claims that the UNMIK settled a semi-colonial government, and thus did not give Kosovo the opportunity to develop its own democratic structures. The two above mentioned politicians have their power bases rooted not in modern political institutions but in their home regions, their clans, or their old UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army) networks. Sejdiu, however, is one of those few, who has a civil and pacifist past.

Therefore there is no wonder that the NATO, the EU and the UNMIK congratulated the new president with great zeal and promised him their full support. In his statement, NATO’s Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer put emphasis on Sejdiu’s “reputation for moderation and willingness to seek compromise”. This reputation was the key of his presidency. Bulgarian Foreign Ministry was one of the first to congratulate Sejdiu on his election. Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and Prime Minister Sali Berisha also congratulated Sejdiu on his election.

Even the most crucial party of the Kosovo dispute, namely Serbia reacted positively to the election of Sejdiu. Serbian President Boris Tadic stated: “Mr Sejdiu, my door is always open to you, for us to begin direct discussions”. However, the Serbs of Kosovo are not enthusiastic. Milan Ivanovic, President of the Serbian National Council for Northern Kosovo stated: “We do not expect anything from Sejdiu. He does not have legitimacy to represent Serbs from Kosovo. Electing of Sejdiu was a result of the needs of UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen”.
In his first speech as president, Sejdiu stressed that he is ready for dialogue not only with the Serbs of Kosovo, but also with other minorities in the province. He added that he would continue cooperating with the EU, the USA and the Contact Group. One dissonant note though: He emphasised that the independence from Serbia is non-negotiable. Yet, no one could expect from a Kosovo Albanian politician, let alone the president, to plead for anything else but independence. A disillusioned Marko Jaksic, member of the Serbian negotiation team, stated: “For Serbs from Kosovo it does not make a difference if Hashim Thaci or Fatmir Sejdiu is president. All of them have same goal and that is independent Kosovo”.
There is one difference between Sejdiu and Rugova. Rugova was a poet whereas Sejdiu is a lawyer. Not only Sejdiu is expected to be more realistic than his predecessor, but also he is expected to be less idealistic. And that is the very point, which worries some Kosovo Albanians. These sceptics are anxious that Sejdiu, for legal reasons, tend to compromise with Belgrade, which proposes “more than autonomy, less than independence”. It is also claimed that a couple of days before the elections, Sejdiu received some anonymous letters, which were read: “Who elects Sejdiu hinders Kosovo from independence and becomes the enemy of Kosovo”. It is largely believed that the status talks will result in conditional independence for Kosovo. Even this solution is seen as an unpleasant compromise by some milieus in Kosovo.
Former American Ambassador to Serbia-Montenegro, William Montgomery revealed some shocking information to the independent Serbian radio B92: “[Rugova’s] attraction to foreign diplomats in the mid-nineties, however, was precisely because he never even raised the issue of independence. His focus was solely on a non-violent struggle for increased autonomy and respect for human rights”. Could the international community have found in Sejdiu this potential of pleading for “independence” before cameras while “larger autonomy” in diplomatic milieus? Intriguing speculation.

LDK is the creation of Rugova. The party members were kept together by Rugova’s charisma. Now the question is whether Sejdiu will have the necessary authority to keep the party together. Kosovo Albanian daily Epoka e Re claimed that Nexhat Daci will try to gain control over LDK. However, probably none of the party members could maintain the degree of loyalty and voter support, which Rugova enjoyed. Virtually all the other parties will be looking to pick up supporters and increasing their own voter base.

One of these parties is no doubt Thaci’s DPK. Thaci is strangely silent these days. He did not speak much after the decease of Rugova. He did not apply for the presidency, appearing to have accepted the nomination of Sejdiu. Whether this is the silence before the storm is to be seen. Yet, one thing is certain: He can afford to wait for some time. Because he has two aces in hand.

If one has to enumerate the top three of the most popular politicians in Kosovo, these would be Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj. Ibrahim Rugova deceased on the 21st of January this year. Haradinaj, who turned himself in to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, is not allowed to get involved in any public political activity. So, the winner is no one else but Thaci. He will indeed take
Hashim Thaci (photo: Gazeta Java)
Hashim Thaci
benefit from this most advantageous political situation. The crucial question is to know how he will try to take this benefit.

Thaci also has a first class trump in hand: He is an elected member to the delegation for the status talks, which will take start on the 20th of February in Vienna. In this regard Thaci has all the chances to change the balance of power in his favour since his party has a considerable constituency, namely 30 seats in the Assembly. Some Kosovo Albanian newspapers close to Thaci plead for an opposition member to head the delegation in Vienna. The presence of two men, who are unable to reconcile with one another in the delegation would hardly prove beneficial to Kosovo.

However, none of these hypotheses are disturbing. All these anxieties were present even before the decease of Rugova. The compromise President Sejdiu may be an easier “prey” to Thaci than the mythical Rugova. Yet, Thaci must be aware that his divisive methods would decrease his influence in Kosovo as well as abroad. The international community, which is determined to resolve the final status problem by the end of this year, would not let Thaci aggravate the Serbs with his stubborn rhetoric, and thwart Sejdiu's peaceful methods. In this regard the picture is quite reassuring.

The determinant factor will be the external powers. If these powers made up their mind for the conditional independence of Kosovo, either with Sejdiu or with Thaci, they can well manage to have it. Even Russia, the historic protector of Serbia, quietly admits that independence is inevitable. Yet, to impose a decision is one thing; to have the acceptance of the native people is another. No foreign mediator has ever been able to definitively control violence in the Balkans so far. Will the western seed bloom on the Balkan soil this time? That is the question.

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