Thursday, February 02, 2006

US Ambassador: Rugova never asked for Independence

Former US ambassador to Serbia has claimed that Former Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova never asked foreign diplomats for Independence. He claims Rugova was afraid to ask diplomats and instead turned to the media to repeat his pleas for Independence. This may come as a surprise to many people, considering the fact that Rugova bored the media with his pleas for Independent Kosovo. What is interesting to note is the fact that Rugova was accused by the KLA in 1998-1999 of not asking his International contacts to accept Kosovo as Independent state. Rugova’s supporters were outraged by this accusation at the time.

The Former ambassador claims that he met Rugova many times but he was never asked by Mr. Rugova to support Independence. It’s not clear if the Ambassador has any kind of motivation to reveal this kind of embarrassing information, but I would not be surprised if he is right. Not claiming to have known anything, but I always had the fear that Rugova was not courageous enough to ask his contacts for Independence. The reason for this is the fact that Mr.Rugova did not like people who disagreed with him and so he simply didn’t ask question that he thought may give him negative answers. It would be interesting to know if other diplomats will confirm this kind of Information. The Former Ambassador revealed this information in an Interview with an Independent Serbian radio B92. He also wrote the following comment for the same radio:

Kosovo After The Death Of Ibrahim Rugova

By William Montgomery

He will for most Kosovar Albanians always be the "Father" of their independence movement. His 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.

Ibrahim Rugova was far from a typical political leader. Educated in the Sorbonne, he was a respected writer and intellectual in the former Yugoslavia. He came to prominence in 1989 when he was elected President of the Kosovo Writer's Union. When Slobodan Milosovic abolished Kosovo's autonomous status later that year, he founded the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). It emphasized human rights for the Kosovar Albanians, while adhering rigidly to a policy of non-violence. He maintained that position his entire life, even when some of his key party members were murdered in the past couple years, presumably at the direction of other Kosovar Albanian political parties.

I will be the first to admit that I continually underestimated him. From my initial meetings with him fifteen years ago, he never seemed to have the drive, charisma, or ambition to capture and maintain the support of the Kosovar Albanians, let alone lead them. He seemed to lack focus and his soft-spoken approach in international meetings was not impressive. Moreover, I was convinced that his actions in 1999, when he criticized the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and even met with Milosevic during the bombing campaign, calling for a political solution, would doom him with the Kosovar Albanian electorate. But that was not the case. He subsequently twice won elections for President, overcoming opposition for the former leaders of the KLA in so doing. He also maintained a firm hold on his party - something, which has become far more apparent once his health deteriorated last fall and he was unable to continue his long-standing practice of daily consultations with party members from all over the country.

He will for most Kosovar Albanians always be the "Father" of their independence movement. His 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. Whether this is because he knew very well that any talk of independence at that time would have been dangerous for him and unwelcome to foreigners ---or whether his support for independence evolved with the situation in the later 90s is unknown to me. He is being buried, reportedly at his request, in a part of a cemetery reserved for KLA fighters. Given his deliberate distancing of himself and his party from the KLA and his subsequent political struggles with the political parties established by former KLA fighters, this seems unusual.

His death last Saturday from lung cancer raises several questions. Most immediately, what impact will it have on the upcoming negotiations on the future status of Kosovo? Who will take his place as leader of the Kosovar Albanian delegation to the talks? In the longer term, who will become the President of Kosovo? The Constitution specifies that the current Speaker of Parliament, Nexhat Daci, will become acting President, but it is unclear when new elections for that post will have to be scheduled and who will prevail. Moreover, Rugova's political party, the LDK, was very much his creation and none of the potential successors to him as leader of that Party, including Daci, can hope to maintain the degree of loyalty and voter support, which he enjoyed. Virtually all the other parties will be looking to pick up supporters and increasing their own voter base as a result.

The immediate question upon which the Kosovar Albanian politicians must agree is who will be designated to take Rugova's place as leader of their delegation in the talks on Future Status. These talks have been postponed until next month due to Rugova's death. This is potentially a divisive question, as there is no clear formula for choosing the Delegation Leader and no guarantee that Nexhat Daci will be chosen simply because he is acting President. Moreover, Daci is abrasive and has alienated many Albanian politicians. This includes Veton Surroi, who has bluntly stated that he will withdraw if Daci is chosen. And Surroi is far from alone in his view. Daci, however, will make a concerted effort to gain the position in order to solidify his status as Rugova's successor in the LDK Party and in political life in general. How this plays out will have an impact on the upcoming political process in Kosovo, for better or worse.

It is possible that Rugova's absence will not have much direct impact on the negotiations themselves. First of all, his serious illness has been known for some time and he was not ever expected to play an active role. Secondly, he was never a detail person and under the best of circumstances, would not have been involved in the nitty-gritty of the process. Thirdly, all the Kosovar Albanian political leaders, including Rugova, have long been fully united in their unequivocal support for full independence for Kosovo within current borders. Finally, expecting that the final decision will go their way, virtually all the Kosovar Albanian political leaders will be on their best behavior and will be looking to conclude the negotiations as quickly as possible. Their positions on many of these issues are not really far apart in any case.

The reality, however, is that there are now two separate but linked processes going on. The first is the negotiations on Future Status. The second is a lengthy struggle among Kosovar Albanians for political positions and influence. I think that it will be very difficult to keep these two issues separate. It is far more likely that at some stage in the negotiating process -- or at many stages -- domestic politics will make them more complicated and the outcome of key issues less certain.

The big winner in this process, thus far, is Hashim Thaci. Rugova's death has eliminated the one person who has consistently been able to gather more support and more votes that he. Another of Thaci's political opponents, Ramush Haradinaj, is currently under indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). So Thaci's position is now stronger than ever. He can afford to wait for several months before scheduling new Parliamentary elections, knowing full well that the chances are great that the internal contradictions in Rugova's Party are so great that absent his leadership, the Party is likely to fracture and also to gradually lose support.

It will be interesting to see if Ramush Haradinaj, who has been released until his trial begins, is actually permitted by the ICTY to travel throughout Kosovo and to engage in political activity. I had thought that nothing that the ICTY would do could further surprise me, but the idea that he might be permitted to re-enter political life as an indicted war criminal flies in the face of all previous precedents of the ICTY. That it even is being considered is shameful and will simply confirm to many people in the Balkans the political prejudices of the Tribunal.

The true test for the Kosovar Albanian politicians will come in about one year when the decision is made granting them conditional independence. They have thus far shown absolutely no ability to work together, to cooperate, to really define their political platforms, and certainly no desire to reach out to minority groups such as the Serbs. All the parties will be positioning themselves during the coming months for this struggle for power and influence. It really is uncertain how it will all turn out. It is easy to see a scenario whereby Thaci consolidates his power, absent serious rivals, and is able to govern effectively. There have been consistent rumors, for example, of an agreement between Thaci and Daci whereby the former becomes Prime Minister and the latter President. It is also easy to have a scenario where there are no clear winners and it is as chaotic as it has been until now. What is certain is that Ibrahim Rugova's death has made the situation in Kosovo more complicated and will increase even more the doubts surfacing among different members of the European Union about the speed and direction of the negotiations. B92

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