Own Goal by Haradinaj and Washington Post- Jelena Milic review of the opinion piece by Haradinaj published by Washington Post

Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) Serbia  Director Jelena Milić’s review of the opinion piece by Ramush Haradinaj published by the Washington Post

On November 28, the respectable American daily Washington Post published an opinion piece by Ramush Haradinaj, Prime Minister of the interim institutions of Kosovo, titled “We will not accept Serbia’s violation of our sovereignty”. By accident or on purpose, the piece was published at the time of the visit to the United States by Hashim Thaci, President of the interim institutions of Kosovo, who met with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, among others. It is generally viewed that Thaci has a somewhat more flexible approach to finding a compromise multidimensional agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, to which the Washington Post does not seem favorably inclined.

The opinion piece is of an unusually poor quality, inconsistent, and in several instances factually incorrect, which is very unlike the usual standards of the Washington Post.

First things first:

At the very beginning of his piece, Haradinaj mentions sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers in achieving Kosovo’s independence. To the best of my knowledge, no American soldiers died during the Kosovo war.  On the other hand, some 10,000 Kosovars lost their lives, mainly civilians, including over 2,000 Serbs and some 500 Roma, Bosniaks, Montenegrins and other non-Albanians. Many of the non-Albanians and even some of the Albanians were killed by Haradinaj and his KLA brethren. The fate of most of the Serbs gone missing still has not been accounted for.

Although Serbia still has a lot of unfinished business in the processing of perpetrators of Serbian nationality for crimes committed against Albanians, and in general confronting with its war crimes past, it is beyond question that Serbia has fulfilled its obligations towards the Hague Tribunal related to delivering highly ranked politicians and members of its army and the police for crimes committed in Kosovo. At the same time, nearly twenty years after the war has ended, Kosovo still has not processed almost anyone responsible for the killings of the non-Albanians.

Let us hope that the indictments of the New Kosovo Specialist Chamber are being well prepared and that there will be no acquittals due to witness deaths, withdrawals or lack of evidence. After all, we remember the vehement opposition by Haradinaj and his close associates, but also by Kosovo’s society as a whole, to the mere establishment of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers for crimes committed by the KLA, for which Serbia should, before all, be grateful to the United States. 

Among all the countries in the Balkans (or all of Europe), Kosovo is the only one in which the head of the government has been indicted for war crimes.  The ICTY only indicts when it has very substantial proof and when the prosecutor believes there is a strong case for conviction.  Both Haradinaj and Thaci should hang their heads in shame for the crimes committed by the KLA against Serbs, Roma and their fellow Albanians.  Just as current Serbian leaders who served in the Milosevic government during the Kosovo war should hang their heads in shame for the crimes committed by the Serbian forces in Kosovo.

It is exactly this circumstance – that a great number of perpetrators still have not been processed – that is contributing to the instability of the region, which Haradinaj completely fails to mention, claiming that a multidimensional compromise agreement – one that he tendentiously calls an “ill-conceived land-trade idea” –would actually “undermine the stability of the region and threaten America’s allies”.

Haradinaj deliberately introduces the argument that a consequence of a multidimensional agreement would be a “peaceful ethnic cleansing”. Let us be clear, leaving Serbs to live peacefully in their own homes and in the Republic in which they were born is not ethnic cleansing of any sort.  No one is advocating ethnic cleansing – peaceful or otherwise -- nor are there any indications of such intentions. Haradinaj fails to notice that since the idea of correcting the administrative line between Belgrade and Pristina became a mainstream issue, there were no movements of the people or any strong tensions, up until Pristina imposed the nonsensical 100 percent customs fee on goods from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.  To put a finer point on it, since the end of the Kosovo war the only ones guilty of ethnic cleansing have been Haradinaj and his KLA brethren.

Haradinaj goes on to claim that, since the end of the war in Kosovo and the declaration of independence in 2008, Kosovo has been building “a modern state committed to democracy and… recognized by more than half of the United Nations’ members”. Different assessments by European Union institutions, unlike Haradinaj, notice many undemocratic trends in Kosovo, which is rather late in the process of EU integration compared to other countries of the region.  The EU especially points out the poor state of the Kosovo judiciary, the pervasive organized crime and the lack of non-Albanian refugee returns.

Reading Haradinaj’s piece in the Washington Post, one could get the impression that Serbia is a globally powerful, mighty force that is succeeding in blocking Kosovo's ’path to the EU, as if Kosovo was already at the EU’s door, having fulfilled all of its commitments, and as if there was, for example, no fear in Spain over Catalan independence (though the author of this piece does not consider these cases to be connected). The same is true for a large number of Interpol members, or members of the U.N. who, judging by the way Haradinaj is presenting it in the Washington Post, do not recognize Kosovo or failed to approve its membership only because of Serbia’s global power. Haradinaj seems to believe these countries were not led by their own interests and assessments, but rather merely succumb to Serbian and Russian pressure.

In his piece in the Washington Post, Haradinaj accuses Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic that by his proposal (which was never made public) he intends to create an “ethnically ‘pure’ state”. This mantra is completely false and is (probably intentionally) repeated by many commentators who a priori reject any idea of a multidimensional agreement. There are twenty-nine registered ethnic minorities in Serbia, including Albanians. Hundreds of children, refugees from the Middle East, have been enrolled in Serbian schools this autumn. Moreover, the idea of correcting the administrative line, as the phrase itself says, does not imply that all Serbs from Kosovo should live in central Serbia, and therefore no one in Serbia is advocating for the creation of an “ethnically pure Kosovo”. Rather, one could get an impression that it is the authorities in Pristina that have been overlooking the fact that there are 70,000 Serbs that have been expelled from Kosovo, who Pristina is blocking from return by not resolving their property issues in an adequate way and by not prosecuting almost anyone for the rioting against Serbs in 2004. As if that was not enough, customs fees of 100 percent are being introduced followed by publicly toying with the idea that they go along the lines of the four municipalities in northern Kosovo where Serbs represent a homogenous majority. Of this, Haradinaj fails to say a single word.

Publishing a text that does not present a single evidence for the serious charges against Serbia allegedly wanting to create an “ethnically pure state by stripping people of their citizenship and expelling them from their homes” does not serve the honor of Washington Post. Haradinaj refuses the idea of a multidimensional solution by repeating that Serbia “refuses to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty” claiming that “it is already a fact” and demands the non-violation of Kosovo’s Constitution. This overlooks the real fact that, for the moment, about half of U.N. member states (a number growing by the day) do not recognize Kosovo’s independence. Keeping in mind that any functional agreement would probably entail at least some amending the current Constitution of Serbia, the question remains, why does Haradinaj only regard Kosovo’s Constitution as non-violable, if he even wants a compromise agreement at all?

Further in the text, Haradinaj claims that “most international experts” are against the idea of a multidimensional compromise, but he cannot explain this in detail because a proposal has not even been articulated publicly and Haradinaj proposes none of his own. Once serious proposals are on the table, they can be judged on their merits and the relative trade-offs can be evaluated. It is indicative that it is exactly this “great majority” of experts that he refers to – a few dozens of signatories of a letter, including lobbyists and a couple of former diplomats with a guilty conscience from Bosnia – that the public discourse began including incorrect phrases such as “swapping of territories” or even worse, “peaceful ethnic cleansing”. A great majority of these “experts” are dogmatic proponents of identity policies that have been tearing Balkans apart along the ethnic and religious lines for years. This goes along with refusal to consider arguments and circumstances that respond to the actual situation in the year 2018, and the multidimensional compromise solution for relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which would lead to the easier movement of people and better regional cooperation in the area of security.

It is interesting that in his text, Haradinaj does not introduce the argument of the “domino effect” in case of a multidimensional agreement, nor the worry for the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina – which Serbia is not threatening - and which he intensively used up until only a few days ago, just like the “majority of experts” that he mentions. These experts are also yet to comment on the draconian customs fees that Haradinaj’s Government has introduced against Bosnia and Herzegovina too. Haradinaj goes on to claim that Serbia is not “honoring its commitments”, but forgets to mention, probably intentionally, that the Community of Serb Municipalities – which is the main element of both the Ahtisaari plan and the Brussels agreement – has not been formed.

At the end of the opinion piece, Haradinaj rather unrealistically calls for “thinking creatively and working together” in order to come to an agreement that would not be “insulting” which according to Haradinaj means there will be no elements of “land trade” that he considers “ill conceived”. It is therefore unclear how Haradinaj intends to achieve this agreement that would be accepted by the “majority” on both sides, and which would have economic elements that he mentions himself. The Pristina government has consistently disregarded the interests of the Serbs in Kosovo (no ASM, new Kosovo army, 100% tariff, etc.), while the Belgrade continues to give them political and financial support.  Why would Serbs in northern Kosovo prefer to be part of Kosovo than Serbia in such circumstances.  What is Haradinaj offering Serbs in Kosovo or in Serbia as an incentive to reach a compromise “creative” solution?

A multidimensional compromise, if we are honest, does not endanger the principal of multiculturalism of either Serbia and Kosovo. The dogmatic thinkers are abusing it on purpose as an argument against a compromise and concessions to the Serbian side, without which there can be no compromise solution. Moreover, multiculturalism cannot always be achieved on the micro level, such as the part concerning the administrative line, because it concerns only a small part of the land. This is very well known to anyone who has ever been to many regions in the U.S. or the European Union.

The frozen conflict in north Kosovo is impeding the European integration of both Serbia and Kosovo, and needs to be urgently resolved in the interest of Balkan stability and progress.  There are many different ways an agreement could be reached.  However, the details of such an agreement are less important than that it be quickly arrived at and genuinely accepted by both sides.  This will require complex, multidimensional negotiations.  To argue tendentiously against one dimension of such negotiations, before any proposals are even on the table and without offering any positive ideas, is not the work of a statesman, but rather that of a demagogue.

Haradinaj makes no apologies for the crimes committed by the KLA and advocates the provocative intention to transform the Kosovo Security Force. His Government has been condemned by all of Kosovo’s western partners because of its provocative moves concerning customs. This is never mentioned in the opinion piece by the man whose Government uses inappropriate methods of arresting people as a PR stunt after failing to join Interpol; the man who prevents achieving a sustainable agreement which would enable establishing a sustainable peace which he claims to be his ultimate goal.

In short, an own goal for Haradinaj, but also for the Washington Post.

In Belgrade, December 5, 2018


Note -The original Haradinaj opinion piece published by the Washington Post link :