Skip to comments.UNMIK's Potemkin Villages in Kosovo
Posted on 01/21/2003 8:35:10 PM PST by Ichabod Walrus
UNMIK's Potemkin Villages*
Commentary on the editorial by Simon Haselock, head of UNMIK?s information service
by Fr. Sava Janjic
January 21, 2003
Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appelant.
("They make a wilderness and call it peace," Tacitus: The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Chapter 30)
In his editorial, published on January 10, 2003 in the Belgrade daily Blic, Simon Haselock, the director of UNMIK?s public information service, openly criticized the view of His Eminence Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren that "little has changed" in Kosovo and openly accused the representatives of the Kosovo Serbs of unconstructive behavior.
In his commentary, unfortunately, Mr. Haselock failed to present a single convincing argument proving Bishop Artemije wrong. What is more, the UNMIK information chief?s words only serve to confirm that his comprehension of reality regrettably rests on highly subjective reports and analyses, not on direct contact with flesh-and-blood representatives of the Serb people whose everyday suffering and problems are well known to Bishop Artemije as well as many well minded internationals.
CHANGES FOR THE BETTER FOR ONLY ONE COMMUNITY
Truly, in Kosovo and Metohija much has changed for the better in the last three years but only for Albanian community. Under UNMIK?s rule, however, changes are only slightly or not at all reflected in Serb areas where the 100,000 remaining Serbs are hard pressed to see any essential improvements since the end of the war. While it is true that many hospitals have been restored, Serbs cannot seek treatment in them; numerous roads have been paved but Serbs lack the freedom to travel on them; tens of thousands of houses have been renovated but only about one hundred of them are owned by Serbs. After the war, all mosques were repaired and many new ones built while over one hundred Serbian churches still lie in ruins and not one has been reconstructed; there are many new supermarkets, gas stations and restaurants but what use are they to Serbs when only Albanians and foreigners can safely enter them. In short, based on his first-hand experience, the average Serb feels that UNMIK has come to help only one community while Serbs appear fated to live as second-class citizens on the margins of society. Are these indeed the "sterile debates" to which Mr. Haselock refers or are they the reality, which he cannot or does not wish to see?
Nevertheless, the greatest failure of UNMIK is that in three years it has not managed to stop the negative development of creating an ethnically pure and divided society where citizens are divided into the privileged and those who lack basic human rights. This atavistic system is being perpetrated largely due to the fact that UNMIK is simply not ready to implement the basic provisions of Resolution 1244. The overwhelming majority of Kosovo Serbs still lack civil freedoms and rights, as well as free access to public institutions in urban centers: hospitals, schools and cultural institutions. The cities and towns of Kosovo and Metohija, except in the north of the Province, have been left almost entirely without their Serb population. In Pristina today there are only about 250 Serbs remaining; an equal number are in Gnjilane; in Orahovac, there are about 450; in Prizren, 65; in Djakovica, 5; in Pec there are none, with the exception of some 20 elderly nuns in the Pec Patriarchate. Towns such as Urosevac, Srbica, Glogovac and Klina have already become ethnically pure Albanian settlements. All assessments suggest that these small Serb communities in urban centers will quickly be extinguished unless the provisions of Resolution 1244 are implemented.
Kosovo institutions and settlements are decorated with flags of the Republic of Albania and posters of Adem Jashari; monuments to new heroes from "the war of national liberation" are springing up everywhere, along with kitschy statues of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright. At the same time, Serb cemeteries are being transformed into public garbage dumps and the ruins of destroyed churches are overgrown with weeds. Everywhere signs in the Serb language have been obliterated, and towns are being given new fangled names which have never existed before in history. History itself is being falsified with the goal of creating a new artificial identity in order to destroy centuries of history and cultural development. So exactly what kind of multiethnicity and free society are we talking about here, Mr. Haselock?
UNMIK AND ITS VIRTUAL REALITY
Of course, from UNMIK?s comfortable and well-protected headquarters one cannot see the Serb ghetto in Pristina?s "YU Program" building nor the forgotten Serb villages near Obilic where every day brings uncertainty and Serb children live in daily fear. From his virtual reality as a well-paid international bureaucrat, Simon Haselock does not (want to) see the hospitals, schools, movie theaters and restaurants which have been inaccessible to Serbs for the past three years despite the presence of UN and NATO forces. After all, how important can all this be when the " truth" is only that which is disseminated from UNMIK?s information service?
Following this logic, Pec is a safe city for Serbs. That is why a few months ago, international caretakers hurried to take a group of 50 elderly Serb pensioners from the Osojane enclave to that city to claim their pensions. Of course, they barely managed to get them out alive under a hail of Molotov cocktails and stones from the local Albanians. "But how can this be?" the international bureaucrats asked themselves. "According to our assessments Pec is a safe city for Serbs; not a single Serb has been killed there in the past two years." What they neglected to take into account is that there are no more Serbs remaining in Pec since the war. According to the same logic, the city is equally safe for Eskimos and Chinese. Statistics and real life do differ considerably, don?t they?
RETURNS ONLY ON PAPER
The second greatest failure of the UNMIK mission is the lack of returns by the Serb population. Only a few hundred Serbs have been returned to their homes, most of them elderly people whose names were first listed and carefully filtered by local Albanian staff and KLA veterans. UNMIK?s inflated figures of thousands of Serb returnees are inaccurate and refer to returnees of other at-risk communities, primarily Roma. Frequently even those who come to visit their relatives from Serbia are registered as returnees, while those who leave Kosovo in the meantime are not. Despite all efforts and programs, the returnee villages of Osojane and Bica near Istok continue to live under siege, surrounded by KFOR protective forces. Are 30,000 KFOR troops and several thousand UNMIK police really unable to ensure the return of expelled persons to their homes? Obviously they are not since this would not meet with the approval of Albanian extremists, and UNMIK and KFOR have no intention of getting involved in a conflict with them and endangering the safety of their own personnel.
This is a witches? brew where UNMIK is increasingly becoming the passive sponsor of an ethnically cleansed society in the eyes of the Serbs; the very kind of society (according to the official interpretation) the international community sought to prevent by dropping tons of bombs on Serbia in 1999 and killing thousands of innocent men, women and children.
Since judge and prosecutor in Kosovo are one and the same, the blame for these problems apparently falls again on Serbs such as Bishop Artemije, who, it appears, stubbornly refuses to acknowledge what a good life his people are living. Perhaps we should blame the last remaining Serb grannies in Djakovica. According to a "lucid" interpretation of an arrogant international bureaucrat, they are "provoking the Albanian population by their isolation, consequently justifying their refusal to accept them"? Thus five old ladies are provoking 100,000 Albanians who on the other hand refuse to allow them to buy bread in the store, let alone to live the last years of their lives in peace.
During just the past year, Kosovo Serbs were exposed to hundreds of various extremist attacks, and thousands of provocations and threats. Houses were blown up, land mines exploded, people were killed and wounded. The destruction of Orthodox Christian churches and Serbian cultural monuments continues and their restoration is prohibited. Not one member of the former KLA has been brought to justice for any of the crimes committed against Serbs during the war. A few have been arrested but only for crimes against their own Albanian compatriots. Despite all this, UNMIK insists that Serbs accept this new reality and become integrated in a society where there is no room for them. There is so much irony and injustice in this claim by which UNMIK?s helplessly tries to hide its own responsibility for failure.
SERBS WITHOUT ECONOMIC PROSPECT
While enormous financial resources have been invested to meet the needs of the Kosovo Albanians, Serb villages and enclaves continue to live in poverty and misery. People are without jobs; thousands of hectares of Serb-owned land remain uncultivated due to lack of security. Grazing one?s livestock in a meadow represents a serious safety risk, let alone contemplating the sale of farm products at the local farmers? market. Daily pressure continues on the remaining Serbs to sell their property, especially in cities and towns where the Albanians have illegally occupied thousands of Serb-owned private houses, apartments and businesses. They make free use of this usurped property without any compensation to the owners under UNMIK?s very eyes and sometimes with its tacit approval.
At the same time, thousands of hectares of state-owned land and forests have been devastated by looting and illegal lumbering. Every appeal to the court is condemned to fail from the start because the justice system in the Province is a tragic parody of law and (dis)order. Due to a lack of witnesses, who are under enormous fear from Albanian extremists, not one major incident against the Serbs has been positively resolved. At the same time, dozens of Serbs are wasting away in the interrogative jails of UNMIK, completely against all existing laws, because the courts lack evidence to sentence them as war criminals.
Restitution of property is a near impossibility; in the few cases where, by some miracle, a Serb manages to get back his confiscated house, he is immediately forced to sell it because it is not safe for him to return with his family to live in it. UNMIK has an explanation for this, too. Recently the deputy civil administrator for Pristina stated nonchalantly that the Serbs in fact "do not want to return to their homes at all despite UNMIK?s invitation to do so". How are they supposed to return to constant danger, uncertainty, injustice and poverty? What kind of success do we have here, Mr. Haselock, and what kind of justice and progress?
INSTITUTIONS A SMOKE-SCREEN FOR FALSE MULTIETHNICITY
However, the greatest misconception in Kosovo and Metohija is that the constitutional framework, supposedly free elections and institution-building will enable the Serbs to improve their position by working through the institutions of the system. For a year representatives of the Serb Return (Povratak) Coalition participated in the work of the Kosovo parliament without achieving a single tangible result.
Is Kosovo any closer to being a multiethnic society? Have better conditions been created for the return of expelled persons, the goal from which the Coalition took its name? Is Resolution 1244 being more effectively implemented? The answer to all three questions is no.
Incidents continue to occur and Kosovo does not even remotely resemble a multiethnic society; instead, it has become a classic model of institutionalized apartheid and intolerance. Only a few hundred out of about 200,000 expelled persons have a roof over their head in their isolated enclaves. And as far as Resolution 1244 is concerned, it has never been more trampled on and disregarded. Kosovo Albanians are using institutions that Serbs have joined to prove that Kosovo is indeed "multiethnic" and that it should become independent. Occasionally their leaders, accompanied by UNMIK officials, take a stroll through a Serb enclave, snap a few photographs and immediately run to Washington to show pictures that supposedly prove their concern for "the Serb minority". In fact, hiding behind this false façade of the UN mission and the new Kosovo institutions is a tragic reality of unbridled violence, organized crime, corruption and bureaucratic chaos. The UNMIK mission has not only tarnished the moral reputation of the international community in the Balkans but is now consciously feigning blindness to the destruction of an entire people and its culture for no other reason but to rationalize its own failure.
FALSIFICATION OF REALITY
Despite all difficulties and problems which they endure from the local Albanians, what pains the Kosovo Serbs the most is the unscrupulous propaganda conducted by UNMIK which rudely falsifies the real situation in Kosovo and Metohija. The goal of this campaign is to rationalize the tremendous failures of this mission, whose purported "successes" are coming under increased fire in New York and Brussels.
The current unofficial primary goal of the mission appears to be to finally implement an effective exit strategy to include transferring all authority to the local authorities, i.e., institutions overwhelmingly dominated by the Albanian majority, prior to the withdrawal of the international community from the Province and the pronouncement of the successful conclusion of the mission. As the logical consequence of this strategy, local Albanians and some international circles are expecting recognition of an independent Kosovo, i.e., a second ethnic Albanian state in the Balkans, which will supposedly guarantee Serbs all rights "according to the highest European standards". Taking into account that areas inhabited by Albanians are the most ethnically clean territories in the Balkans, it is difficult to expect an exception to the rule in an independent Kosovo where ethnic and religious tolerance are out of the question. Such a creation would be in fundamental contradiction with everything that contemporary Europe represents and wishes to achieve today.
It is not necessary to comment on the economic sustainability of a society largely based on smuggling and illegal activities. Without friendship with their closest neighbors, Serbs and the Macedonians, the Kosovo Albanians can depend only on poverty-stricken Albania, which has enough problems of its own.
It is very important to emphasize that the active presence of Serb deputies in provincial institutions is seen as a key element for a successful exit strategy and the ultimate secession of the Province from the union of Serbia and Montenegro because this would be the strongest argument before the world that the Serbs have a real capability to independently, freely and effectively shape their future through the multiethnic institutions of a future independent state. Of course, these Serb deputies, who commute to parliamentary sessions in armored police vans and who do not dare to step outside the building for a simple coffee break, are themselves beginning to understand what and whom they are in fact serving. This is why further participation in such institutions, under extremely discriminatory and humiliating conditions is not possible any longer. Without essential changes in the institutional system, which must be brought to compliance with the UNSC Resolution 1244, Serb participation in the Parliament will only make additional damage to the position of the Serb people and help Kosovo Albanians create their independent state.
Despite everything above, the Serb people still live in the hope that UNMIK will finally abandon the policy of double standards and begin building a truly free and multiethnic society in accordance with Resolution 1244 and international law. In the institutions of such a society, where all citizens regardless of religion and ethnicity will have a right to a dignified and free life, the Serb people will be quite ready to participate with all other citizens and to offer their constructive contribution. However, if UNMIK intends to continue building a new ethnic Albanian state in which Serbs would continue to live as second-class citizens or disappear completely, it is illusory on the part of the international community to expect Serb cooperation and support for such a project.
Instead of the determined efforts of Mr. Haselock and his colleagues to whitewash reality and to deceive the unwitting international community, it is time to turn words into deeds. Empty words without concrete improvements on the ground cannot convince anyone of that which not even UNMIK officials believe any longer.
Note: * Potemkin, Grigori Aleksandrovich
Potemkin, Grigori Aleksandrovich , 1739?91, Russian field marshal and favorite of Empress Catherine II. As governor of the new province, he organized Catherine?s fabulous Crimean tour of 1787. Potemkin is perhaps best remembered for the legendary "Potemkin Villages" he is said to have created for her benefit as she embarked on a grand tour of all the newly Russianized lands he had conquered for her. These "villages," it was said, were little more than elaborate stage sets of prosperous towns, populated by cheerful serfs, all of which were quickly collapsed and set up again at the next stop on Catherine?s carefully plotted itinerary. The artificiality of the Potemkin Villages came to represent in the minds of many, Catherine?s superficial and halfhearted attempts to reform and liberalize her kingdom.
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