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Albanians See Kosovo Elections
as First Step Toward Independence
World Press Review Albania correspondent
Nov. 27, 2001
Tens of thousands
of ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo went to the polls on
Nov. 17, 2001, to choose 120 representatives to serve in the
first democratically elected parliament in the history of the
Rugova smiles after learning he will most likely be Kosovo's
first President, Nov. 18, 2001 (Photo: AFP).
On Nov. 19, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe issued the official results of the election. As expected,
Ibrahim Rugova's moderate Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK)
won the most seats, winning 45.26 percent of the popular vote
and 47 seats in the new assembly. Hashim Thaci's Democratic
Party of Kosovo, a descendent of Albanian guerrilla group the
Kosovo Liberation Army, proved to be the second-most popular
choice, pulling in 25.7 percent of the vote and 26 seats.
A coalition representing Kosovo's Serbian minority finished
third, with 10.96 percent of the vote and a total of 22 seats,
including the 10 seats set aside for Kosovo's Serbs. Ramush
Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, another party
with roots in the guerrilla campaign against Serbian rule, finished
The assembly will choose a presidentalmost certainly Ibrahim
Rugovaand a seven-member presidency of the legislature.
The president will name a prime minister, who will have a nine-member
cabinet. As laid out in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244
in 1999, Kosovo's government will control the province's domestic
affairs only. The resolution gives the government no mandate
to decide Kosovo's defense or foreign affairs.
Kosovoa province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republichas
been a de facto international protectorate since the war ended
in June 1999. Once the groundwork has been laid for autonomous
rule and Kosovo can effectively administer itself, the next
step could be to resolve Kosovo's status. Rugova's party and
most other ethnic Albanian political groups support the creation
of an independent Kosovar state.
On Nov. 18, Rugova told reporters that he would continue to
work toward an independent Kosovo: In fact we are independent,
but what we ask is to be recognized officially by the United
States, the European Union, and others. We will continue working
to gain [international] recognition.
Spokesmen for the current U.N. administration of Kosovo were
quick to reassure Belgrade that Kosovo's independence was out
of the question. Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244,
Kosovo formally remains part of Yugoslavia.
But commentators in the Albanian press have disputed the U.N.
stance. A Nov. 18 opinion piece in Tirana's independent Gazeta
Shqiptare, pointed to passages of the resolution calling
for a referendum in Kosovo on the issue of independence. Others
brushed aside the U.N. resolution in their excitement about
the election. The general elections in Kosovo open a new
epoch for Kosovo and the Albanian nation because they represent
a crucial step in establishing the state institutions that will
lead Kosovo's Albanians on the way to national independence,
wrote Muje Bucpapaj in a Nov. 16 editorial entitled, Today
Begins the Journey towards Kosovo's Independence, published
in Rilindja Demokratike, the house organ of the Democratic
Party, Albania's largest opposition party.
Tirana's right-wing daily Albania, in a Nov. 17 editorial
titled A New Epoch for Kosovo, saw the election
as the beginning of an important political future for Kosovo:
All political parties in Kosovo during the electoral campaign
expressed their hope that Kosovo would become an independent
state. The post-election period is crucial to the achievement
of this ultimate goal. The elected politicians must prove that
they are able to govern democratically, that they are able to
build democratic institutions and a legal democratic state.
Only in this way can the future of this nation be established.
Only in this way can Albanians head for their final destinationindependence.
Western powers are urging ethnic Albanian leaders not to push
the independence issue at this time, but to focus instead on
building their new self-governing institutions. Kosovo depends
on Western governments for political and economic support and
on NATO peacekeepers for security.
Perhaps with this in mind, the Albanian government in Tirana
hailed the elections in Kosovo, but only cautiously addressed
the issue of independence for Kosovo. On Nov. 19, the Albanian
Parliament unanimously endorsed a resolution praising the free
and democratic elections as a major milestone in
the establishment of the rule of law, under which all Kosovo's
citizens will be equal. The Albanian population and the minorities
will live together and cooperate to build their European future
in a multiethnic society in compliance with international standards.
Albanian politicians from across the political spectrum echoed
these sentiments. Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta, who leads
a left-oriented coalition, regarded the Nov. 17 elections as
an historical event, not only for the Kosovar people, but also
for the whole region of southeastern Europe, the independent
Albanian Daily News reported on Nov. 19. General elections
in Kosovo mark an important step towards further stabilization
of security, peace, and integration processes, Meta said.
Leaders of Albania's opposition parties took a less cautious
tone and indicated their support for an independent Kosovo.
In a Nov. 20 interview with the Albanian Daily News,
Sali Berisha, chairman of the Albanian Democratic Party, praised
the elections as free and fair and said that he believed the
results suggest that Kosovo would become independent soon.
After praising the LDK and Rugova, Fatmir Meidiu, the chairman
of the conservative Republican Party, expressing his confidence
in the capability and maturity of Kosovo's politicians, who,
he said, will know to harmonize their interests for the
best of Kosovo and its independence.
To be sure, Rugova will face serious challenges as he attempts
to construct an independent state from the war-torn province.
First among them will be cleaning up the mess of crime, corruption,
and violence that poison Kosovo today. Before discussing the
issue of independence, Kosovo's new government will have to
demonstrate that it is indeed capable of managing its own affairs.
Only once this is accomplished should the government begin considering
the province's status, in conjunction with Serbia and the United
Nations. There are many arguments in favor of an independent
Kosovo. But in order for an independent state to succeed in
Kosovo, international organizations such as the United Nations
would need to take an active role in ensuring that the transition
occurs peacefully. And occur it muston Nov. 17, the Albanian
majority in Kosovo voted overwhelmingly for independence. An
unduly protracted U.N. administration would only create tensions
between the United Nations and the newly elected pro-independence
government of Kosovo.
But whether Kosovo gains formal independence or not, it is unlikely
that the province will return to Belgrade's orbit. After years
of devastating war, feweven in Belgradestill advocate
that. But Belgrade could suggest dividing Kosovo into an Albanian
south and a Serbian north, as in the two ill-defined entities
(one Serbian and one Muslim-Croatian) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
But even this seems unlikely. Ethnic Albanians in the south
of Kosovo have always been steadfast in their claims to the
mines and industrial facilities near Mitrovica in the north.
With so many contentious issues at stake, perhaps only one thing
is certain: Kosovo's new government, its neighbors, and the
international organizations interested in seeing peace and security
in the region must all proceed with great caution as they chart
a course for the embattled province's future.