Testimony of Joseph K. Grieboski
Founder and President
Institute on Religion and Public Policy
Hearing on Kosovo: Present and Future Status
Before the International Relations Committee of the United States House of Representatives
(May 18, 2005)
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present written testimony to the International Relations Committee of the United Stated House of Representatives on the status of Kosovo in the upcoming future status negotiations. As the time for talks on the future status of Kosovo draws near, the need to examine the record of political and social developments in the province to determine the level of preparation of Kosovo for either autonomous or independent rule is most urgent. I thank you for devoting time of the International Relation Committee to look seriously and objectively into this matter.
I regret to say that the present record of rule of law, protection of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, and the return/resettlement of internally displaced people by the Provisional Authority of Kosovo - all of which are indispensable for democratic governance - have been gravely unsatisfactory in the last six years. We cannot discuss viable political self-rule of Kosovo unless there is a well-demonstrated, long-term commitment on the part of Kosovo power holders to the preservation of peace and ethnic diversity of the region through both legislative and institutional means. As I will expound below, since 1999 the Kosovo Provisional Authority on numerous occasions acted contrary to pertinent democratic commitments and norms, and therefore cannot be trusted as the sole independent guarantor of rights and freedoms for all peoples of Kosovo.
The Institute on Religion and Public Policy led an investigative delegation of American religious and religious liberty leaders to Kosovo in August 2004 to inspect the situation in Kosovo and witness the damage in Pristina, Prizren, Dechani and other areas of the province in the aftermath of the ethnic violence earlier in March that same year. Admittedly it was the first such independent international religious delegation to visit Kosovo since 1999. It is both from the findings of the delegation and from the close monitoring of Kosovo by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in the past several years that I am testifying today.
Kosovo since 1999: Key Sociopolitical Dynamics
Kosovo, the heart of Serbian Orthodoxy since the 12th century that largely formed the Serbian national identity in the following centuries, by 1999 was home to diverse religious and ethnic groups.
Kosovo Muslims who inhabited the region since victory in the epic battle of Kosovo in the 14th century constituted a significant majority in 1990s. Unfortunately, since 1981 no official census has been taken, and the demographic stratification of Kosovo is not statistically confirmed. By some estimation it has been increasing over the decades of communist rule favoring the wider autonomy for the region for the sake of balancing out Serbian influence in larger Yugoslavia and has reached nearly 80% of total Albanians living in Kosovo by the early 1990s (hence the sentiment of the predominant Albanian population for self-rule on ethno-historical and demographic grounds).
When in response to demands for greater self-rule and independence in the 1990s Slobodan Milosevic radically reacted by conducting policies of ethnic cleansing and disfranchisement of Albanian population, the United States and NATO considered the plight of the people of Kosovo and engaged through NATO bombing of the Serbian capital Belgrade with the aim of forcing Milosevic to stop the ongoing ethnic cleansing. Following the bombardment, according to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, peacekeeping mission UNMIK was established in Kosovo to oversee administrative matters of the region, while KFOR was formed as an international police force mandated to deter hostilities, establish security in Kosovo and daily protect the inhabitants. Under the Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government of Kosovo of May 15, 2001, the Kosovo Provisional Authority was to assume power as the indigenous democratic governing body under the supervision of UNMIK. This mechanism was envisioned to ensure peaceful transition of Kosovo to the next stage of political arrangement, where independence was regarded by some as an option.
Mr. Chairman, all of these institutions have failed to protect the people of Kosovo from violence and instability.
Since 1999, around 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo for fear of communal or institutional violence. Largely these families are rarely known to return. Indeed, the refugees have cast their vote with their feet. As we have well seen from recent Balkan history, any change in demographic balance because of one ethnic group threatening the existence of another is bound to have repercussions in places of region where the same ethnic groups live in close proximity to one other (e.g. Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc). This out flux is critical for regional security balance, to say nothing of the day to day needs of fleeing. Unfortunately, this problem in no way was adequately addressed by either UNMIK or Kosovo Provisional Authority.
Not only has the fear of violence been driving Serbs out of their homes in Kosovo, ethnic Serbs that remain in Kosovo are denied treatment in hospitals, denied construction of schools, and are inflicted with increasingly rigid travel restrictions, effectively confining then to Serbian ghettos. With implicit endorsement of the UN peacekeeping forces, this practice ensures the isolation of ethnic groups from each other, and thus conveniently creates an artificial environment where ethnic tension can be caged. But peace confined through a cage is no real peace, nor is it a democratic practice that allows individuals and communities to develop to their best capacity. The true transformation that heeds the rights of minorities and fosters diversity is need, although the Kosovo Provisional Authority has not been able to provide for it.
March 2004 and Its Consequences of for Future Kosovo Stability
The most appalling event that demonstrated the incompetence of both Provisional Authority, UNMIK, and KFOR to protect the people of Kosovo started on March 17, 2004. On that day ethnic violence erupted involving over 50,000 individuals in at least 30 separate incidents, which claimed the lives of 19 civilians and injured over 900 persons, including international peacekeepers and members of the clergy. This violence displaced more than 4,000 persons, mainly Serbs, from their homes. The ethnic violence perpetrated by Kosovo Albanians resulted in the destruction or serious damage of more than 900 houses and 150 vehicles belonging to Kosovo Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, and other minorities. Our delegation learned that ethnic violence was directed toward the centers of cultural and religious life of Kosovo's minority communities, more specifically the Orthodox, and it resulted in the desecration of approximately 36 churches and monasteries, many centuries old, added up to the total of over 140 churches and other religious places ruined, damaged and desecrated in the past decade.
Let me illustrate how such atrocities could happen in the presence of multi-thousand regiments of KFOR that were supposed to actually ensure the security in the region. The Monastery of Djakovica is home for several Orthodox nuns, some of them of senior age. During the first night of violence, French KFOR troops held back the attacking mob from the monastery that historically was a place of great respect and pilgrimage for the Muslim population of Kosovo. On the second night, in the absence of the abbess, French KFOR troops forcefully threw the nuns, in the words of one of the elderly nuns, "like sacks of potatoes" into an armored vehicle. As the troops by watching, an angry mob attacked the monastery. French troops were alerted that an elderly nun who had recently suffered a heart attack was recovering in her cell, but responded that there was nothing they could do for her as the mob set her room on fire. By the Grace of God, the nun escaped to the neighboring forest and lived in the elements for three days with no food, shelter or blanket before returning to the monastery for fear of her life.
This is an exemplary story of how KFOR has generally perceived its mission: protect people, not property. The result is worth reiterating; 19 people dead, 900 injured. Although Italian and American troops did in some places prevent desecration, in general there is great need to reform KFOR policing practices and communication to prevent this from happening again.
While none of the Churches in Kosovo has yet been restored, the number of mosques has grown significantly with funding from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states, as the plaques on these mosques indicate. Although many mosques are empty, such process of religious mapping in and of itself has symbolic and political repercussions.
After March 17, 2004 the Serbian population of Kosovo has refused to recognize as legitimate the authorities in Kosovo that failed to fulfill their mandate and largely boycotted the 2004 fall elections for the Kosovo Assembly. Without further explanation, let me simply point out that such a political situation is in no way conducive to either larger autonomy or independence of Kosovo.
Finally, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy has closely monitored the Kosovo Provisional Authority attempt to introduce a law on religion which violates significantly internationally accepted standards for religious freedom in at least seven of its articles. We voiced our objection to UNMIK about this law which was drafted to establish tight governmental control over religious groups and set limiting conditions of their ability to survive as communities. Needless to say such legislative initiatives by the Provisional Authority contradicts democratic standards and can further exacerbate religious stability in the region.
Clearly, the problem of internally displaced persons, the incapacity of Kosovar provisional institutions to prevent violence, and gross mistreatment of religious minorities in legislative and other socio-political means by current Kosovo institutions demonstrates the lack of democratic infrastructure that would prevent the region from further collapse into the very ethnic and religious violence that the international community initially intervened to stop and avert. Until the above is guaranteed, the independence of Kosovo cannot and must not be an option.
With this in mind, let me offer the following recommendations for urgent steps to address the present and future critical situation in Kosovo:
- UNMIK must appoint an investigative commission to find and render judicial persecution the perpetrators of the March 17 violence;
- the international community through UNMIK and the European Union must allocate aid to restore the demolished and desecrated churches to their full historical appearance and religious functionality;
- UNMIK in the person of Special Representative of the Secretary General Sorren Peterson must require the Provisional Authority to reverse its socio- economic policies toward the minority population of Kosovo and begin a legitimate and objective process for resettlement of the IDPs;
- NATO must permit KFOR to widen its mandate to fully protect all peoples of Kosovo as well as sites of historic and religious value and significantly improve communications and the chain of command and cooperation within KFOR;
- encourage closer cooperation of OSCE and the structures of the European Union with Kosovo authorities for the economic reconstruction and supervision of the legislative, executive and judicial process in Kosovo.