The Washington Post Editorials

KLA Rule? 'Its leadership is dominated
by anti-democratic, pro-fascist,
pro-Stalinist clans.'

By Adrian Karatnycky

Friday, May 7, 1999; Page A39 

As NATO pounds Serbian targets and Slobodan Milosevic pursues his
brutal "ethnic cleansing," it is easy to think of the conflict as a struggle
between Yugoslavia and the Atlantic Alliance. It is also easy to forget -- as
NATO did by excluding Kosovar political leaders from its recent summit
-- that the Kosovo Albanians are more than passive spectators or inchoate
victims of the unfolding events.

Until a few weeks ago, the Kosovars were not an atomized mass of
refugees. They had developed cohesive and coherent communities with
established local leaders. Twice, first in 1992 and again in 1999, Kosovars
participated in the process of selecting their leadership, headed by Ibrahim
Rugova, who yesterday was released from house arrest by Slobodan
Milosevic and is now in Italy. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovars braved
Serbian repression and intimidation to vote in orderly elections, conducted
clandestinely. This democratic legacy should not be squandered. 

Indeed, if NATO is in this struggle for the long haul it is essential that the
alliance and the United States assist the Kosovars in reestablishing a civic
political leadership that gives voice to their concerns and forms the
democratic architecture of eventual autonomous rule. 

With the majority of Kosovars now outside their homeland's borders,
Kosovo's democratic roots should be nurtured through the reconstruction
of a civilian leadership. Such a civic leadership is central to any solution the
NATO states ultimately decide to support. 

A political leadership is needed to ensure civilian control of Kosovar
military formations fighting to protect their people and free their territory.
Such a leadership also is needed if we expect the Kosovar forces to fight
alongside an eventual NATO ground force or to serve as an effective
post-NATO factor in the regional military balance. A civilian political
leadership also is essential for a smooth and rapid transition to local rule in
post-conflict Kosovo, whether it is to be an international protectorate, a
sovereign state or an autonomous part of a post-Milosevic Yugoslavia. 

Who, then, speaks for the Kosovars today? The question is hardly
academic. Kosovar Albanians had established structures of political
leadership over the past decade despite Milosevic's repression. These
structures, headed by Ibrahim Rugova, should not be dismissed lightly. 

The Rambouillet process led to an agreement within the ethnic Albanian
delegation to form a transitional "government" of national unity consisting of
three major forces:

(1) The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA);

(2) Rugova's presidency, "government" and political party, the Democratic
League of Kosovo; and

(3) The nationalist United Democratic Movement.

Each formation was to be given equal shares of power in a civilian
government of national unity. But that government never had an
opportunity to coalesce, and today two major parties are claimants to the
mantle of political leadership: Rugova's government and the KLA's
government, recognized by Albania. 

It is ironic that Rugova, a man who is an important factor in the shaping of
a future Kosovo, was a prisoner of Milosevic's for more than six weeks. It
is incredible that the NATO forces did not secure Rugova's safety before
they launched their air campaign. Milosevic understands the propaganda
value of Rugova and shamelessly exploited his captive to create the false
impression that Rugova supports an end to the NATO campaign. (Rugova
vociferously denied these propaganda distortions through communications
with journalists, and now that he has been released from captivity, he will
make his views on a solution known directly to the West.)

For years, the United States dealt with the moderate, pacifist-inclined
Rugova, but it weakened his standing at Rambouillet in an effort to placate
the KLA. With Rugova and many of his colleagues now abroad, the
Western countries should help them play a leading role in shaping a civilian
authority on a pluralistic, multiparty basis.

Clearly, the KLA cannot be ignored in any established civilian authority.
But its leadership is dominated by anti-democratic, pro-fascist,
pro-Stalinist clans, themselves guilty of criminal behavior and atrocities.
Having committed blood and treasure in behalf of the Kosovars and
against ethnic hatred, we must ensure that liberal democratic values survive
in a post-conflict Kosovo.

America's and NATO's strategic aims require the rapid emergence of a
civilian Kosovar leadership on the model of the Free French under Charles
de Gaulle. De Gaulle not only served as a rallying point for French
opposition to Hitler's occupation but also helped create the basis for the
postwar emergence of democratic forces in France and prevented the
electoral victory of the pro-Stalinist Communists who, like the KLA,
dominated the leadership of the internal armed resistance. 

Of course, it is wrong to demonize the brave men and women who have
joined the ranks of the KLA in a fight for survival. They have acted out of
civic courage and are, like most Kosovars, committed to civilian rule. But it
is equally clear that the narrow clique sitting atop the KLA little resembles
the majority of Kosovo's Albanians. The KLA's leaders are a narrow
group of obscurantist, anti-democratic thugs linked to drug-running and
political extremism. Now that Rugova is free, the effort to resurrect a
civilian democratic political leadership among the Kosovars is the best way
of ensuring that our morally just aims are attained and a democratic
Kosovo reemerges from the ashes of war.

The writer is president of Freedom House, which has worked with
Kosovo's civic democratic forces over the past decade. 

         Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company


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