Illyria / June 29, 1995
By Larry Luxner
WASHINGTON -- Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, president of the Republic of Kosova, met last week with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and members of the Albanian Issues Caucus during his four-day visit to the United States.
Rugova has been chairman of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) since 1989 and president of the former Yugoslav autonomous area since May 1992. He is also a writer and professor of Albanian literature at the Institute for Albanian Studies in Prishtinė, and has published his poetry in magazines since 1960.
The president -- whose visit was arranged by Washington-based Ruder Finn Inc., a registered foreign lobby that also represents the Croatian Tourist Board -- discussed Balkan politics during a half-hour meeting with Illyria correspondents Larry and Ani Luxner. Here are excerpts from that exclusive interview:
Q: You have visited the United States many times in the past. How was this visit different?
A: We have always had meetings and contacts in the United States. This visit is more significant because it represents an acknowledgement of our cause. We were received at a very high level by Warren Christopher. I was very satisfied with that meeting. He expressed great admiration for our resistance.
Q: As a result of this trip, do you think the U.S. government will recognize Kosova anytime soon?
A: I would like to be modest. Recognition is on the way. Of course I would like to see that happen. For now, we are under a state of occupation and we're doing our utmost to prevent an outbreak of hostilities.
Q: So far, how many countries have recognized Kosova's independence?
A: Only Albania, following our referendum in 1990 [in which 99.87% of the 1.05 million voters participating in the plebiscite favored independence and only 164 citizens voted against it]. But it's normal that Albania would recognize us. We were the first victims of the former Yugoslavia, when we were stripped of our federal status.
Q: While Albanians today constitute a clear majority of Kosova's population, some say this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Is this true?
A: Albanians have always been a majority of the population of Kosova, ever since ancient times. Today we constitute 92% of the population. Of course, Serb propaganda claims we never existed. Since Illyrian times we've been there. Kosova used to be called Dardania. It was an Illyrian kingdom and afterwards an Albanian province. Serbs came into the Balkans only in the Middle Ages.
Q: Many Serbs feel Kosova has been the heartland of Serbia for centuries, and say they'll never give it up. How important is this today?
A: The Battle of Kosova has been turned into a myth. It's not important to the average Serb, but it is to the intellectual.
Q: We've been hearing for three or four years now that Kosova is a "powder keg" about to explode. Why hasn't this occurred?
A: It's because of the Albanians and their organized resistance that this hasn't happened yet.
Q: What should be done about the war in Bosnia?
A: This is a great problem. There are 40,000 United Nations troops. Their mandate must be extended. They should not be left there as targets.
Q: What's the medical situation in Kosova?
A: Most Albanian physicians have been sacked from their posts. The Mother Theresa organization has established a network of small stations and ambulances, but occasionally their work is obstructed. We are lacking medicine. Hepatitis is a problem, and so is surgery. The clinic in Prishtinė has been virtually shut down.
Q: What about education? Are Albanians in Kosova still restricted to classrooms in the home?
A: Education is a grave problem. In public school buildings, speaking Albanian is not allowed. But we have to keep going. We cannot afford to leave a future generation without education.
Q: Don't you think it's ironic that you, as the president of a country that has no international recognition, can come to Washington, meet with Warren Christopher and be treated as a head of state, while the democra-tically elected president of Taiwan -- a friendly nation of 20 million people and the United States' sixth-largest trading partner -- has trouble getting a U.S. tourist visa?
A: It's not ironic at all. The United States respects the political will of the people of Kosova. It fits in with American philosophy. We have adopted and applied pluralism in our movement. We stick to all democratic norms, and I am an elected president of the republic. There is great bipartisan understanding for our movement. Both Republicans and Democrats are committed, and so was the former administation.
Q: If outright recognition of Kosova's independence is unrealistic, what exactly do you expect from the United States and its leaders?
A: For the time being, I expect more support and some preventive measures in Kosova. I've been calling for an international civil administration to facilitate a power transfer and demilitarization of the area. I think pressure must be put on the Serbs to accept such conditions. The international community must be more decisive and must exercise greater persistence. But I will keep working until we are recognized.