On June 12th 1999, 78 days of US/NATO bombing of Kosovo ended. Now, five years later, Kosovo is governed by the United Nations Interim Administration (UNMIK). In the months following the end of the bombing, hundreds of International Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), thousands of peace-keepers (45,000-50,000 NATO/US soldiers), more than 5,000 UN police, looked on while a massive ethnic cleansing was committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and extremist Albanians. The ethnic minorities living in Kosovo prior to 1999 included Serbs, Roma, Turks, Gorani (Muslim Slavs), Bosnian Croats, Jews, and others. According to UN figures, 230,000 ethnic minorities were driven out of Kosovo since 1999, and these numbers are low according to Serbian figures of 250,000 or more.
This was actually the second biggest ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. The first one took place in Krajina, Croatia, where Croatian forces ethnically cleansed the region of up to 350,000 minorities, predominantly Serbs. One of the generals who led this pogrom was Agim Ceku, who was trained in the US and Europe. Not only was this general in charge of the ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo in the summer of 1999, he is currently one of the leading commanders in charge of the Kosovo Police Services (KPS-the UN police force of approximately 5,000 officers)! And many of these KPS officers were actually KLA soldiers during the ethnic cleansing campaign in the summer of 1999. It is also significant to note that very few high level KLA commanders have been indicted or tried before the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
Very little has been reported in the media about the ethnic cleansing that took place in the aftermath of the NATO intervention in Kosovo. In the intervening years, what sparse coverage there has been of Kosovo has mostly heralded it as the model of U.S./NATO allies bringing “democracy” and “civil society” to countries previously steeped in ethnic hatreds and run by evil despots. The fact that Kosovo went from being a multi-ethnic society within a multi-ethnic and relatively economically stable country (the former Yugoslavia) to being a lawless country intolerant of all but the ruling majority, is not acknowledged by the press and even seems to be intentionally hidden from public awareness.
Today, almost five years since the “humanitarian bombing” and the establishment of a UN protectorate, Kosovo is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Roma! Very few Roma, pejoratively referred to as "gypsies," have remained; estimates range from 22,000-25,000. Before the US/NATO intervention in Kosovo there were more than 150,000 Roma in the region.
Over the past 700 years, Roma have settled and have established themselves as a significant minority population in Kosovo. But since international institutions arrived, bringing “democracy, free society, civil society, ethnic harmony, peace and tolerance” to Kosovo, Roma are more abused, persecuted, and ignored than ever. Today, in "free and liberated” Kosovo, Roma often are unable to even obtain a birth certificate in the place where they were born.
Freedom of movement is still one of the biggest concerns for remaining Roma; most are unable to move about freely, go to work, shop for their families, or attend schools. Very few international NGOs want to hire Roma, either because the Albanian staff members are typically uninterested in integrating Roma into “their” society, or because the foreign directors have fears of being targeted by extremist Albanians. Today, many Roma are even unable to travel to the hospital for routine or emergency treatment. For example, the hospital in Mitrovica is an hour’s drive from the Serbian enclaves near Pristina, where many displaced Roma are living. Most of the Roma in Kosovo today live either in Serbian enclaves, where they are protected by numbers of minorities, or in Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps.
Kosovo Roma living in the UN protectorate today find themselves in a frustrating bureaucratic “log-jam” when they try to obtain legal records, visas, permits, etc. due to the absence of clarity concerning the lines of authority and procedures in a region that is:
a) not governed by the nation to which it officially belongs (Serbia)
b) run by elected and appointed officials of the dominant ethnic majority (Albanians) who are dictating, influencing, and administering policies designed to eliminate multi-ethnicity in Kosovo
c) held in check by UNMIK and UNHCR, whose mandates create obstacles and red-tape for Roma and other minorities trying to normalize/improve their lives, and whose policies do not really offer them anything in the way of protection, safety, freedom of movement, jobs, schooling for their children, etc.
At this point, the vast majority of Kosovo Roma who took refuge in other countries since June of 1999 have not received any form of permanent status as refugees or political asylum seekers from those governments. In fact, most face forced repatriation (deportation) on an ongoing (monthly, bimonthly, quarterly) basis, even though UNHCR/UNMIK repeatedly have stated that Kosovo is not safe for Roma -- recently even refusing entry to Romani deportees. It should be noted that these Western European nations whose governments refuse to grant permanent status to Kosovo Roma are the same countries who participated/supported the NATO bombing campaign of Kosovo, destroying parts of its infrastructure, violating international law by using depleted uranium and cluster bombs, and then handing Kosovo over to the Albanian majority who then ethnically cleansed the Roma. While the international civil presence is mandated to maintain civil law and order, protect and promote human rights and assure the safe and unimpeded return of all refugees and displaced persons to their homes, reports by the UN ombudsperson office, UNHCR, OSCE, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others state that KFOR and UNMIK have failed to fulfill these obligations. If the Albanians succeed in creating an independent Kosovo, it would seem that, in the end, they are to be rewarded for their massive ethnic cleansing campaign.
Is this a picture of democracy in action? Is this what the US and NATO are touting as a “success story”? Is another Diaspora, with no right to settle and no hope of return, what the Roma of Kosovo can look forward to in the 21st Century?
In March of this year, fighting erupted again in Kosovo, between Albanians and Serbs in the City of Mitrovica. The press reported that two incidents triggered the violence -- a drive-by shooting of a Serbian youth on March 15th, followed by the drowning deaths of three Albanian youths, allegedly chased into a river by dogs belonging to Serbian boys. The larger context of the Albanian fight for Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, a struggle that has motivated the fighting since long before the US/NATO intervention in 1999, is rarely mentioned in the press. It seems that the ethnic Albanian rulers of Kosovo, having used UNMIK and the international presence in Kosovo to rebuild this region for their dominance, are now ready to make the final push for independence. The international press has failed to ask these questions or fill in the background when reporting this violence, instead repeating the story of the drowning boys as the cause of the recent violence, sparking ethnic clashes that resulted in over 30 deaths and the burning of more than 300 Serbian, Romani, and other minority homes at the hands of extremist Albanians.
In sum, the Kosovo Roma are still caught in the middle of the ethnic fighting between the Albanians and Serbs, which is now more intense than ever.
* They are denied documents/the safety/ or the means to travel elsewhere or to stay in Kosovo.
* They are unwelcome and unrecognized as legitimate citizens in Kosovo/Serbia, or as refugees in Macedonia, Montenegro, and throughout Western Europe.
* They are threatened with deportation and forced to repatriate, while UNHCR states that they cannot safely return to live in Kosovo.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council on April 13th, 2004, U.N. Peacekeeping Operations Director Jean-Marie Guehenno described Kosovo, five years after the end of civil war, as a simmering cauldron of ethnic suspicions. Mr. Guehenno stated: "The onslaught led by Albanian extremists against Kosovo's Serb, Roma and Ashkali communities was an organized, widespread and targeted campaign."
With the world focused on the widening war in Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia far below media radar screens, the forgotten Roma of Kosovo are fixed dead center in the cross-hairs of the emboldened Albanian majority, poised to consummate their long held dream of an exclusively Albanian Kosovo. The Roma are in even more desperate straits than the already grim situation first reported in this publication.
Carol Bloom and Sani Rifati are respectively CFO and President of Voice of Roma, an advocacy group based in Northern California, whose goal is to provide Roma with a voice in their local communities, as well as nationally and internationally. Ann Kneel, PhD in Sociology from UC Berkeley, teaches at Sonoma State University in CA, and is on the VOR Board of Directors. Sunil K. Sharma is the editor of Dissident Voice, and is on the International Advisory Board of VOR. Voice of Roma can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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