Surroi: What we fought for?
Veton Surroi is today the leader of Ora, a small Kosovo Albanian political party and a member of the Unity Team, which brings together the main Kosovo political leaders dealing with the status issue. He has long been a key figure in Kosovo Albanian political life and especially in arguing its case abroad. He is the proprietor of Koha Ditore, one of Kosovo's leading daily papers. When the bombing began on 24 March 1999 Surroi decided to stay behind in Priština, but had to go into hiding. Staying with different families he was in despair:
I thought I would try and be here and help people and suddenly I'm in a situation where I can't even help myself and am even endangering the people I'm staying with. I thought, "What would happen if the Serbs get me here, get me, and as a reprisal hunt all the families I have been with, burn all their homes and shoot and kill them?"
A few months later the situation had reversed itself. Surroi was reopening Koha Ditore and hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees were streaming home – while Serbs were now being persecuted or in flight. In a virtually unique act for a prominent Kosovo Albanian leader he used his position to speak out, using the pages of Koha Ditore:
In the past month an old woman has been beaten to death in her bath; a two-year-old boy has been wounded and his mother shot dead; two youths have been killed with a grenade launcher; and a woman dares not speak her name in public for fear that those who attempted to rape her will return.
The article went on to point out that these were "not isolated incidents" and that frightened Serbs had locked themselves in their homes "terrified by an atmosphere in which every sound seems threatening and every vehicle that stops might take you away to your death." Albanians had been warned not to "feed Serbs", he said:
I know how Kosovo's remaining Serbs, and indeed Roma, feel, because I along with nearly 2 million Albanians, was in exactly the same situation only two and half months ago. I recognise their fear…This is why I cannot hide my shame to discover that, for the first time in history, we Kosovo Albanians are also capable of such monstrous acts. I have to speak out to make it clear that our moral code, by which women, children and elderly should be left unharmed, has been and is being violated.
I know the obvious excuse, namely that we have been through a barbaric war in which Serbs were responsible for heinous crimes and in which the intensity of the violence has generated a desire for vengeance among many Albanians. This however is no justification.
What was happening, thundered Surroi, was "the organised and systematic intimidation of all Serbs simply because they are Serbs and therefore are being held collectively responsible for what happened in Kosovo." Everyone understood this to mean the KLA.
Such attitudes are fascist. Moreover it was against these very same very same attitudes that the people of Kosovo stood up and fought, at first peacefully, and then with arms, during the past 10 years. The treatment of Kosovo's Serbs brings shame on all Kosovo Albanians…from having been victims of Europe's worst end-of-century persecution, we are ourselves becoming persecutors and have allowed the spectre of fascism to reappear.
Anybody who thinks that the violence will end once the last Serb has been driven out is living an illusion. The violence will simply be directed against other Albanians. Is this really what we fought for?
If Surroi thought that after he had stuck his head out over the parapet others would follow he was to be sorely disappointed.
Kosovo: War and Revenge. 2002, Second Edition. [Yale University Press]