WASHINGTON — It was a war in which heroes were difficult to find. Among the Serbs, there was hardly a voice to condemn Slobodan Milosevic and his forces while they killed thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Among Albanians, there was near silence after Kosovo was liberated and a wave of revenge began against the Serbs.
Two exceptions were Veton Surroi, an ethnic Albanian newspaper publisher, and Natasa Kandic, a Serbian human rights lawyer.
In Washington this week to receive an award from the National Endowment for Democracy, both lamented the lack of progress their people had made, even though the war ended nearly a year ago.
"Serbia has a very difficult time ahead, and I'm not optimistic," said Ms. Kandic, a slight woman who seemed uncomfortable with all the praise she has received. "Even without Milosevic, we will not be without problems."
Likewise, Mr. Surroi said Kosovo, now an international protectorate, so far has failed in four crucial categories: establishing democracy, implementing a free-market economy, becoming ethnically tolerant, and developing relations with its neighbors.
Surroi and Kandic, who have known each other for 10 years, came to represent hope in different ways. Surroi, a burly former football player who went to college in the US, is a prominent political figure and publisher of Kosovo's leading Albanian-language newspaper, Koha Ditore. Its headquarters were destroyed during the Serb crackdown on Kosovo, and Surroi was forced into hiding, moving from house to house. After the Serbian forces bowed to NATO and left Kosovo, Surroi spoke out against the extremist ethnic Albanians who were killing Serbs.
"The treatment of Kosovo's Serbs brings shame on all Kosovo Albanians, not just the perpetrators of violence," he wrote in an editorial. "And it's a burden we will have to bear collectively." His comments were hardly applauded. The KLA's press agency printed a rejoinder, implying that Surroi was a war criminal and saying his writing deserved revenge.
As Surroi was trying to stay alive in Kosovo, Kandic was doing the unthinkable in Serbia: speaking out openly against the violence committed against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo - and trying to confront Serbs with the truth.
In some of the darkest days of the NATO bombing campaign, when other Serbs were becoming increasingly nationalist, Ms. Kandic regularly drove to Kosovo to check on ethnic Albanians that worked for her organization, the Humanitarian Law Center.
Today, Kandic is helping defend several ethnic Albanians who were taken prisoner in Serbia and charged with terrorism. She is also urging Serbs to "achieve the truth" - about Kosovo as well as previous wars in Bosnia and Croatia.
Kandic "is one of the few remaining liberals and democrats remaining in Serbia," says Morton Abramowitz, a former assistant secretary of state and board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. About Surroi, he says: "He has been the most articulate voice of the aspirations of his countrymen...."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society