Kosovo Peaceniks Hear Call: 'Guerrilla Army Needs You'

Even Pristina youths see passive resistance as fading. US prodded Belgrade yesterday.

It's just after noon on June 22 and there's hardly an empty seat in Pristina's cafe row.

American music thumps from speakers. Nattily dressed waiters bustle around. And hundreds of young men and women pass the time chatting.

One would hardly know it, but there's a war being waged just 15 miles down the road.

"Sure," says Edi, a customer who just finished high school, "I feel guilty that I'm in the cafe now," he says. "If I were in the village, I'd probably have a gun in my hands. But what can I do?"

As the guerrilla war in Kosovo steadily escalates, young men all over the provincial capital of Pristina are asking themselves the same question.

They say they feel strong pressure to join the struggle for independence - maybe even join the Kosovo Liberation Army. But how?

"I heard that the KLA won't take you if you're an only son," says Riki, another teenager, with a shrug. "So it's not fair to criticize me.... There's nothing I can do."

The general feeling of confusion among young men in Pristina underscores a greater lack of direction among Kosovo's 2 million ethnic Albanians, who outnumber Serbs 9 to 1 in Serbia's southern province. As the stakes grow higher, so do doubts.

"I would put the blame on the political leaders," says a young journalist in Pristina, who asked that his name not be used. "They're not telling the people what to do."

Most of the 200,000 people in Pristina, the provincial capital, have never seen a KLA soldier in person. They have neither touched a gun nor buried a relative. Although they sympathize with the independence movement, they have little understanding of their brethren in the villages, who see little choice but to bear the load of a high-risk guerrilla war.

Close to 300 have died in the last four months and as many as 70,000 refugees have fled their homes.

Already there is friction between the de facto ethnic Albanian President Ibrahim Rugova, a US-backed pacifist, and the armed members of the KLA.

A spokesman for the KLA, Jakup Krasniqi, last week criticized Mr. Rugova for leading people astray with years of passive resistance.

Rugova responded by urging the KLA to "be responsible with regard to the political situation.

"I am confident that the KLA would honor my orders, too. Anything else would be fatal for Kosovo," he told the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Western diplomats say such rifts among the ethnic Albanian leadership could make international intervention more difficult, as it is no longer possible to define a single voice of the people.

So, the more directionless the KLA appears, the more difficult it becomes for the international community to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his special troops from the region.

US diplomat Richard Holbrooke arrived in the Balkans June 23 with what could be a final warning for Mr. Milosevic - with whom he was scheduled to meet last night - before NATO takes steps to try to end the fighting in Kosovo. But it may be difficult for Milosevic to comply with any demands.

"The KLA has guns and they're causing a hell of a lot of trouble," says a Western analyst in the Balkans. "How can the Serb politicians be asked to withdraw their forces when the KLA is setting up roadblocks all over the place?"

For its part, the KLA continues to impress militarily. They have sustained heavy hits, but seem to be gaining strength with each week.

In some villages it's difficult to find fighting-age men who don't identify themselves as KLA. The same cannot be said of Pristina.

In an interview with the independent ethnic Albanian daily Koha Ditore, a KLA fighter quipped, "Life is good there [in Pristina], isn't it?"

Albin Kurti, a student leader at the underground ethnic Albanian University of Pristina, says the student union is no longer organizing demonstrations the way it did last fall because the struggle has moved to the front lines. Instead it's focused on helping students from the war zone who have been separated from their families.

"People in the war don't care about political leaders, student leaders, or newspapers - just the KLA," he says. "In the short term, the only thing that matters is the KLA. They are the people."

By Balkan standards, Pristina is a city bustling with intellectual activity.

Artists, actors, musicians, and students fill the cafes at night. For them, peaceful resistance is still a viable option.

"I feel guilty a little bit," says Shpend, as he sits at a cafe with a group of his friends. "Maybe I'm here to forget what's happening. Maybe all of us here are pretending."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Kosovo Peaceniks Hear Call: 'Guerrilla Army Needs You'
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today