The explosive report presented by Swiss senator Dick Marty in December on alleged organ-trafficking in Kosovo is to be debated by the Council of Europe on Tuesday.
Marty implicated high ranking members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the murder of Serbian and Kosovo Albanian prisoners and the selling of their organs. They include the current prime minister, Hashim Thaci, and others who now hold important political positions.
Swiss journalist Andreas Ernst of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, who has been based in the Balkans for ten years, explains to swissinfo.ch why the reaction had been so strong, and why a credible investigation is so important.
The report provoked a huge outcry in the Albanian-speaking areas of the Balkans, with Marty being called a “liar” and a “Nazi” – a reaction which came as a surprise to Marty himself, as Marty told Swiss newspapers.
swissinfo.ch: How to you explain the vehemence of the reactions, not only from Kosovo, but from Albania and Albanians in Macedonia and Switzerland?
Andreas Ernst: Most Albanians know the report only from the media. The Albanian-language media have drawn an extremely negative image of the report and of Dick Marty personally. In the Albanian-speaking area he is regarded as anti-Albanian.
He attempted to correct this distortion with a long television interview last week, but his image is currently very bad and is likely to remain so.
swissinfo.ch: We too have had some very aggressive feedback to our reports on the issue. Does that surprise you, or are such reactions typical of the region?
A.E.: No, it doesn’t surprise me, but it has less to do with the Balkans than one might think at first glance.
The fact is that through his report Marty has challenged the widespread image of the liberation war conducted by the KLA. The Albanians see this as a just and clean war: there was one people - the Serbs - who were the perpetrators, and one who were the victims - the Albanians.
This image is part of the Kosovan founding myth. And anyone challenging it always provokes strong reactions.
This vehemence is not simply a peculiarity of the Balkans. If you think of the debate about collaboration with the Vichy regime in France [in the Second World War], or the stormy reactions in Switzerland about the dormant Jewish accounts [from the Second World War], it really isn’t surprising that the Kosovars react like this.
But what is surprising, and perhaps also typically Albanian, is the unanimity of the reactions. There are very few opposing voices diverging from the general tone.
swissinfo.ch: Is it simply not possible to express a dissenting opinion, because that would call the regime into question?
A.E.: That is the real question about freedom of opinion in Kosovo. It is guaranteed in the constitution, but in practice leaves much to be desired.
The media are very closely controlled by politicians, and their advertising is very dependent on government contracts. That means that the reports in many media follow the government line. And the public-service television is in practice a state television.
And then there is a lot of pressure to conform in Kosovo. If someone challenges the ruling line on some national subject, he is quickly accused of being a traitor.
swissinfo.ch: So is there no-one in Kosovo who believes even part of the Marty report?
A.E.: There are certainly people who believe at least some parts of the report. Many people know that that KLA also killed Albanians. But now, when Kosovo is under so much pressure, they are closing ranks, partly out of solidarity, and partly out of conformism and fear.
What there is, and has always been, is a lot of criticism of Thaci. But the target is not the war period, or the charges raised in the Marty report, but mainly the widespread corruption.
swissinfo.ch: Why do we hear practically nothing from the Serbian minority in Kosovo?
A.E.: The Serbs in the enclaves, that’s to say in the south, are surrounded by Albanian areas of settlement and are trying to find a modus vivendi with the Kosovan state. They live unobtrusively and keep quiet.
The Serbs in the north, whose villages border directly on Serbia, reject not only Thaci, but the Kosovan state as such. Their position is the same as Serbia’s, which assumes that in fact everything has already been proved.
swissinfo.ch: The Council of Europe in Strasbourg is debating the Marty report on Tuesday. What reaction can we expect if the report is adopted?
A.E.: Adoption would be seen as a propaganda victory for pro-Serbian forces. Kosovo will continue to declare that it is open to an investigation into the accusations against Thaci and others, as Thaci himself has said many times.
But witness protection will continue to be insufficient, so that many of the accusations will remain in the air. In the long term Kosovo would then have an image problem.
swissinfo.ch: So it is in the interests of Kosovo, or at least of the ordinary people there, for these accusations to be investigated?
A.E.: Absolutely. There can hardly be anyone, other than the perpetrators – if there are any - who doesn’t have an interest in that happening.
But if the investigation should peter out because witnesses are not sufficiently protected, that would be a very negative development. In Kosovo, as in all the Balkan countries, it’s important that people shouldn’t harbour collective prejudices, and that they shouldn’t speak of perpetrators in general, particularly in connection with war crimes.
Perpetrators have a name, and it is very important for the peoples of these countries that the perpetrators should be seen to be specific individuals, for the sake of reconciliation in the long term and to help these regions to come together.
Prominent Kosovars in Switzerland
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, accused by Dick Marty of heading a “mafia-style organisation” lived in Switzerland between 1994 and 1998, and was given political asylum.
He studied politics and southeastern European history at Zurich University, and is said to have built up the Kosovo Liberation Army during this time.
A report in the Swiss SonntagsZeitung newspaper on January 23 said two Kosovo politicians, Azem Syla and Kadri Veseli, accused of involvement in alleged organ trafficking have permanent Swiss resident permits, despite not having their main residence in Switzerland.
Syla, currently a member of the Kosovo parliament, was previously Kosovo defence minister.
Veseli was head of the secret services.
The Swiss migration office is to open an enquiry to determine whether the two men satisfy the criteria entitling them to these permits.
Switzerland and Kosovo
Switzerland and Kosovo have had close relations since the 1990s, when political tension and poor economic situation drove tens of thousands of Kosovars to seek refuge or work in Switzerland.
There are currently between 150,000 and 170,000 citizens of Kosovo in Switzerland, equivalent to about 10% of Kosovo’s resident population. Of these, about 10,000 belong to non-Kosovar minorities.
Switzerland is one of Kosovo’s major donors. Between 1999 and 2010 it allocated about SFr700 million ($738 million) to support Kosovo’s economic and political development and stability.
Since October 1999, the Swiss Armed Forces have been involved in the international peace support mission of the Kosovo Force (Kfor) with Swisscoy in Kosovo.
Swisscoy - short for Swiss Company - is composed of up to 220 voluntary military personnel armed for self defence with pistols, assault rifles and riot agent spray generators.
The Swiss government recognised Kosovo as an independent state on February 27, 2008, ten days after its declaration of independence; it was one of the first countries to do so.
(Translated from German by Julia Slater), swissinfo.ch