Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. Christopher H. Smith
Co-Chairman - Helsinki Commission


Beginning just over a decade ago, ethnic cleansing was in full swing in various parts of the former Yugoslavia. At that time and continuing for most of the 1990s, international efforts focused on how to stop the displacement of millions of people. As various phases of the conflict were brought to an end through a mixture of intervention and negotiation, the latter half of the decade and still today our efforts have concentrated on reversing the ethnic cleansing by giving the displaced an opportunity to return to their original pre-war homes. This has been a challenge and source of great frustration, in Croatia, in Bosnia and in Kosovo.

Kosovo, in fact, appears to be almost unresolvable. Is there any chance for the various ethnic communities in Kosovo to integrate where necessary and at least tolerate each other? The UNHCR and the OSCE report that the security situation for minority communities may have improved somewhat in recent years, but is that because things have really improved or because there are fewer people to attack? Or, are those who remain simply more careful about stepping out of the enclaves in which they must confine themselves? Given the situation for minority communities in Kosovo, what are the prospects for those still displaced from their homes outside Kosovo? Finally, what about the city divided by ethnic hatred, Mitrovica? Is that division to stay?

We hope to get some answers and insights to these questions from our distinguished panel of witnesses this morning. However, even given the obstacles to return and ethnic harmony in Kosovo, I believe that the situation today is not unresolvable. Ladies and gentlemen, it is intolerable. The biggest mistake the international community could therefore make is to conclude that the present situation is the best we can hope for. Instead, the international community must be determined to resolve this outstanding issue, and those in leadership positions within Kosovo have the responsibility to do likewise.

To the Kosovar Albanians, I am well aware of the repression and hardship you have faced, especially during the brutal reign of Slobodan Milosevic. The best response, for yourselves as well as for the many innocent Serbs, Roma and others from Kosovo, however, is to demonstrate that you are different from Milosevic’s murderous minions. Vandalizing or bombing churches is not just wrong; it should also be beneath the dignity of any Albanian who had to suffer under the Milosevic regime. Revenge is not justice. The ethnic diversity of Kosovo must be tolerated.

To those belonging to minority communities, whether in enclaves or displaced, you have not been forgotten. Your willingness to cooperate in last year’s elections and the subsequent formation of democratic institutions places the burden on the majority to let you participate – and participate meaningfully.

To those in Belgrade, your expressions of concern about caring for the many displaced are being heard. As the international community works with you to resolve this problem, however, there needs to be full cooperation in all aspects of the recovery from the damage done by the Milosevic regime. This includes cooperating fully with the Tribunal in The Hague, which we view as linked to the long-term stability of the region.

In the meantime, I believe we must all realize that hundreds of thousands of innocent people are needlessly suffering in Southeastern Europe. Many become victims of traffickers and other criminal elements that thrive on instability. Ultimately, the crime and corruption takes its toll on everyone, and the only way to change things is to work together. I hope we come away from this hearing with a greater expectation that leaders will reach across ethnic divides and do so.

First on our panel this morning are two representatives from the newly established parliament in Kosovo. Alush Gashi is from the political party of Kosovo’s president, Ibrahim Rugova, and has, in fact, been a foreign policy advisor to the president. Dr. Gashi has been a witness at previous Commission hearings and briefings, and we welcome him back.

Rada Trajkovic is a leader of the Serb coalition within the parliament, and a leader among the Serb community in Kosovo. As fellow parliamentarians, we welcome you to this hearing.

Next we have Valerie Percival, the field representative in Kosovo for the International Crisis Group, or ICG. She and the ICG have played a critical role in reporting what is happening in many problem areas around the globe, and in advocating proper policy responses to those problems.

Finally, we have Nebojsa Covic, the Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, who has responsibility for representing Belgrade regarding the situation in Kosovo and southern Serbia. Dr. Covic has also participated in a previous Commission hearing, and we are pleased to have him with us today.