Culture Supplement

Republic of '96

Descriptive Text

A letter brought to the Presidency by a Serbian postman caused Ibrahim Rugova and two of his advisers to celebrate with brandy. The letter was written to the US Department of State and the reference was "Republic of Kosovo". It was a letter addressed to Muhamet Bicaj, then Minister of Education. The content caused a stir. Albanians were not used to hearing such a reference from foreigners. They had been looking for him for a long time. They had paid for it in blood. In 2008, Kosovo was declared a republic again, now in coordination with the West. However, recognition challenges have not yet been removed. "The Republic of '96", is the title of the article published for the first time in the Culture Supplement of "Koha Ditore" on February 14, 2015

The news that stunned Muhamet Bicaj the most was received over the phone some two decades ago. He himself was in the West and called from Pristina.

Xhavit Ahmeti, who at that time advised President Ibrahim Rugova, was on the other side of the receiver. He had called him to tell him some unexpected news - the US State Department refers to Kosovo as the "Republic of Kosovo". This was in response to a letter that Bicaj, as Minister of Education, had addressed to this institution of the most influential state in the world four days earlier.

"I was in the European Parliament and Doris Pack told me: 'Soon you will be called by the Presidency'. When I went, Xhaviti informed me. He said to me: 'O minister, listen to what has happened to us - the Republic of Kosovo. We are celebrating. We are drinking a glass of brandy with President Rugova and with Abdyl (Abdyl Rama, also this adviser of Rugova vj)", said Bicaj. "It was an extremely big echo that at that time a letter arrived from the Department of State, in which they refer to the 'Republic of Kosovo'".

The United States Department of Education forwarded the letter on September 21, 1996. It bore the signature of Assistant Secretary Mario Moreno.

The letter was sent from this address:

"US Department of Education,

Washington, DC 20202-3500”.

It was destined to arrive at this destination:

"Muhamet Bicaj,

Minister of Education,

Ministry of Education, Science and Culture,

No. 03, 1-07

Pristina, Republic of Kosovo".

Assistant Secretary Moreno had written in the introduction that he understood the concern about the state of education. It stated that the United States strongly supports international principles that support the premise that equal access and opportunity for quality education should be possible for all.

The next piece of information highlighted in the correspondence states that the concern was forwarded to a competent body. And, as it begins, this letter ends with the word "Republic".

"This Department has no jurisdiction in matters that belong to other states; however, the United States Department of State is the US government agency charged with the responsibility of monitoring and safeguarding human rights around the world. I am sending this letter to Mr. John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, who, I am sure, will deal with the conditions you have described", says the document that Bicaj jealously guards. "I express to you the best considerations for a successful solution to the problems of education in the Republic of Kosovo".

News from the Serbian postman

Bicaj also points to an irony. This letter, which made Rugova celebrate, was brought by a Serb to the Presidency located in "Velani".

"This had a great impact. Even though I was in Bonn, I gave the address in Kosovo, that is, to the Presidency", he said. "And it was interesting how the Serbian postman sent the shipment to the Presidency. It was a letter of recommendation, closed. He didn't know what was there."

Bicaj was a minister of the Government of Kosovo in exile, formed after the suppression of the autonomy that Kosovo had within Yugoslavia and after the violent measures that Serbia had imposed all over the territory that was populated with Albanians.

As a response to this repression, at that time the Provincial Assembly, on July 2, 1990, declared Kosovo a Republic equal to the other republics of the former Yugoslavia. The statement was announced in front of the Parliament building, after the Serbian authorities had closed the doors to the deputies.

Parallel to the Serbian repression, the Albanians had organized to create a parallel state. Thus, on September 7, 1990, the Assembly approved the first Constitution as a Republic, in a meeting in Kaçanik.

A year later, 99,87 percent of Kosovars participating in a referendum voted for independence and sovereignty. In 1992, then, elections were held, from which state bodies were constituted, some of which functioned in Kosovo and others in the West.

Apart from Albania, no other country recognized Kosovo's citizenship. Therefore, the letter of the Department of State, which referred to Kosovo as the Republic, had particularly excited the political framework.

Kosovo was separated from Albania for almost a century. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, in July 1913 they decided that Albania should be declared an autonomous, sovereign hereditary principality under the guarantee of the Great Powers. While the borders, after many discussions, were set, but leaving Kosovo out of them.

From the violent separation of Kosovo from the Albanian trunk onwards, national unification has been sought and it has been fought for in various forms, historians have recalled.

Jusuf Buxhovi shows that the issue of annexation is part of Kosovo's strategy to become independent in circumstances where union has been deemed impossible. Kosovar leaders have openly said so far that independence is a compromise for Albanians.

Gjakova, August 1968

Thus, the demand for a republic appears in the sixties.

"It was brought about by the political climate that appeared after the Brijuni Plenum of June 1966 when Tito eliminated the Serb Aleksandar Ranković, the infamous Yugoslav police chief and the main politician who had claims to replace Tito," Buxhovi told the newspaper. "It is interesting to say that it was publicly spoken for the first time at the meeting of the Political Activity of Gjakova in August 1968, from which the position that 'Kosovo can be a republic' emerged".

From this formulation, the Active of Gjakova demanded that the Albanian nationality be called the "Albanian nation", that the use of the Albanian National Flag be defined by the Constitution and that the Province of the Republic be declared.

The attitudes were welcomed throughout Kosovo. These demands were repeated in the Political Activity of Pristina, and it was insisted that Kosovo be recognized and treated as a "federal unit" with full rights.

The general prosecutor of that time in Kosovo, Rezak Shala, stated bluntly: "The Republic of Kosovo is an imperative of the time, and this right should not be waived."

Historian Buxhovi has shown how this request was later waived.

"As such, it was included in the framework of public talks on constitutional amendments. Although the politics of Kosovo did not follow this request and even, after a while, distanced itself from it, the intellectuals of Kosovo turned it into a political motto of the changes that were required", he said.

Buxhovi has shown how the demand for the republic was supported by the intellectual elite, and which became popular and turned into a political program of the student movement, which, with these mottos from November 5 to November 27, 1968, organized demonstrations in several cities , first in Prizren, then in Pejë, in Gjilan, in Podujevë, in Tetovo, in Ulcin, to conclude with that of Pristina, which was one of the first and most powerful demonstrations of Albanians after the end of the War of Second World War onwards.

"The demonstrations were calm and massive", recalls Buxhovi. "However, the police used violence against the demonstrators, as a result of which a young man was killed and several others were injured. The organizers of the demonstrations, Ismail Dumoshi, their leader, along with many others were imprisoned and sentenced to many years of imprisonment.

Precisely from these protests, he started to take a stand for the independence of Kosovo, parallel to the dominant will to unite with Albania. So, there was talk now about a state-forming process, which aimed for Kosovo as a republic to be within the framework of federal Yugoslavia.

"The slogan 'Kosovo-Republika' became the ideological guide of the people and the most complete form of the request for equality in the Federation, but outside the framework of the Republic of Serbia", wrote Shkodran historian Sami Repishti. "Such a logical definition responded well to Kosovo's demands - equality without changing international borders - and raised the political level of the movement; the Kosovars already had a specific objective, historically justifiable, and not aggressive and revolutionary, which could not be opposed with reason, despite the threat of Serbian military violence".

Since then, the Albanians had not stopped seeking the advancement of the status in the Republic, even though many were those who had cost them their lives. With this request, they were also led in the protests of '81, which were started spontaneously by students in the canteen in Pristina. It was violently repressed by the police, but it caused the demonstration organized on March 11, which started a chain of others. The request for the creation of a republic of Albanians in Yugoslavia was presented as a strategic need of the time, to preserve the national identity of the Albanians and to create preconditions for secession from Yugoslavia.

246 murders, 10 thousand convictions

In the first four years after the demonstrations, 4 people were convicted by state bodies. During the period 1981-1990, as a result of the chain of demonstrations, 183 civilians and 63 Albanian soldiers were killed in the Yugoslav Army. 1.346 soldiers and about 10 civilians were convicted for political offenses. Some 3.500 people have served an average prison sentence of 7,1 years.

Based on the data of human rights organizations, every third Albanian in Kosovo has been mistreated by the police, while in 1990 over 7.000 schoolchildren and students, mostly women, were poisoned.

After these circumstances, at the beginning of the 90s, peaceful resistance began in the declared Republic, which received the response of the Serbian state with increased repression, mass expulsions from workplaces and from schools and universities.

A little less than a decade under these conditions, the Kosovo Liberation Army took up arms in an attempt to secede from Serbia. The soldiers had not sworn for the Republic of Kosovo.

"I, the soldier of the Kosovo Liberation Army, swear that I will fight for the liberation of the Albanian lands and their unification. I will always be a loyal soldier, a worthy freedom fighter, vigilant, courageous and disciplined, ready to fight at any time without even sparing my life to protect the sacred interests of the homeland. If I break this oath, let me be punished by the harshest laws of war, and if I betray, let my blood be shed. I swear, I swear, I swear!" is their oath.

The war, which ended with the capitulation of Serbia after NATO's 78-day military intervention, left about 15 Albanians dead. It also left 5 missing, most of whom were found in mass cemeteries in Kosovo and Serbia, hidden by the Milosevic regime. He left somewhere around 20 thousand raped women.

And it produced only one UN resolution, which put Kosovo under international temporary administration.

Thus, after the failure of several negotiation processes regarding the status, on February 17, 2008, in Pristina, the elected leaders, through a Declaration, declare Kosovo an independent and sovereign state. The statement states that this announcement reflects the will of the people and is in full compliance with the recommendations of the United Nations Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, and his Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement.

"We declare Kosovo a democratic, secular and multi-ethnic republic, guided by the principles of non-discrimination and equal protection under the law. We will protect and promote the rights of all communities in Kosovo and create the necessary conditions for their effective participation in the political and decision-making processes", says point two of the Declaration of Independence.

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Facsimile of the letter from the US Department of State that arrived at the Office of the President of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, in September 1996

Reconfirmation of the Republic

Historian Jusuf Buxhovi says that this act is a reaffirmation of the declaration of independence in the early 90s.

"The Republic of Kosovo, announced in Kaçanik on September 7, 1990, represents a legitimate act through which the foundations of the state of Kosovo were laid. Seen from a historical perspective, the declaration of Independence on February 17, 2008, represents the reconfirmation of this major act", said Buxhovi. "UN Resolution 1244 of June 12, 1999 placed Kosovo under the international protectorate, which formally canceled the Republic of Kosovo, but politically, the independence declared in 2008 restored it, but now in cooperation with the international factor, which as a result, they had the compromises that were expressed in the Constitution of Ahtisaari".

In June 2008, the Constitution was also approved, the first article of which defines the Republic of Kosovo as an independent, sovereign, democratic, unique and indivisible state.

This article also contains a limitation: "The Republic of Kosovo has no territorial claims against any state or part of any state and will not seek to join any state or part of any state".

Kosovo has so far been recognized by more than 100 countries. Among the first to declare recognition are: the United Kingdom, France, the United States of America, Turkey, Albania and Afghanistan. The decisions for recognition, according to the Foreign Ministry, were made the day after the declaration of independence - on February 18.

And, according to the "kosovothanksyou.com" website, which lists countries according to the time they decided for recognition, the first country to accept Kosovo's independence is Costa Rica. He took the decision on this on February 17.

Kosovo's citizenship is still contested. The European Union does not recognize it as a country, and the obstacle to membership in the United Nations remains the veto that Russia and China have in the Security Council. However, until now it has joined several international mechanisms.

Even during the 90s when Kosovo functioned as a parallel state, documents issued with the denomination "Republic of Kosovo" were accepted by several countries.

Muhamet Bicaj, on whose behalf in 1996 the letter was addressed by the American institution that referred to Kosovo as the Republic, has mentioned a number of European countries that did not recognize the state, but accepted as legal the documents that were issued with the seal of the Republic.

"The Ministry of Education of Austria was the first to accept the documents with the coat of arms of the Republic of Kosovo. There have been many students who have continued their studies or enrolled in post-graduate studies and they have been recognized for their prior education in our system, and that education was evidenced by the documents that we had issued to them", said Bicaj. "Then, Slovenia also accepted them, as did Croatia, and once also Germany. Let's not talk about Albania".

This text was first published in the Culture Supplement of February 15, 2015. It is reprinted without interference on the occasion of the 16th anniversary of Kosovo's Independence.