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Voices from the Region: Albania
Interview with the President of the Republic of Albania, Rexhep Meidani
JURIST Exclusive, May 26, 1999

[The following interview was conducted by e-mail; the questions were posed by JURIST's Director, Professor Bernard Hibbitts, Associate Dean for Communications & Information Technology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.]

JURIST: President Meidani, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by JURIST: The Law Professors’ Network. Many lawyers and law professors around the world have commented on the implications of the Kosovo conflict for the future of the international legal order. What impact do you think the conflict has had or will have on the international rule of law?

President Rexhep Meidani: I would like first to dwell on the nature of the conflict in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that has provoked a very active role of the whole international community, its organizations and public opinion. After the Fall of the Iron Curtain, the region of South Eastern Europe has been constantly threatened by the instability coming from hegemonism of the old Serbian mentality to rule over other nations and people, thus causing war almost in the whole former Yugoslavia. After the two years war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is now Kosovo experiencing the policy of burning land, and that of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Nearly one [million] out of 1.6 million Kosovar Albanians have been forced to flee their land and houses to find shelter from all sorts of crimes of the Serbian military, paramilitary and police. Nearly 100,000 Albanians of Kosovo have been lost and evidences of massive graves are quite clear all over the Kosovar territory. Raped women, parents killed before the eyes of their children, Albanians used as human shields, civilians of all ages and gender terrorized and killed while more than 400 towns and villages are totally destroyed, such is the policy of Belgrade at the end of this century and the coming new millennium. It is a policy proved to be totally against the commonly accepted principles and values of the Western Democracies mainly respect for human and civil rights, democratic institutions, free and fair elections, and so on. Furthermore, it is a policy going contrary to the European spirit of integration and cooperation that all the countries of the Balkans have actually embarked. The whole political, economic and democratic development of the region is to a considerable extent kept hostage and hindered tremendously by the threat of war and instability of the Serbian criminal regime.

Thus it is clear to anyone that in Kosova and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, there is but a conflict reflecting the past and future. On one side there is criminal ethnic cleansing and genocide right in the heart of Europe and on the other side joint efforts of NATO and the whole international community to stop this old mentality and anticivilisation on one side [and] help develop democracy and civilization of human society.

JURIST: Since the conflict began over 400,000 Kosovar refugees have streamed into Albania. What rights do these refugees have under Albanian law? What pressures have the sudden influx of population created for the Albanian legal and justice systems, and how are these pressures being handled?

President Rexhep Meidani: I should admit that the existing Albanian Law on Refugees could not work in the situation where in one month the population of the country increased by 13-14%. I should also like to admit that Albania has inherited problems concerning public security since the crises in 1997. But despite the influx of refugees the situation in the public security has not worsened, on the contrary. Assisted by international community, we have taken all measures that the deported Kosovar Albanians enjoy fully their civil rights. But let me mention also the fact that nearly 300,000 Kosovar Albanians have enjoyed the hospitality of Albanian Families and only 150,000 are living in different refugee camps.

I should say that there is much moral obligation of the people of Albania in the way that crisis was handled. We are making every effort to cope with this situation and provide the best possible condition to the deported Albanians, including also the education of the children. Actually, the Albanian parliament has approved two modern laws for citizenship and political asylum but not for the residential status, but this has not hindered the Albanian state and the Albanian people to mobilize all material and spiritual sources to cope with the crisis and overcome the humanitarian catastrophe.

JURIST: You're a former Chairman of the Albanian Center for Human Rights. What specific mechanisms do you think should be established to protect the human rights of Kosovar Albanians returning to a post-war Kosovo, presuming the eventual peace agreement follows your recommendations that Kosovo be neither partitioned nor completely separated from Yugoslavia?

President Rexhep Meidani: My perspective for the development of democracy, protection of human rights but also in much broader sense the development of sustainable peace and stability in Kosova can be achieved only based in a very realistic point of view. Since the time I got office as Albanian Head of State I have encouraged realistic actions of the international community to anticipate the aggravation of the situation through preventive diplomacy and other actions. Almost two years ago I appealed that international civil presence in the whole territory of Kosova would be indispensable. But to any sober mind, actually it is becoming evident that Milosevic has long planned a situation like this where nearly 1 million Albanian Kosovars have been forced to flee their houses and be dispersed anywhere in the world. The crisis in the territory of the former Yugoslav Federation started in Kosovo in 1989 with Milosevic coming to power by depriving autonomy to the region and it will end by finding a right solution to this crises in Kosovo. An International Authority or Protectorate in Kosovo is very important as an intermediate solution, which comprises its military, civil and humanitarian components. The presence of a military international force with NATO in its core is the only mechanism that would create an atmosphere of security for the deported people to come back to their homes. Afterwards it requires an intensive activity and presence of OSCE and Council of Europe to take care for the development of civil society there, democratic institutions, elections, the development of media and non-governmental organizations. The humanitarian and economic components to help the restoration of economic life as well as the devastated villages and towns are closely related with safe settlement of this issue.

An important role has to be undertaken from the international community, different countries and first of all European Union. This organization has an important role to play once an agreement for peace be found. EU has to open up paths for interdependence of Kosova [and] maybe Montenegro as the new states of the Balkans by increasing economic opportunities and enhancing integrative spirit of cooperation.

From the other side any idea for division or partition of Kosova poses a very dangerous risk for the whole multiethnic SouthEastern European region. It threatens the stability of the countries of this region, and first of all that of Macedonia, the destabilization of which has been a constant objective of the regime of Belgrade.

Furthermore the implementation of the international force by subdivisions in zones or sectors will have direct influence on the return of the deported Albanians in their native land and homes, thus developing in more sophisticated and hidden manner the idea for partition of Kosova.

JURIST: Could you explain the legal status of the Kosova Liberation Army within Albania? To what extent has the Albanian government prosecuted KLA members for their activities, or otherwise attempted to control their funding, recruitment, training, arming or movement?

President Rexhep Meidani: I wouldn't speak of a legal status of KLA within Albania, or even the necessity of having one. Neither can I refer to any form of influence by the Albanian authorities over Kosova Liberation Army. It is since last February in 1998 than nearly 25 thousand Albanians of Kosovo have been forced by Serbian military to flee Kosova. Kosova Liberation Army was born in Kosova as a resistance to the Yugoslav army to protect civilian population and to free Kosovo. The leadership of the Army began to be legalized internationally since last year and in February and March this year they became important part of the Kosovar leadership in signing the peace agreement in Rambouillet and Paris. We have had political contacts and we have tried to influence them in signing the peace agreement in Paris. It is a moral responsibility of the Albanian authorities to help a cohesive represantation of the Kosovar Albanian leadership and have worked towards this goal.

At the actual situation the Republic of Albanian has offered unlimited cooperation with NATO in handling resolve the crises in Kosova and if I am not mistaken there are also options that NATO may assist the KLA fighting in the terrain or at least it is considering it as its ally.

JURIST: Speaking at the NATO Summit last month in Washington, you suggested that "if the main international and European institutions are overloaded with regulations, there is a need for redefinition of principles". What particular legal and/or political problems were you referring to, and how might this "redefinition of principles" be achieved?

President Rexhep Meidani: There was tremendous time lost as well as energies not timely used in preventing different crises and particularly the current crises in Kosova. There are a number of international organizations that are put in motion through different mechanisms which might have acted in more determined way. But in order to make the mechanisms and the organizations effective it is also needed political will and cohesiveness of all the participating members in these structures. More or less, the activity of UN Security Council, NATO, OSCE, etc. has to be based on more correlated action, regulations and principles.

I am convinced that a certain lack of efficiency deriving from the relevant procedures and actions is also an integral part of the price paid for democracy in order to avoid authoritarianism, unlimited power or arbitrariness. But I think it is equally possible to make compatible principles and democratic laws through concrete dynamic acts to avoid abuses of fundamental human rights "inspired" by unreasonable and infective principles or personal and nationalistic interests, archaic "cold war" ideas or traditional spheres of influence.

In the final analysis, what matters is what works, as no lesson in perfect democracy can be given and we have to weigh up the extreme difficulties that international institutions and mechanisms in the area of globalization have in responding and adopting to the demands and needs of efficiency, accountability, democratization and civilization. There is therefore a pressing need for reforms so as to ensure that inertia does not gain the upper hand over dynamism, and especially a better compatibility or reconciliation of the two simultaneously complementary and contradictory objectives, namely democratization and effectiveness.

JURIST: Before becoming President of Albania, you were a physics professor teaching at universities in Tirana, in Europe and in the US, and even for a few years in Kosovo itself. How have your academic experiences abroad shaped your view of the present conflict? What suggestions do you have for academic colleagues around the world, - especially in law - who in their professional or private capacities would like to support the long term reconstruction and destabilization of the Balkans?

President Rexhep Meidani: Coming form an academic activity, I am more inclined to think and calculate logically and realistically. Having no political prejudices or any kind of political surcharge, since the time I got office it seemed that I always represented a very realistic point of view especially as regards crisis in Kosova. Moreover I have been there in Pristina a lecturer in the years 1978-1981 where a remarkable equilibrium existed within ethnic communities. I have traveled much and I have crossed so many times from France to Germany without noticing the borders.

I have constantly encouraged the development of civil society in Albania to strengthen the public participation in the decision-making process in the country. The model of state in the Balkans has to be a civil state and not a national state, with the aim that all citizens enjoy full political and civil rights. That is the way that multiethnic democracies prosper and cooperation and understanding among countries in the region develop.

I have appealed to international community for a kind of Marshall Plan to develop economically and more specifically the infrastructure of the whole region. I have never meant that this reconstruction program be applied only in Albania. No, we have to develop the whole region, to invest in European spirit that countries and peoples of the region concentrate their common efforts towards building relationships among each other. There is no other perspective for this region besides cooperation and friendly relations, contacts and cooperative efforts towards a better future.

The region needs reconstruction, communication links and investments. It needs integrative spirit in shaping the future.

JURIST: Thank you very much for answering our questions.

Return to JURIST's Kosovo & Yugoslavia: Law in Crisis

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