Ramush Haradinaj: a Bomb for Kosovar Politics

Published on July 27, 2006, Axis Global Challenges Research

Category: Meet the Muslim Albanian Leaders

Can Karpat, AIA Balkanian section

One day before the death of the former Yugoslav dictator, the former Kosovar prime minister, who is the only important ethnic Albanian indictee, had his bail restrictions eased by the war criminal court. Moreover, Ramush Haradinaj is likely to return to political life. The Appeal Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia relaxed a ban on Haradinaj's public appearances and political activities. Against the background of the UN-mediated talks on Kosovo final status that are under way in Vienna, Haradinaj's political comeback can have an effect of a powerful blast for the Kosovar inner political scene that has not yet recovered from Ibrahim Rugova's death…

A “usual CV”

Ramush Haradinaj was born on the 3rd of July 1968 in Glodjane (a little village bordering Albania in Decani municipality, western Kosovo). Haradinaj is two-month younger than Hashim Thaci, the well-known political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). After close cooperation within the UCK ranks, the two men became political rivals in their new “civil lives”. Yet, their profiles are marked with more than one similarity.

As the eldest of seven children of a farmer, Ramush Haradinaj grew up in the country. He completed primary school in Rznici and secondary school in Decani and Djakovica. He wanted to study astronomy and enrolled at Pristina University in 1987. However, the same year he was appealed to serve in the Yugoslav People's Army. He completed his mandatory military service in Pirot and Dimitrovgrad (south-eastern Serbia). After his return he wanted to continue his studies. After the student demonstrations in 1989, however, he left for Switzerland. He claimed that his family was marked down by Serbian authorities as “troublemakers” and that his efforts to study astronomy in Kosovo were blocked. Haradinaj frequently travelled illegally to Kosovo, hiding from the police. He left Kosovo for good in 1991. Haradinaj was to stay in Switzerland for six years, ostensibly to study. Apparently he led a vagabond yet a colourful life there. He worked as security guard at rock concerts, nightclub bouncer, gymnastics coach and bodyguard. Not all of his jobs were as harmless as those were.

During that eight-year voluntary exile in Switzerland, Haradinaj stayed in touch with the resistance movement in Kosovo. He joined the Marxist-Leninist organisation People's Movement of Kosovo, which is believed to have created the UCK. Thereafter, Haradinaj alias “Smajl” studied war skills and martial arts. In the mid-1990's he lived in Tirana, where he began to prepare for "rebellion". In 1996, he finished his paramilitary training in Albania, and he took part in organising camps in Kukës and Tropojë (north-eastern Albania). He transferred arms to Kosovo through the Prokletija mountains (northern Albania).

Haradinaj returned to Kosovo in mid-1997. Along with his brothers, Daut and Shkëlzen, he began to organise armed attacks on Serbian police in the village of Ranic in Decani and the village of Ponosevac in Djakovica, and on the refugee camps in Junik and Babaloc. In March 1998, he became one of the Zone Commanders of the UCK. He held the western command operating in Dukagjin operational zone, which covered an area as large as Pec, Decani, Djakovica and part of Istok and Kline. During the war, Haradinaj was called the "Fist of God" by his followers.

On Haradinaj’s initiative, a special UCK unit was formed in Glodjane, his native town. Idriz Balaj alias "Toger" (Lieutenant) was appointed to the command of the Black Eagles - a special unit to carry out “special deed”. Today Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj alias “Maxhup” (Gypsy), who was the Deputy Commander of the Dukagjin Operative Staff, were accused by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for having co-perpetrated a joint criminal enterprise between March the 1st and September the 30th, 1998. The Black Eagles is charged, among other alleged crimes, with harassing, beating, expelling, abducting, detaining and torturing the Serbs and those Albanians and Roma Gypsies, who were perceived to be collaborators or not supporting the UCK. Those seven months in a way marked Haradinaj’s whole life, for his name is stigmatised by the Serbs as well as by the international community with this precise period of time.

By summer 1998, the late President of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova decided to do something about the UCK, which became more and more popular amongst the Kosovo Albanians. A certain Ahmet Krasniqi, a former colonel in the Yugoslavian Army, was given 4.5 million Dollars by Rugova’s administration in order to establish a rival military structure: the Armed Forces of the Kosovo Republic (FARK). In western Kosovo, the FARK initially cooperated with, and then fell out with UCK’s western command led by Haradinaj. Tension between the UCK and the FARK did not last for long. According to the New York Times columnist, Chris Hedges, on the 21st of September, Krasniqi was eliminated by the UCK or by Albanian secret police or both in Tirana. In June 1999, Haradinaj allegedly ordered the killing of another four members of the FARK. One of those victims was from the Musaj family, a powerful Albanian clan, which traditionally supports Rugova and the FARK. It is also claimed that there was a serious inter-mafia conflict between the Haradinaj and Thaci clans on the one hand and the Musaj clan on the other. On the 6th of July 2000, as is Albanian custom, the brothers of the dead went to Haradinaj’s father to ask for their brother’s bones. Haradinaj later that night went to the brothers in the village of Strelci (western Kosovo) and entered the family compound armed. That was a serious break of the Albanian code of honour.

Russian daily Pravda quoted Cedda Prlincevic, former Chief Archivist in Pristina explaining the essence of this code of honour: “One book has a great hold over Kosovo Albanians. It's called the 'Canon of Leke Dukagjiniis'. It's a 15th century text that spells out codes of behaviour. It goes into great detail on how to carry out blood feuds, when and whom it is proper to kill. It lays out the proper methods to use when killing, rules and regulations and so on. And this Canon is alive among Albanians today, especially since the fall of communism”.

Who opened fire first that night is not known. Haradinaj ended up wounded. He was flown by helicopter onto Landshut, Germany to be treated in an American Army hospital for shrapnel wounds. Although the wound was physically not serious, it might be very serious politically. On the 1st of September 2000, Jane's Intelligence Review commented: “Even if his health does not suffer, some may consider his political career to be over as the Albanians now see him as someone who breached the code of honour”. Jane’s went even further and claimed that the main reason of quarrel between Thaci and Haradinaj after 2000 was not that the former defended a multi-ethnic society, but this break of the Canon. Yet Haradinaj’s political career, which had already begun by 2000, was not to be harmed by that incident as it was foreseen by Jane’s.

Prime minister for three months

Ramush Haradinaj, also known simply as “Ramush” in whole Kosovo, is very popular in the region. Many Kosovo Albanians consider him as a hero. Some sources claim that the United States considers Haradinaj as the “second best” after Thaci. Concerning the shooting incident in Strelci, Pravda went as far as accusing the American officials of removing the evidence at the crime scene in order to protect Haradinaj. After the UCK was officially disbanded on the 20th of September 1999, a Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) was formed by 2000. Haradinaj was appointed Deputy Commander, under Agim Ceku.

Haradinaj, who obtained his law degree at Pristina University after the war, first began his political career in Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK). However, when Thaci abandoned his pan-Albanian vision and ostensibly opted for a multi-ethnic Kosovo, Haradinaj quitted DPK in March 2000. On the 11th of April, he retired from his post in the KPC. On the 29th, he founded his own party as a coalition of five nationalist parties, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK). According to the British Sunday Times: “Diplomats in Pristina said Haradinaj entered politics last year at the behest of Britain and America, which wanted to see the UCK's support base split”. Haradinaj’s AAK was intended to gather ex-UCK soldiers, those who were dissatisfied with Thaci’s new political line, opponents of Rugova and even former communist leaders. Amongst the members, there were those, who claimed for the “liberation” of southern Serbia and western Macedonia. On the eve of the 28th of October 2000 municipal elections, AAK seemed to be a radical party.

According to Serbian sources, on the 25th of May 2000, Haradinaj participated in the Gnjilane meeting, whose goal was continuing of war in Serbia and preparation for war in Macedonia. Same sources accused Haradinaj of smuggling of arms and secret training of Albanian terrorists from southern Serbia. Haradinaj was also allegedly involved in the operations of Albanian terrorists in Macedonia. The organised smuggling of drugs, cigarettes, oil, oil derivates, weapons, vehicles and other goods provided the main financial funds. The visible face was -as always- very different. AAK had strong representation on local municipal boards. Support comes mainly from the Dukagjin region. In the 17th of November 2001 general elections, AAK obtained 8 seats in the Assembly, and became the third partner of the governing coalition with LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo of Ibrahim Rugova) and DPK. According to Serbian sources, though, Haradinaj did not hesitate to liquidate his political opponents even after that date. In January 2003, Haradinaj allegedly organised the assassination of Tahir Zemaj, a FARK commander, his son Enis and nephew Hysen on the Pristina-Pec road. Zemaj was supposed to be the main witness in the proceedings against Haradinaj and his brother Daut, who was sentenced by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) judiciary for crimes against Albanians in June 1999 and imprisoned in the second half of 2002.

In the 23rd of October 2004 general elections, AAK raised slightly its votes and obtained 9 seats in the Assembly. However, Thaci’s DPK now consigning to opposition, Haradinaj began to push hard in order to enter into coalition with Rugova’s LDK. That was a daring step. In regard of the tradition split in Kosovo, any sort of cooperation between the ex-UCK and ex-FARK factions was unthinkable. Since the end of the war, more than 70 murders are said to have been committed in three of the province's regions, Decani, Kline and Pec, and each of these cases has been linked to the political blood feud between the two camps. The majority of the victims were members of either Haradinaj's or Rugova's party. That is why, Kosovo Albanian daily Epoka e Re, which is close to Thaci’s DPK accused Haradinaj of “treason to wartime friends”. Analysts agreed that Ramush Haradinaj’s decision to enter into coalition with LDK was partly motivated by the fact that his possible indictment by the ICTY would be complicated by the prime minister position. The LDK decision was motivated by the desire to take more ministerial positions. LDK signed, though, to an agreement that was disproportional to the election results: AAK with only 8.4 percent of votes took over 30 percent of governmental positions. It is believed that the position of prime minister, which would normally go to the largest party in the coalition, was “sacrificed” for the position of President.

European Union Foreign Affairs Representative, Javier Solana was slightly irritated: “Whoever the prime minister, he has to work on the standards issue and if in the end the prime minister is somebody who has to go to The Hague, he may not be the most appropriate person to work towards those standards”. The UNMIK did not react at all. On the 3rd of December 2004, Haradinaj was elected prime minister by the Assembly by a vote of 72 to 3. His premiership marked a traumatised period following the riots in March 2004. The Serbs of Kosovo, seeing that the Albanians did not hesitate to elect a prime minister, who risked to be accused by the ICTY, were more concerned than ever about their own security in the region. Most of the Serb representatives elected at that time boycotted the Assembly. Belgrade called Haradinaj's nomination "a failure of the UNMIK". Haradinaj's opponents accused him of being “a proven criminal against Serb civilians, women and children”. 36-year old Prime Minister Haradinaj, who once quitted DPK in order to establish a more radical party, opted for a new political line, ironically similar to that of Thaci. In an interview, he emphasised that his priority was “to ensure free movement for all Kosovars, Serbs and Albanians” and to build a “tolerant society with European standards”: “I can forgive. I fought for a very simple reason - to be free. We will forgive. As a result that we are free, no one will suffer. I am prepared to bring flowers to those who suffered”.

The forgiving Haradinaj held the office for only three months. On the 4th of March 2005, the ICTY charged Haradinaj with 17 counts of crimes against humanity and 20 counts of violations of the laws or customs of war.

On the 8th of March, Haradinaj voluntarily turned himself in to the custody of the ICTY. Hundreds of Kosovo Albanians turned out to see him off as he flew to the Netherlands to face the charges. He urged calm in the province during his absence. When he first appeared before the court on the 14th of March, 2005, he pleaded not guilty for every count against himself. On 6th of June, 2005, Haradinaj was granted provisional release. The case is at the pre-trial stage. Haradinaj is the highest ranking Kosovo Albanian to be accused by the ICTY and his case is one of the most high-profile since the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. Haradinaj could face life imprisonment if convicted of any of the charges. If acquitted, however, Haradinaj wants to re-enter politics.

After Haradinaj surrendered to The Hague, Bajram Kosumi of AAK took up the post of prime minister. On the 21st of January this year, President Rugova passed away. Kosovo definitely goes through one of the most decisive moments of its history. And Haradinaj, one the most popular personalities in the region, is not allowed to get involved in any public political activity. Whether his main rival Hashim Thaci will benefit from his absence or not, is to be seen in the coming days, after the Appeal Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia makes it final statement.

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