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Last Updated: 07/12/2005
Those pesky moral standards
Biljana Vankovska

According to a wise man, morality consists of drawing a line at some point. Indeed, this is a personal attempt to talk publicly on drawing one particular line, i.e. to share with you my own moral dilemma which proved to be more important than my professional ethics. Well, feel free to judge whether or not it is wise and useful at all in a world of real-politik to have a need to draw a line, when to draw it, and on what particular issues.


Not so long ago I received an invitation to attend a conference in Pristina. Unmistakably, the title was “The Final Status of Kosovo/a”, where Serbian Helsinki Committee appeared as organizers (no, there is no mistake, I am referring to the one with a seat in Belgrade, Serbia), along with USIP from Washington D.C. The list of invitees was also impressive, beginning with Rugova and Petersen, leading all the way to intellectuals like Surroi, Vesna Pusic, Latinka Perovic, etc. It was my honour as the only participant from Macedonia to serve as a speaker on the panel dealing with the regional context. Truly, at first I was thrilled and accepted the invitation promptly: it’s my deep belief that dialogue is the only way to find solutions for disputes among and between peoples, communities and individuals... Besides, unlike many poisonous critics I still (naively?) believe in the power of civil society, experts and intellectuals to empower peace and democracy.


There was, however, one tricky detail: my co-panelist was supposed to be Gen. Agim Ceku. I don’t know why, but the alleged regional ‘expertise’ of Ceku awakes associations on his engagements in Croatia (massacres of civilian victims in Medjak Pocket and Krajina), but also in Macedonia in the spring of 2001 when troops of his Kosovo Protection Corps were penetrating the Macedonian border. I was puzzled: how could I possibly be a fitting expert with appropriate expertise to a person who knew the matters literally from the terrain? Nevertheless, I said to myself: a dialogue is a dialogue, what has been - has been. We need to move forward to the future of the region. Well (I continued with my self-suggestion), for us here in Macedonia it is very important what is going on there in Kosovo/a. It is important to portray our vision for neighbourly relationships, for a Macedonia with no open border issue with Kosovo/a, for a region with no visa and custom barriers, etc.  Finally, let me be honest and admit that my researcher’s curiosity helped a lot in making my decision to go to Pristina: It would have been such an extraordinary opportunity to take part as a participant-observer (in the language of sociological research methodology). As the responsible professional that I am, I started re-reading all relevant reports on the Balkans (ICG, Carnegie Commission, etc.), and the latest news and statements, including the testimony of USIP Director Daniel Serwer before the US Congress on Kosovo’s final status.


When analysis avoids going into ‘slices’ but instead embraces the whole mosaic, even a notorious cynic can be astonished. All of sudden you realise that it’s not enough that violence has been legitimized and justified - for instance, through appointment of Ceku as Chief of Staff of the KPC (on a UN payroll), through UNMIK Chief Petersen’s compliments on Ceku’s achievements in security sector reform, through the fact that Ceku was a guest of honour at USIP in early May, and through the fact that this (in)famous general gave a lecture to the cadets of a US military academy. Despite all this legitimization, the past is what it is.


That was the critical moment of ‘enlightenment’: that my presence, as well as that of the other intellectuals from the region, was to be but an additional (regional and intellectual) legitimization of violence, which would be unavoidably symbolized through Ceku’s coming together with other ‘heroes’ from my own country (such as Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Albanian fight for ‘human rights’ in 2001). Perhaps in the world of real-politik, in which lives my Prime Minister, that kind of dialogue is diplomatically wise and even necessary. But in the world I belong to, I alone decide to whom I will talk and give my sincere respect, even if I disagree with a person. It is a bare fact: I am never (thank God) going to have the expert knowledge and experience of Mr. Ceku.


At that moment, I broke and decided to draw that moral line. I called Mrs. Biserko’s associate and told her that for the sake of their project it would be better for them to find a replacement for me - that is, to find a person who would be courteous and hypocritical enough to not talk about the evil, to not listen to the evil, and to close her eyes before the evil. It seemed we understood each other, so there was not even the slightest attempt to make me change my mind or to give me assurance I would be welcome to openly express my opinion.


The first reaction was relief, but on second thought I felt cowardly. Maybe it would have been useful for someone to break the idyllic picture created by the politicians and to straightforwardly point out that that the region’s future will be volatile and far from pinky as long as one can get to power using guns. Also there can’t be a stable and prosperous region as long as the foundations of the newly created states (ones embedded in 1999 as well as in 2001 conflict aftermath) include legitimating violence as such. There will be no sustainable peace as long as people involved in war crimes against civilians are amnestied for the sake of ‘peace’ (we still remember that the Dayton Accords created such a guarantor of peace who is now indicted in The Hague). Ah, it’s amazing how relative things are in the world of real-politik - one day you can be a war criminal and the next the peace perspectives lie in your (bloody) hands! We, the others, who still stick to morality and international law like a blind man to his cane, we are so outdated, like dinosaurs, we simply don’t understand anything in these ‘post-modern’ times...


At the end of the day, I did not attend the conference. Forgive me for holding a stupid, ethical principle that prevented me from informing the respected audience in Pristina on how humiliated and worthless is the Macedonian state when Kosovo/a (a state-in-making) imposes visas for our citizens and customs on our products, Kosovo/a whose Prime Minister officially says that demarcation of the border with Macedonia was not a priority on his government’s agenda (isn’t it a bit strange when said by people who fought for territories and new borders?). At the time, while the Hague Tribunal rejects Macedonian state assurances on behalf of the two Macedonian indictees for war crimes, Mr. Haradinaj walks freely in his state-in-making. Surely, with the blessing of some people who understand the world of real-politik.

Prof. Biljana Vankovska works at the University of Skopje in Macedonia