Op-Ed Piece

Henry H. Perritt, Jr.

Professor of Law

Chicago-Kent College of Law

565 West Adams Street

Chicago, IL 60661

(312) 906-5098

Fax (312) 906-5280



I have been a friend of Kosova for more than ten years. I first visited Prishtina in December, 1998, just as Milosevic’s oppression was beginning to collapse under pressure of the KLA insurgency, reinforced by growing international support.  Since then I have been active, visiting Kosovo more than a dozen times, working with educational, economic, and political institutions to encourage the development of an independent Kosova which embraces democracy, a rule of law and provides prosperity for all of its peoples. 


I aggressively and publicly defended the prerogatives of local institutions against international encroachments when the first cell phone contract was awarded to Alcatel Telecom, and more recently in connection with the disgraceful performance of Nikolaus Lambsdorff, who did his best to wreck privatization. 


I organized a symposium in the United States in conjunction with the University of Prishtina Law Faculty and prestigious foreign policy institutions in the United States to develop serious technical resources to guide negotiations over independence for Kosova.


During and before the war, I wrote editorial material for  the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major newspapers in the United States and gave television interviews urging vigorous support by the United States government for the aspirations of Kosovar Albanians, including the NATO bombing campaign.


As a supporter of independence for Kosova, I was initially frustrated by the gap between the willingness of democratically elected Kosovar leaders to take greater responsibility for building their country, and the ineffectiveness, status-quoism, and intransigence and indifference of the international community. 


Now, I experience a different kind of frustration, that is growing into alarm.  Now, the international stars seem to be aligned in favor of independence for Kosova, perhaps phased in over time, and perhaps subject to some internationally imposed conditions and the continued presence of international institutions.  People can argue over the details of the conditions, and the continued role of the international community.  Indeed there should be more serious argument over those details.  But it is undeniable that the international climate is ripe for independence.


But now, there is another kind of gap. The internationals are ready, but the leaders of Kosova are not.  The problem is not primarily the existence of sharp debate within Kosova over the terms that would be acceptable to Kosovars; the problem is that no one seems to be prepared technically or to have the political courage to engage in a serious discussion over the details.


Even worse, Kosovo is beginning to lose the public relations campaign in the international community, overmatched in every down by spokespersons for Serbia.  This morning, the Wall Street Journal carried an op-ed piece by the Foreign Minister of Serbia.  Regularly for the last several weeks, Serbian spokespersons have visited Washington, New York, Chicago, and major cities in Western Europe, painting a sympathetic picture of Serbia, and presenting the Serbian position on the status of Kosovo.


Where are the competing Kosovar expressions?  Where are the op-ed pieces written by Kosovar political leaders?  Who has been giving speeches and academic seminars on behalf of the Kosovar political elite in foreign capitals or in the United States? 


Where are the op-ed pieces and the public statements and television interviews by Ibrahim Rugova, Bajram Kosumi, Hasim Thaçi, Veton Surroi, and Albin Kurti?  Mr. Surroi has offered some thoughtful analysis, but his voice is that of an impartial mediator rather than as an advocate for the future of Kosova.


It is both inevitable and ultimately constructive for opinion leaders to place rhetorical stakes in the ground for the Kosovar public.  But it is essential that the same voices speak to the international community in words that the international community can relate to and sympathize with.


It is true that Kosova has been hampered somewhat by restrictions on international travel, by UNMIK’s insistence that only it can express official positions on foreign policy for Kosova, and by the untimely indictment of one of Kosova’s most effective and charismatic leaders, Ramush Haridinaj.  But none of these obstacles are insuperable.  Those who would aspire to greater political power in an independent Kosovar must expend some political capital, and take some risks in getting Kosovo’s message out to the outside world in a way that gives them an independent Kosova to lead. 


I have spent the last 18 months writing a book about the KLA.  The lessons I draw from my analysis of the KLA experience should be embraced by Kosovar leaders today, many of whom taught these lessons when they led the KLA.  Changing the status quo requires courage instead of passivity.  Infighting among those with a common interest is the enemy of effective control of events.  Persuading the international community about the justice of your message is more important than who wins periodic skirmishes on the ground.  Those who would lead must be prepared to fight.  Those who fight effectively with cell phones, Web pages, and press and media interviews, often fight more effectively than those who fight with AK-47s. 


The international ground is fertile now.  Kosovar’s leaders need to be on that ground sowing the seeds of independence, instead of sitting in their party headquarters and odas arguing about who will get credit for sowing the seeds.