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 am a a friend of Kosova. I believe Kosova should become independent as soon as possible, but I am worried that the public relations battle is being lost.


I know Kosova, its people, and it leaders well enough to know that Kosova is better able to build its future than complicated international schemes for “supervision” or “conditional independence.” 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 visite 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 have publicly defended privatization against Nicholas Lambsdorff’s efforts to wreck it.


I organized a symposium last year in the United States to develop serious technical resources to guide negotiations over independence for Kosova.


I have written editorial material for  the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major newspapers in the United States and given many radio and television interviews urging U.S. support 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, the international climate is ripe for independence, but the leaders of Kosova should be doing more to ensure the right result. The problem is not sharp debate within Kosova over the terms that would be acceptable to Kosovars; that debate is constructive, even if not everyone in the international community likes it.


The problem is that Kosova is losing the public relations campaign in the international community, overmatched in every inning by spokespersons for Serbia.  Last week, 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 Kosovar voices?  Where are the op-ed pieces written by Kosovar political leaders?  Who has been giving speeches and academic seminars on behalf of the Kosovar people in foreign capitals or in the United States? 


Where are the op-ed pieces and the public statements and television interviews by President Rugova, Prime Minister Kosumi, Speaker Daci, Hasim Thaçi, Veton Surroi, and Albin Kurti?  Mr. Surroi has offered some thoughtful analysis, but his voice has been 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.


UNMIK, under past SRSGs, has often tried to muzzle Kosova’s leaders. The present SRSG shows no such inclination. Obstacles exist, but they are not 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. 


The risk is that the absence of strong Kosovar voices in the Western press and media will cause the negotiations to be pulled away from simple independence, toward some kind of “autonomy,” or to “conditional independence.” As far as I can tell, no one has defined “conditional independence” in a clear way. It may mean a little independence today and a promise of another piece next year, and another piece the year after that, and so on, only when certain criteria have been met. This is standards before status by another name, which has not been a successful policy. Final status negotiations should produce a decision about final status—independence, not simply a new name for UNMIK. Of course there are many details to be worked out. Of course, Kosova will continue for many years to be dependent on international security and economic assistance. These dependences will give the international community sufficient leverage to make sure Kosova continues to make progress on the important goals almost everyone already agrees on.


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.  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.  Kosova needs to raise its own strong voices so that they can be heard by international audiences.