FILE - In this Tuesday Feb. 2, 1999 file photo, Adem Demaci, right, the political representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army, talks to the media during a press conference in Pristina. Adem Demaci, a human rights defender who embodied Kosovo’s national resistance and was often called the “Balkans’ Mandela,” has died at 82, it was reported on Thursday July 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu, File)

Demaci, a legend of the Balkans

Human rights activist Sonja Biserko remembers former political prisoner and activist from Kosovo Adem Demaci, who passed away last Thursday.

Adem Demaci is certainly one of the most outstanding human rights defenders in the Balkans, with one of the longest careers standing up for the rights of people, and suffering one of the longest sentences for doing so – 28 years. Referred to as the Mandela of the Balkans and an ideological leader of Kosovo Albanians, Demaci has been the embodiment of Kosovo’s national resistance.

My relationship with him was very personal: we worked together throughout the hardest times for Kosovo Albanians, during the apartheid era, so to speak, of the iron hand of Milosevic’s regime. To me he will always be a romantic leader, who charmed everyone with his sincerity and a kind of political naivete. In short, he was a symbol of the resistance for Kosovo Albanians.

We began working together in 1997 while preparing the first Serb-Albanian dialogue in Ulcinj. At that time, we hoped that the longstanding dispute between the countries could be settled through dialogue. No matter how hard the Serbian authorities had tried to prevent our conference, originally planned to be held in Peja, we eventually managed to hold it in Ulcinj.

Demaci brought with him forty Albanians, including prominent figures such as Mahmut Bakalli, Azem Vllasi, Pajazit Nushi and Behlul Beqaj. Their bus broke down in Montenegro, in the middle of nowhere. They arrived at four in the morning. We were waiting for them on the hotel terrace, along with Serb representatives such as Novak Pribicevic, Ivan Djuric, Zika Berisavljevic and Zarko Korac. That was to me one of the most moving meetings between people of different generations, capable of discussing everything calmly and reasonably. I regret we had no camera with us to capture this meeting.

Demaci said then, “We are all aware that the regime does not want to engage in dialogue. I think, nevertheless, that the Albanian side should not ignore the Serbian regime in the same way it ignores us. We have to tell the Serbian regime what we think, even if it is in a form of monologue.” He didn’t trust the Serbian opposition. He believed the meeting was to fulfill a monumental task: “not to turn a deaf ear to this historical challenge but harness all its energy and urgently cope with what has to be done – bring the still manipulated Serbian people to their senses.”

He believed that only by reverting to the circumstances prior to the revocation of Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989 would it be possible to find a long-lasting solution to the Albanian-Serbian dispute. He even advocated for “a Balkanica confederation” of Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro. In 1997, the United States proposed something similar: the federal SRY. The EU also supported it, but Serbia turned the suggestion down.

Demaci was in favor of direct negotiations between Serbs and Albanians. In his view, the Rambouillet Conference in 1999 failed to fulfill this fundamental precondition and was badly prepared.

Demaci emerged as a politician in the wave of Kosovo Albanians’ frustration with the failure of the policy of passive resistance, and became the head of the political wing of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA. Now, after “the path of nonviolence that led us to nowhere” the Albanians had the right to resist, he used to say. And, was it not for the KLA, the Kosovo problem would not have been internationalized.

Adem Demaci was the first Albanian politician who came to Belgrade after the NATO intervention. “I do not believe in freedom for one side only, either for Albanians or Serbs,” he said at the Center for Cultural Decontamination, adding, “After all that befell them it will be hard to convince the Albanians that coexistence is possible, even necessary, and in mutual interest.”

After the NATO intervention Demaci was working for the Serbs to continue to stay in Kosovo. He organized a number of conferences, always insisting on everyone to speak Serbian on those occasions.

Through all those years, the two of us met a number of times. During my last visit to Kosovo this May for a debate on Kosovo’s statehood organized by the Kosovo Academy of Arts and Sciences, I was told he was sick. Nothing serious, they said. I regret now that I missed the opportunity to see him then. He died in the country he had been advocating for. He was, and will always be, a legend of the Balkans.

29 July 2018 - 18:27

Sonja Biserko

29/07/2018 - 18:27

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