In the midst of the Wikileaks, another story exploded onto front pages around the world which claimed that the present prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, had been a master-mind criminal involved in the killing of people to extract their kidneys for sale..
Not since Pol Pot have quite such lurid statements made about a serving leader of his nation. Thaçi was re- elected In December with just 34 per cent of the Kosovan voters supporting him, a little less than David Cameron and a lot more than George W Bush in 2000. No Balkan election is without allegations of voting irregularities. Kosovan political parties are clannish, linked to dubious business interests, and bankrolled in part by the Kosovan diaspora. Kosovan, like Croatian, Montenegran, Albanian, and Macedonian political leaders are regularly accused (often with justice) of diverting money for their own or for party political ends. And since “business” in the Western Balkans is based on cigarette smuggling and sex slave trafficking as much as legal economic activity the politician who cannot be accused of keeping bad company is a rare animal indeed. Thaçi is no different. But Thaçi who has been in and out of power for a decade operates as a politician closely supervised by an assortment of UN and EU bodies as well as outside observers and visitors.
The report that has caused the stir is not yet adopted or approved by the Council of Europe, merely one of its innumerable sub-committees. It is written by a forceful Swiss-Italian politician-cum- prosecuting lawyer called Dick Marty. He is close his fellow Italian-Swiss political lawyer, Carla del Ponte, whose book in Italian made identical allegations to Mr Marty’s report. Mr Marty is a member of the Swiss Liberal Party . It is not liberal in the modern English sense but in the 19th century continental sense of supporting the ideology of an ultra-free market, protection of private property rights and a small state. Mr Marty’s party is the strongest ideological supporter of Switzerland’s banking secrecy laws which have indeed, been much used by the Kosovan Diaspora which is strongly present in Switzerland.
Mr Marty’s report is not a precise judicial document. It contains long rambling enunciations of Western policy as it unfolded in the Kosovo crisis at the end of the 1990s. In this Mr Marty reflects the politicisation of the Council of Europe which ever since it admitted Russia as a member in 1995 had been skilfully used by the Kremlin to advance Russian diplomatic interests. Russia has cultivated allies there in different political blocks. In Britain, the Liberal-Demcratic MP and Council of Europe member, Mike Hancock, has been accused by the Chair of the British All Party Parliamentary Group on Russia of being flagrantly pro-Kremlin in Council of Europe debates. The British Conservative MPs on the Council of Europe sit in the same group at Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked delegation. The Russians, with the support of British Conservative MPs, sought to place a former KGB staffer as president of the Council of Europe in 2008. In short, the Council of Europe is not some disinterested gathering of Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch parliamentarians but a deeply conflicted politicised body where states mobilise to promote support for their current Weltanschauing.
A top priority for the Kremlin has been to maximise support for anti-US and anti-Nato positions at the Council of Europe. Russia has sought to cultivate allies to protect Serbia and other Slav or Orthodox states from criticism. Efforts by centrist social democrats from Sweden to promote reconciliation between Serbs and Kosovans have been rebuffed.
Terrible things were done by Serb soldiers and para-militaries in Kosovo once Richard Holbrooke’s forceful diplomacy at Dayton fifteen years ago closed down Milosevic’s Serb nationalist passions further north. Visit Kosovan villages and the Muslim cemeteries have dozens of headstone with people born on different dates but all killed on the same day as Serb execution squads went wild. Equally terrible things were done as some Kosovans turned from the two decades-long peaceful and passive resistance under Ibrahim Rugova and instead for a brief but intense 15-18 month period opted for armed resistance, including the assassination, and brutal treatment of collaborators in the style of the French resistance in 1944. Instead of seeking peace and reconciliation there has been a constant effort by the Serb-Russian axis at the Council of Europe to pretend that Kosovo is a criminal gangster breakaway province of Belgrade that one day would return to Serb rule.
Discrediting the different Kosovan leaders, nearly all whom took part in one way or another in the resistance struggle against Milosevic which ended with the Blair-Clinton Nato intervention in the summer of 1999, has been a top political priority for Serbs and Russians. Mr Marty together with others hostile to the United States on the Council of Europe has never made any secret of his oppositions to Kosovan independence. He has opposed calls for Kosovo to be given member or even observer status at the Council of Europe.
Now Mr Marty has produced his highly personalised report which is the biggest propaganda coup for revanchist Serbs since the fall of Milosevic. Rapporteurs at the Council of Europe are workaday politicians. There are dozens of such reports each year. Britain’s (Lord) Frank Judd was one such when he was a delegate. He resigned in disgust when his reports on the brutality of Russia forces under Putin in Chechnya were side-lined by the pro-Moscow alliances at the Council.
Senator Marty is his own man and his sincerity is not up for question. He believes in what he believes. But a reading of his 19,000 word report throws up one problem. There is not one single name or a single witness to the allegations that Thaçi was involved in the harvesting of human organs from murdered victims. That such disgusting practices happened and happen elsewhere in the world is not in doubt. But Marty fails to link Thaçi directly to organ harvesting though the lurid title of his report - “Illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo” – is designed to maximise headlines.
Senator Marty does all he can to blacken Thaçi’s name, accusing him of being little more than a criminal who used the crisis of Kosovo chiefly to establish a mafia-style operation. To read this is to require a very great suspension of belief. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovans fled their country as the Serb rage, frustrated that attempts to destroy Croatian and Bosnian identity in the break-up of Yugoslavia had been thwarted, was turned on Kosovo. After all, it had been in Kosovo that Milosevic had made his famous threat “We will beat you” as he unleashed the monster of Serb nationalism at the end of the 1980s. Like the IRA, ETA and other armed political movements, the Kosovans were brutal, greedy and used every illegal means to advance their cause. Marty makes much of the fact that Thaçi and other young Kosovan resistance leaders who formed the KLA (Kosovan Liberation Army) operated as much in Albania as in Kosovo proper. Well, yes, they did just as the IRA floated between northern Ireland or ETA sought refuge from Spanish police in France.
But Marty is re-writing history as he opts for the Serb world-view which paints all Kosovan resistance as essentially and exclusively criminal. Moreover, argues Marty, it was “explicit endorsements from Western powers, founded on strong lobbying from the United States” that led to “the perception of KLA pre-eminence – largely created by the Americans.” Here Marty wears his anti-US heart on his Council of Europe sleeve. Council of Europe parliamentarians who were active in their parliaments in this period will recall rather that the US refused to put any real pressure on the Serbs and their supporters in Russia who constantly blocked and vetoed effective UN action against the mass murder of European Muslims in Kosovo. President Clinton continually baulked at effective military action to stop the bloodshed. Far from the KLA being the creation and creature of the US, it would be more accurate to depict the KLA as waiting helplessly until the world realised that after Srebrenica, Milosevic was willing to oversee a second genocidal assault on secular European Kosovan Muslims who dared defy his bullying.
What did happen in the months after the air-assault and then military invasion finally convinced Milosovic to pull out of most of Kosovo was undoubtedly terrible. But Marty is unable to produce one eye-witness who can connect Thaçi to the crime of organ harvesting. Marty says that Kosovans have a clan loyalty that forbids them testifying against leaders. But Thaçi is just one of a number of competing ex-KLA political leaders. There have been thousands of international investigators, police and lawyers operating in Kosovo since 2000. The Serbs have been unable to produce any victims or families of people who were killed and then had their kidneys extracted. According to the BBC, legal experts from the EU operating in Kosovo cannot substantiate Marty’s allegations.
Senator Marty says he has read the many denunciations of Thaçi with “consternation and a sense of moral outrage”. He claims that MI6 backs his claims but again produces no evidence that he has read MI6 reports naming Thaçi and his group. Moral outrage and consternation are important reactions but should a factual report endorsed by the Council of Europe not have some direct witness statements, some dry facts, some proof, and, find at least one person who can substantiate the link between Thaçi and organ harvesting?
Perhaps one day such proof will emerge. That Kosovan and Albanian criminal gangs blossomed as the ten-year crisis of the Yugoslav wars of succession destroyed all sense of moral order in the Serb, Croatian, Bosnian and Albanian regions of the western Balkans cannot be denied. That truly evil things were done by men carrying guns and wearing rudimentary uniforms who were half an armed expression of national rejection of Serb rule and half a group of thugs with an eye on the main chance to make money fast is also not in doubt.
That Kosovo needs law, order and justice is also not in doubt. But as long as Serbia still claims that Kosovo bleibt unser ("remains ours"), as post-war revanchist Germans dreaming of a return to Silesia used to say, there will be no stability and peace and the chance for normal economics and democracy to root themselves in.
The Marty report is a huge headline win for Serbia’s narrative that all that happened in Kosovo was the result of Albanian criminals. The Swiss Senator may well be right that Thaçi is unfit to be a European government leader. He is certainly right that more investigation is needed. But perhaps before the full Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly debates his report in January might he produce just a scintilla of incontrovertible evidence that would justify the lurid headlines he enjoys producing.
Get our weekly email