It's twelve feet tall. A banner, really. It hangs above the door of the Youth Center, which is a really stunningly hideous building from the 1970s. It shows Adem Jashari in full combat regalia... fatigues, assault rifle, enormous beard. Insofar as you can make out his expression (it's a big beard), he looks about two parts menacing, one part mournful.
-- Adem Jashari. He's the great martyr-hero of Kosovo's war of liberation. He was from Drenica, which is a rural region in central Kosovo with a long tradition of resistance to the authorities... Turkish, Yugoslav, Serbian, whoever. Maybe more important, he was a Jashari. Rural Kosvo is all about clans, big extended families, and the Jasharis were one of the richest and most important clans in Drenica, or indeed in all of Kosovo. Adem Jashari was one of the founders of the KLA, the Kosovo Liberation Army. This was in 1996, after the Dayton Agreement convinced some Kosovar Albanians that there was no hope but war. (Dayton ended the war in Bosnia, but at the expense of completely ignoring what Milosevic was doing in Kosovo.) In its first year or 18 months of existence, the KLA wasn't much. They had maybe a few hundred active members, in a province of ~2 million people. Most Albanians were still going along with Ibrahim Rugova's program of non-violent resistance. This wasn't because Albanians are a peaceful people. No. It was because Milosevic and the Serbs seemed stronger than ever, international assistance seemed wildly unlikely, and armed resistance looked like a bloody dead end. So the KLA made a nuisance of itself, but not much more. It killed some Serb police (who were universally loathed as corrupt and brutal), set off some bombs, and managed to make some regions (like Drenica) a no-go area for Serb forces. But overall it accompanied little of military significance. Until the spring of 1998. In February and March of that year, the Serbs unleashed a series of deadly attacks on Albanian villages containing KLA guerrillas. The most famous of these was on Donji Prekaz, the village of the Jashari family. It was aimed at Adem Jashari, who by this time had become one of the most famous or notorious KLA commanders. Here's the official Serbian version: "In the early morning hours of March 5, a terrorist group attacked another police patrol near the village of Donje Prekaze. After police returned fire, the terrorists retreated to their base and dug in at the Jashari family farm in that village... engagement with the terrorists lasted for 27 hours, with a total of 51 casualties. Unfortunately, it was later established that Jashari family members were among them. Terrorists physically prevented them from leaving the farm, despite the police invitation. The Interior Ministry expresses regret and bitterness that these victims were a direct consequence of cruelty and ruthlessness of Albanian terrorists... The fact that he personally shot his nephew to prevent him from surrendering testifies to Adem Jashari’s cruelty. Two officers lost their lives in this action, and seven were seriously injured." Here's Human Rights Watch's version: "Human Rights Watch was not able to visit Donji Prekaz, a village with a pre-war population of approximately 1,000 people, due to continued fighting. It is, therefore, the case from Drenica on which the least direct testimony was available to Human Rights Watch. This notwithstanding, Human Rights Watch has concluded that serious violations of international humanitarian law were committed by the Serbian special police: notably, indiscriminate attacks on noncombatants, the systematic destruction of civilian property, and the summary and arbitrary executions of those in detention. Although it appears that some Albanian villagers in Donji Prekaz were armed and defending themselves against the police, the evidence is overwhelming that the police used excessive and indiscriminate force, and that the police executed at least three people after they had been detained or had surrendered. "The police attacked Prekaz and the Jashari compound [in a] prepared and determined manner. All evidence suggests that the attack was not intended to apprehend armed Albanians, considered “terrorists” by the government, but, as Amnesty International concluded in its report on violence in Drenica, “to eliminate the suspects and their families.” Testimonies collected by human rights groups and journalists indicate several cases of extrajudicial executions and unlawful killings from excessive force. "An estimated fifty-eight ethnic Albanians were killed in the attack, including eighteen women and ten children under the age of sixteen, and then summarily buried by the police before autopsies could be performed. The exact number and identities of the dead reported by different sources varies slightly, a consequence of the manner in which the burial was conducted, and because some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition. "According to the Serbian police, the attack on Donji Prekaz was in response to KLA attacks on nearby police patrols. According to witnesses, however, the attack was well orchestrated and included APCs, artillery shelling from the nearby ammunition factory, and special police forces in camouflage and face paint." The Albanian version... well, I can't find it in English online. But it's basically Butch and Sundance. Adem Jashari goes down, ferocious, heroic, guns blazing defiance. Then the Serbs kill everybody. The Donji Prekaz massacre turned out to be a huge strategic mistake. It inflamed Albanian public opinion and vastly increased support for the KLA. By summer, KLA membership had soared from ~2,000 to more like ~15,000, and it was on its way to being a serious guerrilla force. The UN Security Council had passed a resolution 'condemning the use of excessive force by Serbian police" in Kosov... the first sign that anyone in the outside world cared a whit about this remote and obscure province. And Adem Jashari, hero and martyr, had entered the realm of legend. Which brings us back to the picture of him, twelve feet tall, armed and bearded, glowering mournfully at the teenagers passing under him to enter the Youth Center. Is he there as an inspiration to the young people of Kosovo? Maybe. Or maybe he's there because directly across the street from the Youth Center is the UN compound. In fact, his picture is directly opposite the office window of UN proconsul Soren Jessen-Peterson. Peterson, a Danish diplomat, is the appointed governor of Kosovo; there's a local Parliament and a Prime Minister, but he has final power over everything they do. But whenever he looks out the window, he'll see Adem Jashari staring back at him. I should probably say that I think this is pretty dumb. The Kosovars had a hell of a time under the Serbs, so a certain amount of acting out is understandable. But it's been six years, and they're about to gain their independence. Whatever Adem Jasheri was, he doesn't belong up on the Youth Center -- a government building, in a Kosovo that's supposed to be multi-ethnic and respectful of minority rights. And whether Peterson and the UN are doing a good job or not, they should be able to go about their business without a bearded giant with an AK-47 looking over their shoulders. [Update: this entry continues to attract attention, probably because an Albanian site has copied it. Feel free to comment... but obscene or abusive comments will be deleted. Play nice.)