Or, we still don't know who tried to kill Radovan Papovic. Here's a really obscure bit of Balkan history. On January 16, 1997, at about 8:00 in the morning, Radovan Papovic was driving to his job as rector of the Serb University of Pristina. The Serb University was what Pristina University turned into after the Serbs took over in 1990. Pristina University had been an Albanian school with no Serbs; SUP was -- you guessed it -- a Serb school with no Albanians. (Of course, since the province was 90% Albanian, there weren't enough Serbs to fill the classrooms. So most of the Serbian students were from elsewhere in Serbia, brought in by free housing and other subsidies. But that's another story.) Papovic seems to have been a pretty obnoxious character. He was a Member of Parliament for the right-wing nationalist Serbian Radical Party. He saw his job as cleansing the University of the Albanian taint and re-colonising Kosovo with eager young Serbs. He seems to have loathed and disliked Albanians -- he referred to them as "enemies" and "monsters" -- and to have gone out of his way to antagonize them. It was his administration that donated the university quad for the "church built in anger". Needless to say, the Albanians returned the sentiment. Papovic was one of the most hated Serbs in Kosovo. Which, in 1997, was saying something. So, he's driving to work one morning, and -- kaBOOM! -- a bomb goes off in a car nearby. A big one: an estimated 10 kilos of dynamite, detonated by remote control. Both the bomb car and Papovic's sedan were totally destroyed. By a fluke, both Papovic and his driver just barely managed to survive, though both men were badly injured. But who had planted the bomb?
Background: a couple of things were happening around this time that helped make the whole business murkier. One, there had been municipal elections in Serbia a couple of months earlier... and Milosevic's Socialist Party had done shockingly badly. They'd lost many towns, including Belgrade. When Milosevic refused to recognize the results of the elections, there were massive street protests and demonstrations against him. Two, Milosevic had been negotiating, in his usual coy on-again, off-again way, with the Albanians. Specifically, he'd been negotiating with Ibrahim Rugova (the pacifist leader of the Albanians) about re-opening some Albanian language classes at the University. Surprisingly, the two had reached an agreement, and it was due to be implemented; Albanians were supposed to come back to the University sometime in 1997. Papovic, of course, absolutely hated this idea. He seems to have considered Albanians a particularly dangerous sort of subhuman: gypsies with guns. He had zero interest in carrying out Milosevic's compromise. (Of course, Milosevic may not have wanted it, either. He lied a lot, and it would have been perfectly in character for him to sign an agreement he had no intention of implementing.) It's important to note, BTW, that Milosevic was not an absolute dictator. Strongman, party boss, with all sorts of ways to enforce his will, but his power was not even close to absolute. So a recalcitrant university rector could cause him some trouble. So. Whodunit? Here's a quote from Stacy Sullivan's excellent book on Kosovo, Be Not Afraid, For You Have Sons in America.
Serb newspapers reported immediately that the attempt on Papovic's life was the work of "Shiptar secessionists", and the KLA promptly took credit for the terrorist attack, saying that the rector was a "sworn enemy of the Albanian people". But Milosevic, who wanted to discredit the tens of thousands of demonstrators still threatening his rule, claimed that the blast was the work of the "hoodlums and criminals" who had organized the protests in Belgrade and wanted to destabilize Serbia. The Serb mayor of Pristina, who wanted to discredit both the Albanians and the demonstrators, claimed that the Albanian terrorists had planted the bombs with support from the demonstrators. And finally, the demonstrators claimed that Milosevic and his cronies had planted the bomb in an attempt to draw attention away from the protests by destabilizing Kosovo... Rugova pointed out that the KLA's fax claiming responsibility for the attack was written in Albanian so grammatically incorrect that it could not possibly have been composed by a native speaker. The opposition leaders in Belgrade pointed out that planting a remote controlled bomb was not in keeping with previous KLA operations; this was a far more sophisticated operation that required military or police expertise.Sullivan's right as far as she goes, but I'd add a couple of points. One, it's pretty ridiculous to think the demonstrators had anything to do with it... most of them were hundreds of miles away, and there's zero evidence that any of them had the expertise to pull something like this off. Two, there are at least a couple of additional suspects. Someone close to Milosevic, in the secret police or paramilitaries, may have done it in order to sabotage the agreement with the Albanians. That may sound odd, to wreck an agreement by attacking its loudest enemy; but if you turn that enemy into a martyr, it can work. And as it turned out, the attack on Papovic was indeed used as an excuse to shut down the agreement. Finally, someone on the Serb side may have wanted to take out Papovic himself. The Serbian Radical Party was deeply intertwined with gangsters on one side, and paramilitary killers on the other. They had some fairly nasty internal rivalries. And Papovic doesn't seem to have been a very lovable character. In this version, the point is to kill Papovic; trashing the educational agreement was just gravy. So. Do we know? Nope. And we probably never will. I hate to be anticlimactic, but that's sort of the point. The 1990s were a dark time in the former Yugoslavia. There are a lot of mysteries that won't be solved for years; there are a lot that will never be solved. That doesn't mean there aren't lessons to be learned from this little episode, of course. Here's an obvious one: in a guerrilla war, everyone is a target. It's not just that people are shooting and bombing. It's that someone may decide to take you out for reasons completely unconnected to the war, and then blame it on the other side. Anyway. It's an obscure episode, but it did make a difference. The agreement collapsed; no Albanians went back to school. Rugova, and his policy of peaceful negotiation, were to some extent discredited. So Kosovo was pushed that much closer to the war that would come in 1998 and 1999. -- Papovic? Oh, he survived, and he's still around. You may remember us blogging about Serbia's awful Minister of Education last year? The unpleasant nationalist one who wanted to introduce creationism into the school curriculum? Well, she resigned. But before she did that, she appointed Papovic -- who had survived the NATO bombing and escaped from Pristina before the fall -- to run the Serb University of Mitrovica. Which is, you may recall, the northern 10% or so of Kosovo, the part that's almost entirely Serbian now. Papovic has run this just about the way you'd expect: firing staff and professors, replacing them with cronies and people who share his hardline views. This being Mitrovica, he's pretty popular -- people there view him as a hard man, a hero who survived being singled out for death by the hated KLA. Which is fine, except that Papovic seems to be really horrible at actually running a university. (I know. Who would have guessed?) He's so blatantly awful that the European University Association has suspended Mitrovica's accreditation, and ordered a boycott of the school. So there will be no exchange programs, no visiting professors, no give and take with the wider European world. And the students at Mitrovica, already going to school in the poorest part of a poor country, will be even more isolated than they already are. I suppose I should try to tell a Kosovo story with a happy ending some time.