news 19 Nov 10

Kosovo Airport To Bear Name Of KLA Fighter

Move to rename Pristina airport after controversial ethnic Albanian commander Adem Jashari criticised as attack on country's multi-ethnic nature.

Petrit Collaku

The decision to name Kosovo's main airport after a Kosovo Liberation Army commander killed by Serbian forces has drawn criticisism for undermining the multiethnic nature of Kosovo, enshrined in its constitution. 

The legality of the move has also been questioned, as it came three days after the government lost a motion of no-confidence.

Kosovo Albanians see Adem Jashari as a hero of the country’s war against Serbian rule. A commander of KLA operations in the Drenica area, he took part in a number of attacks on Serbian forces before he was killed in March 1998, along with 50 others, when Yugoslav forces laid siege to his family home in Prekaz, now the site of a museum and a KLA shrine.

Airport chief executive Agron Mustafa told Balkan Insight that they were pressing on with plans to change the name of the airport to "Adem Jashari Airport", despite concerns.

The International Civilian Office, ICO, which is the guardian of the "Ahtisaari package", the deal that led to Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and which guarantees the multi-ethnicity of the country, made an oblique criticism of the decision when contacted by Balkan Insight.

Spokesman Kai Mueller-Berner said that naming the airport was up to the government, but added: "Given its mandate, the ICO wants to see decisions and actions that recognise the multi-ethnic character of the Republic of Kosovo." 

Igor Savic, head of a civil society organisation working with the Kosovo Serb community, said the decision could cause long-lasting damage to already fragile relationships between Serbs and Albanians.

“I would have expected it to be named after a well-known scientist or a humanist," said Savic, head of "Future Without Fear". He said such decisions recalled the Yugoslav era, when airports or hospitals were routinely named after fighters.

The Pristina-based think tank, GAP, said the government could not take such a decision, having already lost a vote of no confidence on November 2. Kosovo was now in “a legal limbo that should be covered by the government’s rules of procedure", GAP said. 

The Minister of Social and Welfare, Nenad Rasic, a Serb, admitted being present at the cabinet meeting when the decision was made on November 5, but said he thought it was simply a suggestion as no vote was taken. 

"I didn't have comment that day because I thought this was just a suggestion by the government,” Rasic told Balkan Insight. “Had we been asked to vote, I would have abstained," he added.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Hajredin Kuci, defended the renaming decision. "This proposition of the [airport] board has the consent of the government," he said.

The Kosovo government has already renamed the new 700-million-euro highway, linking the Serbian and Albanian borders, after Kosovo's first president, Ibrahim Rugova. Kuci added: “I believe these two very important decisions will be welcomed by citizens.”

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