Profile 29 Nov 12

Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo Rambo With a Taste for Politics

He had made a successful transition from guerrilla leader to politician - until The Hague threw its spanner in the works, not once but twice.

Edona Peci
Photo by Wikicommons

The world knows him as a former guerrilla force commander charged for war crimes during the conflict of 1999 in Kosovo.

In Kosovo he is one of the key figures of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, a leader, politician and hero. He is also son to Hilmi, husband to Anita and father to Gjini, Hana and Trimi.

Haradinaj, 44, has spent the last two years in The Hague, in the detention unit of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the ICTY.

The Tribunal has charged him with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war during the war in Kosovo in the late 1990s.

On Thursday, November 29, he will appear before the court to hear, for a second time, its verdict on those charges.

Idriz Balaj and Lah Brahimaj, his former KLA comrades, will be in the same court as part of the “Haradinaj et al” case.

The trio are accused of torturing and killing prisoners in a KLA-run camp at Jablanica during the Kosovo conflict.

The charges are not the only thing that the suspects have in common. Fate brought them together more than a decade ago in their armed revolt against the Serbian police and military, which then controlled the country.  

Plans to fight a ground war for Kosovo’s independence were not on the horizon in 1989 when Haradinaj left Kosovo to Switzerland.

By then, like most ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, he had completed military service with the former Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA.

Photo by Wikicommons

Conditions for armed resistance weren’t yet ripe as the Kosovo Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, vainly pursued a peaceful struggle for self-determination.

Far from home, Haradinaj did a range of different jobs, from construction to nightclub bouncer, before returning to Glogan, where he was born, after about six years.

He soon became involved in mobilizing the new guerrilla army, the KLA, preparing and carrying out attacks on Serbian targets.

At a funeral in November 1997, KLA members appeared for the first time in public carrying weapons. Among them was Haradinaj’s younger brother, Daut.

Kosovo Albanians guerrillas continued operations periodically until March 1998 when all-out war erupted.

Haradinaj’s previous personal loss, the assassination of his brother, Luan, by the Serbian police was followed by the killing of Adem Jashari, one of the architects of the KLA.

Serbian forces killed him and 40 family members, on March 5 of 1998, after laying siege to the family home in Prekaz, in the Drenica region.

Miles from Drenica, Haradinaj continued operations as a commander of the KLA Dukagjini zone in western Kosovo.

NATO intervention in 1999 ended the war in Kosovo with the enforced withdrawal of Serbian forces.

Haradinaj changes roles, becoming deputy commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civil emergency force created by the UN to absorb the former rebels.

His contacts with former UN officials like Steven Shook or Larry Rosin served his political career well after 2000, when he established his own party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK.

The transformation from “Rambo”, as he was nicknamed, to a politician, was not an easy process in the UN-administrated country.

Growing up in a region where the Canon of Leke Dukagjini, the Albanian customary law code, still held sway, Haradinaj had to adjust his ideas to a modern context.

At the same time he remained faithful to his credo: “Dignity, pride and honour”.

Entering politics, in the meantime, was also the aim of Hashim Thaci, the KLA’s former political leader, who had established the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, a future rival to the AAK.

Longtime independence leader Rugova, head of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, was also still on the scene, though many LDK members left to join the PDK or AAK.

Haradinaj competed with Rugova and Thaci in Kosovo’s first elections in 2001 with little success.

His party made its first major breakthrough in the second general elections in Kosovo in 2004, when the AAK came second.

Haradinaj then became Prime Minister through a coalition with Rugova’s LDK.

Photo by Beta

After only a hundred days at the head of government, Haradinaj’s political career was derailed by the ICTY.

On March 4, 2005, it issued an indictment against him and his two co-accused, Balaj and Brahimaj.

Surrounded by cabinet members, Haradianj held an extraordinary press conference, informing the public of the Tribunal’s demand that he appear before the court.

He resigned and surrendered voluntarily to the Hague four days after the indictment was issued. The international community in Pristina gave him a memorable send-off before he left for The Hague with some ambassadors visibly disturbed by his departure.

In April 2008, the ICTY acquitted him of torture, murder, rape and deportation and he returned to Kosovo to a hero’s welcome.  “Ramuuush, Ramuuush, Ramuuush”, the crowds shouted at Pristina airport.

Looking forward to his comeback was also the AAK. Weakened by Haradinaj’s absence, it had been pushed into opposition after the general elections of 2007, when the PDK and the LDK formed a new government.

His efforts to revive his party would again be interrupted by a message from The Hague, however.

On July 21, 2010 the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY partially quashed the acquittals of the former KLA trio and ordered a partial retrial.

The Tribunal prosecution had convinced an appeals judge that it had not been given time to hear evidence from two key witnesses.

With a couple of extra kilos gained since 2005, Haradinaj will find out on Thursday whether his political career is finished for good, or whether he can return to Kosovo to continue where he left off.

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