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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Rebirth of Paper Provides a Ray of Hope for Displaced

Refugees: With most residents forced abroad, Kosovo's leaders struggle to keep their society and culture alive.

April 24, 1999|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TETOVO, Macedonia — Exactly a month after Kosovo's only Albanian-language daily newspaper stopped printing and its editors and reporters went into hiding or fled for their lives, the paper Friday published again.

"We still exist," Ardian Arifaj, one of the paper's editors, said, smiling with satisfaction. "Our motive is to preserve our identity [as Kosovo Albanians]. This is about our survival."

The resurrection here of the newspaper--Koha Ditore, or Time Daily--provided a rare injection of hope into an effort full of obstacles and frustrations.

Like the journalists, Kosovo's political and cultural leaders are struggling to keep their society and culture alive, while more than half of their people are refugees abroad and the rest are living in terror inside their Yugoslav province.

Because much of the forced exodus from Pristina, Kosovo's capital, was directed to Macedonia, the province's cultural and political leaders hope to use this neighboring country as a base for preserving their trampled society.

But the Macedonian government is determined to frustrate their plans. This week, authorities made a point of stressing that political leaders from Kosovo are banned from organizing, raising funds, staging demonstrations or conducting any other political activities in Macedonia.

"It's a clear message to us," said Naim Jerliu, 27, deputy chairman of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the largest ethnic Albanian party in Kosovo. "While in Macedonia, we must behave as refugees, not political leaders."

Jerliu's lifeline is his mobile phone. He uses it to call his parents, who remain holed up in their apartment in Pristina and are among the few there whose telephones still work. He also uses it to trace and keep in touch with other politicians in Kosovo and abroad, trying to coordinate their efforts.

The phone also provides him with a way to stay in contact with foreign diplomats and journalists in Macedonia, so he can make his case for sending North Atlantic Treaty Organization ground troops into Kosovo to defeat Yugoslav security forces and make the area safe for refugees to return home.

"It's the only way to feel like I'm still alive," Jerliu said, referring to his mobile phone.

Jerliu is well aware that he and other politicians from Kosovo have very little influence on the events underway in their homeland. NATO, its political leaders and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic are the main actors in Kosovo--not its people or political leaders still in the province or abroad.

Clearly one reason the refugees have almost no role in the battle for their future is that Kosovo is not a country and there is no single obvious, legitimate political leader to speak for the people.

Before the NATO airstrikes began March 24, leaders of the main Albanian parties in Kosovo literally were not talking to each other, and found it impossible to work together.

Ibrahim Rugova, the LDK leader who was elected president of Kosovo Albanians in unofficial balloting last year that was boycotted by members of other parties, is under house arrest in Pristina. Even if he wasn't indisposed, his pacifist ways no longer hold much sway over his followers.

And the Kosovo Liberation Army created a new "government" two weeks ago, naming Hashim Thaci prime minister. But Thaci remains in Kosovo and is limited to leadership and diplomacy by cell phone. His rule is generally recognized only by his Kalashnikov-carrying troops.

But Macedonia is determined not to become the chessboard for the political maneuvers of Kosovo's politicians abroad.

"In the territory of the Republic of Macedonia, the government will not allow any political activity by foreigners," said Stevo Pendarovski, a spokesman for the Macedonian Interior Ministry.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia's population; ethnic Slavs constitute the majority. Macedonian authorities are worried that the dramatic influx of refugees from Kosovo will change the ethnic balance. So any talk of refugees setting up newspapers, launching political efforts or engaging in other activities that could be interpreted as signs that they are settling in makes Macedonian authorities very nervous.

Despite the effort to shut them down in Macedonia, Kosovo's political and social leaders are reluctant to move their efforts to build a temporary home to the more welcoming environs of Albania.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians feel more comfortable in Macedonia in part because this nation and their province were politically tied as parts of Yugoslavia for decades. Albania also is poorer and less developed, and relatively few of Kosovo's elite have settled there.

Here in Tetovo, a restaurant called Arbi has become an unofficial meeting place for Kosovo's exiled elite. They meet with each other and foreign diplomats and reporters over lunch or cappuccino. New arrivals from Kosovo come to Arbi to try to reconnect with their friends from Pristina.

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