MAXWELL:  Kosovo’s future without its best minds

8/4/1999 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Just when many Americans thought they were familiar with the worst atrocities that occurred in Yugoslavia during Slobodan Milosovic’s most recent campaign to cleanse Kosovo of ethnic Albanians, the Chronicle of Higher Education offers this headline: “Academics Are Feared Dead in Wake of Kosovo Strife.”

The location is Djakovica, a town south of Pristina. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has given Djakovica the prestigious designation of “world heritage” site. As residents bemoan the physical devastation of NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign that enveloped their beautiful town, they are worrying about an even more serious crisis: the disappearance of 1,100 of their men _ many of them the best minds in the nation.

I became personally concerned about this issue after learning that one of my former classmates from Chicago, a linguistics professor who returned to his native Yugoslavia in 1993, has not been seen by his relatives since May 25.

The world is learning that Milosovic had a dark blueprint for Kosovo, a long-term scheme to destroy any chance of a viable future for ethnic Albanians. Milosovic knows that the future of any nation depends on those who impart skills and knowledge.

“It appears that intellects were targeted in the towns, but we don’t have a full picture,” Amnesty International researcher Paul Miller, who heads a fact-finding mission in Kosovo, told the Chronicle. “We are still trying to find out who is missing. In this community, most of the activists _ the politicians _ were the intellectuals, the educated, the doctors, the professors. That put them more at risk.”

A major reason that Milosovic targeted Djakovica is that until this week, it was home to a thriving underground university, which opened in 1991, after all ethnic Albanian professors were fired from the University of Pristina. Since then, this shadow campus of 10,000 students had become universally respected as an incubator of free thinkers.

According to the Chronicle, fewer than 500 of the university’s 1,500 professors can be accounted for in the wake of the NATO-led war. The most prominent among the missing is Bardhyl Qaushi, dean of the university’s law school. In addition to his teaching, he also is considered the town’s most effective political leader. Relatives said that Serb troops hunted Qaushi, captured him and threatened to behead him as his family watched. He was taken away and was last seen in a prison near Pristina.

“We are very concerned about him,” Ahmet Greca, vice rector of the ethnic Albanian underground university, said in the Chronicle. “The intellects and professors were never treated well. The Serbs didn’t want Albanians to be educated.”

According to the paper, human rights workers believe that many other professors and other intellectuals were tracked down and murdered.

“Fehemi Ageni, a professor of social theory as well as a founding member and vice president of the Democratic League of Kosovo, was found shot to death in May,” the Chronicle reports. “Ukshim Hoti, a philosophy professor and president of a small political party called UNIKOM, had spent five years in prison for his political activities and was scheduled to be released in May. No one knows where he is now. Five ethnic Albanian professors, Mr. Ageni among them, have been confirmed dead.”

As a measure of their courage and commitment to their profession, surviving leaders of the underground faculty reopened the University of Pristina last Monday and will resume classes in September. The school was turned into a Serbian-language institution after the Serbs took it over in 1991. After their mass firing, the professors held classes in storefronts, basements and garages.

In addition to the professors, many of the most outspoken students also were hunted down, beaten and jailed on false charges. Many of these young dissidents, initially apolitical, joined the Kosovo Liberation Army in an attempt to save their town and their university. Many died in combat.

Clearly, Milosovic knew his business well, and the world has yet to comprehend the reach of his evil crusade. Kosovo needs to reconstitute its political, social and economic systems. That process can best be carried out by the province’s own people _ by its own professors and other intellectuals.

But many of these gifted people are dead. Who will take their places? The Serbians may have accomplished much of their long-term goal of redirecting the future of an entire ethnic group by robbing them of their scholars. Today, though, hopes are running high as the University of Pristina opens its doors to Kosovars for the first time in nearly 10 years.