Who and how is counting the KLA fighters?

07 shtator 2016 15:24

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The Law on compensations to KLA veterans is generating a debate on how free from corruption its implementation is, but also on the feasibility of its financing for a poor country such as Kosovo. Apparently focused on substance, this debate is political and focuses on the legacy of the KLA. We would like to contribute an independent opinion by making two main points:

1. Although a discussion on the legacy of a guerrilla war, in Kosovo as everywhere else in Europe, has been and is inevitably political, the public would be better served by clearer information on both the law itself and the complexity of defining the profile of a guerrilla fighter;
2. If the issue is the law itself, the government should take a firm position on either creating an independent and consensual mechanism to oversee the veterans registration to avoid corruption, or, if Kosovo cannot afford pensions for veterans, forgo the law altogether.

How many veterans are there?

The registration of the KLA veterans began in 2014. Since then, 66,300 applied for the recognition of their status in one of the several categories stipulated in the law on the KLA veterans as participants in the 1998-1999 war against Serbia. The number of KLA veterans verified by the state Commission charged with this task now stands at 46,230. The Commission’s report has been sent to government for approval.

Many have disputed the Commission’s figures, including Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, who hails from the LDK, the party that chose the path of peaceful resistance and a political rival to PDK and AAK, the parties that sprung out of the KLA. He said that the number of the registered veterans exceeds any prediction and expectation and also expressed the concerns that it twice surpasses the funding earmarked for the implementation of the law. His opinion echoes the sentiment of a large public opinion, which is skeptical of the KLA as a mass movement.

Since the strongest political party, in Parliament and in government, is the PDK, which emerged after the war precisely from the leadership of the KLA, political opponents see the work of the Commission as politically influenced to strengthen the electoral basis of the PDK, but also the smaller AAK, which derives its voter base from the networks that supported the KLA in western Kosovo. Because KLA recruitment and operation had a strong regional character, a large number of recipients of the veteran pensions would represent a large network of support for the same parties. This realization feeds accusations of corruption against the Commission for their alleged “biased” screening.

Interestingly, a contestation of the number of registered veterans comes also from key veteran associations and former KLA leaders, who attest  that the former guerrilla organization never managed to raise that many recruits during the war. Proud of the KLA character as a small group of heroes and an elite of patriots, they are suspicious of those Johnny-come-lately additions to their ranks who would be in search for political or financial gains.

The main debate revolves around the number of KLA veterans. General Agim Çeku, who was KLA commander-in-chief in 1999 and oversaw the guerrillas disbandment, predicted at the end of this recent application process, was that there would be a total of 24,500 veterans. His own record stopped at about 13,000 fighters, but the larger number is likely drawn from the 1999 data of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

From June to September 1999, in partnership with KLA leaders, and as part of the agreement on disarmament signed between the KLA and NATO, IOM registered fighters who had agreed to drop their weapons and had asked to be reintegrated into society - whether in the TMK, the Police, or other occupations, after undergoing training. The final count was 24,577.

How is it possible that the number of KLA veterans is so contested and so unequal, depending on who counts, and according to which rules for inclusion? The reason is twofold: one, because unlike regular soldiers, the KLA fighters were not all easily identifiable even though sometimes many of them wore uniforms, thus the debate on their number is political and scarcely based on facts; two, as far as the law on veterans goes, it includes categories that are broadly defined, exactly like other known laws on veterans of guerrilla war in Europe, and do not limit the count to those who held guns.

European Guerrillas

There is in fact little or nothing that is unique to Kosovo in this debate. Elsewhere in Europe too the legacy of unconventional fighters such as guerrillas has been and is hotly debated by associations, individuals, political parties, a range of media – including memoirs, newspapers, books - and the state itself, often in conflict with localized memories.  These subjects are what the French historian Henri Rousso called “vectors of memory,” which engage in myth-making and myth-shattering, narrate the truth as well as evade it, and influence a shifting public opinion, but remain stuck in the easy dichotomy of resistance and collaboration, hero and traitor.

That is why seventy years after the Second World War, there still are uncertainties and disagreement in France, for example, on who fought against the Nazis and how many the partisans really were. Immediately after the war, it was the entire nation that participated in the resistance, in the words of General De Gaulle, who was interested in consolidating his hold on the country. Only later historians debunked this myth by uncovering the repressed memory of Vichy, or the collaboration of large part of France with the Nazis.

French Communists, the better organized and militant part of the resistance, were proud of being a few, and never counted the many foreigner partisans, besides the native-born, especially the foreign Jews: these had no constituency left and could never brag about it. Women were almost never counted, until recently.  Serious research continues to refine the definition of who resisted, and every new discovery is traumatic for what it uncovers and how different “vectors” use this knowledge.

In Italy the debate on the resistance has been particularly complex in the post-war period, since the partisan war constituted the dominant foundational myth of the Republic. But various “vectors” supported other interpretations of the same phenomenon, and in the 1990s historians such as Claudio Pavone began to talk about the resistance as a civil and class war as well. Emerging right-wing politicians vying for power appropriated this idea by exaggerating partisans violence and pushing for the recognition of pensions for post-1943 fascists, until then reviled as traitors because they fought with the Nazis, because at the same time they stood by Mussolini’s ill-fated Italian Repubblica di Salo’ while the partisans were irregular “bandits.”

Are veterans only the people who held guns?

These debates will perhaps never fade, not even with time, as long as different “vectors” engage in re-writing the nature and the legacy of the resistance. Is this the fate of Kosovo as well? Yes.

The KLA began as an underground movement of a handful of combatants in the 1990s, a close-knit group of rural families, students, and elements of the diaspora. Until Miloševi? escalated the war with his brutal counterinsurgency toward the end of 1997, the large part of the population and the political leadership of Kosovo  did not know of them or did not agree with their actions. Without going into details, lines of internal conflict in Kosovo drawn during the war have been revived in the postwar period by political competition among opposing parties, for which the legacy of the war is the perfect mobilizing emotional issue.

The reality is that a  guerrilla war is a very difficult phenomenon to understand and account for. This is why rigorous research and political quarrels should be kept separate.  Research and a comparison with other cases shows that veterans of guerrilla wars are not just those who carried guns during a defined period of time.

There is a growing body of literature in political science that focuses on the interaction between the guerrilla force and civilian support in an irregular warfare as a key determinant of the success of the guerrilla, with most scholars trying to understand how guerillas depend on the civilian populations for their survival. The importance of this relationship was not lost as early as the 5th century writings of Sun-Tsu’s Art of War and featured prominently in the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse-Tung’s classic guerrilla tactics manual, drawn from his experience in fighting the Japanese imperialists in mid-20th century. “A guerrilla should move among the population as a fish swims in the sea,” he wrote.

Whether it’s information, shelter or food, guerrilla organizations, which rely on hit and run tactics against a much more powerful enemy, cannot survive without the support of the civilians. The combatant of the guerrilla force is often the last piece of a long chain of supply to the war effort, and with the guerrilla fighters so deeply embedded in those communities, where are we to draw the line between a participant and a non-participant?

Several founders of the KLA have explained that their families and those of other combatants in the regions where they operated were involved in the logistics of the insurgency. They relied on strategies to locally raise new fighters to establish credibility with the local population, whose non-cooperation and distrust undermined earlier attempts to create an armed movement in Kosovo. As one KLA senior leader put it, “there was no way for the KLA to move forward if it was not welcomed into people’s homes… You cannot lead a war if the people are against it.” Those familiar with the history of kaçak should have known that these local outlaws depended on jatak families, which provided the basis for their actions and were seen as bandits by the ruling powers.

This complicates the count of the guerrilla membership, which is unusually undercounted. In France, for instance, the official number of resisters, as they were registered immediately after the war, did not include civil resisters and almost no woman. Gaps in the count are also due to the fact that, like in the case of the KLA in Kosovo,  not everybody joined at the same time, and many more participated when victory looked more at end. To this day, the number of resisters is a matter of discussion, and good historians such as Robert Gildea and Olivier Wieviorka, to mention two who just published important works on the resistance, consider fighters even those who just wrote graffiti on walls, or carried two bamboo fishing poles (deux gaules in French, to signify support for De Gaulle), or radioed intelligence to London.

Legal definitions of guerrilla veterans

That’s why veteran laws are wide and embrace what seems a wide category of people. The Kosovo law is so generous as to include: the KLA war invalids; KLA fighter veterans - both citizens of Kosovo and foreign citizens; the deported of KLA; KLA members – “every person who, by a decision or any other act, has been designated to perform concrete duties in political, logistics, financial support or other duties received from the commanders of units, headquarters and zones of KLA, respectively general headquarters of KLA, during the period 1997- 1999; participant in war, but not for the whole period of the war; and  missing fighters of KLA, as well as Red Cross staff operating in war zones.

When evaluating the number of KLA veterans, it should be clear that they are many more than the actual fighters, both because a guerrilla would not exist as simply a group of fighters, as we explained above,  and because the law reflects this fact. Unfortunately, there have been far more political discussions than scholarly studies about the character of the KLA war, and scarce or no education of public opinion about the law itself.

That’s why the debate on figures obfuscates, rather than clarifies the problem.

A simple perusal of the Italian law compensating partisan veterans shows that a broad definition of veterans is not that unusual. In 1945, regional commission were instituted to verify the three categories foreseen by the law: partisan, patriot and meritorious [benemerito]. The partisan was someone who fell or remained invalid or fought for at least three months, or was wounded though fought for less than three months, or was a member of a command (involved in various activities including information) for six months, or was captured for military activities and kept in jail for six months. The patriot was someone who fought for less time, or helped the resistance. And the meritorious was someone short of being a patriot, but who risked to helped active bands. This only partially recovered people who were active in logistics, especially women. Yet, only in Piedmont, there were 100,000 registered people under this law.

The registration process in Italy happened immediately after the war. In Kosovo, it is happening seventeen years after the war because there has been powerful opposition to the law of veterans, including from the international community that administered Kosovo for almost ten years.  One of the arguments was the Kosovo could hardly afford yet another system of assistance.  

Italy came out of the war ravaged and poor, but it could not forget those who fought for its freedom. Kosovo now has made a similar gamble. Yet, there seem to be second thoughts about it, and there may be good reasons to think that the money is simply not there to finance a large number of pensions.

The way to solve this issue is not an endless debate, but clear political measures.  If  the problem is a budgetary one, then the government should ask the Parliament to repeal the law. But if there is suspicion that the number of registered veterans is too high even given the broad categories of the law, an independent and representative task force should review the work of the Commission, correct misrepresentations, and put a stop to endless speculations.



07 shtator 2016

Anna Di Lellio & Garentina Kraja