This column originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Available here in English, Albanian, and Serbian.
A recent EULEX case against two former KLA soldiers tells a story that’s so gruesome, it’s difficult to believe. It involves the gang rape of two Albanian women by a group of KLA soldiers in the winter of 1998. According to Koha Ditore’s version of events, the two young women were abducted from a Mitrovica cafe by a KLA soldier and taken to a two-story house inhabited by 20 KLA members. They were held prisoner in this house, where they were beaten, tortured and raped.
Last week, the Basic Court of Mitrovica decreed that the two suspects in the case, Ismet Haxha and Nexhat Qubreli, be held in custody until October 25. On Monday, 200 former KLA soldiers and their supporters held a protest in Mitrovica opposing their detention. KLA Veterans’ Association head Muharrem Xhemajli declared at the protest that “instead of dealing with criminals, EULEX prosecutes and arrests freedom fighters.”
So continues the grand tradition of refusing to even consider that any member of the KLA may have ever done anything illegal, or something gruesome. The charges against Haxha and Qubreli are horrific, and merit an in-depth investigation. This case is unique in that it’s one of the few that could open up a discussion concerning the possibility of sexual violence on the part of KLA members during the conflict.
The thought of Albanian liberation fighters torturing and raping their Albanian “sisters” is an unpleasant one, but considering the guerilla nature of the KLA, the patriarchal nature of Albanian society, and the fact that rape was used as a weapon of war throughout the Balkan wars of the 1990s, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
The Veterans’ Association knee-jerk reaction to the case, which they have portrayed as a EULEX lie, is maddening, and speaks to how deeply ingrained the myth of the spotless war of liberation remains. Comments on the story online describe the case as just another example of EULEX’s bias against Albanians, and the two women as liars and whores. How long will it take for honorable veterans to understand that protecting the potential rapists and murderers among their ranks does nothing to enhance the reputation of the KLA?
As an ironic parallel, when a law on the institutional recognition of rape victims of the 1999 war was proposed last spring, it found a wide base of popular support. Despite the fact that it barely passed through its initial readings in the assembly, compensation for rape victims became a subject of national debate. The unspoken assumption, of course, was that the law would apply to Albanian women who had been raped by Serbian security forces. The real test of Kosovars’ ability to deal with the past will happen when an Albanian woman comes forward and accuses her supposed “protectors.”