Kosovo Still the Balkan Front Line Against Radical Islam
10:43 AM, Jan 3, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
The small republic of Kosovo, with a population of less than two million—90 percent ethnic Albanians, of whom 80 percent are Muslim—is the Balkan zone offering the greatest resistance to radical Islam. Some vignettes from recent interviews may impart the flavor of the debate over Islamism in the country:
Burim Ramadani, 31, is a deputy in the Kosovo Assembly, the republic’s parliament, and secretary-general of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (known by its Albanian initials as AAK). His party is the second of two created by veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and is smaller than its predecessor, the politically dominant Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) led by prime minister Hashim Thaci. But AAK is increasingly more credible with the public. It holds 10 of 100 elected seats in the 120-member assembly.
Ramadani observed the Wahhabi invasion of Kosovo in 2011, when Muslim extremists commenced public demonstrations in the capital, Pristina. Of the believers summoned to march, many were reported to have been bused in from neighboring Macedonia. They demanded erection of a “mega-mosque” in Pristina as a counter to a new Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Mother Teresa.
Representing AAK in the Kosovo Assembly on July 8, 2011, at the height of extremist agitation, Ramadani denounced the Islamists and warned that participants in the protests carried black al Qaeda flags.
He noted “the intentional misuse by certain people of the feelings and religious needs in Kosovo.” AAK considered the mass events “unacceptable,” Ramadani declared. “Kosovo long ago chose its own path and its orientation,” he continued. “We are inclined toward NATO, Europe, and Western values, and this policy direction cannot be changed or deflected by [Islamists] or their aims. . . . Kosovo and the Albanians are immovable in this respect and especially our commitment to Western values, in which the main emphasis is on development and reform, based in the promotion of equality and human rights. . . . We must not allow and will not allow anyone, for the sake of fraudulent interests and manipulating hateful rhetoric against all of us, to undermine the state of Kosovo or the welfare and happiness of its citizens.”
Ramadani concluded, “The Muslim believers demanding a new mosque cannot be allowed to monopolize our attention, since they held an event displaying the black terrorist flag in the middle of Pristina. The waving of black flags is not part of the landscape of Kosovo and does not reflect the attitudes of Kosovars. We must show that this is not the image of Kosovo, and if we do not show that it is absent from the identity of Kosovo, we will have failed in our patriotic mission. AAK calls on all Kosovo citizens, and all who petition sincerely for a mosque, to distance themselves from those who try to exploit the religious sentiments of the people of Kosovo for destructive ends, and not to allow themselves to become complicit in these abuses.”
In a meeting, Ramadani emphasized that he rejects the widespread analysis of the rise of Wahhabism and other nihilistic trends in Islamic countries as products of economic and social marginalization. He pointed out that before the 1999 NATO intervention liberated Kosovo from the Serbs, the economic and social situation of Albanians was desperate, but almost none had turned to religious fanaticism. He recalled that during the Kosovar human rights struggle of the 1990s, more than 95 percent of local Albanians kept pictures of Mother Teresa in their homes. Indeed, in the city whence he hails, Suhareke, a shopowner who forced his wife to put on an Islamic headscarf was ostracized and nearly had to close his business. But after the Kosovo war he reappeared with Arab financing and people went to him for help with small expenses.
Ramadani argued boldly, “There is a need for revival of social pressure against those who seek to undermine the traditional nature of Kosovo society,” that is, those who would impose Islamist norms of behavior or doctrines.
The leading enabler of radical Islamists in Kosovo, unfortunately, has been its chief Sunni cleric since 2003, Naim Ternava, who has been sympathetic to Saudi Wahhabism and other Arab forms of Islamist ideology.