By Peter Lucas
The man Joe Biden once hailed as “the George Washington of Kosovo” now sits in a detention cell in The Hague charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Will President Joe Biden, who has warm connections with Kosovo, help him out?
The man is Hashim Thaci, 52, the pro-American president of Kosovo, who resigned Nov. 5. He was then taken into custody and flown to The Hague, Netherlands, to stand trial before a special European Union sponsored court for actions during a short, nasty war. Thaci has denied all the charges.
Thaci allegedly committed those crimes when he commanded the fierce-fighting Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla uprising against Serbia in 1998-2000, which the U.S. supported. Back then he was viewed as a hero standing for freedom and against tyranny.
His enemies, especially the Serbs, warned that a Kosovo detached from Serbia would eventually unite with neighboring Albania to form a “greater” Albania. That has not happened and may not happen now that Thaci, who favored it, has been damaged.
The KLA was formed after the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic sought to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of the majority Muslim Albanians, murdering many and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives to neighboring Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro.
I was there reporting when U.S planes flew bombing runs over Albania into Serbia. I was also at border crossings when thousands of frightened women, children and the elderly fled from the advancing Serbs into Albania. It looked like something out of World War II.
Now, after years of peace, the people of landlocked Kosovo once again flock to Albania, only this time they arrive as tourists headed to the Albanian beaches along the Adriatic Sea.
Milosevic’s decision to force the Kosovars out of their homeland led to the U.S.-dominated NATO bombing of Serbia by President Bill Clinton, which Biden supported. Biden, then in the Senate, co-sponsored a resolution authorizing air strikes on Serbia.
The bombing, and the threat of U.S. combat forces entering the fray — U.S. Blackhawk and Apache helicopters were lined up at Albanian sites — brought Milosevic to his knees and saw Kosovo emerge as an independent entity, like other former Yugoslav provinces.
Milosevic was arrested in 2001 and charged with war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo during the breakup of Yugoslavia. He died in a prison cell in The Hague in 2006 during his trial.
The U.S. back then considered Thaci and the KLA the “good guys” in the fight against Milosevic.
There is no doubt that atrocities were committed by both sides.
Critics have pointed out that the indictments are an attempt to rewrite history by equating victim Kosovo with aggressor Serbia. It is like blaming both the U.S. and Japan for the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
Thaci, who had been living in Switzerland, returned to Kosovo when the fighting first broke out and eventually became the commander of the KLA. After the fighting ended, he rose to become the first prime minister of an independent Kosovo. He was elected president in 2016.
Biden, no stranger to Kosovo, saw his earlier ties strengthened when he visited the war-torn country with his son Beau Biden in 2001, which is when he first met Thaci. The Bidens traveled to Camp Bondsteel, the main U.S. base under KFOR (Kosovo Force), NATO’s peace keeping force.
Beau Biden had volunteered to serve as an adviser to Kosovo’s nascent judicial system and Joe Biden, then in the Senate, accompanied him.
Biden as vice president met again with Prime Minister Thaci in Washington in 2010. It was then that Biden came up with the George Washington remark.
Then in 2016, Biden, still vice president, visited Kosovo again. This time for an emotional event naming a national highway that leads to Camp Bondsteel after Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
Thaci, as president, played a key role in renaming the highway and construction of an adjoining monument for Beau Biden.
In moving comments, Biden praised Thaci for showing “great courage” in bringing democracy to Kosovo.
Now Biden heads to the White House and Thaci heads to trial. /bostonherald.com