Obituary: Baton Haxhiu

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The Independent Culture
BATON HAXHIU was editor of the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore, and one of the most prominent and respected of Albanian journalists in Kosovo. Shortly after attending the funeral in Pristina on Sunday of the human-rights lawyer Bajram Kelmendi, Haxhiu was abducted by Serbian security troops and murdered. It is a measure of his personal courage that he chose to attend his friend's funeral even in the knowledge that his own life was in danger.

Haxhiu was typical in many ways of the Kosovar Albanian intellectual. He was well-read, cosmopolitan and shrewd. His writings on domestic politics and on the American policy-making process as far as it affected Serbia and Kosovo (most of which he also posted in English on Internet sources) remain models of dispassionate and informed analysis. He was one of the first commentators to indicate that the current aim of the Milosevic government was to clear a large part of northern Kosovo of its Albanian population and to use the territory so "cleansed" as a bargaining chip in future international negotiations.

But Haxhiu was also a listener. Always ready to learn, he would eagerly engage in discussion and would genuinely consider and ponder over his interlocutor's point of view. His respect for the opinions of others partly arose out of his own sense of intellectual impoverishment. His university studies at Pristina, where he studied sociology, were interrupted by the Serbian government's closure of his faculty in 1991. He was forced thereafter to continue his academic career in the straitened circumstances of the "underground" Albanian university of Pristina, where he worked for a postgraduate degree. Partly also, however, his openness to debate derived from the whole philosophy of the liberal, democratic wing of the Kosovar Albanian movement. In his commitment to dialogue, to mutual understanding and to negotiation, Haxhiu represented the highest ideals of the Kosovar Albanian movement of "non-violence".

For most of the 1990s, Baton Haxhiu was section editor of the weekly Albanian-language news magazine Koha. Last year, he took over as editor of the Koha Ditore daily. Despite working under the most adverse conditions, printing with primitive machinery and constantly harassed by the Serbian authorities, Haxhiu helped make Koha Ditore the leading Albanian-language source of information and of critical comment in Kosovo. He was, moreover, an active journalist and was never content to write from the brief safety of his editorial offices. He was always on the move, visiting conflict zones, talking with military and political leaders, and engaging in much behind-the-scenes discussion.

His influence extended not only to the international circles of journalists in Pristina and Belgrade. Haxhiu and the Koha Ditore offices were an accepted port of call for many of the diplomats who visited Kosovo during the current crisis. Whoever he spoke with, Haxhiu held fast to the view that an independent Kosovo was not only morally justified but also inevitable.

Throughout his career in journalism, Haxhiu collaborated closely with Dukagjin Gorani, who edited KD Times, the English-language section of Koha Ditore. Gorani's present whereabouts are unknown, as also are the fate of Haxhiu's widow and three-year-old son. It is, moreover, uncertain at this time whether Haxhiu's body has been properly buried or, as some reports suggest, is still lying beside the main Pristina- Skopje road. His cowardly murder is, however, hardly likely to have gone unnoticed among journalistic, academic and diplomatic circles both in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe.

Baton Haxhiu, journalist: born 1967; Editor, Koha Ditore 1998-99; died Pristina, Kosovo 28 March 1999.