Obituary: Fehmi Agani

In his final interview, Agani was asked what was in store. `God only knows,' he replied. `I don't even dare to think about it'

Violeta Orosi
Tuesday 18 May 1999 23:02

IF ANYBODY in Kosovo personified peace and reconciliation through dialogue, it was Fehmi Agani, the Albanian leader killed two weeks ago, allegedly by Serbian police. He was a reluctant politician who emerged in the last few years as a leading proponent of non-violence and Albanian- Serb dialogue.

Born in Djakovica in Kosovo in 1932, Agani was one of the pre- eminent Albanian intellectuals of his generation. An accomplished writer and teacher, he spoke excellent Serbian and had studied at Belgrade University where he earned a doctorate in sociology.

As Tito began emancipating Albanians and bringing them into mainstream Yugoslav society in the 1960s and 1970s, Agani was at the forefront of the Albanian cultural movement. He became head of Pristina's Albanalogical Institute in 1967 and then dean of Pristina University's Faculty of Philosophy. He was dismissed in 1981, along with many of his colleagues, in a deep purge of Kosovo Albanian society following that year's student riots.

Despite having suffered personally at the hands of the Serbian state on account of his ethnic origin, Agani refused to be bitter. He was one of the founders and vice- president of the Democratic League of Kosovo, the principal ethnic Albanian political party before the war, usually known by its Albanian acronym LDK, in December 1989. Moreover, he remained to the very end one of the most energetic and rational negotiators, forever prepared to talk both with Belgrade and the more extreme figures on the Albanian political scene in the interest of a peaceful settlement.

Agani commanded both trust and respect even among his political opponents. He was a pioneer, the only Albanian leader who could initiate and conduct negotiations in 1992 with Belgrade on Albanian-language education. Despite setbacks and accusations that simply by negotiating with Belgrade he was betraying the national interest, Agani persevered. Eventually, in 1996, with two colleagues, he put his name to an agreement to secure the return of school buildings to Albanian pupils and students.

Agani had his differences with Ibrahim Rugova, the LDK's pacifist president, believing that the party should be more pro-active. When fighting erupted in Kosovo in February 1998, Agani stepped down as vice-president of the LDK. He nevertheless remained an adviser to Rugova and a member of every ethnic Albanian negotiating team, as well as a key delegate at the internationally supervised peace talks in France in February and March this year.

He never tired of travelling to Belgrade, and meeting - either secretly or in public - with anyone he thought could contribute to an end to what he termed the "madness" in Kosovo. Nor did he shy away from returning again and again to talk with Adem Demaci, the political representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), to persuade him and the KLA to accept the Rambouillet peace plan.

Agani believed in the Rambouillet peace plan, which he viewed as the beginning of a process which would free Kosovo from the tyranny of the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and yet look after the interests of both Serbs and Albanians.

Earlier, with Dusan Janjic, a Serb, Agani had founded the Forum for Ethnic Relations in an attempt to establish an Albanian-Serb dialogue. Janjic described Agani as "a patient and persistent negotiator" and warned that his killing "aims at intimidating all those who want dialogue and Serbian-Albanian reconciliation, and at sending the message that we cannot live together". Journalists - Albanian, Serb and foreign - and diplomats enjoyed Agani's openness, honesty and wit. He always made the time to explain issues and liked to tell amusing anecdotes.

Fehmi Agani remained in Pristina after Nato began bombing Yugoslavia, hoping that the campaign would not last long. Although at one of the alliance's first press conferences Nato reported that he and five other prominent Albanians had been summarily executed, he survived expulsion from his home in the elite suburb of Dragodan and hid for five weeks in various safe houses across the city together with his son Shpend and another Albanian intellectual, Rexhep Ismaili. In hiding Agani started writing a book.

According to Ismaili: "We had to move from house to house as Serbian forces were looking for prominent ethnic Albanians. Last week I left because it became impossible. He [Agani] didn't want to leave." But the situation had become too dangerous and it was time to go.

With his wife Sadije and son, Agani tried to escape on one of the trains to the Macedonian border used by Serbian forces to expel Albanians. But, according to reports from a family member, the train was turned back at the Blace border crossing after Macedonia temporarily shut the border.

Agani was taken off the train as it started its return to Pristina, the following day. On 8 May, Serbian television reported that his body had been found near the village of Lipjan, and said that he had been killed by the KLA - claims which his family rejects.

On the eve of the Nato air strikes, after the news arrived that the US envoy Richard Holbrooke had left Belgrade empty-handed, Fehmi Agani gave his final interview, to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting in London. He was asked what was in store: "God only knows," he replied. "I myself don't even dare to think about it."

Fehmi Agani, sociologist and politician: born Djakovica, Yugoslavia 1932; married (two sons); died 6 May 1999.

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