Petar Ristanovic: Clear conscience and strong tweets

petar ristanović

By Petar Ristanovic

The affair over the renovation of the „house of Xhafer Deva“ has died down. Representatives of UNDP Kosovo announced that they were withdrawing from the project – to which the Kosovan Minister of Culture replied that the ministry would carry on with the renovation. The Kosovan media reporting in Albanian and English discussed the character and work of Xhafer Deva over multiple days. Conflicting opinions were expressed, creating the illusion that Deva was a controversial figure whose historical role can be interpreted differently. Everyone played their part and the time has come for this episode, unpleasant for all participants, to finally close, although the affair has exposed at least three facts that are deeply problematic and should be talked about.

The first of these facts is the casual disinterest of officials of international organizations. The agreement on the renovation of the „Xhafer Deva House“ between the representatives of UNDP Kosovo and the Ministry of Culture of Kosovo was signed on September 30, 2021.

A tweet of UNDP Kosovo clearly states that the goal of the project is „the renovation of the house of Xhafer Deva“. Later on, a board was displayed on the house, on which the name of the project „Restoration of the house of Xhafer Deva“ was written in Albanian and English (but not in Serbian – an official language according to the laws of Kosovo). Finally, in a post on social media dated February 1st this year, UNDP Kosovo boasted about the initiation of works on the „House of Xhafer Deva“.

I am positive that no one from UNDP Kosovo wanted to participate in the promotion of a Nazi collaborator and war criminal. The name of the facility planned for reconstruction was probably announced to them by the representatives of the Ministry of Culture of Kosovo. And this is where the problem emerges – during the four months of preparation for the project realization, no one from UNDP Kosovo saw fit to type the name of the man whose house they were set to renovate into an Internet search engine. If they did so, they would immediately notice photos showing swastikas and Nazi uniforms, which would probably prompt them to investigate the matter. However, no one did that, which perfectly reflects the atmosphere among foreign officials who are forced to spend part of their careers in Kosovo in anticipation of better posts.

There is plenty of symbolism in the fact that the renovation of the house of a Nazi collaborator, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma, was arranged within the project aimed at encouraging „dialogue between communities and social cohesion“. This detail eloquently reflects the 22-years-long process of reconciliation and dealing with the past in Kosovo, which cost tens of millions of dollars. It is a failure of epic proportions since only employees in international organizations, a small number of members of NGOs, and professional participants in panels and workshops have benefited from it.

This claim is not the disclosure of a secret, but a simple statement of the factual state. The state of Kosovo’s costly civil society project clearly shows the loud silence of the Albanian NGO sector during the Xhafer Deva affair.

However, my claim is not a critique of the few members of „civil society“ in Kosovo or employees of international organizations, but of the whole process of building a „post-conflict society“ and „transitional justice“ that failed because the much-praised ideas on which it was based were overlooked. I believe that this became clear to the participants in the process very soon after its launch, in the first post-war years, but it was continued anyway.

To date, „reconciliation“ and „dealing with the past“ have been distorted into the clearing of one’s conscience through grants and doing something for the sake of doing it. They have been taking place by rote for a long time, because it does not suit anyone engaged in the field to publicly question the meaning and effect of what has been done, and thus challenge dogmas and risk their income along the way. That is why it is possible for tragicomic situations to occur, such as the renovation of a war criminal’s house within the „dialogue between communities“ project.

When the affair reached UNDP Kosovo through the media, they abruptly announced that they were withdrawing from the project. It quickly became apparent that it was extremely important for international representatives not to take part in paying tribute to a war criminal. They are not very interested in the fact that such a practice is widespread across Kosovo.

Thus, we come to the second fact that the affair revealed.

Among the Kosovo Albanians, fighters for „national goals“, i.e. Greater Albania, are celebrated as national heroes, even if they collaborated with the Nazis or were responsible for numerous crimes committed against others and even against their own people. Evidence for this claim is easy to find throughout Kosovo. The streets in South Mitrovica, Urosevac and Prizren bear the name of Xhafer Deva. The media in Kosovo, such as Koha and Kallxo, described him in recent years as a „great intellectual“ and a „highly respected man.“

Perhaps the best illustration of my claim is provided by the list of „prominent citizens“ the President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, awarded the „Order of Freedom“ medal in 2012. Among the decorated were the head of the Kosovo district in occupied Serbia 1941-1944, Ibrahim Lutviu, the leader of the nationalist organization Bali Kombetar, which worked closely with the Nazis, Mithat Frasheri, the prime minister of Greater Albania during the Nazi patronage of 1943-1944, Rexhep Mitrovica, and one of the leaders of the Second League of Prizren, an organization that also worked closely with the Nazis, Bedri Pejani.

The collaboration of all four mentioned individuals is not „controversial“ and cannot be brought into question. Hundreds of documents, photographs and recordings testify of it. A letter from Bedri Pejani to the commander of the SS units and the Gestapo, Heinrich Himmler, testifies to the scope of the collaboration, in which he promised 120,000-150,000 Albanian volunteers who will fight „side by side“ with the soldiers of the German Reich. Pejani personally participated in the organization of recruitment for the SS division Skenderbeg. He negotiated with the envoy of the mufti of Jerusalem and a well-known Nazi collaborator, Al Husseini, on the expulsion of Serbs and the joining of Sandzak and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Greater Albania. Hermann Neubacher, a Nazi diplomat in occupied Serbia, described Pejani as a „crazy, unstable man“ who wants to expel all Serbs.

The mentioned winners of the „Order of Freedom“ award, together with Xhafer Deva, were the leaders of the Second League of Prizren, an organization created after the capitulation of Italy in 1943, with the help of German diplomat Franz von Scheiger.

Albanian historian Lefter Nashi states that the goal of the League was to preserve the borders of Greater Albania, „liberate“ other regions and unite them with Albania. The first president of the League was Rexhep Mitrovica, and after he was elected as head of the puppet government in Tirana, Pejani took control of the organization. Members of the League assisted in the recruitment of Albanians into the Skanderbeg Division and participated in the Holocaust, as more than 200 Jews from Pristina were arrested in May 1944 and deported to the Bergen-Belsen camp in Poland, where they were killed.

All of the above is not an obstacle for the Second League of Prizren to be celebrated as a patriotic organization among Albanians, and for the names of Ibrahim Lutviu, Recep Tayyip Mitrovica, Bedri Pejani and Mithat Frasheri to be used for streets, schools and cultural centers in Kosovo today. As you read this text, a large picture of Rexhep Mitrovica is on display on one of the buildings in South Mitrovica, along with a picture of Xhafer Deva.

Viola von Cramon, MEP and Special Rapporteur on Kosovo, told Radio KiM on February 8 that „it is unacceptable for any street, square or public institution to bear the name of a Nazi collaborator or convicted war criminal.“ A full 20 days have passed since then, but no concrete initiative has been launched to stop celebrating Nazi collaborators and war criminals.

The statements of Von Cramon, the German ambassador to Kosovo, Rohde, as well as several Albanian intellectuals who criticized the celebration of Xhafer Deva, are similar because they emphasize the celebration of Nazi collaborators and war criminals is unacceptable.

By carefully going through these statements and texts published in the Albanian media in recent weeks, it is revealed that the controversy over the historical role of Xhafer Deva has been reduced to his role in the Holocaust and participation in the organization of the SS Skenderbeg Division. Although Deva’s other crimes significantly exceed those in scope – they are not mentioned at all.

The situation was similar in the comments published in the Serbian language media.

During the affair, several journalists asked me for a statement on this topic. I refused because other colleagues are much better acquainted with the World War II period, but what caught my attention was the insistence of journalists on Deva’s role in the Holocaust. When I noticed that there were a handful of documents that spoke of his involvement in the killings and mass expulsions of Serbs, I received the same answer: „Nobody wants to hear that.“

Thus, we come to the third fact revealed by this affair. Serb victims in Kosovo, even those from World War II, are a topic that is not being discussed. Albanians and international representatives do not want to hear about them, and such a situation has lasted for so long that it is unconsciously normalized even among Serbs. And this fact can easily be proven based on the example of the mentioned four decorated „freedom fighters“.

Robert Elsie, a German linguist who specialized in Albanian literature, known for his immense love for Albanians, and who was buried in Albania, wrote that Bedri Pejani and other leaders of the Second League of Prizren were responsible for expelling 40,000 Serbs during the first half of 1944. During the Rexhep Mitrovica-led government, there was a wave of violence against Serbs in Kosovo, during which hundreds of Serbs were killed and thousands expelled.

Numerous surviving speeches testify to Mitrovica’s attitude towards Serbs, such as the one from Drenica in May 1941, when he stated: „Serbs came to the Balkans by force, they have to leave the Balkans by force, and since they have nowhere to go, they should all be killed. It is up to us Shiptars to complete that task.“

Today, all this, however, is not a factor during assessments of their historical roles. An interview with Professor Enver Hasani, former President of the Supreme Court of Kosovo, given on the occasion of the affair surrounding the house of Xhafer Deva, shows how far among Albanians the suppression of crimes against Serbs goes. Hasani described Deva as an undisputed collaborator of the Nazis, who cannot be rehabilitated due to his participation in the organization of the SS Skanderbeg unit and his role in the Holocaust. However, Hasani did not say a word about Xhafer Deva’s responsibility for mass crimes against Serbs. Instead, in one sentence, he mentioned that Deva, in addition to Jews, persecuted „those who the Germans consider people and nations unworthy of life.“ Whether he meant the Roma or maybe the Serbs as well – we can only guess.

Hasani’s proposal to establish a documentation center „for crimes committed in Kosovo during the former Yugoslavia, including those during World War II,“ is also interesting. The idea is clear – if crimes committed by Albanians took place, they need to be relativized through the broader context of „crimes committed during the former Yugoslavia in Kosovo“, which of course implies that they were committed exclusively against Albanians.

No sane person has questioned the renovation of the house at any time. The whole affair did not break out because of the house, but because it exposed the processes that have been going on in Kosovo for decades and that everyone is aware of, although it never occurs to anyone to do something about it.

UNDP Kosovo withdrew from the project, international representatives shared strong tweets and cleared their conscience. No one cares about the fact that in Kosovo Xhafer Deva and other Nazi collaborators and war criminals are celebrated as national heroes and patriots.

After all, a new war has broken out, we need to post strong tweets again, just to keep our conscience clear.

The opinions and views expressed represent the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial office or donors.

Read more:

Document of Belgrade’s Jewish Historical Museum on the suffering of Jews from Mitrovica

UNDP: During renovation, C.Center was not called “Rexhep Mitrovica”; name since changed by the municipality

Museum of Genocide Victims on Deva’s house: Pleased that works were halted; EU, UNDP previously supported similar projects

Surroi supports the renovation of Xhafer Deva’s house: A building cannot carry the sins of its owner

Hasani: Deva is a Nazi collaborator; Rohde is right; Ceku’s reaction was pathetic

The head of Simon Wiesenthal proud of helping stop the restoration of Xhafer Deva’s house

Ceku: We won’t give up on the restoration of Xhafer Deva’s house, the false narrative came from Serbia

UNDP and the EU put on hold the restoration of Xhafer Deva’s house

Pacolli: Deva protected the Jews; an avalanche of negative reactions to the statement of the German ambassador

German ambassador on Xhafer Deva’s house restoration: This is memory culture the wrong way

The EU and UNDP concerned over the controversy surrounding Xhafer Deva’s house and are working on alternatives

The case of the house of Xhafer Deva – Cultural heritage of Mitrovica as a Driver for Intercommunity Dialogu

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