- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2000

The Kosovars have held their first local election since Slobodan Milosevic's invasion. Democracy has won sort of. Of course, it's not every day that a paramilitary leader who spent the last year organizing a bit of ethnic cleansing of his own faces-off against a more moderate, ethnic Albanian politician. And slightly different than in American elections, those who stood in the way of the guerrilla leader's agenda were not slandered on talk shows, but were killed or wounded. In the end, the Kosovars told Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci they were tired of war. In his stead, they welcomed the party of Ibrahim Rugova.

With the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) stamp of approval on the election results as free and fair, Mr. Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo had to give up its seats in most of Kosovo's major cities, including its capital of Pristina. But Mr. Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo (DLK) will not be able to honeymoon for long. Newly elected Yugoslavian President Vojislav Kostunica, who wants to block independence for Kosovo, is already offering to meet with the victors. The DLK will need a strategy to deal with Belgrade that will last until all of Kosovo's governing institutions are in place.

With the United Nations as substitute leader in a province in search of its identity, interim democratic institutions will need to be built quickly to ensure the survival of a moderate solution to the province's instability. The ethnic Albanian population is actively lobbying for independence, and could return to violence if their voice is not heard. Western countries may have less incentive to come to their aid in a post-Milosevic era, but they cannot afford to turn their backs on the Kosovars now that the new nationalist administration of Mr. Kostunica is in place.

The Kosovars have lost their homes, their families, and much of their independence. Saturday they chose to take a step towards a more stable future by electing the voice of moderation. Now they should be rewarded, not abandoned.

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