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Letter of distress

Vesna Terselic

This word -- nevolja (meaning distress, trouble, affliction) -- is haunting me. In Croatian means lack of will; it suggest also somebody who is not loved. Seems to be that lack of will comes from general feeling of powerlessness. Or it is maybe other way around? It is describing very well place from where I am coming from. The place from which I do want to move on, and distance myself. At same time I want to change it. This letter helps me to think. I will therefore not speak about Balkan or South Eastern Europe - the newest euphemism which is supposed to comfort us because of stigma linked with anything connected with Balkan - I will speak about our common distress.

In 1985 I was in Brezovica, at the bottom of the Sar mountain. In Kosova. A few years after the student demonstrations in Pristina. During the meeting at the Faculty of philosophic sciences, at which the police was following every spoken word, going back to my hotel room, I have startled two policemen digging through my things. I asked them what they were doing.

They have responded: "We have come because of the leak in the bathroom." The fact that I replied how I have not noticed any leak did not seem to upset them. They supposed that it is enough polite to offer any kind of excuse for their snooping around the room. They have searched the other rooms as well. During the discussions in the conference room we tried to overcome our own discomfort by laughing. We have puffed ourselves with spite and fearlessness. The difference between us and all the participants from Kosovo was only in the fact, that most of us went back to our homes and could follow only from a distance how things are getting worse. Those who were living there did not have a choice.

It was 1987 or 1988. We got off from Pec towards Prokletije. Since then I have not walked through the mountains of a remarkable name (meaning damned mountains) situated between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. I remember how it was difficult to get any kind of map of that territory. And I remember as well that we needed a special permit. Along the way on a wind-swept area, we have met some shepherds who would ask us a hundred and one police questions: "Where do you come from? What business brings you here? " Not only out of curiosity, rather out of official duty. They were doing their job. Women in mountain huts eager for conversation were feeding us with cheese and milk and were dreaming of a world they have not learned about. They have traveled a few times a year. With the sheep. From the village to the mountain and back.

They had no choice.

Then I stopped at the bottom of Bogdas; of gray rock and an unusually symmetrical peak, without any trees and with the traces of eternal snow. I have not climbed it. I would have had to turn off my track. And waste/spend two or three valuable hours. I have only said: "Next time", although the peak looked especially alluring. There might not be another time. Only refugees and armies are passing Prokletije now - because they have to - because they do not have any other choice.

Last summer I was in Pristina and was lucky not to talk to any policeman from any police patrol. The space of choices has indescribably narrowed. As much as the breathing-space can be narrowed under racist pressure. I can't even think of what is was like to suffer the fear all these years. After the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina, the war stirred up where, in my opinion it started - on Kosovo. The human rights violations of the Albanians were getting more horrible. I have stood for international mediation and a protectorate.

When I returned to Zagreb, the days were passing more or less with unsuccessful strains to get Croatia make possible for people from Serbia and Kosovo - who have stood for peace for years - to participate in the conference "Choosing peace together". [After long talks with the Ministry of internal affairs, many of our friends were not allowed to come.] Because they were working on the restoration of communication for years. Because the police from Croatia and Serbia was still CO-operating nicely.

I wanted for something to move, for space to be opened, for all of us to get out of the cramp that has taken hold of us for so many stop the long slow sustaining deterioration.

But I have not thought that NATO would decide for such type of action. I did not want them to put all the Albanians into a trap, and along with them all those who have ever dared to speak out against Milosevic. I hear this sentence often these days. I have hopped that the ones in power would react years ago, during the time when Albanian men and women were still nonviolently resisting. But then the whole worry of the international institutions has reduced on the documenting and counting of human rights violations.


When NATO decided to react and went ahead with the bombing - I was not convinced by Clinton's speeches.

I am asking myself constantly what do they want to be accomplished? And how does NATO measure the success of a military action?

The first mentioned goal at the beginning of the NATO bombing was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. And to make MIlosevic to sign the Rambouillet agreement.

Afterwards president Clinton pointed out that Milosevic would pay a high price. I don't care how high a price Milosevic will pay. Of course I want to see him in court in Haag, but what I am really interested in is how many people will pay with their lives or exile.

Then he started talking about the war between Serbia and the NATO forces, then about the war between the NATO forces and Milosevic. The agreement was not mentioned anymore, at least not in the statements of the NATO forces representatives.

An article in the last issue of "The Economist" starts with "War with Milosevic". Is the goal of the NATO forces to knock down Milosevic?

Or is the goal something else, a third option....

The refugees are now in Macedonia and Albania. Will this rock the fragile balance of these poor countries?

Legalization and Legitimacy

I suppose that NATO has no cover for the action in international conventions, for the Security Council of United Nations has not adopted any special resolution

before the attack, but has only concluded post festum that the action is legal. However, it's a fact that the action did not get the support of the government of Russia, nor China, nor India, and these governments represent almost 40% of the world's population ( and at least two governments got the support at the elections). Inspite of the fact that the world organization has declared that the action is legal, according to the existing system of international law, the action is not legal.However I know as well that NATO reacted after huge international pressure. Numerous governments, non-governmental organizations and the public, whose opinion is seen in the analysis of public opinion, agree that the action is legitimate.

I consider the action not legal. It was legitimate to act. Certainly NATO had legitimacy to act but not on this way. For years I was waiting on response of international institutions. But not such one.

What is actually going on?

The view naturally depends on the position of the observer.

As much as information I receive, from not so numerous sources, inform me, from Zagreb it looks like progressive demolition of complete infrastructure of FRY. Of military objects, bridges, telecommunications, water systems.

Military objects but also of all things which make life easier. From drinkable water to travel.

At the same time Serbian army and police make Kosovo Albanians leave their homes. It looks as they've reached the critical point and forced out more than 60% of population and exposed themselves more to NATO attacks.

Albanians who are still in Kosova are hostages. Even if they want to leave, Serbian forces now let them out one by one. They add crimes onto crimes.

Ethnical cleansing is in action. A few years ago I'd use the word genocide, but let's let the Int. Court in Haag decide on that.

I telephone a lot. Sometimes I reach somebody. Either in Belgrade or in Tetovo or in Sombor. The voice bridges kilometers. And ofted I don't know what to say. I just want to be at the other side of the line for some people i love. But for days now there are no voices from Pristina. Just silence. Deadly.

It is important for me to stay in contact with people I worked with in the past. We have managed to support each others during different wars and encouraged ourselves in moments when it seemed as if solidarity has vanished and that there's no more chance for a decent living.

Responsibility for what was done

The biggest responsibility is on Slobodan Milosevic's regime. But I think that we can't deny the responsibility for crimes committed in the name of Serbian cause which falls on all citizens of Yugoslavia which haven't directly objected to oppression of Albanians.

New factor is that for the current wave of refugees is responsible NATO because by taking action they have taken responsibility as well. I don't doubt their intentions but are actions to be judged only by that. What is important to evaluate the success is to simply take a look at the mission's goal. If they wanted to accomplish their first stated goal then they've failed. Refugees in Albania and Macedonia live in impossible conditions. If they wanted to destroy Milosevic, then they're far from it. It looks like the whole Serbia has gathered around Milosevic in their wish to resist NATO attacks. Milosevic has silenced independent media, civil initiatives have lost their voice in Serbia.

Who is responsible for the future of Kosovo?

The problem couldn't be solved only within Yugoslavia. It was almost impossible to find a common point between Albanian claims for independent state (from which they were prepared to back off when they've signed the Rambouillet agreement) and Serbian ones for territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. Albanians have though showed that they're prepared to negotiate.

And Milosevic's regime has once again showed that it won't step down from it `s position without the use of force. But I think that there were more answers to the question "What kind of force" than the one NATO is presenting now.

With calls for an international intervention Albanians have put their hopes in the hands of international institutions. Now when more than half of Kosovo Albanians have fled from Kosovo, and silenced Serbian civil initiatives can't raise their voice through censured media, the responsibility for their future has mainly fallen into the hands of different international institutions.

This sort of responsibility NATO certainly won't and now even can't put aside.

NATO, a military association by definition, has taken a political role as well. Since other institutions are silent, only political consequences of a military action "speak". And NATO spokesman as well. In that way NATO becomes a key actor in Balkan politics.

It is not completely clear which political goal was supposed to be accomplished through he bombing. Besides, it is not on NATO to define this goal. It is time for United Nations (the only legitimate world's organization responsible for peace building operations - no matter what we think of their efficiency) to have a say. It is time for Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and European Parliament to say something. It is time for European Commission as well. And not with a couple of options what Milosevic should sign. What if he doesn't sign anything?

If NATO has used the war in Bosnian and Herzegovina for it's transformation and according to that it's own mission - UN, OSCE, EP and EC can do that as well. The peace building test can be a challenge which will reshape rusty institutions without which 21st century will be very hard.

Only with the help of international institutions conditions for building human relations and trust can be built. Is war machinery the only thing world can provide?