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WRI's involvement in Kosov@

WRI has been working on the question of Kosovo (or Kosova as Albanians prefer to say) since its loss of autonomy in 1989-90. In 1990 we discussed forming an international contingent to join in some of the events being organised by the new nonviolent movement among the Albanian population there, and in 1992 we planned to hold a seminar in Kosovo with the Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms in Prishtina on "nonviolent action for human rights". Unfortunately this was aborted as the Council felt it would be too dangerous to proceed. A similar seminar was envisaged even as late as May 1998, in a last attempt to reinvigorate the nonviolent strategy, but was cancelled as being "too late".

WRI has six main forms of engagement with Kosovo:

  • through the Balkan Peace Team, which WRI was instrumental in setting up;
  • through our Belgrade affiliate, Women in Black, one of the organisations in Serbia widely respected by Kosovo Albanians;
  • through the support the WRI office has given to applications for asylum from Kosovo Albanians;
  • through the support WRI provides to solicitors representing Serbians seeking asylum abroad to avoid the draft to war in Kosovo
  • through our participation in the Committee for Conflict Transformation Support, which is co-operating with the Richardson Institute at the University of Lancaster in organising dialogue workshops between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians
  • through personal contact with certain individuals and groups in Kosovo.

In addition, there are WRI associates - in particular in France and in Italy - which have been trying to develop strategies for action in Kosovo.

Balkan Peace Team

The Balkan Peace Team has been working to promote Albanian-Serbian dialogue at an unofficial level in Kosovo since the end of 1994. This team normally consists of three volunteers, each making a minimum commitment of one year. We hope to expand to two teams in September 1999. This is small-scale and long-term work. Yet even in the conditions of war that exist, there is scope for dialogue. The team is about to begin to produce monthly public reports. These will be available by email from the international office of the Balkan Peace Team in Minden.

Women in Black

Women in Black has had women from Prishtina participating in its annual gatherings since 1994, and in the last two or three years its contacts in Kosovo have multiplied, with regular visits. Women in Black was one of the three anti-war organisations threatened by vice-premier Seselj in the Serbian parliament last September: it is co-operating with other small groups in Belgrade, such as the Anti-War Campaign and Otpor (Resist), to try to build up opposition to Milosevic's policy. Unfortunately they remain isolated.

The Nonviolent Struggle in Kosovo

The nonviolent struggle in Kosovo was based on two ideas:
  • to refuse to be provoked into violent retaliation by Serb police, etc.;
  • to maintain Albanian social structures, particularly the parallel education system, which involved some 20,000 teachers and 300,000 pupils and teachers.

This struggle has been criticised by some advocates of nonviolence because it was nationalist in purpose, and because it was not based on a nonviolent attitude towards the Serbian community. However, what needs to be recognised is the enormous self-restraint exercised by the population in not responding violently to police repression, and the enormous social solidarity through which they have supported each other in adversity.

In 1997, the students' union (UPSUP) - criticising this as a strategy of "passive nonviolence" - proposed an alternative strategy of "active nonviolence". They organised a series of nonviolent protests in an effort to reclaim the University buildings from which they had been excluded. Unfortunately, their effort to rekindle a more active nonviolence was overtaken by events.

Most Albanians in Kosovo now favour international military intervention - whether these Albanians favour president Ibrahim Rugova, or whether they favour the Liberation Army, or whether they manage to combine support for both, as many do. However, there are also a growing number interested in a civil society approach to peace-building. While their work cannot bring an end to the violence in the short term, it is essential in the long term construction of peace, and warrants support.

Another sign of hope for the longer term future of Kosovo is the attitude taken by the Orthodox Church leaders there, especially Father Sava of the Decan Monastery. Part of the Serb attachment to Kosovo is based on the presence of some 1200 Orthodox religious sites there. Unlike a previous generation of Orthodox leaders, who helped whip up fury against the Albanians throughout Serbia, Sava is working for co-existence and peace, and has been involved in delivering aid to both communities. He is committed to keep the Orthodox Church alive in Kosovo whoever governs there.

In several countries, there have been proposals for peace convoys to take humanitarian aid to Kosovo. This kind of proposal was discussed intensely at the WRI Triennial conference, held in Croatia in September. People from the Balkans were especially critical of this kind of drama: their experience was that the foreigners intervening rarely consulted thoroughly with local people, and were often doing something for "home consumption". In the event, the presence of so many humanitarian agencies in Kosovo, and of the largest mission of unarmed "verifiers" that any intergovernmental body has ever deployed, makes this discussion a bit beside the point.

The WRI Triennial adopted a statement on Kosovo.

The pressure which WRI suggests should be applied to Milosevic is the pressure of saying that, through the atrocities it has committed in Kosovo, the Serbian regime has forfeited any claim it may have had to rule Kosovo. Whereas economic sanctions tend to have the effect of hardening the support for Milosevic in Serbia, the political sanction of withdrawing recognition hits Milosevic's weakpoint on Kosovo: that his regime's policy cannot "save" Kosovo for Serbia, but on the contrary have cost Serbia what influence it may have.

At the same time, there has to be clarity about the Liberation Army. This Army has not been able to protect villages, but actually has provoked attacks against them. Moreover, it has then arrested local leaders who have opposed its presence. It is hard to put pressure on such a body, especially because its central command structure is much weaker than it would like, but there has been progress in making it observe certain humanitarian standards, for instance in handing over prisoners to international bodies.

Read the full statement here.

So to sum up what people can do:

  • to support civil society groups in Kosovo;
  • to support those in Serbia working for peace;
  • to support ongoing work to ensure asylum for Serb draft evaders
  • to urge a long-term commitment to Kosovo through support of development programmes which respond not just to the impact of the recent war, but to the longer term maldevelopment of Kosovo;
  • to support the right of Kosovo Albanians to asylum, and to develop training and other programmes for those in exile to help them play a bigger role in social reconstruction on their return;
  • to tell governments not to insist that the ultimate solution to the situation has to be found inside the frontiers of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but instead to call for an open negotiating and consultation process which does not rule out any constitutional settlement that has the support of those who live in Kosovo and which guarantees the rights of minority communities in Kosovo.