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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

On The Record to report on civil society amid the Kosovo crisis

Excerpts from Internet traffic show that civil society struggles, but survives.

The crisis in Kosovo is changing the face of civil society in the region, according to a new series of the E-letter, On the Record.

The series, which will shortly be sent out to subscribers by The Advocacy Project, will start by excerpting previously unpublished reports and personal accounts from Internet traffic. This will be developed and expanded into a series of profiles of civil society in the region once funding is secured from donors. The second phase will also involve working with others to help Albanian groups make better use of the Internet and broaden their contacts abroad. This is one of the goals of The Advocacy Project.

The series is being compiled and edited by Teresa Crawford, a founding member of the Advocacy Project who was arrested by the Serbian authorities in 1998 while working in Prishtina with Kosovar peace groups.

Like others, Crawford was impressed and inspired by the alternative "parallel" society that was constructed by Albanians in Kosovo after provincial autonomy was revoked in 1989. In an introduction to the series, Crawford writes that these autonomous structures also fueled the demand for independence: "These autonomous structures were developed by ordinary people, even if they were funded in large part by the diaspora community. It meant that Kosovars began to see themselves in a democratic political environment. This helped to change the demand for autonomy into one of independence."

While not disputing the brutality of the Serbian crack-down, and the devastation it has caused to civil society inside and outside Kosovo, the first issue also shows that Albanians and their friends are responding to the crisis with courage and initiative in the refugee camps and in private homes:

"We are learning of women helping other women. There is the woman who was blocked at the border for 24 hours before being able to leave Kosovo. Once in Macedonia, she contacted the local Macedonian Albanian Women's Organization. Within days, they had a clinic open. There are the two women from the United States, who rescued another woman's 84-year-old mother in law from the camps and paid for the rent of a clinic with money collected in the United States. There is the group of former women journalists who are organizing to go out and interview refugees in private homes in the south of Macedonia and sell their stories to news services to avoid becoming dependent."

"There is the man in Tirana who is helping women organize within the National Albanian Farmers Union. There is the 24-year-old Albanian-American woman who (with her father) has started the "Kosova Humanitarian Aid Organization" and is sending two teams to Macedonia and Albania to distribute aid and register the names of refugees in a database. Then there is "Women 4 Women," an organization that originally started working with women in Bosnia, and is now opening an office in Tirana."

These examples underscore the fact that civil society is never completely destroyed by a crisis. More important, it often rises, Phoenix- like, from the ruins in a different form to play an important role in reconstruction. This has happened in many other war-torn societies, from Bosnia to Rwanda, and the current crisis will prove no exception. In the meantime, however, international agencies and foreign governments must do more to identify and nurture the seeds of self-help, even as they struggle to provide basic emergency aid.

This series is one of two new initiatives by The Advocacy Project to inform our subscribers about the efforts of civil society in the Balkans to build something amidst the chaos and carnage. Peter Lippman, who was also arrested and expelled with Crawford in Kosovo last year, has spent the last six months visiting communities in Bosnia, and trying to understand why so few refugees have managed to return home. His dispatches will be available to subscribers and posted on the Project's webpage, early in May. They present a unique community-based portrait of one of the key elements in the Dayton peace package.

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Source: The Advocacy Project

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