Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis
Balkan Peace Team
Monthly Report #06 (July 15 - August 15)
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I. Work of the team
II. Observations & impressions
III. Team update
I. Work of the team
The last month included a week long trip to Kosov@ with Pax Christi Flanders as well as preparations to move back to Kosovo in the first week of August and Albanian language classes. The majority of our work in Kosov@ has been to re- establish an office and reconnect with people.
Our week with Pax Christi was mostly spent in Pristina but with one day touring through the Drenica region in central Kosov@. The week proved quite productive in meeting activists both new and familiar with BPT and proved illuminating of the overall situation in Kosov@ 2 months after the peace agreement.
Director of Youth (Provisional Government):
We met with Ardian K. former UPSUP member and now a part of the Provisional Government's Ministry for Youth and Sport. Ardian expressed a lot of enthusiasm for his projects that ranged from a three day rave party to a Peace Parade based on Berlin's Love Parade to setting up four radio stations throughout Kosov@. The Students' Union in Pristina would use one radio station with the other three being set up in other towns across Kosov@. During our meeting he continually expressed the need for people to "forget the consequences of war." Ardian also talked about the need of the younger generations to take power and that the older generation was "only interested in the chair, not in creativity." We found this to be a common theme amongst young people in Kosov@.
Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF):
The Council is open again and the current work is focused on the Albanian prisoners in Serbia and researching atrocities. It's unclear how much of CDHRF's large network of volunteers through out Kosov@ will remain intact. They do not know where many are and expect that many will now try to get jobs with NGO's or IO's (a similar situation for many local NGO's). They have published statements on the looting of private property since KFOR's deployment and on the recent killing of 14 Serbs in Staro Gradsko. Their long-term plans include working on the protection of minorities and are now strategizing on how to encourage the minority population to file complaints with them.
The SOS Center is a local initiative started shortly after the KFOR deployment to take complaints (mostly Serb) and refer them to KFOR. They've developed a very good relationship with KFOR and have received requests to open up similar centers in other parts of Pristina as well as Kosov@. The Center is run on a volunteer basis without any funding. We promised to put them in touch with some funding bodies once we had settled in Pristina.
Radio Kontakt / Civic House Pristina:
Radio Kontakt has been reformed as part of an initiative undertaken by Yugoslav Action (a coalition of several Yugoslav NGO's formed during the time of the bombing) and the Forum for Sustainable Communities and Development (FOSCODE). The Civic House has a broad scope that includes civil society development and establishing multi-ethnic dialogue. Radio Kontakt, which has yet to begin broadcasting, is one project under the Civic House umbrella. Radio Kontakt's programs will aim to promote tolerance, civil society and democracy. The broadcast will mainly be in Serbian but will include news in Albanian as well. Specifically they will have programs on nonviolent conflict mitigation, human rights education, and Albanian language lessons to name a few.
We had a meeting with Aferdita K. and discussed what projects they are hoping to develop. The radio station is already up and broadcasting. They are to continue their media training program for women and see the empowerment of women as a high priority within Kosov@. We also discussed the issue of trauma within the population and the need to address this.
Center for Peace and Tolerance (CPT):
We were put in contact with CPT through the European Community Monitoring Mission. They are a Belgrade based NGO that started working in Kosov@ on June 15. The have offices in Pristina, Prizren, Mitrovica, Obilic, and Lipljan. In their Pristina office they operate a hotline for people (mostly Serbs, but Roma use it as well) to call in if being harassed. They have developed a close working relationship with KFOR who has assigned a liaison person to work with them. They forward the complaints onto KFOR who then follow up. They have also been publishing a daily bulletin in English summarizing the calls that they have received throughout Kosov@. They've also recently opened up a clinic in the building but have been having difficulties keeping it stocked with medicines. They voiced a need to work more with NGOs but feel that they cannot leave the building, which is under heavy KFOR protection. BPT informed them of the weekly NGO coordination meetings and encouraged them to attend and p resent their work and ask for support from other NGOs.
Albanian Youth Action (AYA):
AYA has re-grouped and is working closely with an Italian volunteer service NGO on projects in two villages working with women and children. They will also restart their leisure time activities in Pristina soon with English lessons, library, sports, etc.
Center for the Protection of Women and Children:
The Center has reopened in Pristina and has plans to open another 14 centers throughout Kosov@. Their focus will continue to be health issues for women and children. They stressed that they are open to serving all women and children of Kosov@, not just Albanians. They also talked about plans for a mobile human rights education workshop. Since the Center has no functioning phone lines, BPT has been assisting the center in remaking contact with some past donors.
The Post Pessimists are searching for new premises and equipment as all their computers were either stolen or destroyed. Currently they have a temporary meeting space provided by KFOR. They are well organized and very active and already have undertaken a project to clean up and beautify the piazza which is part of the sports complex in the center of Pristina. They hope to have 2000 children involved in the project. The Post Pessimists have had a lot of attention thrust upon them recently which culminated in a meeting with Tony Blair when he visited Pristina.
2. Trip to Drenica Region and Prizren:
One day during our week in Kosov@ with Pax Christi was spent on a visit to the Drenica region of central Kosov@ and to Prizren. On the trip were two Albanian University students who had previously attended Pax Christi workshops, an activist from the Women in Black in Belgrade along with Pax Christi and BPT. Our first stop was at the Gracanica Monastery just outside of Pristina to meet with Fr. Sava a young Orthodox Priest who has been quite outspoken against the violence in Kosov@. Unfortunately he was in the middle of another meeting and given the long day ahead we did not get a chance to meet with him that day.
We were surprised at all the activity we saw in the town of Malishevo, a site of much violence in the last year. The main road leading into and out of the town was completely clogged with people and vehicles busy with the market day. In the middle of this all was a Russian soldier trying to direct traffic to no avail.
In Orahovac we first stopped to speak with some Dutch KFOR soldiers. Orahovac is one of the towns in Kosov@ with a large enclave of Serb IDPs. We had been given a few names of Serbs to contact by a Serb human rights activist from Pristina. The Dutch soldiers told us that one of the names on our list was someone being investigated by the ICTY. Before heading up into the enclave we stopped by the so-called Provisional Government building to try to meet with some UÇK (Kosova Liberation Army) officials. We entered the building in the middle of a dispute between a Dutch KFOR officer and the officials over their flying of the Skanderbeg Eagle (a.k.a. the Albanian flag). The Dutch KFOR officer refused to enter the building while the flag was being flown. Eventually the flag was removed and the meeting was held but not without some negative comments from the UÇK. This scene made us ask what the point was of making an issue over a flag when there were clearly more important things to be dealt with such as demilitarizing the UÇK.
In the enclave we met with a group of around 100 Serb IDPs from Orahovac and the surrounding villages. They were confined to, along with some Roma, in one part of the town. We met in a former supermarket that had been converted into a medical dispensary and infirmary. Outside were several tractors and carts piled high with belongings from people who had come in from the surrounding villages. Many expressed a desire to leave Kosov@ and go to Montenegro or Serbia and voiced frustration at UNHCR's slowness in helping them to leave. There has been a rash of kidnappings in the town and they gave us a list of 14 people who had gone missing. They said they had given the list to KFOR but they had not responded yet. On our way out of town we stopped by the KFOR base and reported it. The officer on duty mentioned that this was the sixth time he had received the list and that they were investigating it. All the people we spoke with felt that they had been victimized "by all the world: Milosevic, KFOR, and the NGOs". When asked what they thought about atrocities committed against Albanians they seemed to be in a state of denial about what had happened over the course of the last year.
The last stop of the day was in Prizren to pay a quick visit to the Bishop of Kosov@ and deliver a message of solidarity from Pax Christi. In our conversation we asked what he saw for possibilities for beginning a process towards reconciliation. Like many people he felt that there was a tremendous amount of aggression in the people but that it was also too early to speak about reconciliation or a peace building process.
II. Observations & impressions:
Since our first visit back to Pristina / Kosov@ in June things have moved on at a rapid pace. Most of the changes have been positive as the Kosovar Albanians return from the surrounding countries to reclaim their lives and start the rebuilding process. Most of our observations are based on what we see around us in Pristina. As you walk through the streets it's great to see the vitality of the people as they set about re- opening their shops, cafes and bars and rebuilding their damaged homes and properties. On the streets cigarette sellers (mostly young boys) and numerous black market traders selling anything from UÇK souvenirs, Coca-Cola to petrol confront you. The markets are well stocked with basic food items and clothing and it is possible to buy certain luxury items although it's more expensive here than in surrounding countries. The preferred currency is the German Mark but the Yugoslav dinar is also still used. In the evenings the main street is closed off to motorized traffic and thousands of young people parade up and down. It's a wonderful sight to see as the people rejoice in their newfound freedom and a complete contrast to before the war and the time of curfews and fear.
Everywhere you travel in Kosov@ you are constantly reminded of the huge military presence in the area, be it the vehicle convoys or the troops patrolling the streets.
There is also a huge influx of internationals / NGOs into Kosov@ (currently approx. 190) which is having a big effect on the local economy as many local people gain employment as drivers or interpreters and property rents spiral upwards. There are ongoing problems with the utility services with frequent electrical power cuts and lack of water. Communication is a major problem in Kosov@. The telephone system is in a state of chaos. This is due to a combination of a dated and neglected telecommunication system plus the damage caused by the NATO bombing campaign.
Unfortunately there is also a dark and negative side to life in Kosov@ as criminal activity and ethnic tensions continue. Murders and revenge attacks on Serbs, Roma and other ethnic minorities are committed daily. In Pristina attacks on elderly and isolated Serbs - mainly women - are a major problem for the KFOR troops. Recently there was a report of an elderly woman who was shot in the face when she went to answer her front door, the gunshot apparently went through the door. Much of the harassment and intimidation is reported to be carried out by Albanian youths. There is reported to be a leveling off of house fires and attacks on churches. But grenade attacks and gunshots on Serbian houses and premises continue. This intimidation and harassment has forced many to leave Pristina / Kosov@. We have heard estimates that only 700 to 2000 Serbs are left in Pristina out of a previous population of 40 000. According to UNHCR figures for early August more than 164 000 Serbs have left Kosov@ altogether.
The level of violence and criminal activity has led KFOR to issue safety warnings to internationals working in the area and advise people to adopt a voluntary curfew. Its appears that the violence increases after 10pm and is at its worst after midnight. According to the ECMM, there are 200 criminal incidents a day in Pristina including around 2-3 murders. It is unclear if the violence is part of a co- ordinated strategy, the work of rogue elements within the UÇK or individuals seeking revenge. Also as the surrounding borders with Albania and Macedonia are so porous at the moment many criminal elements (organized crime) from other countries are allegedly operating within Kosov@. UÇK uniforms can be bought easily and cheaply on the black market and it is thought that many of the uniformed Albanians intimidating the population are criminals parading around in fake UÇK uniforms.
Recently there have been several attacks on KFOR personnel. There have been attacks on Russian, French and Danish troops. This appears to be a deliberate challenge to the transitional international authorities by elements within the Albanian community. The KFOR commander Michael Jackson recently said that the attacks suggested that the UÇK commanders are losing whatever control they had of hard-liners within its ranks. There are also other issues that affect the relationship between the local population and the UN. The most serious is the issue of the Albanian political prisoners still held within Serbia. Regular demonstrations are held in Pristina to highlight their plight and put pressure on the international community, though there is very little they can do. Another issue is the ownership of buildings. BPT has witnessed a demonstration outside the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) headquarters by private shareholders and previous residents of the Yugobank building. They claim that the occupation of the building by the OSCE is illegal as it belongs to them and is not state property. The level of violence and the lack of a legal infrastructure to deal with criminals is the biggest challenge to the UN. UN Civilian Police have been arriving in large numbers, European lawyers have been reviewing the Yugoslav penal code and plan to bring it up to European standards for use in Kosov@, and judges and court administrators are being appointed and trained to resume their work. All this is happening quickly, given the situation but not quick enough to reduce the level of crime and violence in Kosov@. For the moment KFOR continues to be the sole security force in Kosov@ but lacks the personnel with the appropriate training in law enforcement to meet the needs.
The running joke in Pristina is to talk about the "four governments of Kosov@." These governments include the UNMIK headed by Bernard Kuchner, The Provisional Government headed by Hashim Thaçi, the former government in exile now in Pristina headed by Bujar Bukoshi, and the Milosevic installed government now operating under heavy KFOR protection in Pristina. This is excluding the inactive governments of Rugova and the pre-1989 communists ousted when Kosov@ lost its autonomous status. The Provisional Government is the most organized of Kosovar governments with an extensive set of Ministries and is organized down to the municipal level. The sole decision making power, however, lies with the UN. A Transitional Council was established by UNMIK in June to try and resolve disputes between the political factions within the Albanian community and get them working together. The first meeting, slated for June, was postponed due to Rugova's boycott of the body. Various sources report that a second attempt has been scheduled and Rugova is planning to participate. Rugova's prolonged absence from Kosov@ and refusal to work with the other Kosovar political factions has led to an erosion of his support and growing personal criticism of him.
Status of Kosov@ Prisoners in Serbia:
The Humanitarian Law Center Estimates that there are around 6,000 prisoners from Kosov@ in various prisons throughout Serbia. Most of these prisoners were transferred from Kosov@ shortly before the Serb Security forces retreated from Kosov@ in mid-June.
Pax Christi, via the Belgian government, was able to arrange for a meeting with Albin Kurti (former UPSUP Vice President and Aide to Adem Demaçi) who is now being held in Pozarevac. Albin said that he was being treated okay since being transferred from Lipljan Prison to Kosov@. The prisoners were getting fed three times a day, he was able sleep at night and got a three hour rest period each day. Along with the rest of the prisoners from Kosov@ he has yet to be charged and tried. In a meeting with the prison director, Pax Christi learned that the court system had been moved from Pristina to Pozarevac and would begin trying cases at some time in the near future. Apparently the prison guards from Kosov@ have also been transferred to these prisons. According to the HLC Pozarevac is by far the best prison in Serbia. Many of the others are experiencing food shortages with prisoners only getting one meal a day.
Potential for Cross Community Dialogue and Peace- Building Processes:
As we look to redefining our future work in Kosov@ we have asked many people what they thought of the possibilities for cross community dialogue or other aspects in a peace building process. Many Albanians feel that the Albanian people are still too raw and that they need time to heal and rebuild their lives before they can begin talking about making peace with the Serbs. But as violence continues to escalate not only against minorities but also against Albanians the need to begin to deal with the impacts of the violence of the recent past is critical. One of the most important steps in the peace process for the immediate future is the need for Serbs to acknowledge what has happened to the Albanian people in Kosov@ over the course of the last several months, last year and last ten years. Without this there is very little hope that the situation will change for the better. Though formal dialogue between Serbs and Albanians is not be possible at the moment, our travels with an activist from Montenegro lead us to believe that there are possibilities to be pursued on a small-scale informal level. Though some that we spoke to about this even voiced concerns which were largely based on security for the Serbs but also for themselves and the response they would get from other Albanians if any contact were made public. We were surprised at the number of people who are interested in dialogue, but we are left with many contradictory opinions and the impression that dialogue will be, at best, tricky to navigate in the near future, but is a possibility.
One possibility is to formulate projects working solely within the Albanian community that address the violence that has riddled people's lives and gives them the skills to break the cycle of violence. Such programs need to be primarily directed at young people.
IV. Team update
In August Robert Sautter joined the BPT FRY team so we are again a full team of three volunteers. Robert is currently undergoing an introduction to BPT and life in the field as a team member. Robert has arrived at an interesting and challenging time for BPT and we all look forward to working together.
Source: Balkan Peace Team
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