Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis
Balkan Peace Team
Monthly Report 4 - April-May 1999
1. Leaving Yugoslavia
2. Speaking Tour
3. Trip to Macedonia and Hungary
II. TRIP TO MACEDONIA 1. Overview
3. Renewing our contacts / reorganisation of Kosov@ NGO's
4. Macedonian NGO's
III. TRIP TO HUNGARY
2. Refugees / CO's / Military Deserters
3. Renewing contacts
4. Hungarian NGO's
5. International NGO's
1. Future work of BPT - the next 4 months
2. Political Impasse in Kosov@
3. Future of Kosov@
The work of the Balkan Peace Team in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia continued in Belgrade and Pristina until the first day of the NATO bombing. The escalation of violence in Kosov@, the unsuccessful attempts to force a peace agreement at Rambouillet and the continuing threats of military intervention by NATO were indications of the climate of our last few months in Yugoslavia.
We knew that our decision to leave would separate us from our contacts and friends, who didn't have a choice to go or stay. Therefore, the act of leaving was a risk to the continuity of trust and confidence that BPT had developed over the years. But we also realised that our presence could become a liability to local activists who associated with us. The decision came quite suddenly, when on March 23rd, the one independent radio station, B-92, was cut off the air and at the same moment both our land line phone and our mobile phone went dead. This sense of isolation in the atmosphere of growing fear and violence was strong enough to prompt our final decision. The next day the team left the office, taking only what they could manage to carry out quickly and hoping for a quick return.
2. Speaking Tour
Since we could not continue our work in Yugoslavia for the time being, we felt the best thing we could do as a way to stay connected was to conduct a speaking tour. On such a tour we could tell people in Western Europe about the work we had been supporting in Yugoslavia and the many activists, who had been developing civil society, building at the grass roots and choosing alternatives to violence. We felt it important to speak about the cross community and civil society work that has been going on since 1994 (when BPT first started) in both Serbia and Kosov@. We wanted to provide a more accurate picture of Serbia and Kosov@ than people in Europe had been receiving in the news. We also wanted to alert people to the e-mail communications still coming from activists in Yugoslavia.
Over a period of three weeks, we spoke in 20 cities and towns in Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain. The main impression that we got from our speaking tour was the confusion and dismay about the NATO bombing. We were glad to have had the opportunity to connect with so many people, who were eager to hear the news from inside Yugoslavia. And the trip deepened our understanding of the kinds of work going on in Europe by peace groups and at the political level.
3. Trip to Macedonia and Hungary
By the end of April, there was still no indication that the war would end anytime soon. The western press was increasingly bellicose and the humanitarian disaster, supposedly averted by NATO's military actions, had mushroomed into total destruction of Serbian infrastructure, and into ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians. There was a public call, particularly from Tony Blair, that NATO would not be able to win the war from the air alone, that it was time to prepare for the deployment of ground troops.
We had lost contact with many people, especially from Kosov@ as soon as the bombing started. It was still possible to contact people via phone and e-mail in the rest of Yugoslavia, but even that was sketchy at best. We knew that we could be putting people at risk, even with the best of intentions, with our phone calls. The Serb government controlled the press completely, and intensified attacks on activists and opposition groups. The murder of the editor of Dnevni Telegraf in front of his apartment in mid-April was a strong sign to opposition minded Serbs of the price to be paid for raising a voice critical of the Milosevic regime. We had heard rumours of people leaving for either Montenegro or Hungary (particularly Budapest).
We also heard word from Kosov@ of the assassination of Bajram Kelmendi, a prominent human rights lawyer in Pristina, and also of the arrest of two well known activists from Pristina that we had had regular contact with: Flora Brovina and Albin Kurti. Even now, no one knows for certain where they are, but it is expected that they were transferred to a prison in Serbia.
Knowing that so many Kosovar Albanians had been displaced and having only sporadic contact with those we knew in Serbia, we began to plan the next steps for BPT. We wanted to reconnect with people, to see how they were, what they had gone through, and also to hear what their thoughts were for the future, especially the future of Yugoslavia. Knowing that so much had changed since the bombing began, BPT needed to find out, first hand, from the people we worked with what possibilities they saw for continuing to pursue alternatives to violence. In the wave of such tremendous violence we knew that to pursue such thoughts was a very delicate matter. We did not have high expectations.
Having worked in and with the Serbian and Albanian communities and being committed to a non- partisan viewpoint, we felt it essential to go to the places where people had fled to since the bombing began. Macedonia and Hungary were the most obvious places. Although our original plans included a trip to Albania, time did not allow us to travel there.
II. TRIP TO MACEDONIA
Macedonia (formal name: The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) gained independence in January of 1992; they were the only Yugoslav republic to gain it peacefully. The old Yugoslav government remained in power until January 1999 when the Macedonian and Albanian National parties won the elections and formed a coalition.
Population demographics are a hot topic in Macedonia. Official estimates state that Slavic Macedonians make up 66% of the population with Albanians having 22% and Turks, Serbs and Roma the remainder. However the Albanians claim they have more like 34% of the population. The majority of the Albanian population here resides in the northwestern part of the country that borders on Albania and Kosov@ as well as in Skopje. Skopje is considered to be a divided town with mainly Albanians living in the north- eastern part of the town (the old Turkish part), and Slavic Macedonians the more modern south- western part, These parts are divided by the Vardar River. However there is a significant amount of mixing on both sides though there doesn't appear to be much inter-marriage. The Slavic population of Macedonia tends to be more sympathetic to the Serbs. One sees many people wearing the fashionable black and white target on buttons, hats and T-shirts and there have been several anti-NATO demonstrations in the centre, on several occasions we've received an earful from taxi drivers about the bombing.
Although a rich agricultural country with relatively well developed industry, Macedonia has been very hard hit economically. This stems mainly from an economic embargo by Greece in 1994 and 95, as well as the economic embargo on FRY during the Bosnian War. Most of Macedonia's exports went to Yugoslavia and the Macedonian economy has been very hard hit because of this war. They exported lots of agricultural and industrial goods to FRY, including car parts to the now bombed Zastava car factory in southern Serbia. Search for Common Ground (an international NGO that has been based in Macedonia for five years) said that the unofficial estimates are that 200,000 people have lost their jobs or businesses since NATO started bombing in late March. Of course official figures do not support this, since many people are listed as being on extended or permanent holiday. The influx of international organisations has had a noticeable impact on the economy in Skopje and the rest of Macedonia.
Many people we've spoken with (both local and international) have voiced concern about the future of Macedonia. Many feel it is in a very fragile position, especially in regards to economics, politics and ethnic relations. We heard a lot of criticism about the fact that the international humanitarian organisations bought their supplies, including produce, from countries other than Macedonia. And we also heard talk about the growing resentment among Macedonian Albanians, who are in such need themselves and feel they are being overlooked by the international aid organisations.
According to UNHCR figures, there were 238,900 Kosovar refugees in Macedonia as of May 10th, the day we visited the office. Of this number, 91,400 were accommodated in the camps and the others were living in Albanian homes, with host families. Several people told us that no Macedonians had taken Kosovar refugees into their homes. There were also estimates of 10,000 Serb refugees in Macedonia, who were not eligible for refugee status, since the Macedonian government considers that they left Kosov@ voluntarily.
The camps ranged in size from 800 to just under 32,000 people. All the camps were located near the border with Kosov@ and the locations were chosen by the Macedonian government. The conditions of the camps varied widely. Some were very clean and orderly, with refugees taking part in the some of the work of the camp like the cooking and trash removal, We even heard of councils being set up in some camps to relay grievances and concerns to the camp directors. Although the basic needs of the people were generally met (food, clean water, shelter) the camps were crowded and very exposed to the elements. Many of the young men and boys that we spoke with complained of not having anything to do all day long.
Some camps had used gravel to give good drainage and control the dust, but the gravel was also a source of ammunition for restless young boys. In another camp we visited, which had been without rain for over a week, the hard packed dirt of the huge camp, sheltering over 20,000 people, was swirling in the air, tents were flapping and billowing and the people were wrapping themselves in whatever coverings they had as protection from the dust and flying debris of the storm. In this horrible, gritty, windswept camp everyone looked miserable, refugees, soldiers, guards and humanitarian workers alike. Despite the storm, there were long lines of people waiting patiently to register so that they would be eligible for transport to another country. Many people preferred going to another country, rather than facing an unknown future in the camp, or a return to a destroyed and probably still dangerous Kosov@.
We were surprised to see that there were quite a few young men in the camps. We had heard from various people that there was a lot of pressure on the young men to join the UCK. We heard one woman speak about her son leaving the camp the day before we got there with twenty or so other young men to join UCK. And we also talked with a high school student, who said he felt ashamed to be seen on the streets and that he should have been in the army.
One young man that we spoke to, said he only had two more exams to complete at the Parallel University, (the Kosovar Albanian parallel university in Pristina), for his medical degree. He had been working and giving first aid when the refugees first arrived in the camp, but he said when the international health workers arrived, he was no longer needed and now had nothing to do. He said he was grateful to be in the camp alive and grateful that his wife and five-year-old son were together. But one could easily sympathise with him; his hopes for his future so quickly cut off.
Although the refugee camps receive the most of the attention from the international aid agencies and the media, the majority of refugees are, in fact, staying with Albanian host families. Through the Kosov@ branch of Mother Theresa (which is focusing its aid efforts on these privately accommodated refugees) we were able to visit a home that had three refugee families staying with a host family. In all, there were 24 people staying in the small house in Skopje. The women we spoke with were grateful for the hospitality but needed to have more space and were tired of staying on the floor. One woman spoke about her kidney condition and said she had been worried about going to a camp because she thought she wouldn't get the right care. Instead she is receiving aid from Mother Theresa.
Those Kosovars who are living outside of the camps spoke quite often about how they did not feel welcome in Macedonia by the Macedonians. Several secondary school students complained about the school only teaching them in Macedonian. We heard many people talk of their plans for getting out of Macedonia, to go to a third country where a relative was living or to get a scholarship abroad to study. People said they were afraid to go back to Kosov@ without some kind of international military protection.
3. Renewing our contacts; Reorganisation of Kosov@ NGO's
Upon arriving in Macedonia we almost immediately began running into people we had known in Pristina. In the Personnel Office of OSCE, while looking for one contact, we ran into a young woman from Pristina, who recognised us and offered to help us find many of the people we were looking for. We had another chance meeting in Tetovo, a city not far from Skopje, where many of the Pristina elite had gathered in exile. While ordering ice cream, we almost literally bumped into a young woman from the Post Pessimists, who recognised us and offered to help us get in touch with other Post Pessimists. We also found the Internet Cafe in Skopje to be a very good place to renew contacts.
Each person whom we met had a story to tell about their forced expulsion either by direct order of the police or paramilitary, or through indirect pressures of fear and violence. One friend told how he had been arrested and beaten very badly, but due to several strokes of luck he managed to escape over the border. We talked with several of our friends who had either been in the refugee camps themselves or had gone in to get their relatives out. One friend was in mourning for her mother who had died several weeks before as a refugee in Montenegro. "How can I forgive the Serbs for letting my mother die alone without her family so far from her home?" It was very difficult to hear these stories from people whom we knew, who until a few weeks ago, had been themselves activists and organisers, and who were now telling stories of their own suffering and fear and humiliation.
Koha Ditore, the independent newspaper, is publishing daily, supported by outside finances. We visited their office in Tetovo that which is nothing more than a big room with about twenty computers stationed on three sides of the room and reporters sitting at each station, typing like crazy to meet the 3:00 PM deadline. We had just missed seeing Baton Haxhiu, editor of Koha, but we were touched to see a picture of Veton Surroi (editor/publisher of Koha) on the wall of the office. We had heard that Veton was still in hiding in Pristina, though now he has resurfaced.
Despite the horrible circumstances, the shock and trauma that almost everyone had suffered, we found people planning activities to help the community heal from the war. It reminded us once again that Kosovars are a highly organised people and have developed strong social structures over the years, which helped them to survive under Milosevic and will be a foundation for rebuilding their society. We heard plans for a writer's club, organised by two prominent artist/intellectuals from Pristina. We heard a plan for kindergartens in Tetovo and for summer camps for children to be organised by an activist from Pristina. The women's groups from Kosov@, such as Motrat Qiriasi, League of Albanian Women, Elena, Aureola and the Centre for the Protection of Women and Children, were already organising and working with women who had suffered violence or sexual abuse They were also working with children, setting up psycho social work and kindergartens in the camps. We heard this work was to be funded by Soros. The staff from the Humanitarian Law Centre was active collecting testimonies from refugees to be handed over to the War Crimes Tribunal. We also heard that the two psychiatric counsellors from Mens Sana were now located in Tetovo.
Resuming their work in Macedonia has proven to be quite difficult for the Kosovars. In order to work legally and get funding, the NGO's must get permission from the Macedonian government, which has proven next to impossible. One human rights NGO was told that since they were registered in Yugoslavia they needed to get permission from the Yugoslav government to work in Macedonia.
The reorganising activities are all hopeful signs of a community that is determined to survive and not only to survive, but to move forward. Before the first publication of Koha Ditore in Macedonia, one of the staff told Agence France Presse: " It is very important to show the world another image of Kosovars than babies crying and refugee camps or old people dying of ill treatment. It is vital to show that we Kosovars are a living people, despite what is happening, that we can still organise political life and maintain the spirit of Kosova. It's about keeping alive Kosov@'s identity, which we risk losing."
4. Macedonian NGO's
The Macedonian NGO's we met with have for the most part modified their normal programs in order to focus all their energies on the refugee crisis. One was involved in the running of refugee camps and distributing information on the situation, another one started a health education programme for refugees living with host families in the towns and cities, and yet another was involved in offering free legal advice to the refugees.
The First Children's Embassy is an organisation that works with children of all ethnic backgrounds on intercultural communication and dialogue. They were active with refugees in Bosnia, and are now working in several of the camps in Macedonia. They have more than 300 volunteers and have developed an SOS hotline for young people. The director of the First Children's Embassy wanted BPT to send a message that the interethnic tensions are worse because of the Albanian refugees and that the citizens of Macedonia are very worried about a civil war. She reminded us that Macedonia had agreed to take only 20,000 refugees and now was hosting more than 200,000. She said they have heard rumours that UNHCR doesn't have any more money and the government will not be able to support all these people. The Macedonians are being criticised for not doing enough, but actually Macedonia has done quite a lot for the refugees without economic resources.
III. TRIP TO HUNGARY
Many Hungarians we spoke with expressed a great deal of concern about the war. Not only are they the only NATO country bordering Yugoslavia, but there is a sizeable Hungarian minority in Vojvodina. One peace activist told us a common saying in early April "two weeks in NATO, one week in war." To be such a new member in the military alliance and then to be at war with a neighbour left many people wondering if NATO membership was such a worthwhile thing.
2. Refugees / CO's / Military Deserters
Most of the people crossing the border from Yugoslavia into Hungary are women and children, conscientious objectors or military deserters. According to information we received from one contact, there were around 100,000 Yugoslav refugees in Hungary with 3,000 in camps close to the border. The Customs Office reported 1,800 Yugoslav refugees. The Migration Office of Hungary estimates that there may have been as many as 20,000 unregistered refugees, with 2,500 registered in the camps. Most of the people who cross into Hungary do so on a tourist basis and arrange their own accommodation. Therefore these figures were difficult to verify. Mainly either the elderly or the poor occupied the camps. Conscientious objector's also formed a significant part of the camps' population; all people who entered illegally into Hungary, a lot of them CO's, were sent to the camps.
3. Renewing contacts
We were able to make contact with one person who had been active in Serb-Albanian dialogue projects and who was now working for Norwegian People's Aid in Budapest. He gave us information about other activists who had left FRY and we were able to update him on the events in Macedonia. Another activist we knew was involved in a project that has been started to address the needs of Yugoslavian CO's in Hungary. It's called "Safehouse Project" and it plans to rent space in Budapest to provide accommodation to and serve as a focal point for CO's from FRY living in Hungary. Since the project is still in its early phases the scope of the project has not yet been fully defined. The Safehouse Project is already being supported by the German-based organisation, Connections, and the organisation is interested in setting up similar support networks in other European countries. We have contact details if anyone is interested in responding to this.
One morning we stopped over at AFSC, the American Friends Service Committee, where we had heard there were usually women activists coming out of Belgrade. At AFSC we found Laurence, who has been living and working in Belgrade and had started two women's small business projects. We met one young women, who works for Zena na Delu and had just come in from Belgrade. Laurence's other project, the women's co-operative in Zemun, called Zenski Centar, is also still functioning. We talked with two other activists: Sunica, who is an activist from Belgrade; Sandra, has been working at the Women's Centre in Belgrade doing fear counselling for women, many of whom find it very difficult to go outside, especially at night. We heard from these contacts that the Children's Rights Centre had set up an office in Budapest.
4. Hungarian NGO's
During our stay we were able to meet up with several Hungarian NGO's as well. One of them, a leading environmental organisation, saw its role changed by the war. It was now busy spreading reliable information about the environmental implications of the bombing. The Environmental Partnership for Central Europe had an office in Belgrade that we had visited in the autumn of 1998. We learned that fourteen environmental groups had signed a petition calling for an end to the war. They also wrote a letter asking who was monitoring the effects of the bombing. The more peace oriented NGO's, such as Alba Kor, More Than 9 and Movement for Peace in the Balkans, were mainly campaigning against Hungary's involvement in NATO, organising demonstrations, lobbying groups and issuing press releases against the bombing of Yugoslavia.
5. International NGO's
Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) has set up an information / resource centre for people from Yugoslavia. Their aim is to provide a space for people to hold meetings and have telephone and Internet access. They also provide a legal service so that people have general information plus help with visa and asylum applications.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) office in Budapest has been an central place for women coming out of Yugoslavia, offering space and time for them to relax and recover from the trauma of living under NATO bombardment.
1. Future work of BPT - the next 4 months
At the conclusion of our trip we developed several recommendations for the next steps of the Balkan Peace Team. Our main goal is to maintain a presence in the area and to provide support and presence in both Serbian and Kosovar Albanian communities as they are rebuilding and restructuring. Our plan for the next four months, through September 1999, is as follows:
To maintain a presence in the area The team itself will be based in Macedonia and make regular monthly trips to Hungary. This will maintain our consistency in working with the two communities. It will also help maintain contact with civic initiatives that are developing.
Return to Kosov@ Ever since the team left FRY it has been BPT's intention that the team return and restart the work. The possibility to return to Kosov@ has come much sooner than was anticipated. The team will be making regular trips to Pristina, and will eventually relocate there.
To conduct further travel and research - Albania, Bosnia (Republika Srpska & Sarajevo) Since refugees have fled to these countries as well, we feel it is important to travel there and get first- hand information about the situation in these countries.
To continue networking among dispersed and divided communities As the team travels throughout the region, we hope that we will develop the links with groups who are living as refugees or living in host countries.
Support the Planning for Children's Summer Recreation Camp in Macedonia We would like to provide resources and encouragement for this project, which is being developed by a local activist from Pristina.
Exploring the situation facing CO's in Hungary. Whilst BPT will make no decisions about long term projects until September 1999, one area of concern the team will explore during the summer will be the situation facing Yugoslav conscientious objectors and military deserters.
2. Political Impasse in Kosov@
One interesting observation we made in our travels was a lack of open political discussion among our contacts. At first we didn't find it surprising in light of the recent events and the general confusion and shock. But then we talked with several people who were close to or among the political "in" groups in Pristina, and they too seemed reluctant to make anything other than rather general statements, such as "there can be no dialogue as long as the bombing continues. This must be a military solution." Another person who we know is close to the LDK political party downplayed the conflict between the UCK and the LDK, saying that things could be worked out.
A provisional government, led by Hashim Thaci (UCK leader), came into being shortly after the Rambouillet peace talks in March of 1999. The Albanian delegation at Rambouillet agreed that Thaci should be the Prime Minister (with Rugova still President) charged with forming a government that consisted of LDK, UCK, and LBD (United Democratic Movement of Qosja, Hyseni and Kosumi). He appointed this government at the beginning of April, but without LDK participation - leaving one vacant seat (for a Deputy Prime Minister) to be filled by an LDK nominee.
Thaci, who has been declared a war criminal by the Serbian government, announced a new Kosovar Albanian government recently. Reportedly this new government is needed, due to the fact that "all other political structures have collapsed". The new government is reportedly centred in Tirana but since the bombing ended, has also opened an office in Pristina.
The provisional government is openly demanding money from Bujar Bukosi's government in exile, which controls several million dollars, collected over the last ten years from Kosovars in the Diaspora. This provisional government argues that the mandate of the government-in-exile of Bujar Bukoshi has now expired, and he should hand over the remaining funds. Bukoshi, on the other hand, notes that nobody in the provisional government participated in the Kosovar elections of 1998, and until any other government has a democratic mandate, he will retain his authority. Thaci's popularity seems to centre in Albania, and he toured the camps recently, calling for support from the people.
The LDK, led by Ibrahim Rugova, was the dominant party in Kosov@ until spring 1998. Although it too demands independence, it is now portrayed as the "moderate" wing of the Kosovar movement. Rugova himself stayed in Pristina after the bombing, under house arrest. He was shown on TV meeting Milosevic, apparently issuing a joint appeal for an end to the NATO bombing, and also meeting Russian diplomats. After the Sant' Egidio Community mediated his release, Rugova clarified that he supported the NATO bombings, and he has now resumed his activities. However, he has not yet entered into negotiations with the UCK. The assassination of Fehmi Agani, Rugova's most trusted aide and most respected negotiator, has severely weakened the LDK.
The lack of unity between the factions has led to a kind of paralysis among the Kosovars. As one political analyst/ writer from Pristina stated, "the Kosovar Albanian political scene has experienced total collapse...The ten year civil, non-violent resistance movement in Kosov@ had not prepared any paramilitary structures, any committee for the case of war." As a result, the people are left in a time of crisis without any viable political structure.
There is continuing concern over UCK's role in Kosovo in the rebuilding and reconstruction of the region. Although the UCK has agreed to demilitarise itself, recent statements by UCK soldiers to western media raise a question of how much authority the central command of UCK has over the entire force.
The role of Adem Demaci in Kosov@'s political scene is unclear as well. Demaci, former spokesperson for the UCK, remained in Pristina throughout the bombing. Before the peace agreements were signed, he gave an interview denouncing all those leaders who left, saying he was still walking around Pristina in relative safety. This statement brought a counter- denunciation from Baton Haxhiu and Koha Ditore. Demaci was arrested briefly and then released soon after the arrest of Albin Kurti. Albin, the trusted aide of Demaci, and former vice president of the Albanian Student Union (UPSUP), is still under arrest, according to contacts in Pristina. These events further cloud the political scene and leave in question the ability of the Kosovars to mend the internal factions as they try to rebuild their society.
3. Future of Kosov@
As we finish writing this report Serbian security forces are leaving Kosov@, NATO has suspended its bombing campaign, and the United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution on Kosov@ endorsing an international peacekeeping mission with NATO at its core. Refugees are returning en masse to a largely looted and destroyed Kosov@ that needs to be rebuilt.
Evidence of Serbian atrocities is wide spread. Despite NATO's promise of protection, over 50,000 Kosov@ Serbs have already fled, fearing reprisals from returning Albanians and the UCK. The Roma are also fleeing in fear of being held responsible for looting throughout Kosov@. In one instance, the BBC reported that NATO peacekeepers had found the UCK holding 15 Roma who showed signs of torture. UCK members told media that the Roma were being held responsible for looting in that town. It is also important to note that international media have also reported the UCK has, in some villages near Prizren, managed to convince several Albanians to stop burning Serb houses.
Concerned with the Serbs fleeing Kosov@, the Patriarch Pavle, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, is returning the seat of the Patriarchate to Kosov@, moving to Pec in hopes of convincing Serbs to stay as well as to return.
How can a sustainable peace be created in Kosov@? And what are the prospects for a multi- ethnic Kosov@? These are the primary questions that BPT is concerning itself with as it looks towards redefining its work in Kosov@.
Source: Balkan Peace Team FRY
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