Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis 1999
Balkan Peace Team Summer 1999
Newsletter # 16
The "BPT Newsletter" is published by the Balkan Peace Team International (BPT) and is distributed free to all groups and individuals interested in our work. Everyone is welcome and even encouraged to reproduce this material as long as you credit BPT and also include the address and phone of the International Office in Minden. Newsletter production: (V.i.S.d.P.): Eric Bachman
Surviving the war
BPT visits NGO's in Macedonia and Hungary
Trip to Macedonia
By the time we left for Skopje on May 8th, we had been out of Yugoslavia and on the road for about six weeks. As the bombing continued in Yugoslavia and the humanitarian crisis in Macedonia and Albania escalated, we decided on our next step: a three week trip to Macedonia and Hungary. With help from our sub-group and Co-ordinating Committee (CC) members, preparations for the trip took place in Amersfoort, the Netherlands. Joke Reijntjes, our CC representative from Eirene in Amersfoort, let us take over her office for the week. We feverishly arranged the logistics of travel, accommodations, mobile phone and e-mail. We also began accumulating a long list of organisations and individuals that we wanted to meet in the region. Our plan was to visit various cities in Macedonia and Budapest in Hungary in order to reconnect with activists we had worked with while in FR Yugoslavia. We wanted to hear how they were doing, what they had been through, and what their thoughts were for the future, both personally and on a community level. We also wanted to visit people from both communities because of BPT's commitment to cross community work.
There were two events during our trip which symbolised for us the spirit and energy of the Kosovar Albanian people that we met. We were very happy to find that Marte, the co-ordinator for Mother Theresa in Prishtina, had arrived safely in Skopje. She told us the story of her family's unpleasant escape from Kosov@1, which happened on the Serbian Good Friday. She said that she regretted not having taken her children out of Kosov@ earlier. They were forced to witness such terrible things in Prishtina, including their own forced expulsion from their home in Xafa.
But despite these memories and losses, Marte still carried on with her work. She said that was how she managed to survive. We found her in her new office, which was in the attic of an import-export bakery building. There, in a huge attic loft, she sat at an old desk with two telephones and a pad and pencil in front of her. The phone kept on ringing and she kept on taking requests for humanitarian assistance. A volunteer for Mother Theresa sat across the desk from her at a second hand Cyrillic typewriter, banging out the forms needed to get permission from the Macedonian government for the delivery of food, clothing and medical supplies that were going to the refugees who were living with host families in Macedonia. There were close to 200,000 refugees living outside the camps and therefore not under the purview of the international aid organisations. Marte with her two telephones, a couple of office volunteers, and a battered typewriter was able to deliver over 700 tons of supplies to these families through the incredible network of Mother Theresa in Macedonia. She is an inspiration to us of courage, determination and great organisational skills. We laughed with her about how different her organisation was from the bureaucratic confusion of the UNHCR.
The other person that we found to be equally as inspiring was an activist, Beskim. Beskim had worked with the International Federation of the Red Cross in Prishtina. He also co-operated with he Serbian Red Cross in doing relief work for the internally displaced persons (IDP's) in Kosov@ during the summer and fall of 1998. When NATO started their military invasion, the Serb police and paramilitaries intensified the violence towards the Kosovar Albanian citizens in Prishtina, where Beskim was living. One day he was meeting a friend, who was bringing him a bottle of brandy wrapped in a package. They were stopped by the police on one of the main squares in front of the post office. The police thought it was a bomb and challenged them about the contents of the package. As Beskim's friend reached out to show the police the contents of the package and they opened fire. Beskim's friend was killed in front of his eyes and he himself was left for dead.
In spite of this, Beskim told us he wants his children to grow up free from the fear and hatred of Serbs that is poisoning the minds of the Kosovar Albanian children. It is for this reason that he is trying to start a children's camp in Macedonia, near the resort area of Ohrid. He has made plans to transport some 450 children to hotels in this region. He wants to give the children, between the ages of eight and eleven, some space to simply be themselves, to heal themselves, and most of all to be free from the propaganda that he thinks will destroy their chances for living with Serbs in the future.
We found this man to be a real inspiration and a symbol of the future hope of Kosov@. Not only does he look to the future, he envisions, despite everything, a world still able to hold both Serbs and Albanians together. The Balkan Peace Team wants to support these activists. Our work is to find more people like this and link them together.
Trip to Hungary
After Macedonia we travelled to Budapest to meet up with Serbian activists and contacts from Yugoslavia. Most of the people crossing over into Hungary were women and children. (Males older than 14 years were not allowed out of the country.) Several young women we talked to had just arrived from Belgrade. We heard from them about the "fear counselling" that the Autonomous Women's Centre is doing every night. They also reported about Group 484, Zena na Delu, and the Zenski Centar. We learned that the Centre for Children's Rights has set up an office in Budapest in conjunction with Save the Children. Two international organisations, American Friends Service Committee and Norwegian Peoples Aid, have provided office space to serve as a contact point and resource centre for people from Yugoslavia.
We were able to relay information to people about the situation we found in Macedonia. We also talked about the different groups and activists we had reconnected with and what they were up to. According to information we received in Budapest, there are approximately 100,000 Yugoslavian refugees in Hungary with 3,000 in camps close to the border. The majority of the people who crossed into Hungary do so on a tourist basis and arrange their own accommodation. Therefore these figures are difficult to verify. The camps are occupied mainly by either the elderly or the poor. Conscientious Objector's also form a significant part of the camps' population. All people who enter illegally into Hungary, a lot of them CO's, are sent to the camps.
A project that has been initiated by one of our contacts is addressing the needs of Serbian CO's in Hungary. It is called the "Safehouse Project". 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 group, Connections. They are interested in setting up similar support networks in other European countries. If you are interested in supporting them, please contact us.
While in Budapest, we were also able to meet with several Hungarian NGO's as well. One of them, a leading environmental organisation, saw its role changed by the war and was now busy spreading reliable information about the environmental implication of the bombing. The NGO's oriented to peace issues were mainly campaigning against Hungary's involvement in NATO. They organised demonstrations, lobbies, and press releases against the bombing of Yugoslavia.
We found much to think about and have many recommendations for the future plans of BPT. Our medium-term plan is to open a temporary office in Skopje. Using that as a base, we will also travel to Albania and Hungary. We will continue to connect with Albanians and Serbs and be open for opportunities to build trust and confidence, looking for possibilities for discussion and dialogue between the different communities.
With the recent news of the end of bombing and the quick entry of peacekeeping troops into Kosov@, it may be possible for BPT to return to Prishtina before the summer is over. We are convinced from our experience in the field, that there is much BPT can contribute to the rebuilding of Yugoslavia. Our work will, as always, be at the grass roots and our approach will be low key. We continue to be committed to supporting those initiatives that will strengthen the civil society and offer viable alternatives to violence. As one of our friends from Prishtina said, "Now more than ever, people must realise that we have to find better ways to solve conflicts."
Written by Lyn Back, Alan Jones, & Erik Torch
1Kosov@: The Serbian spelling is Kosovo and the Albanian spelling Kosova. We use Kosov@ to maintain our non-partisanship.
BPT-FRY Team's program plans for the summer:
After evaluating the Team's visit to Macedonia and Hungary in May, the BPT Coordinating Committee decided on the following medium-term program for June to September. At the September Cordinating Committeee, the work and the situation will be re-evaluated and the program adjusted accordingly.
To maintain a presence in the area
The team will base itself temporarily in Macedonia and make regular monthly visits to Hungary.
To conduct further travel and research
The team will travel to Albania for two weeks in July, and to Bosnia (Republika Srbska and Sarajevo) in August.
Networking among dispersed and divided communities
As they travel throughout the region, we anticipate that the team will help in building links between NGOs in the various communities in the region. They will also seek out those Serbs and Albanians who have previously participated in dialogue workshops and trainings through the Nansen Group and the Richardson Institute.
Children's camp project
BPT will provide informational support to a Kosov@ Albanian man who wants to help Albanian refugee children get away from the messages of hatred and revenge toward all Serbs, by arranging a holiday camp for them with a chance to relax as well as special workshops.
Links to Serbian refugees in macedonia
Using their links to Serbian NGOs as a way to build contacts BPT will try to make contact with some of the Serb refugees living in Macedonia who are mostly overlooked by the aid agencies. The team will see what networking can be done to bring these refugees into contact with services and support.
Needs assessment for long term projects
To be able to develop long-term projects, the team will continue to assess the changing situation with a view to future work.
The BPT-FRY team will produce regular monthly written reports which will be distributed by the BPT International Office.
Round Table in Banja Luka
Cross border dialog among refugees
In late March of this year, Otvorene Oci (the Croatian branch of the Balkan Peace Team) took eight representatives of local NGOs in the Knin region in Croatia to Banja Luka in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In collaboration with Pax Christi in Banja Luka, Otvorene Oci facilitated two events designed to both:(a) develop links of co-operation between local NGOs in Knin and Banja Luka, and(b) provide accurate and current information about return to Croatian Serb refugees currently living in Banja Luka.
The first event was a roundtable meeting between the Knin representatives and local activists in Banja Luka. The wide ranging discussion allowed the participants to exchange experiences, specialised knowledge of their respective areas and identify common problems. As well as gaining detailed information about the situation facing local NGOs and potential returnees in Banja Luka, the Knin representatives were also able to provide suggestions and offers of assistance for overcoming the official and unofficial administrative obstacles which have been placed in the way of return.
The second event was a public forum for Croatian refugees at which the Knin representatives provided up-to-date information on issues such as security, property and pension rights, availability of humanitarian and legal assistance, reconstruction and social entitlements in Croatia. They also answered questions on specific individual cases and were able to provide hope for the possibility of Croatian refugees returning to their homes in the former Krajina.
This hope, both for the refugees and the local organisations working on their behalf, was one of the most important outcomes of the two events. It helped to dispel the belief that positive results cannot be achieved from Republika Srbska and gave new confidence to the under-resourced and comparatively young NGO sector in Banja Luka.
The events were the result of six months preparation by Otvorene Oci and Pax Christi and provided what will hopefully be the first step in a co-operative process of strengthening links between areas of potential multi-way return. They also provided an opportunity for the Knin representatives to investigate possibilities for return to Banja Luka by Bosnian Croat refugees currently occupying houses in Knin.
The events took on an added meaning as they occurred during the first three days of the NATO bombing campaign. News of the bombings served to remind all participants the effects of conflict in the areas of the former Yugoslavia will be felt by displaced populations for some time to come.
by Paul Aiken, Ex-Otvorene Oci Team member
BPT FRY Speaking Tour
Germany - the Netherlands - Great Britain
Our idea for the speaking tour came soon after we left Belgrade on March 24th, the day the bombing started. For the time being, we could not continue our work in Yugoslavia. We felt that the best thing we could do for our colleagues and friends who were still there, was to tell people in Western Europe about work that had been going on in Yugoslavia that supported alternatives to violence. We felt it important to speak about the cross-community and civil society work that has been going on for many years. We wanted to alert people to the e-mail communications still coming from activists in Yugoslavia.
Throughout April, we spoke in 20 cities and towns in Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain. Sometimes the audiences were young people or university students, stunned by the fact that NATO was involved in an aggressive act of war. More often there were peace groups made up of older people, some of whom were painfully reminded of their own traumas from WWII. A woman in Amersfoort spoke about her childhood memories of the liberation forces entering the Netherlands. These were intense, fascinating and stimulating meetings. At almost every event, there was someone in the audience who had lived or worked in the region. These people were suffering from their own sense of helplessness. Again and again people expressed their confusion about the bombing. They wanted to know what else could have been done to stop the human rights abuses in Kosov@ and to punish Milosevic.
One of the highlights of the tour for Alan and Erik was our stay in Belfast, which was organised by Mary Barnes, who is now a volunteer with BPT's team in Split, Croatia. It made such a big personal impression on Alan, who had served for seven years in the British Army, to be so warmly welcomed. Mary's family and friends looked after us wonderfully (our glasses never went dry!). It was very inspirational to talk with those involved in cross-community work there. During our talk, one person reflected on how violence can never resolve ethnic conflicts. Many of the people in the room that day knew that truth first hand. It was also very encouraging that despite all the troubles the communities have suffered in Northern Ireland, there is great hope for the future. This we also hope is true for all the people in the Balkans, despite the dark days that they are currently going through.
Although we were tired from all our travelling, we had a closer look at the public's response to the war. This provided us with a deeper understanding for the work we hoped to continue in the former Yugoslavia. We felt inspired by the people we had met and convinced of the necessity of promoting alternatives to violence, even though the horrendous acts of violence being committed seemed overwhelming.
Written by Lyn Back, Alan Jones, & Erik Torch
War is Expensive
War not only means very high expenses for the countries' tax payers but also for the organisations that are working for peaceful solutions. The Kosov@ War has meant a lot of extra travel costs for our FRY team. Not only that, office equipment and personal belongings that were left in the Belgrade and Prishtina apartments-offices still need to be replaced. The preparatory meetings and the exploratory visit to Macedonia, Budapest and further visits to Albania and Bosnia & Herzegovina cost much more than the previous work in Belgrade and Prishtina. The result: besides having to continue to raise funds for the budget for the FRY Team (7 000 DM per month normally) we need to find an additional 9 500 DM per month to cover their extra costs. At the same time we need to raise funds for the continuing work in Croatia.
Although many of you have responded to the appeal in the last newsletter we still need your help. We would be very happy if we could find many people who would support the BPT with regular monthly donations. (for example 24 DM/month would cover the mobile telephone of one team, 250 DM/ month covers the pocket money for one volunteer). If you are not able to give (again) please pass this request on to friends and acquaintances who may be able to help us with our work.
Oliver Knabe, BPT Treasurer
Reports and Pamphlets
Public Monthly Reports (in English) from the Otvorene Oci Team in Croatia and the FRY Team in Serbia, Kosov@ and now Macedonia are available. Send us your email address if you want to receive these every month. Past reports from the beginning of the year are available on request. These reports offer an excellent way to keep up with the work of the BPT Teams and to learn about the local groups in the region.
Volunteer and Personnel News
Since the last newsletter Paul Aiken (Australia) and Angelica Anastacio (Philippines/USA) and Michael Buttler(USA) left the Otvorene Oci Team in Split. Many thanks to Paul and Angelica and Michael for their good work. Mary Barnes (N.Ireland) is the new volunteer in Split.
The FRY Team, now based in Macedonia, is Alan Jones (Wales), Erik Torch (USA) and Lyn Back (USA) who will be finishing her year on the team in July. Many thanks to Lyn for her good work. In August Robert Sautter (USA) will join the FRY Team in Macedonia.
Due to the Kosov@ War, the International Office in Minden (BPT Coordinators, Dorie Wilsnack & Eric Bachman and office staff Ingrid Brase - all part time employees) have received an overwhelming number of speaking requests. Due to changes caused by the Kosov@ War there was additional co-ordination and administration work. If anyone wishes to volunteer to help, for example with translations, please let us know.
BPT is always looking for new volunteers. You should be available for at least one year, and have some experience on human rights, non-violence and civil society development. Please, write to the BPT office for application material.
Bank Accounts for Donations
Balkan Peace Team: Account no. 89 008 155, Sparkasse Minden-Lübbecke, Bank no. 490 501 01
Austria: Internat. Versöhnungsbund, PSK Bank, Bank No. 92.022.553
Britain: checks to Fellowship of Reconciliation-England Eirene Center, The Old School,Clopton Kettering, Northants NN14 3DZ, UK, Registered Charity no. 207 822
France: BPT, Banque francaise du credit cooperatif, Paris, Account no. 210 266 488 07
Netherlands: Stichting Nederland Steunt BPT, Postbank te Amersfoort, Account no. 72 31 040
USA: checks to Fellowship of Reconciliation, POB 271, Nyack, NY 10960
For all accounts please mark: "for BPT"
Dates - dates - dates - dates - dates - dates
Assessment: 6.-10. Sept. 1999 in Amersfoort
Coordinating committee: 10.-12. Sept. 1999 in Amersfoort
General Assembly: 19.-21. Nov. 1999 in Bonn
Next year's assessments: 7.-11. Feb. 2000 4.-8. Sept. 2000
Ringstr. 9a D-32427 Minden Germany Tel: +49 571 20776, Fax: +49 571 23019,
Contacts with or requests to the teams should please be sent to the International Office.
Balkan Peace Team is a cooperative project of the following NGO's:Brethren Service, Geneva * Bund für Soziale Verteidigung, Minden * Collectif du jumelage des sociétés civiles de Genève et Prishtine, Geneva * Dutch Mennonite´s working group ex-Yugoslavia * Eirene International, Neuwied * Helsinki Citizens´ Assembly, Geneva * International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alkmaar * Mouvement pour une alternative nonviolente, Paris * Österreichische Friedensdienste, Vienna * Peace Brigades International, London * War Resisters´ International, London
Source: Balkan Peace Team
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