Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis 1999
Balkan Peace Team
Exploratory Trip Macedonia/Hungary
The purpose of our exploratory trip to Macedonia and Hungary was to make an assessment of the possibilities for the Balkan Peace Team's future role in the region of the former Yugoslavia. Our goal for the trip is to bring back an impression of what is going on in the civil society among Kosovar Albanians, and Serbs, whose communities have been displaced and destroyed by the war. Our particular focus is on groups or individuals who might be interested in dialogue at some time in the future. We realised that many of the people with whom we talked would be still in some kind of shock and trauma from their experiences and we knew that the first step would be to listen to their stories. One recommendation made by people we consulted before we left the Netherlands was to keep our expectations low and our approach low key.
Week 1 (8 -15 May) Skopje, Macedonia
Our strategy for the first week was to get an objective overview of the political, economic and social picture in Macedonia. Then we planned to make contacts with some of the people whom we worked with in Prishtina: local groups, individuals and international NGO s. We had received some contacts for local NGO's in Macedonia who are working on inter-cultural projects, with a particular focus on youth. We also wanted to visit some of the refugee camps to get an impression of conditions, how people were doing, what their experiences had been and what programs were being developed. Eventually we hoped to develop some ideas about how BPT's unique perspective and experience might be useful.
We met with several representatives of international and local NGO's, as well as with Kosov@ NGO's and individuals we had been in contact with in Kosov@. Amongst other things these organisations are involved in inter-ethnic relationships and community-building within the refugee camps. Some of them indicated that there would be good opportunities for BPT to work on dialogue and alternatives to violence because people would realise more than ever that war was never an answer. BPT could bring a balanced approach to the work that must be done between Serbs and Albanians and be very helpful because of their experience in dialogue between groups. We felt we had a special perspective to bring to Macedonia that might be useful. Our main focus in support of alternatives to violence was on inter-ethnic dialogue between young people. Another of our priorities was to do objective reporting that went out to a broad audience. One of our former contacts commented that the younger generation should be the focus of the work, since for this generation the work of reconciliation is too difficult.
We also visited some refugee camps that are coordinated by NGO's. In one of them the organisation was based on self- governing by the camp residents, which seemed to be doing well. However, we did not see any sign of organised activities for people or space for the children to play. In some of the camps social activities are organised, especially facussing on women and children. The reality of camp life, however, soon hit home as we stood in the hot sun and talked to the people about their experiences in Kosov@ and the camps. Each person and family had a story to tell which were heartrending. There was limited activities for the children & adults to take part in and many of the young men complained about the boredom within the camps. To us it appeared that there was an urgent need to start developing social activities programmes within the camps especially as there appears no immediate return to Kosov@ in prospect. Seeing the fencing around the camps and the police / guards controlling the entry gates made you feel that the people were in a prison.
Week 2 (16 - 22 May) Skopje, Macedonia
In our second week, we visited three more camps, and had a chance to meet some refugees staying in an Albanian homes in Skopje, which was an eye opening experience. Also we recconected met up with numerous organisations, a few we think we should mention:
Humanitarian Law Center (HLC)
We met with a contact from HLC - Pristina, now working in Skopje. HLC in Macedonia has mainly been focused on obtaining testimonies from refugees from the Drenica region. HLC voiced having similar problems that other Kosovar NGO's have mentioned to us; not being able to rent apartments or office space because of being Albanian and difficulties getting the HLC set up and running legally. HLC told us, however, it has less to do with the Macedonian government and more to do with the Yugoslav. Apparently because HLC is a registered Yugoslav NGO, the Yugoslav government needs to approve the opening of an office in Macedonia.
One organisation offered to help some of the young people in this group to get scholarships to US schools. Many of the PP's are quite eager about this as they still were not able to get organised again and don't particularly want to stay in Macedonia.
We've had several meetings with people who have attended RI workshops. We mentioned the upcoming workshop in Sofia and all reacted positively to it. We mentioned the possibility of someone from BPT participating and they responded enthusiastically.
One of our former contacts told us more about his plan to start a series of summer camps for young children. The idea is to give them a chance to just relax and be children again. One of the main things that he wanted to brain storm about was how to introduce ideas to the children that would mitigate or balance the anti Serb rhetoric and fear that is being fed through the media and by their parents. He thinks it is important for someone other than an Albanian to do this kind of workshop. We also talked about the possibility of having a workshop with people from BPT or other conflict resolution groups come in and talk to the kids.
The Macedonian NGO's we met with have mostly paused their normal programs in order to focus all their energies on refugees. One started running camps, another one started a health education programmes with refugees living in host families, and yet another offered free legal adivce to the refugees. All of them were very interested in the work of the Balkan Peace Team.
One of our team spent one day visiting three camps. It was a depressing experience: dirt swirling around, tents flapping in the wind and people who all looked miserable, refugees, soldiers, police and aid workers alike. When we got to the border it was completely deserted, except for a few cars. The only others visible signs were the trash left by huge numbers of people who had waited here to cross the border.
Week 3 (22 - 27 May) Budapest, Hungary
We agreed that the focus of our work in Hungary would be refugees, "tourists from Yugoslavia" conscientious objectors/ deserters and groups that were working on peace, dialogue, networking as well as some environmental issues having to do with the war.
There are 1,800 refugees reported by customs officials.The Migration Office, (MMH) said that there are probably as many as 20,000 unofficial refugees living in border camps and homeless shelters. In addition, there are three refugee camps being operated by MMH, which have about 2,500 people. But for the most part the people coming out of Yugoslavia are called Tourists. These are the people who have enough money or connections to live temporarily outside of the country. Most of the people who are coming across the border are women and children, and deserters/ conscientious objectors.
Personal Contacts from Belgrade
We spent a fair amount of time in Budapest relying information we found in Macedonia, meeting up with several people who had been involved in dialogue projects meant we were able to offer them news about friends from Kosovo. We also talked about the different groups and activists we had reconnected with and what they were up to. We were able to meet up with an activist who used to live and work in Belgrade but who had recently moved to Budapest He was our main source of information on the situation of conscientious objectors (CO's) in Hungary. According to his information there are around 100,000 refugees in Hungary with 3,000 in camps close to the border. The camps are occupied mainly by either the elderly or the poor. CO's also form a big 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 has just been started up to address the needs of 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.
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 and was now busy spreading reliable information about the environmental implication of the bombing. The more peace oriented NGO's were mainly campaigning against Hungary's involvement in NATO and have organised demonstrations, lobbies and press releases against the bombing of Yugoslavia.
We met up with two international organisations whose offices serve as a contact point for people from Belgrade - projects which were running before the bombing are now trying to run from there. The offices were extremely chaotic and crowded, more help is definitely needed there.
FRY-team: Lyn, Alan and Eric
Balkan Peace Team, Account no 89 008 155, Sparkasse Minden Lübbecke, BLZ 490 501 01
Austria: Int'l Versöhnungsbund, PSK bank (60000) Account no 92.022.553
In the USA: Fellowship of Reconciliation, Box 271, Nyack, NY 10970 - please mark „BPT"
In the Netherlands: Stichting Nederland steunt Balkan Peace Team, Postgiro 72 31 040 - please mark „BPT"
Dates - dates - dates - dates - dates - dates
General Assembly: 19.-21. November 1999 Upcoming assessment: 6.9.-10.9.99 in Amersfoort Next Assessments in 2000: 7.2.-11.2.2000 4.9.-8.9.2000
New reports to be ordered:
6-month report of Otv orene Oci, November 1998 month report of BPT Serbia/Kosovo, "Das sind meine Freunde aus Belgrad" brochure (in German) on the dialogue work of BPT FRY with the students from Belgrade and Prishtina in 1997
The Balkan Peace Team is a cooperation by the following NGOs: Austrian Peace Services, Brethren Service, Bund für Soziale Verteidigung, Collectif du jumellage des Sociétés civiles de Genève et Prishtine, Dutch Mennonite's Working group ex-Yugoslavia, Eirene International, Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Geneva, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Mouvement pour une alternative nonviolente, Peace Brigades International, War Resisters International.
Source: Balkan Peace Team
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