I have spent the past eight weeks in Bosnia-Herzogovina,
Serbia, Kosovo, and in Croatia. It is all too apparent that the people,
all the people of former Yugoslavia have lost this war. Four
million people have had to flee their homes, over 250,000 people
were killed, and hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed.
The economies of these countries have been destroyed and there are
very few jobs. Most people can no longer travel and the wounds of
hurt, pain and hatred have been sewn and may take years or even
generations to heal. The IFOR/NATO troops have at least temporarily
stopped the killing, but the ethnic cleansing continues. The
nationalist parties in all these new nations are in control and
continue to exert major influence over the people with their control
of most of the media. Thus, most people continue to be fed a steady
diet of nationalism and propaganda, hatred, half-truths and
prejudice.There are non-nationalist and democratic political parties
in all these areas, but without a means to get their message out to
the people, or even to let the people know there is a viable
alternative to the nationalist leaders who have brought them the
horrible wars of the last few years, the elections have done little but
legitimize the nationalist parties in their positions of power.
In addition, the promises of Dayton that the West would
assist in peace-making and peace-building in Bosnia have not been
forthcoming and without real peace-making and peacebuilding,
many people I met do not believe there will be longer-term
peace in Bosnia.
But amid all the tragedy and insanity in the aftermath of this horrible war, there are some good examples of peace-building. Let me give a few examples.
In Jajce, a formerly primarily Moslem town now controlled by the Croatian Herzegovina government, the long-term residents -Moslem and Croatian - can greet each other if no government officials are nearby. But if the government officials are present, they cannot even say " Hello". This would be seen as collaborating with the enemy. I remember President Eisenhower's statement that he believed that the people of the world wanted peace so much that one of these days the governments should "get out of the way and let them have it." In this situation the Mennonites and the Christian Peacemaker Teams are providing an international nonviolent presence to help keep the extremists from destroying Moslem homes or otherwise stirring up the pot to encourage more ethnic cleansing and warfare. In Gornji Vakuf, also on the Croatian/Muslim borderline in Bosnia, a group of international volunteers has started the Gornji Vakuf Reconstruction Project. The town is over 80% destroyed and the "front-line" where the two sides fought each other for years is totally in ruins. Most people from the two sides of town are afraid to go across the front-line to visit their old friends and neighbors on the other side. The Reconstruction Project, which has some support from the UN Development Program and the Austrian government as well as Quakers and other private groups, has developed several programs to meet the needs of people on both sides of the line and in the process begin to bring them back together. They have started a Women's center on the front line where women from both sides feel safe to come; they have started a youth center where young people from both sides can come together to learn English and computer skills, and there are recreational and cultural programs. They have also started a program in which sixteen men, eight from each side, have learned carpentry and building skills.Now they are working together to rebuild their homes and in the process rebuild their community (in more ways than one) which was so totally devastated in the war. In my mind, this is the kind of project which needs to be multiplied in thousands of communities if there is to be a chance for lasting peace in Bosnia.
In Mostar which was also terribly destroyed in the war, people are also afraid to cross the line to the other side. I attended a play at the youth center put on by young people from both sides. Their play without any words powerfully portrayed their experiences from the war. I wish this play could go on tour around the world. Perhaps if people everywhere knew the Truth about the horrors of war, the peoples of the world could decide they would never again resort to this cruel and inhumane method of dealing with conflict, nor would they cooperate with nationalistic leaders whose primary goal seems to be to strengthen their own power.
In the city where the famous 500 year old Most or Bridge was destroyed during the war, young people from different parts of Europe have started Mladi Most or Young Bridge. Also near the front line, they have developed a youth center where young people from the two sides can come together to "hang out", do photography, learn English, play sports and rebuild the community destroyed during the war.
In Banja Luka in the Republic of Serbia (also part of Bosnia) Conflict Resolution Catalysts has organized a Youth Center where young people of various nationalities can come together for English classes and sports. They are also working to develop a radio station and newspaper run by the young people.
In Sarajevo I met a very courageous man named Bozidar (Gayo) Sekulic who is developing a Citizens Alternative Parlament which will represent the people of all the parts of Bosnia who are committed to creating a democratic, non-nationalistic and peaceful future rather than allow their fate to be determined by the ruling nationalistic political parties. Gajo would also like to start an Institute for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights at the University in Sarajevo to help educate a new generation of political leaders. He would like to find a university in the west which would like to cosponsor and cooperate in developing this institute.
I came away from Bosnia feeling that if democracy is to have a chance, there must be significant international support for the independent media, and especially electronic media, as well as support for opposition political parties so they can get their message out to the people.
In Serbia I met the Women in Black who have been courageously demonstrating every week for over four years against the militarism and nationalism of the Serbian government. I met very talented journalists who worked with WIN, (Weekly Independent News) who are trying to start an independent Television station in Serbia. Based on their previous experience with WIN, the most popular program in Serbia before it was shut down by the government, they believe they could reach millions of citizens of Serbia with the truth and help counter the lies, propaganda and nationalism of the Milosovic government. To set up this TV station, buy all the equipment, and fund operation of the station for a year, would cost about $3 million, or less than the cost of one tank - of which there are many hundreds in Bosnia. Wouldn't this be a better investment in a future of democracy and peace in former Yugoslavia?
I met some of the over 100,000 courageous young men who left Serbia or went underground rather than fight in what they considered an imperialistic war. Finally I met some of the courageous volunteers with Balkan Peace Teams who in both Serbia and Croatia are visiting and accompanying local peace and human rights activists, and supporting their initiatives to work for peaceful, democratic and multi-ethnic communities and societies. They are doing great work, but need and deserve major support. It is a great tragedy that groups like BPT have to get by on pennies to do peacemaking while the international military operations there have almost a blank check to carry out their responsibilities.
KOSOVO I want to say a little more in depth about Kosovo because it is hardly in the consciousness of most of the people in the world. In Kosovo although 90% of the Kosovan population is Albanian by nationality, the political power is all held by the Serbian government. The Serbian government abolished the 1974 Yugoslav constitution which granted Kosovo autonomy, and also the Albanian parliament. All policemen and the armed forces are Serbs. Most economic power is held by Serbs.
Many people I met in Kosovo called their society "worse than apartheid". The Albanians are treated as second class citizens. Eighty percent of Albanians who worked for government or Serb controlled enterprises were fired back in 1990 and have been unemployed ever since. This includes doctors, nurses, teachers, professors, workers in the TV, radio, and newspapers, etc. The schools and universities were closed to Albanian young people, the electronic media including radio and TV are now all controlled by Serbs. Health care centers including hospitals are closed to Albanians. There are gross human rights violations including beatings, torture, and killings. Many consider Kosovo a time bomb waiting to go off.
The amazing part of this story is that there is a large nonviolent movement in Kosovo to challenge this oppression. Adem Demaci, who spent 28 years in prison for his political beliefs and is now the President of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights in Kosovo, is considered by many the Nelson Mandela of Kosovo. And he has the same spirit and belief that justice will prevail over injustice. He is an ardent proponent of active nonviolent struggle to gain freedom and justice for the Albanian people.
The Albanians have organized a parallel government to represent the needs and interests of the Albanian population since the Serbian government does not do so. They have an alternative tax system which funds an alternative network of schools, and a university which operates out of private homes. Only at the primary school level are Albanian children allowed to use the regular school buildings, but without any financial support for teachers, school books and supplies or heating in the winter. (This may change according to a new agreement recently announced.)
Because all medical facilities including hospitals do not treat Albanians, a network of "Mother Theresa medical centers" has been set up and is staffed by Albanian doctors and nurses who were fired from their earlier positions. These professionals donate their services because there is no money to pay them.
Although no electronic media is allowed under Albanian control, there are several alternative periodicals including Koha and the Albanian daily Bujku.
Over 100,000 young Albanian men have left their country rather than serve in the Serbian army. Conscription has been used as another form of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
The Post Pessimists are a group of Albanian and Serbian young people who are very energetic and want to help create a peaceful, just and democratic future for themselves and their families. Unfortunately their families, and others in the Serbian community, have put a lot of pressure on the Serbian young people in the Post Pessimists not to associate with the Albanians. Thus the group is now mostly Albanian. There is a group called the Kosov@ Peace Group which is made up of Serbians and Albanians concerned about creating dialogue and communication between these two communities. The Serbians in this group are also experiencing considerable pressure not to associate with Albanians.
Many of those engaged in the struggle for justice in Kosovo are inviting people in the international community to come to Kosovo as international observers. These observers could play two roles: one to provide an international presence and accompany the people in their nonviolent struggle and discourage human rights abuses and violence by any group.In addition, they could help encourage dialogue and communication between the Albanian and Serbian people and communities since communication has broken down almost completely between them.
After seeing the incredible response of the international community to the violence and war in Bosnia, I have to wonder why the international community has failed to respond to this very significant nonviolent struggle in Kosovo. Is our message that they have to resort to violence to get international attention? Hopefully not!! One woman active in the struggle put it very clearly, "Please help us save the peaceful movement in Kosovo." At least the nonviolent community around the world can hopefully respond to this "time-bomb waiting to happen" and the invitation of the movement in Kosovo for an international nonviolent presence in Kosovo. Contact Peaceworkers at 721 Shrader St. San Francisco, CA 94117 USA or email Peaceworkers@igc.apc.org if you would be interested in volunteering to be part of such a nonviolent presence.
In Croatia I also met with a number of very courageous people who are doing peace building and groundwork for reconciliation among people who were at war. I was especially impressed with the Osijek Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights which has both Croatians and Serbians on their Board. They have active volunteers teaching conflict resolution in the schools, and are organizing teams to work in the communities where people of Croatian and Serbian nationalities will be living together in Slavonia and in the Krajina. These teams will be made up of volunteers (both local and international) - skilled in peace-making and peace-building. These kinds of projects are crucial if the thousands of refugees and displaced persons are to have the opportunity (guaranteed by the Dayton accords) to return to their home communities.
The people would like some sense that they can live in peace and that their human rights will be respected. Some continuing international presence is crucial to help discourage continued efforts at ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses. With IFOR troops scheduled to leave in the not too distant future and the UN financially bankrupt, wouldn't this be a good time to recruit, train, and field hundreds (or even thousands) of international, nonviolent volunteers to accompany these refugees back to their home communities? They could then continue to be present in these communities to let the people know the world is watching and supporting a return to peaceful and multi-national communities in former Yugoslavia. This would cost a tiny fraction of what the IFOR and NATO and UN troops have cost and their skills in peace-building and peace-making would probably be much more useful than the skills of how to be a good soldier!
Several NGO's and UN personnel working with refugees wanting to return to their home communities are inviting - and strongly support international nonviolent peacemaking teams coming to respond to this need and opportunity. Hopefully the international community can respond to these urgent requests for nonviolent accompaniment in a much more timely fashion than it took to respond to the bombing and shelling of Sarajevo. Please contact Peaceworkers if you would like to respond to this historic challenge and opportunity.
David Hartsough is Executive Director of Peaceworkers and a member of San Francisco Friends Meeting. He has led or participated in nonviolent peacemaking efforts in the US, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, the Philippines, Yugoslavia, Germany and Russia.
PEACEWORKERS 721 Shrader St., San Francisco, CA 94117