The main theme throughout this Guide is hope and understanding. It is not, however, a message from people wearing rose-colored glasses. The individuals who volunteer and work with the organizations listed in the following pages are not idealists. They are people who have taken a long-range view of the conflict in former Yugoslavia and have made a long-term commitment to help. They are people who have been involved deeply enough to know that the conflict does not fall into simple categories.
There are many political views represented here, and apolitical ones as well. But you will find two common threads. While there are differing opinions about the use of military force, all the projects and programs share a common desire to stop the violence and killing. And while many of the organizations listed work primarily with one particular ethnic community, all of them are committed to a multicultural, multiethnic society in the region, where no citizen of any state is denied human rights because of his or her cultural heritage.
A third element that the groups here have in common is that their members are very eager to increase the public's awareness and understanding of the Balkan conflict. They are concerned about the emotional distance which Americans have kept from the war, the confusion and apathy people have settled into. These activists want to play a role in changing this.
This is the main purpose of Working for Peace in the Balkans. We want to reach people who have been interested and concerned and eager to help, but who have been stymied by media presentations and government spin doctors who provide flat images, stereotypes and a pragmatic hopelessness. We want to change this by introducing Americans to citizens within their own communities who have some other information to share about former Yugoslavia: to volunteers who have been delivering humanitarian aid; activists who work with local grassroots peace and human rights organizations; legal scholars who are helping to set up new democratic legal structures in the new states. These people have a deeper understanding of the war's complexities and they have created U.S-based channels for citizen action. They offer hope and understanding.
The Guide will be distributed among community leaders, teachers and journalists. We want to encourage its use as a resource guide for those looking to host speakers, join campaigns, and promote charities. It will also help to build a network among U.S. groups active in the Balkans.
Some might say that this resource is too late, that it was most needed when the war was raging. No one knows if the current cease-fire is a lull or an end to the war, but many people working in the region now say that this period after the fighting is actually more difficult and painful. Now is the time when the impact of the horrors of war hit the hardest, when the task of reconstruction and rebuilding seems overwhelming, when Post Traumatic Stress is evident throughout the society. It is now that politicians and unscrupulous leaders are able to nurture seeds of new hatred and keep the cycle of violence going. As nationalist politicians begin to solidify their power, now is the time when opposition voices, independent journalists and human rights activists are at greatest risk for speaking the truth.
The people whose work is described in the following pages are idealists in one important sense. Behind every listing, you will find a great love for the people of the Balkans, and for the land and its fate as a place at the crossroads of many historical influences. We invite you to learn from them. We think that this is an important part of the international peace process.
Dorie Wilsnack, Coordinator
Working for Peace in the Balkans
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