Human rights in Kosovo/a – Not so simple

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 45 – August 27, 1998

Originally published here.

“To understand a conflict – and, thus, help solve it – we need to know something about at least three things: Attitudes, Behaviour and the root Causes of the conflict. That’s the ABC. Most media simply report on behaviour and ignore the two other dimensions. This is why people in general feel that they don’t understand much of it all, in spite of watching and listening carefully to news reports. And when media cover conflict behaviour, many seem to use the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid. What you have heard about human rights in Kosovo/a is a good example of KISS journalism,” says Jan Oberg, head of TFF’s Conflict-Mitigation team upon returning from yet another mission to Belgrade, Prishtina and Skopje.

“I want to make it clear that I consider the Serb government guilty of extremely serious and systematic human rights violations in the Kosovo province. Over the years, the Serb leadership has pursued an absolutely immoral and self-defeating policy of repression. Having listened to hundreds of personal accounts of human rights violations, I know that. Numerous human rights organisations offer overwhelming documentation.

During our missions, TFF’s team has been stopped repeatedly on the roads, interrogated at police stations for hours, and deprived of written Albanian materials. I have seen the blood on the sidewalk after a young Albanian shot dead close to the Grand Hotel one morning in peacetime Prishtina. And, undoubtedly, when a people is this strong and this united in its desire for freedom, repression of its fundamental rights must be a basic explanation – however not the only one.

This, however, can not explain” – continues Dr. Oberg – “why so many human rights advocates, columnists, experts and diplomats ignore the fact that the rights of all, also the Serbs, are violated in this province. [Read more…]

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Kosovo/a – Half truths about demography and ethnic cleansing 

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 43

Lund, August 23, 1998

“There are dangerously many half truths and biases in the reporting from Kosovo/a. The generalised media image of the conflict shapes public opinion which in turn threatens to push politicians into action that will have counterproductive effects on the ground,” says Jan Oberg, head of TFF’s Conflict-Mitigation team, upon returning from yet another mission to Belgrade, Prishtina and Skopje.

“The standard media story about Kosovo the last six months goes like this:

‘Kosovo is a province in Serbia inhabited by about 2 million people, 90 per cent of whom are Albanians and 10 per cent Serbs. The dissolution of Tito’s Yugoslavia started in 1989 when Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic repealed the autonomy which the province had enjoyed since 1974. The region is characterised by extreme poverty and systematic human rights violations by Serbian authorities against the Albanians, to the extent that one is justified in calling it a police state or an ‘apartheid’ system. The Serb ‘offensive’ is an attempt by Belgrade to ethnically ‘cleanse’ the province. It looks like a repetition of Bosnia and, thus, something must be done to stop it.’

I have come to believe,” says Oberg, “that this standard media story is based on the KISS Principle – Keep it Simple, Stupid. [Read more…]

16 early proposals for peaceful solutions

By Johan Galtung

Written 1992 & 1998

[1] A Conference on Security and Cooperation in Southeast Europe, CSCSEE, UN and OSCE sponsored, UNSC being too remote, EU too partial, in addition to the London-Geneva conference process.  All concerned parties (also sub-state, super-state and non-state) should be invited, with all relevant themes on the agenda; possibly lasting 3-5 years.  Outsiders to the region should be present as observers with right to speak, there being no disinterested outside states. One possible long term goal:
A Southeast European Confederation.

[2] CSCSEE Working Groups on top priority areas to consider:
– Bosnia-Herzegovina as a tripartite confederation;
– Kosovo/a as a republic with the same status as for the Serbs in Krajina (not Knin), and with respect for Serbian history;
– Macedonia: a Macedonian confederation should not be ruled out, but can only emerge within a broader setting ([1]) above.
– ex-Yugoslavia: as long-term goal, a confederation this time.

[3] Increase UNPROFOR 10 times, or more, with 50% women, creating a dense blue carpet to supervise truces and to stabilize the situation.  The soldiers must be adequately briefed with police, nonviolence and conflict facilitation training, working together with civilian peacekeeping components.  Avoid big power participation and powers with a history in the region.

[4] A dense network of municipal solidarity with all parts of ex-Yugoslavia, for refugees, relief work, reconstruction: Gemeinde gemeinsam, Cause commune, Council of Europe.

[5] Let 1,000 local peace conferences blossom, support local groups with communication hardware, and the Verona Forum for Peace and Reconciliation on the Territory of Former Yugoslavia.

[6] International Peace Brigades as Hostages for Peace, unarmed foreigners,  professionals like doctors (WHO-IPPNW-MSF), working in threatened areas, communicating, dampening violence.

[7] Intensify ecumenical peace work, building on nonviolence and peace traditions in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity and Islam.  Challenge hard line religious institutions in the region.

[8] Permanent contact among persons, groups and states working for peace within the state system ([1]-[3]), municipal system ([4]) and civil society system ([5]-[7]); let ideas flow.  Have a “Peace Ladies Conference” parallel to the London-Geneva conference among the war lords in the Palais des Nations.

[9] Demand professionalism from the media, less violence and elitism bias and more focus on common people and peace efforts.

[10] In the spirit of future reconciliation:
– drop the sanctions, they hit the innocent and harden the conflicts;
– drop the War Crimes Tribunal except as moral individual judgment, there is no road to the future through revenge and punishment, adding to all the traumas, creating new martyrs;
– have inside and outside specialists search for understanding of what went wrong and for positive past and present experiences that can inspire a common, even if more separate, future;
– build on the longing of the Yugoslav peoples to come together again, nonetheless, on bratstvo (brotherhood) even if it should be with less jedinstvo (unity). In other words, neither as a unitary state, nor as a federation, nor as a confederation, but as a community.

Let’s move south:

Old historical processes pitting Orthodox Serbs-Macedonians against Muslim Albanians are picking up new energies at the same time as the region seems unable to arrive at its own solutions. The “international community” will probably again postpone intervention till the situation is “ripe”, meaning till the violence has come so far that almost any non-war outcome is preferable so that outside powers can dictate the “peace”.

[11] Starting with Kosovo/a, there seem to be five outcomes:
[a] status quo within Serbia, unacceptable to the Albanians
[b] autonomy (“1974 at a higher level”)
[c] a Third Republic inside the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
[d] as a part of a Yugoslav confederation
[e] independence, unacceptable to the Serbs

[12] One reasonable prognosis is that [a] leads to [b] leads to [c] leads to [d] leads to [e], possibly jumping some steps (like straight to [e], with foreign military assistance to UCK). If that happens a next prognosis might be unification with Albania and absorption of Western Macedonia (“green transversal”), and a major Balkan war between Orthodox and Muslim forces, involving Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, major outside intervention and semi-permanent occupation of Kosovo/a-Macedonia (like in Bosnia at present).

[13]  An alternative to this scenario might look as follows:
–  Kosovo/a gets status as Third Republic inside FRJ, or a very high level of autonomy.  The treaty is made binding for X years (X=20?) after which it is up for review (and a confederation may then be among the options, including Montenegro-Vojvodina?).
–  Protection of Serbian minority rights is ensured also through a Serbian Assembly with veto rights for cultural patrimony (teaching of and in own language, access to sacred sites, etc.).
–  Preventive peacekeeping and international guarantees needed.

[14] For Macedonia a productive peace policy might include:
–  a switch from the present passive neutrality (or “equi-distance”) to active neutrality in the sense of serving as a venue for major conferences on the problems of the region,
–  also like Switzerland de-emphasizing nationality by a higher level of decentralization and local rule (“cantonization”)
–  continuing and stepping up all efforts at cooperation at all levels across the divide between Macedonians and Albanians,
–  if this does not work a federation should not be excluded.

[15]  For the region as a whole: a Balkan Community including Albania, FRJ, Romania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey (the “European part”?) might be capable of accommodating some of the tensions and help work towards such features found in the Nordic and European communities of the 1980s as a common market, free flow of goods and services, capital and labor, coordinating foreign policies.

Nothing of what is mentioned above is overdue or overtaken by recent events.  But lack of pro-action during the 1990s, heeding the warnings of the 1980s has been highly irresponsible, leading to the current vicious cycles of violent action-reaction.

The Kosovo War: No failure, all had an interest in it

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 42 – August 17, 1998

Originally published here

“Look at what happens in Kosovo and you would like to believe that all good powers worked for PREVENTION of this tragedy but that, unfortunately, tragedies happen. Governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations are already overloaded with ongoing conflicts and catastrophes; budgets are tight etc. Admittedly these are very complex problems; and just as all diseases cannot be prevented, we can’t expect all wars to be prevented.

According to this theory, if things go wrong it is the parties’ fault and if they go well it is thanks to the international community and a few shuttling envoys or diplomats. World media naively corroborate this theory: We watch how diplomats, envoys, and delegations fly around, hold press conferences, meet their kin in palaces or make solemn declarations if they don’t issue threats. In short, do all they can to stop wars and force people to negotiation tables, don’t they?

Well, no outbreak of violence on earth was more predictable than the one in Kosovo. There have been more early warnings about this conflict than about any other, but there was no early listening and no early action. There was neither the required conflict-management competence nor political will to prevent it.

We live in an increasingly interdependent world; we are told that hardly anything belongs to the internal affairs of states. The other side of that coin is that Kosovo was and is our problem. If we believe in this theory we must ask: when will honest people, including politicians, begin to openly and self-critically discuss why they fail again and again to avert even the most predictable wars? Is it human folly, institutional immaturity, are diplomats just not appropriately trained in violence prevention and conflict-resolution, or what?

I am afraid there is another more accurate but less pleasant explanation,” says TFF director Jan Oberg after his recent mission to Belgrade, Prishtina and Skopje where he had more than 50 conversations with heads of states, party leaders, intellectuals, media people and NGOs.

“This other explanation is less apologetic, more cynical. It simply assumes that things like Kosovo happen because it is in the interest of powerful actors that it happens. [Read more…]