Time to try true nonviolence in Kosovo/a

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 46 – September 4, 1998

Original reprinted here.


“In Kosovo/a both Dr. Rugova’s non-violence and KLA’s violence have failed. They seem both to lack political analysis and a clear cut philosophical basis, and thus strategy. The alternative to Kosovo-Albanian pragmatic nonviolence, however, is NOT terrorism and military struggle. The alternative could be principled nonviolence and political innovation based upon realism,” says TFF director Jan Oberg.


Under Dr. Ibrahim Rugova’s leadership the Kosovo-Albanians fought for their independence from Serbia with non-violent means up till 1996 when the clandestine Kosova Liberation Army – having armed itself since 1992-93 – appeared on the scene. It was the only political leadership in ex-Yugoslavia that followed non-violence and also favoured a neutral, non-military, soft-bordered independent republic, Kosova. In short, it was the wisest and most innovative political movement in the region.

The KLA has, at least for the time being, altered the political situation in Kosovo/a conflict. And to the worse! During my recent conversation with Dr. Rugova, on July 31, he assured me that LDK and he himself stand firmly on non-violence.

But what kind of non-violence? To put it crudely, it is a sympathetic pragmatic non-violence rather than philosophical or principled nonviolence. When principled, we say “nonviolence” in one word, not “non-violence,” Jan Oberg explains. “Dr. Rugova is a moderate, cultured, low-voiced and pretty dogged personality. I have had the privilege to meet him several times for hour long, informal discussions since 1992. I have no doubt that he is by heart convinced that Kosova’s independence must be achieved by non-violence rather than by violence.

LDK’s and Rugova’s policies have been called “Gandhian” – by people who don’t know much about Gandhi. But there are some similarities. Perhaps the most impressive achievements in terms of true nonviolence in the parallel state of Kosova shall not be found in the political sphere but in civil society of Kosova.

The development of an international information system and media presence – through fax, e-mail and websites – and the international diplomatic activity is impressing; indeed, much more so than that of Serbia/Yugoslavia.

The development of parallel cultural, social and health sectors in Kosova is “Gandhian” in many ways. It has not harmed the opponent, but it has provided the minimum for Albanian teachers, children and youth who, particularly from 1990, did not feel welcome in the school system run by Belgrade. One can always discuss the quality of such alternative health and education systems; I was told that 20 000 teachers are paid by the Kosova government. And it is estimated that it costs the equivalent of US $ 1,5 million per day in total to keep the Kosova state as such operating. This sum is generated inside Kosova but mostly collected outside by appealing to all Albanians in the Diaspora to pay 3 % of their income to the Kosova state.

All this would have been impossible had there not been a strong public support for such a non-violent strategy inside Kosova. Also, the non-violent policies – not very isomorphic with the culture of Albanians in general – was a stabilising, moderating factor during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. One hardly dares think of what could have happened if hotheads, not Rugova, had been in charge of Kosova at the time!” – says Oberg.

*

“However impressive and unique these achievements are, the real problem began, I believe, when the Kosovars proclaimed their sovereign republic of Kosova and its cessation from Serbia on July 2nd, 1990. They did so on the steps outside the parliament in the turmoil following the clamp-down by the Serbian authorities on (parts of) their autonomy and the expelling of MPs from the parliament building. On September 22, 1991, when the Kosova Republic’s parallel parliament declared the state independent and had this decision confirmed by a referendum organised clandestinely a few days later. In other words, a historical moment of panic.

This was ‘symbol politics’ – something Gandhi would hardly have done. The dilemma thus created is evident: if you tell, or promise, your 2 million people that they already live in the Independent Kosova, ANY negotiation with Serbia, Yugoslavia or the international community would mean a backing down from this maximalist position – and maximalist it was as seen by Belgrade as well as by the international community. This is the reason that no state, except at the time Albania, recognised the Kosova Republic. Youth who were about 10 years old when their parents told them that they lived in Independent Kosova are now entering university education and becoming politically conscious; they become very frustrated when they find out that this self-proclaimed state is a parallel society with gigantic socio-economic problems and quite some hardships and certainly not a real state.

This explains why the Kosovo-Albanian leadership has been consistently negative to negotiations – although declaring themselves for it, if an international Third Party participated. My own experience from carrying messages back and forth over four years is quite clear on this point: it was NEVER the right time for Dr. Rugova to start negotiations. Also, in spite of the fact that the Kosovo-Albanians, had they participated in Yugoslav elections, could have ousted Milosevic, they refused to do so. Those who advocated participation in elections were seen as traitors. The strategy required someone ‘evil’ in Belgrade also to mobilize sympathy abroad.

This whole strategy is clearly un-Gandhian, clearly unprincipled. Gandhi would have sought actively to establish a face-to-face dialogue and built alliances with ‘good’ Serbs. So was the idea of advocating non-violence while simultaneously calling for NATO to protect, alternatively bomb, Serbian territory in support for Kosova’s independence. I know that Dr. Rugova saw this dilemma all the time, but the hardliners and militarist-romantic hotheads would not hear a word about negotiations. “We already ARE independent, so what is there to talk with fascist Serbia about,” they would often tell you.

Un-Gandhian was also the repeated advocacy of tougher sanctions against Serbia and Serbs. A true Gandhian sees no point in harming the opponent and certainly not the opponent’s innocent citizens. Furthermore, the typical stereotyping of all Serbs that you find so widespread – “seen one, you’ve seen them all, and they are bad guys” was a great mistake. An even greater mistake – from a Gandhian viewpoint – was that nothing was done by LDK to introduce peace and human rights education and conflict understanding in the alternative schools. And they did not link up with local Serbs and the Serb people elsewhere. LDK has information centres around the world but not in Belgrade where it is most needed!

Then there is the problem of political creativity and energy: it is evident that the Kosovo-Albanian leadership have entertained a number of illusions or high but unrealistic hopes: a) that the Dayton process would include Kosovo; b) that the world would not recognise Yugoslavia with the Kosovo province inside it, and c) that the world’s support for the human rights of Kosovo-Albanians was identical with a support for the project of an independent republic. When these turned out to be false hopes, the leadership lost momentum and got paralysed. There was no fall-back strategy and no revision of means and goals. Public dialogue was stifled and people started leaving LDK. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is,” says Oberg.

“So, is a military struggle the alternative? Of course not, it’s a blunder, a dangerous intellectual and moral short circuit. You hear again and again that it is understandable, people are so frustrated. But the clandestine, illegal arms build-up started 5-6 years ago, not last year.

Many have criticised Rugova for choosing ‘passive’ non-violence. They wanted more activism, more visibility. Why have elections, critics would argue, when during all these years Rugova refused to assemble the Kosova parliament? Why not have demonstrations and peaceful marches and strikes all over the region, why not sit-downs, go-slow actions, civil disobedience, obstruction of the factories – all nonviolently?

These are very good questions,” comments Jan Oberg. I believe that the education and training of all citizens for such activities – and they would be dangerous without such education and training – was never contemplated by Rugova’s leadership. On the other hand, we must be careful with words here: the build-up of a parallel society is not exactly expressions of passivity. But, in addition to that, something was missing – because this WAS NOT a Gandhian, nonviolent politics.

Be this as it may, Rugova’s answer today is that they chose the right way under the circumstances – that if more radical methods had been employed “we would not be here today” as he told me recently. Paradoxically, however, the only time the Kosova Parliament assembled was this July, in the midst of heavy fighting in the province, not the safest moment. But it was allowed to and important ceremonial functions took some 20 minutes before the MPs left. Remarkably, there was no attempt by Serbian authorities to prevent the Assembly or interrupt it. (See PressInfo 45 about the tolerance also shown by Belgrade over the years).

*

For quite some time, oppositional Albanian intellectuals and politicians have accused LDK/Rugova of lacking a sense of democracy, flexibility and building consensus. That he doesn’t listen, or listens but doesn’t do anything. Some even say that he is in collusion with Milosevic. It DOES look strange” says Jan Oberg, “that there is still no government formed since the elections in March. And the way the new – much too narrow – negotiation team was composed is totally non-transparent. Many of these intellectuals now uncritically embrace KLA/UCK and argue that ‘the alternative to non-violence is this militant struggle.’

First, it is impossible to see KLA/UCK as more democratic or more tolerant of diverse opinions than Rugova’s leadership. Indeed, it has refused to be under any democratic political control and public accountability; many perform under false names and nobody seem to know who is leading which fraction and responsible for which activities. Citizens of the Kosova Republic have not been granted any opportunity to voice their opinion on whether or not to switch from non-violence to a militant policy or directly violent struggle. Sadly, Kosova’s citizens have now either been victimised directly by KLA’s own activity and forced ‘recruitment’ or indirectly by the counterattacks of Serb forces that hit them severely. SECOND, it is interesting to see that Mr. Adem Demaqi has become the political leader or spokesman of the KLA. For quite some time Mr. Demaqi has advocated a “Balkania” solution which implies, among other things, that Kosovo should become a third republic of Yugoslavia. Although this can be seen as a step towards cessation, it is moderate in comparison with Rugova’s maximalist goal of total independence. In terms of means, Demaqi until recently promoted maximalist active nonviolence which contrasts Rugova’s minimalist means. So the KLA has chosen a political figure who has advocated goals and means directly opposite to those of KLA! And so, Mr Demaqi has quickly radicalized his rhetoric.

So, yes, there are contradictions in Rugova’s policies and it seems that his movement has run out of vision and energy. The contradictions in and among the opposition to him seems, however, to be considerably bigger,” Oberg points out. While Rugova has been running on symbol politics, he still has one major advantage: no blood on his hands.

One may ask how long time it will take for the Albanian advocates and practitioners of violence to recognise that violence makes ANY process, ANY settlement and ANY future life more, not less, difficult.

The KLA has already failed in four ways: 1) morally because it started with terror and has announced that it intends to return to it; 2) militarily because it miscalculated the ‘balance of forces,’ thought it could create and hold liberated towns and thought it would be rescued by NATO; 3) politically because its spokesperson talks about all Albanians in one state, and 4) democratically because it is not a genuine guerrilla movement that ‘swims in the sea’ of its citizens and is loved by them. Fear is everywhere.

*

But is principled nonviolence not far to weak in the face of a repressive regime such as Belgrade? We don’t know the answer,” says Oberg. “It has been practised neither in Belgrade nor in Kosovo (or elsewhere in ex-Yugoslavia for that matter). But it was nonviolent popular movement that put an end to the Marcos regime, to the Shah of Iran and mobilised the world opinion against the Vietnam war. It put an end to authoritarian communist Poland – Solidarnosc – and carried the ‘velvet revolution’ in Czechoslovakia. What would have happened if they had fought with weapons against these militarily much stronger enemies? It was peace movements, women, dissidents AND Michael Gorbachev who – non-violently – put an end to the Cold War and paved the way for a very significant reduction in the world’s nuclear arsenals. These are no small achievements in human history!” – emphasizes TFF director Oberg, “but, true, they are never presented as victories for nonviolence in our media, so its potentials remain largely hidden.”

He concludes, “Like a military battle can be fought in different ways, so can a non-violent struggle. The alternative to passive non-violence is NOT violence and terror, not even in the face of violence and terror. It is a different, principled – and of course active – nonviolence based not on make-believe politics but on real politics in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

For decades Kosovo has been the shining illustration of Gandhi’s famous dictum that “the principle of an eye for an eye will one day make the whole world blind.” Hardline politicians and trigger-happy people on both sides have been blinded long enough. Everyone should be able to now SEE that violence, also having been tried now by the Albanian side, won’t do the trick. And if it did, the liberated Kosova would become a garrison state, a state imbued with repression, a mirror of the state it seceded from and, perhaps, the scene of a civil war.

The potentials of principled nonviolence is not consumed in Kosovo/a. In fact, it has not been tried yet. It will have to be re-invented by new energies. Indeed, that is the only means that can produce a viable solution. One wonders why the international community, from left to right, produces so many voices from a dark age senselessly advocating NATO violence as THE solution. What’s wrong with nonviolence based on analysis and coherent conflict-mitigation principles? Why don’t we see diplomats, experts and media explore the potentials and teach the strengths of such a strategy?”

 

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