Interview With Jan Oberg in Kosovo-Albanian “ZËRI” in Pristina by Blerim Shala

By Jan Oberg
December 22, 1998

1. DR. OBERG, HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE PRESENT SITUATION IN KOSOVA, ESPECIALLY REGARDING THE OSCE OBSERVER MISSION WHICH IS SUPPOSED TO BE ESTABLISHED IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS?

Compared with one or five years ago, the present situation is worse for all parties. Innocent civilians – about 10% of the Kosovo-Albanians and 10% of the Kosovo-Serbs – have lost their home, belongings, human rights and safety. No politician ever asked them and I am sure they did not want this to achieve any political goal. Second, Serbia/FRY has lost important parts of its control and sovereignty and it has more international interference than ever – what all Serbia was directed out to vote against just a few months ago.

And the Albanians in Kosovo are worse off too – they no longer obtain the sympathy, solidarity and admiration for their nonviolent policies from the world community. Some may value that as irrelevant anyhow, I don’t. With blood on their hands, the political goals and the vision of a independent, peaceful and democratic Kosova is gone. You can’t obtain a good thing by bad means: killing, maiming and terrorising those who disagree with you, also on your own side. No election or referendum was ever held that, directly or indirectly, gave KLA/UCK a mandate to militarize the issue.

Some here will say: “But we had two!” I understand this psychological mechanism, given the politically unwise and untalented policy of repression by Belgrade. But here I want to point out what, in all humility, I consider the “Himalayan mistake” of some Kosovo-Albanians: they believed that the alternative to Dr. Rugova’s somewhat passive and practical policy of nonviolence was armed struggle, killing and all that. The real alternative would have been active and principled nonviolence and training the whole people in this different way of thinking and struggling.

In short: it would have been good if someone in power on either side had read and understood the deep messages of Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Dalai Lama – if someone among all your good intellectuals had learned from the nonviolent victories of the European peace movements and Soviet dissidents who, together with Mikhail Gorbachev, dismantled the whole Cold War structure; or had learnt from the Solidarnosc movement in Poland and the Velvet Revolution in Chechoslovakia, from the resistance movement against the Shah of Iran, from the Catholic nuns who lay down in from of Marcos’ tanks in the Philippines etc.

Modern history is full of conflicts at least as bad as that in Kosovo that have been overcome by nonviolence. But – all these issues were never studied, people never educated and trained in nonviolent politics, ethics and methods of struggle. Your alternative schools never trained pupils in thinking this way. So, the shortsighted militarists took the lead. That’s why pragmatic nonviolence of Rugova/LDK was never enough – and was tainted by wishig all the time that the US/NATO should come and do the dirty job for them.

After a war, after the kiling, hurting and threatening – and this has happened on BOTH sides – it will be more difficult to build the necessary trust that can lead to a viable, political solution. This is what everyone who believes in war will have to recognize. But, as I said, OTHERS are always paying the price for this – quite simple – wisdom. And I would not be surprised if there are madmen around on both sides who think they have a right to repeat the tragedy next spring…

What I have said here applies also to the international community’s “conflict managers”. Neither the US nor the EU did anything systematic, based on analysis, about the Kosovo conflict. They waited for a decade until the “only way” was to threaten NATO bombings (which would have been a violation of NATOs own statute, of international law and of the UN Charter). So KLA, Milosevic and NATO’s political and military leaders share the view that violence is the “solution”.

Some of you may think that the US/NATO would do something here to support you – forget it. Any “help” that comes when the war has broken out, is no help – it’s interference. It was a hotheaded attempt by NATO to prove that NATO – which has no role with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact – is a new peacekeeper. So, the “peace” you will be offered is compatible with their interests, not necessarily with yours – and you will not be given a real choice. I am sorry to say so, but this is what I believe is the fate of the people living in Kosovo/a.

 

2. DO YOU THINK THAT UNARMED OBSERVERS CAN HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT IN KEEPING THE CEASE-FIRE IN KOSOVA, OR CAN THEY ONLY PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE CONCERNING COMPLIENCE WITH THE SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTIONS?

Yes, I believe unarmed peacekeepers can have a positive role to play – but under a number of conditions: if there had been a true ceasefire signed by all sides. This is not the case. If there had been a kind of peace agreement or interim agreement. And if the UN had done it together with OSCE. As you will know, these conditions do not apply to the present situation.

The Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement is a ‘deal’ about power and like Dayton nobody will ask the people living in the region whether they like it or not. Nobody who works professionally with conflict-resolution, mediation and peace would call this anything else. Its merit anyhow? It stopped the killing to a certain extent, or for a while. And that’s good.

The “verifiers” have a very unique mixed bag of tasks to perform. I should think that if you have not been to Kosovo before and if you really need to know and aquire the skills needed to perform professionally as verifiers, an intensive training of 3-6 months would be appropriate. Unfortunately the world community know how to start a nuclear war in 30 minutes or to send 300 000 soldiers around the world in 48 hours. But is has no comprehensive institution or mechanism for the kind of job President Milosevic and Mr. Holbrooke invented. OSCE’s headquarter in Vienna, if I remember correctly, has a staff of some 15 people already wildly overburdened. And when the deal was made nobody knew where to find the money for this mission. It’s not going to be cheap.

What I hope the 2000 verifiers will do is to function roughly like United Nations Civil Affairs officers and as humanitarian aid workers, ie. to be at service to help local citizens in ever village with a down-to-earth human comfort, solidarity and moral support. Help them solve everyday life conflicts, listen and discuss with them, understand their needs – in short, care for what nobody in the international community is trained to care for: the human dimension of conflict.

In short, if they could first of all be human and secondly perform all these funny tasks, it would be good for the people in Kosovo. You see, no matter what political solution will one day be found – the citizens of Kosovo/a will need help to recover, reconciliate, build trust. In the best of cases, peace can be built from the ground-up. No matter how skilled Ambassador Holbrooke and Ambassador Hill and other helpers are supposed to be, they are not magicians and cannot create peace from the top-down. I am afraid that they are convinced about that themselves, however.

Only if citizens of all kinds are involved can we hope to build a genuine, lasting peace. Peace by diplomats talking to a few leaders is power politics – it’s got nothing to do with peace policies, trust and – of course not – democracy.

 

3. GENERALLY, DO YOU THINK THAT THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT OF THE KOSOVA ISSUE THROUGH FOREIGN PRESENCE IN KOSOVA, OR IS THIS JUST A WAY OF “BUYING TIME”?

No, the verifiers mission has no mandate in and of itself that can lead to a settlement.

 

4. DO YOU THINK THAT SOME KIND OF FOREIGN MILITARY PRESENCE IN KOSOVA IS IMPORTANT, AS IT WAS IN THE CASE OF MACEDONIA – WHERE WE FACED FOR THE FIRST TIME SO-CALLED “PREVENTIVE DIPLOMACY” – IN ORDER TO PREVENT RENEWING OF THE WAR BETWEEN ALBANIANS AND THE SERBIAN REGIME, WHICH CAN BE EASILY PREDICTED FOR NEXT SPRING?

Well, as you know, TFF has advocvated since 1992 an international unarmed presece in Kosovo – the UNTANS proposal for a United Nations Temporary Authority for a Negotiated Settlement. We suggested professional NGOs, conflict resolution experts, psychologists, social workers AND a professional, comprehensive forum for many-facetted negotiations among the many and varied parties on the many different levels of society. We also proposed a substantive de-militarization of the province.

You may see that this is something quite different from what you have gotten now. There is no negotiation institution, only an American ambassador from Skopje who cannot be neutral because he is American and Americans have foreign policy interests here. OSCE is a government organisation, no NGOs have been asked to help in this situation – although there are hundreds like TFF around the world who happens to know a bit. You see, governments think they know best – but look at the world…

When we suggested UNTANS, we were told repeatedly in Belgrade that this would undermine Serbian sovereignty and was a subtle recognition of an independent Kosova. In Prishtina TFF teams were also politely and correctly listened to but it was never the right time to negotiate, we were told – and LDK etc wanted international military presence IF they could get it.

I hope I don’t offend anyone if I say that I think that MORE people would be BETTER off today had they followed just 10% of TFF’s proposal at the time. I mean just look at the human, the psychological and the physical destruction around you – that comes now on top of solving the original problems !

About preventive diplomacy. Excuse me, but if I look at what the “international community” – in reality some handful of ministers and presidents – has done in Croatia and Bosnia and now in Kosovo since 1991, I would prefer to talk about preventING diplomacy. Macedonia is now being drawn into potential violence with Serbia by being FORCED – indirectly, nobody has to say it to them in big words, they know they cannot say no – to accept even more troops whose mission is, if need be, to commit aggression against Serbia which, as you know, is both a recognized and sovereign state.

 

5. AS YOU KNOW, THE BASIC AMERICAN IDEA NOWADAYS IS THAT IN THE CURRENT CONDITIONS, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE A FINAL SOLUTION TO THE KOSOVA CRISIS, SO WE NEED AN INTERIM AGREEMENT FOR KOSOVA. DO YOU SHARE THIS OPINION?

Yes, I have had this opinion for several years – and it is not an American idea at all. I think we can congratulate American diplomacy for having learnt that much from its own mistake at Dayton: it takes more than a year to “fix” a complex, deep conflict and “fast politics” is as bad as “fast food” – compared with quality work based on analysis. It remains to seen whether they will live that lesson in your case.

 

6. THE ALBANIAN NEGOTIATION TEAM, IN ITS PROPOSALS FOR AN INTERIM ACCORD, INSISTS IN MEANINGFUL SELF-GOVERNMENT FOR KOSOVA, IN THE ROLE OF KOSOVA WITHIN THE FRY, AND IN REFERENDUM, AFTER THREE YEARS OF THIS ACCORD. THE SERBIAN SIDE INSISTS THAT KOSOVA SHOULD STILL BE DEFINED AS A PART OF SERBIA, EVEN IN THIS INTERIM PERIOD. DO YOU THINK THAT THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CAN FIND A COMPROMISE?

As a professional peace and conflict researcher I believe that all sides as well as the diplomats have started in the wrong end: by formal status instead of issues of substance, unyielding positions instead of interests and needs combined with more or less twisted legal matters etc. You see, people do that because they are lawyers and there are too many lawyers in the field of mediation.

I am not a lawyer and would never perform in that role. Lawyers, diplomats and military people never seem to hesitate to perform a role in a field they have no professional training in: that of mediation, peace proposal production and conflict-resolution. (You know, no international organizations employ or train such people). So, some modesty would be in place as it is a science and an art to help people solve their conflicts. It’s an academic subject at universities around the world.

If I was a mediator I would, after a ceasefire, have started in the other end of the spectrum and asked: what are the needs of the citizens who live in Kosovo? So, go out in the streets of Pristina and the villages of Kosovo and ask: what do you need, what do you want? I think people will answer: good health care, better kindergartens and education at all levels, a higher level of material wellbeing, cultural expression, freedom of movement, freedom to think and speak openly, safety, being treated with respect, a clean environment, and they will ask for media they can trust, etc.

Then: Imagine that the parties sat down with international expertise discussing all these substantial issues and negotiated about them. You might find SOME solution to SOME of the problems. A little trust may evolve, over time – as people are listened to and see that they are being respected. So, you move from one issue to the next – substance, not positions: what kind of future would we like, how do we set up priorities when there are not unlimited resources available, and so forth?

SOMEBODY must have noticed that we are never going to get to a result by stating positions: We want a sovereign Serbia! We want an independent Kosova! My question is: what is good about this positioning if both alternatives means a life in misery, repression, hate and fear for generations ahead?

Furthermore, NGOs would deliver a lot of ideas and inputs to the process. There would be many negotiation tables and not one, many mediators and not one. In short: pluralism, many new ideas, tapping the wisdom and creativity of ordinary citizens and everybody else. PEOPLE would tell their politicians and the international community what they need and want. For the first year or more NOBODY would talk about “the solution” or whether there should be autonomy, independence, self-governance, or something else.

When they know what they want and need and there has been “thousands of dialogues” crisscrossing society, there would slowly be more trust. And, here comes the major point: Trust can lead to negotiations in good faith about formalities such as status of the province. Without that, negotiations cannot lead to trust. If people cannot find solutions to their problems and hand it all over to father figures – Milosevic, Hill, or someone else – how can they believe they are worth your votes in a democratic state? Nothing can be achieved before there is a minimum of trust. And trust comes from listening, understanding and exploring better future possibilities – together.

Now, of course, the reason this is not the way people make peace is that “peace” is monopolised by the likes of people such as Milosevic, Rugova, Holbrooke, Hill, Demaqi etc. If they had to listen and were FORCED to follow what citizens told them – they would not find the whole game such great fun and they would no longer belong to the immensely powerful jet-set, to an elite. They would be servants of their people, of their constituencies – in short: democratic, respected and even loved leaders. None of them are – and you have to ask yourselves why.

I am aware that all this would take a long time. But it could well succeed and it would cause less killing and harm. People of Kosovo would then stand together and NOT appeal constantly – submissively – for help. They would create a democratic peace. And the leaders on the top – locally as well as internationally – would not like that. They love to have loyal clients.

In summary: No, I don’t believe for a moment that “the international community” can find a compromise FOR YOU. Only you yourselves can ! Whatever someone else does will not be a solution without the VOLUNTARY consent of the Albanians, the Serbs and everybody else in Kosovo/a and Serbia/FRY. By letting the “international community” meddle in your affairs you reduce yourselves to those who just react, your conflict is stolen from you and the “solution” will be theirs and none of the people of Kosovo/a will be consulted. Through the recent warfare you have gotten even more powerful masters who will decide your future. The way out? Present a plan, a vision of Kosovo/a’s future which is signed by the Kosovo-Albanians, the Kosovo-Serbs, and all other nations in the region.

 

7. AN IMPRESSION PREVAILS WITHIN THE CIRCLES IN BELGRADE THAT THE SERBIAN CHURCH, WITH THE SERBIAN ACADEMY AND POLITICAL CIRCLES THAT SERBIAN NATIONAL INTERESTS REQUIRES THAT THEY INSIST ON THE TERRITORIAL DIVISION OF KOSOVA, BY ALLOWING THE INDEPENDENCE OF KOSOVA WHILE TAKING AS MUCH TERRITORY IN THEIR ECONOMIC AND HISTORICAL INTEREST AS POSSIBLE. CIRCLES FAMILIAR WITH THE POLITICAL CONDITIONS ANNOUNCE THAT SUCH OPTINS MAY ROVE VERY DANGEROUS, AND MAY LEAD TOWARD THE RENEWAL OF THE WAR. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS SCENARIO?

I never comment on one “final solution” to a conflict. I would ask: what makes you think this is a good idea? From now on there should be a moratorium on talking about the final settlement. Start talking about processes and ideas! It is a bit meager to have one diplomat’s plan to respond to. You need ten mediation initiatives by impartial, professional people – not to respond to but to have dialogues with and find ways to a better future with. Openness and creativity. Why does you side accept to just respond – and say no – to whatever Ambassador Hill comes up with. Let is be the free market the Americans love and have many competing, attrative plans for peace and a better future – all the leagal stuff in Ambassaor Hill’s plans is important – but secondary and far too limited to create peace among human beings.

I would establish a process for all possible, thinkable solutions, develop them in details and make a referendum where the peoples of the province and of Serbia are asked which of 3, 5 of 11 possible solutions they would like – and then it is the duty of politicians to help realize the wishes of the people. If they don’t – choose some politicians who understand democracy. If the authoritarian ones won’t go on one or both sides? Use principled, active and systematic nonviolence throughout society but only to realize the peace plan or solution that the people have voted for.

I never advocate divisions – in the sense of building walls – around people. It’s a thinking that belongs to the past. Don’t you think we have seen enough divisons and fragmentation in the Balkans? – enough families, neighbourhoods and towns torn apart?

What about exploring new ways to live together. You see, division means ever smaller units – ever more easy to manipulate by the big guys. This means less and less self-governance in the modern world. Division would probably mean decades of border war between Kosova and Serbia and Macedonia, a drain on limited resources and consequently all your citizens doomed to poverty. Or look at it this way: divide Serbs even more and chop up Serbia further – and you’ll have civil war. Who is that good for? – the international community wil then take that over like Bosnia…

 

8. YOU ARE ONE OF THE FEW WESTERN EXPERTS WHO SINCE 1992 HAS ARGUED THAT IN ORDE TO SOLVE THE KOSOVA ISSUE, THERE IS A NEED FOR INTERNATIONAL INVOLVEMENT THROUGH THE MODEL OF A PROTECTORATE. IT SEEMS THAT NOW, MORE THAN EVER, YOUR IDEAS ARE TOPICAL/RELEVANT. SO DO YOU THINK THE UN SHOULD BE ASKED TO ESTABLISH A PROTECTORATE IN KOSOVA?

Neither I nor TFF advocated a protectorate as such. Our proposal was UNTANS – it’s still available from TFF in Sweden and all the details are there – and summarized on our website. This was a proposal aimed at helping the parties find their own solution, nothing else. You see, as a mediator or “conflict doctor” I shall not be interested in the “final settlement”. I shall only be a helper.

But, I am afraid you can forget the UN. The US and NATO has used Croatia, Somalia, Bosnia and Iraq to undermine the legitimacy and role of the UN as the world’s main peacekeeper and presented NATO as the “new” peacekeeper in the world.

The UN mission in Macedonia is excellent and, if anything, it could have been expanded – functionally or organizationally – to Kosovo. I believe that would have been much more acceptable for Belgrade too than what it has now. Alas, it was one of dozens of missed opportunities – and on the Albanian side, the details and modalities of such a “protectorate” was never spelled out.

 

9. YOU ACCUSE THE MOST IMPORTANT WESTERN POWERS FOR LACK OF SENSE OF SUPPORT FOR THE CIVIL SOCIETY AND DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION IN THE REGION, INCLUDING FRY. ACCORDING TO YOU, WHAT MUST THEY DO IN ORDER TO CHANGE THE SITUATION IN THAT DIRECTION?

Sorry, it is too late now. The wars in ex-Yugoslavia were also wars to kill civil society. But you remember how the West was SO interested in supporting dissidents in the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc – such as Sakharov, Walesa, Havel etc. Not so here. Western media never presented the numerous, courageous dissidents in all republics of former Yugoslavia who fought against their OWN regimes and their nationalism, authoritarianism, adventurism, hate speech etc. Had the West done so from around 1980 and onwards there could have been a civil society that resisted the authoritarianism of regimes in all the republics (the degree of authoritarianism varies only marginally in Croatia, in the three Bosnia-Hercegovina – the Sarajevo-Bosniak/Herceg-Bosna and Republika Srpska – in Serbia, in the Kosovo-Albanian leadership, in Montenegro and in Macedonia).

The end of the Cold War should have opened up an entirely new chapter in the operations of the international community. The Bush/US-lead “new World Order” prevented that effectively. Small countries like Denmark and Sweden integrated with the EU and lost their independent thinking and voice in the process.

The people in Kosovo – as in all other local conflicts – have a tendency to see themselves as the center of the world. I understand and respect that when people are in deep conflict. However, in the eyes of the big guys, the mighty policy makers in Washington, London, Bonn, Moscow etc – you are just a little piece in a jigsaw puzzle. I don’t want to be cynical, but I don’t think they care much for your future, my future or that of our children.

You would be better served by helping yourselves and not keep on running stubborn position-policies which invites them to intervene and look like saviours and protectors of your rights and lives. (Please give me one example of a country where human rights issue have forced the US or Western Europe to forego important economic, political, strategic or other interests!)

Only you can save yourselves – and my first advice is always: Lay down the arms, stop using all kinds of violence. Attack your problems, not the people on the other side. Violence brings you all further from a solution and the future you create out of it will be worse. If millions of people stand together, principled and with a unified strategy, single authoritarian leaders will have to give up. And they have, sooner or later, throughout history.

I know that much of what I have told you here sound a bit unrealistic or idealistic. If I sat in Belgrade I would say to myself: well, the repression and police violence we used did not work, Serbia is now put under administration by OSCE, NATO, the West European Union – which is what we wanted to avoid. We must change our strategy! If I sat in Pristina I would say: well, passive violence didn’t work and the war conducted by KLA was no good either. So, we must change our strategy!

You see, I am convinced that human beings can learn, can change – the present and the future, not the past. Nonviolence can open new roads, new ideas and better future possibilities. Violence always limits the options.

This is what TFF and I myself – in all honest humility – say wherever we go. If you don’t believe in it, go ask those innocent civilians anywhere in Kosovo and the rest of Serbia who have paid the high price – welfare, dignity, trust, rights and even lives – for years of repression, intolerance, lack of respect and a deep belief in violence.

In conclusion just remember two things: 1) remember that your humanity means respecting the humanity on the other side and 2) remember that a good cause cannot be won by bad means.

 

Dr. Jan Øberg

Director and co-founder of The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF in Lund, Sweden. TFF’s team has been actively engaged in conflict-analysis, mediation and peace teaching in all parts of former Yugoslavia since 1991, in Kosovo since 1992. TFF’s website is http://www.transnational.org and Dr. Oberg can be reached by e-mail at: tff@transnational.org

The mentioned UNTANS peace proposal was developed through numerous missions to Belgrade and Prishtina between 1992 and 1996 in which LDK on one side and the Yugoslav government on the other side took part in a written dialogue – in silent, citizens diplomacy. It’s available from TFF at a price of 10 US dollars plus postage – and summarized on TFFs website.

This interview was originally published here.

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