Why these ‘peace’ efforts can’t bring peace to Kosovo

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 54 – January 7, 1999

Originally published here.

In a large interview with the leading Kosovo-Albanian weekly “ZËRI” on December 22, TFF director Jan Oberg challenges the international community’s whole approach to conflict-resolution and peace. He also believes that the policy of positioning and the focus on formal status pursued by the parties is counterproductive.

It’s time, he maintains, to listen to the needs of citizens, to address real issues of daily life and to introduce some new ideas and actors.

Governments have failed on all sides. Their diplomats may be great lawyers but they lack professional knowledge and training in conflict analysis, conflict psychology, social issues and mediation techniques. This is simply not the way to proceed if you want to help people to live in peace.”


Read the interview in its entirety.

Here follow excerpts:

“Modern history is full of conflicts at least as bad as that in Kosovo that have been overcome by nonviolence.”

“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…”

“Some of you may think that the US/NATO would do something here to support you – forget it.”

“The Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement is a ‘deal’ about power and, like in 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 but a deal.”

“Whatever 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.”

“So far in this ‘peace’ process, 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…”

“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.”

“I am not a lawyer and would never perform in that role. But 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.”

“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?”

“Trust can lead to negotiations in good faith about formalities such as status of the province. Without that, negotiations cannot lead to trust. Nothing can be achieved before there is a minimum of trust. And trust comes from listening, understanding and exploring better future possibilities – together.”

“If people such as Milosevic, Rugova, Holbrooke, Hill, Demaqi etc. 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…”

“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.”

“Let it be the free market the Americans love and have many competing, attrative plans for peace and a better future – all the legal stuff in Ambassador Hill’s plans is important – but secondary and far too limited to create peace among human beings.”

“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 the big internationals to intervene and look like saviours and protectors of your rights and lives.

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.”

” 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…”

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