It’s time to prepare reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 141 – December 21, 2001

Originally published here.

 

This time of the year provides us all with an opportunity to reflect. Reconciliation and forgiveness, peace of mind and compassion come to our minds. We send season’s greetings to each other and express hopes for a better new year.

The latest PressInfos and this one circle around these issues in a concrete manner, applied to a concrete case. That is important in itself. But by focusing on the Balkans we also want to make the point that there are other problems than the September 11 terror that merit attention. That is, if we embrace all of humanity in our compassionate thoughts and deeds and not just the few.
It has gone unnoticed that non-violence proved stronger than police repression and authoritarian rule in Serbia and stronger than extremist violence by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UCK) in Kosovo.

Milosevic went the militant, repressive way. He finally lost when citizens and police stopped supporting and obeying him in last year’s “October Revolution.” Extremist KLA/UCK chose weapons to “liberate” Kosovo, but since they entered politics they have failed to gain the support of the majority of citizens ever since.

The international community, comprised of a few European countries, NATO and the U.S., decided to use violence after having lost a decade of mitigation and negotiation opportunities. It has used diplomatic isolation, caused suffering among millions due to economic sanctions (mass violence), it bombed Yugoslavia and made it even more difficult for the opposition to topple Milosevic.

The U.S., in particular, destabilised Macedonia by formal and under cover introduction of violence into the domestic conflict of that country; Macedonia is now further from peaceful co-existence between Macedonians and Albanians than at any time since its independence.

 

The overlooked victories of nonviolence

Non-violence has won many battles in contemporary conflicts with far-reaching regional and global implications. Most historians, diplomats and media have ignored these cases exactly as victories for non-military, popular power. Let’s just the fall of the Shah of Iran, the fall of the Marcos couple in The Philippines, Solidarnosc in Poland, the popular uprising against Pinochet in Chile and now in Yugoslavia against an authoritarian regime and its wars.

Largest and most neglected of all cases: the end of the Cold War and the demolition of the Berlin Wall. This could not have happened without the major non-violent popular movements in both camps consisting, first of all, of women, priests, youth, human rights activists, Greens, cultural workers, and drop-out NATO generals. In short, a comprehensive peace movement and truly expressive of NON-governmental energy.

Whether Kosovo will eventually become a part of Serbia, an autonomous province, a unit in a new confederation or remain a protectorate, Serbs and Albanians will remain neighbours and need each other for trade and have other relations. Processes of reconciliation and forgiveness are known to take a long time, in this case it is realistic to think in terms of 20 years or more before trustful co-operation will again be possible. Why not start now?

 

There is a chance now, with small steps

With Dr. Rugova as the leading politician in Kosovo and Dr. Kostunica as President of Yugoslavia, chances are that the first small steps could be taken. Having met with them both, I feel convinced that their personalities would permit a meaningful encounter – better than any other conceivable pair of high-level politicians in the foreseeable future.

It is too early to take big steps. It could start with letters of goodwill being exchanged, then perhaps phone conversations and, in a year or two from now, a personal meeting either somewhere symbolically equidistant from Belgrade and Pristina or in Belgrade and/or in Pristina. If citizens on both sides were thus prepared for such a meeting and some mitigation was done by competent internationals before, there is no doubt that the majority would greet it with relief. It would reduce the sense of fear and wishes for revenge; it would politically marginalise extremists on both sides and it would lead to a return visit or some kind of confidence-building project document which could be signed for the benefit of the people.

 

Psychological healing can open doors to solutions

Does it sound unrealistic? Well, it is hardly half as unrealistic as it is to believe that a permanent solution to the status of Kosovo/a can ever be found without prior efforts at human reconciliation. This is where Dr.Rugova’s authority, humanism and tolerance ties in well with Dr. Kostunica’s Reconciliation and Truth Commission. Kosovo’s status cannot be settled without basic minimum trust between the two peoples, and there cannot be a credible reconciliation process in Yugoslavia without addressing, at some point, the contemporary history, the conflict and the violence in Kosovo.

The need for a new constitution for Yugoslavia is evident. The relations between Serbia and Montenegro, the two units that make up today’s Yugoslavia, are at a low point and extremely complex. Kosovo is under de-facto administration by the UN and NATO, a protectorate-like situation based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which can be interpreted as both pro-Yugoslav and pro-independence for Kosovo. Be this as it may, both the Albanians and the Serbs have a common interest in showing that they can run their own affairs as well as live and work together and, thus, get rid of the foreign administration and decision-making above their heads.

 

Dialogue first, negotiations later

In late November 2000, President Kostunica called on Dr. Rugova to hold talks. That was after LDK’s victory in the municipal elections. At the time Kostunica stated,”For the lasting peace and stability of Kosovo, which has to remain a multinational environment, a crucial dialogue is necessary to initiative talks between the two greatest national communities, the Albanian and the Serb community.” He is right. Dialogue and confidence-building must come first, then talks and then negotiations.

One may add that, in the dialogue phase, there should be a moratorium on the issue of status for Kosovo/a. The parties should begin with all the practical, down-to-earth issues that pertain to the lives of citizens and which can be solved without discussing the status. Step-by-step Serbs and Albanians would then find out that they benefit more from interacting than from turning their backs to each other in the future.

Mr. Kostunica and Mr. Rugova are moderate politicians and tolerant personalities. Both are patriots, proud of their respective nations, but not chauvinists. Neither has blood on his hands, as neither was responsible for the violence committed during the war. Both are advocates of non-violence, and neither would dream of starting a new war.

 

Don’t lose another ten years

The sooner long processes are begun, the sooner they can lead to fruitful results. A decade was lost for constructive, principled conflict-mitigation. The very least Serbs and Albanians, as well as the international community, must now learn is that there is no acceptable reason for losing another ten years for reconciliation, forgiveness and peaceful co-existence.

Only when that has been achieved to some substantial degree can we hope to find a permanent solution to the status of Kosovo/a. And that, in turn, is a precondition for the stability needed to solidify human need-satisfaction, material as well as psychological, and move away from fear in the direction of genuine peace.

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