Kosovo/a independent? Perhaps, but what matters is how

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 106 – December 4, 2000

Originally published here.

 

The main proposal in the independent international Kosovo Commission’s report is that Kosovo should be given conditional independence. This PressInfo deals with this proposal and a few other aspects of the report.

 

THE FIRST PARAGRAPH

The very first paragraph of the report’s executive statement states: “The origins of the crisis have to be understood in terms of a new wave of nationalism that led to the rise of Milosevic and the official adoption of an extreme Serbian nationalist agenda. The revocation of Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989 was followed by a Belgrade policy aimed at changing the ethnic composition of Kosovo and creating an apartheid-like society.”

Here are some simple counter arguments: a) nationalism alone certainly can not explain the conflicts in the region; b) not only the Serbs used nationalism, so did Bosnian Muslim, Croats, Macedonians, Slovenes and Albanians at the time; c) it indicates a poor understanding of Milosevic to say that he was a nationalist; he sold out Serbs and the Serbian ’cause’ repeatedly in order to remain in or increase his personal power; d) there was no official adoption of nationalism; e) Kosovo’s autonomy was not revoked, it was sharply reduced and, for sure, it was done in an offending, authoritarian way; f) there is no evidence that there was an official policy in Belgrade with the aim of changing the ethnic composition of the Kosovo province, but there was a worry over the fact that over the preceding 30 years the Serb proportion of the province’s population had fallen from about 30% to 9%.

 

APARTHEID – REALLY?

The reference to apartheid is misleading. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, apartheid is “(Afrikaans: ‘apartness’) name given by the Afrikaner National Party, in office in Africa since 1948, to the policies that govern relations between the country’s 3,800.000 white inhabitants and its 17,700,000 non-white, mainly black African, inhabitants. It is also used to describe the long-term objective of the territorial separation that is advocated by Afrikaner church and intellectual circles.” Other characteristics of apartheid are mentioned: complete domination of the white minority over the black majority; black Africans were allowed to own land only within the 13 per cent of the territory which were designated native reserves; sexual and marriage relations between blacks and whites illegal; nonwhites were denied the right to vote; and all black Africans were required to obtain a permission before they could enter and remain in urban areas. (15th edition, Vol 1, p 439).

There was nothing even “apartheid-like” in Kosovo. Indeed, its status as autonomous since 1974 speaks against this. It has not been a question of race relations or based on colour, it was not a minority dominating a majority as Kosovo was part of Serbia and of former Yugoslavia in both of which Serbs were the largest nation; Kosovo-Albanians could vote (but boycotted elections), and they were not forced to seek permission to leave reserves. What is true, however, is that Albanian radicals would use the term “apartheid” in conversations with foreign visitors, either as part of their liberation vocabulary or in perfectly understandable despair over their situation. But for the Commission &endash; chaired by South African judge, Richard Goldstone – to make the above statement its basic framework gives reason for concern.

 

THE HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE

And now to the issue of independent Kosova. [Read more…]

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Some ethical aspects on NATO’s intervention in Kosovo – Part B

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 74 – July 29, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

• Stereotyping and discrimination
Ask yourself whether NATO’s bombing and subsequent occupation could have been done against any other nation in today’s Europe. Whether any other country than Yugoslavia and any other people but Serbs is so despised? The plight of the Albanian refugees is in focus, but how well and how extensive did media cover that of the Serbs, Goranis, Montenegrin, Turks and Gypsies in Kosovo? The refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania entered our living rooms – but did the human suffering of people living in and fleeing to bombed-out Yugoslavia?

Recent Albanian extremist violence against Serbs is reported with ‘understanding,’ presented as (justifiable) revenge for what Serb police, military and paramilitary units did. But the media which told the story this way, never ‘explained’ that Serb ethnic cleansing after NATO started bombing could be ‘understood’ as (justifiable) anger at what THEY saw as the destruction of their entire country commissioned or demanded – as it was – by moderate as well as extremist Kosovo-Albanians.

Everybody knows that humanitarian aid should be based on needs only. But people living in Yugoslavia shall not receive any assistance ‘as long as Milosevic is at the helmet.’ One wonders whether the international human rights community is on collective holiday? Since the early 1990s, Serb human and minority rights were never cared for to the extent e.g. Croatian, Bosniak and Albanian rights were.

In social science, stereotyping can be defined as ‘a one-sided, exaggerated and normally prejudicial view of a group, tribe or class of people, and is usually associated with racism and sexism.’ Stereotypes are often resistant to change or correction from countervailing evidence, because they create a sense of social solidarity. Is it so unlikely that the United States and NATO did just a bit of stereotyping to maintain alliance credibility and solidarity?

• Authoritarian politics undermining international democracy.
NATO now has a near-monopoly on conflict-management. The UN, the EU, single governments in the region, OSCE and NGOs went out of the region when NATO went in. No NATO government declared war, no parliaments voted about participation in the campaign. (In contrast, the ‘dictatorship’s parliament in Belgrade debated both the Rambouillet and the G8 plan). None of the democracies in NATO dared challenge the near-total US military and political dominance in this operation or that of the “Quint” – the five biggest NATO leaders. [Read more…]

NATO’s war and the ethnic cleansing – Is there a way out?

By Johan Galtung

TFF PressInfo 70 – June 10, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

“Where do I stand: very simply, I am against the NATO bombing, I am against ethnic cleansing, whether by Serbs or anybody else – for instance by the immigrants to North America who in the period 1600-1900 cleansed away about 10,000,000 American Indians. I find nothing original in my position. The only original position would be to be in favor of both, a view probably only entertained by arms dealers.

There are those who try to make us believe that you have to make a choice between NATO and Milosevic; if you are against one for sure you are in favor of the other. Nonsense. Early on in this horrible decade many of the same people tried to make us believe that you had to make a choice between the Gulf war and Saddam Hussein; again, perfectly possible to be against both.

Then, the second example of this terrible dualism, the terror of the false dichotomy as we academics say: there was no alternative, if you do not accept the NATO bombing it means that you are co-responsible for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Nonsense.

There was an alternative and even a very good one: step of the number of observers in the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) from 1,200 to, say, 6,000, 12,000. Handies and binoculars, living in the villages, bringing in volunteers. But at the same time there was a civil war going on from February 1998, and one US ambassador had done what the US did in connection with the Gulf war: He (Gelbard) told Belgrade that the USA was of the view that KLA were terrorists – certainly also the Belgrade position.

The alternative would have been to close the border by extending the UN mandate on the Macedonian-Kosovo border, step up OSCE, and then call a major conference on South East Europe.

Nothing like this happened; as we know the war was decided early last fall; only a question of preparing the public through the media, and presenting Milosevic with an ultimatum he could not accept. The Rambouillet charade was about this. People started getting suspicious when they discovered that the media did not bring the text; it had to be dug out from obscure sites on the Internet.

I asked some journalists to make an inquiry in one of these 19 democracies, my own, Norway: no parliamentarian had read the text. Democracy is about informed participation.

The Serbs knew: loss of sovereignty and territorial integrity, unlimited NATO access to Serbia. No state signs itself into occupation and dismemberment. The Kosovars also knew: this was not the independence they wanted; it looked more like a protectorate under NATO. So they voted no. [Read more…]

Covering up NATO’s Balkan Bombing Blunder

Av Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 61 – April 14, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

“Western leaders are busy re-writing history to justify their Balkan bombing blunder. The change in information, rhetoric and explanations since the bombings started on March 24 is literally mind-boggling. Most likely they fear they have opened a very dark chapter in history and may be losing the plot.

One way to make failure look like success is to construct a powerful media reality and de-construct real reality. That’s the essence of media warfare and that’s what happens now,” says TFF director Jan Oberg.

“For instance, you must have noticed that the The Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA or UCK, which existed some weeks ago and allegedly participated in Rambouillet now suddenly never existed. The 13-months war in Kosovo/a also conveniently has been expurgated.

The last few days President Clinton, prime minister Blair, NATO General Wesley Clark, foreign secretary Cook, foreign minister Fischer, secretary Albright, defence minister Robertson and other Western leaders have explained to the world why NATO bombs Yugoslavia. They made no mention of KLA or the war. Their speeches are surprisingly uniform. Their main points are:

• We have evidence that Yugoslavia, i.e.President Milosevic had a plan to ethnically cleanse Kosovo/a of all Albanians.

• One proof of this plan is that some 700.000 have been driven over the borders; it would have been many more, if not all 2 million Albanians, had NATO not taken action. [Read more…]

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…]

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…]

Help Serbs and Albanians settle their differences in Kosovo!

A Civilian U.N. Authority Supported By NGOs for a Negotiated Settlement in Kosovo

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 24

August 1997

“The Serbs and Albanians have proved that they themselves are unable to start and sustain a process towards conflict-resolution and reconciliation. International attempts, lacking analysis as well as strategy, have failed, too. The overall situation has deteriorated and violence is escalating, slowly but surely. It simply cannot go on like that in the future and go well,” says Jan Oberg, director of the Transnational Foundation which has been engaged in the conflict in the Kosovo region of Serbia, Yugoslavia since 1991. “New thinking should be applied sooner rather than later,” he urges.

“With the breakdown in Albania, Serbia has lost the argument – never very credible – that the Kosovars want to unite with Albania. President Milosevic recently visited the region with no new proposals. The pragmatic non-violent policies of the Kosovar leadership is being undermined. The Kosovars have failed to prove that Serbs as people are their friends, for instance when they protested the temporary settlement of refugee Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia in Kosovo.

With its anti-Serbian diagnosis of ex-Yugoslavia’s conflicts, the international “community” in general and the United States – both under president George Bush and Bill Clinton – in particular gave the Kosovars reason to believe that an independent state was around the corner. [Read more…]