Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



By Howard Clark

September, 2000 London: Pluto Press, 2000. 266 pp. Notes and index. 19.95 USD, ISBN 0 7453 1569 0 (paper).

Reviewed by Besnik Pula (, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

The full text of the book can be found here,

Finally, a book on the nonviolent resistance movement in Kosova. And Howard Clark is one of the most informed observers out there, a peace activist that has been continually involved in Kosovar politics since the early rise of the intellectual dissident movement known as the "Kosova Alternative" in the early 1990s, and the later creation of a shadow government, to the Rambouillet negotiations in 1999. In contrast to Tim Judah's recent book on Kosova, which primarily chronicles the rise and growth of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), Clark's narrative focuses on the late 1980s and 1990s and specifically at the development of nonviolent resistance. His disregard for the KLA in the book is an advantage rather than a weakness because it would have obfuscated the discussion, while beyond any doubt the Kosovar nonviolent movement is a subject worthy of attention on its own. In his book, Clark is concerned with both providing a historical account of the development of the nonviolent movement in Kosova and with developing methods and strategies of nonviolent resistance (what he terms civil resistance) by using Kosova as a case. As an historical account, Clark's book is well-researched and very detailed, and it definitely amounts to one of the best English-language surveys on the emergence of the nonviolent movement in Kosova. In the latter goal, Clark is rather tenuous: in his theoretical treatment of the Kosovar Albanian movement he fails to address certain conceptual problems, his agenda is not always clear, and at times he delves into Ghandian philosophy without always elaborating the practical implications he seeks to discern.

Clark's first two chapters contain a discussion of the conflict's history. No novelty should be expected as Clark's narrative is derived from existing Western sources, but it offers a useful background to those unfamiliar with the region's history. Only in the book's third chapter does Clark begin to enter into the heart of the matter. The chapter provides an historical overview of the late 1980s and early 1990s rich in factual information, much of which one will not find in other recent books on the conflict in Kosova or the Yugoslav breakup. While today they seem distant and in many ways insignificant in light of the carnage of 1999, the miners' strikes of 1988 and the mass demonstrations of 1989-90 were precursors to the mass movement that soon after engulfed virtually all Kosovar Albanians in a struggle to rid the province of Serbian control. The emergence of the "Kosovar Alternative", with the springing up of the first pro-democracy, pro-human rights groups and the diligent efforts to eradicate the centuries old practice of the blood feud are discussed in detail, and so are the internal squabbles between different factions in the early stages of the movement and the transformative shifts in identity once nonviolence was introduced. In this regard, Clark correctly notes the movement's multifaceted character, underscoring the fact that it was not only a movement for self-determination but also a movement that, at least in the initial phases, harbored broader goals of development and social reform.

 Serbia's repressive policies that increased the defensive aspect of the movement are discussed in detail in chapter four, while a discussion of the organization of the so-called "parallel society" takes up the following chapter. The latter chapter describes not only the functioning of the parallel government, but also the local infrastructure that made the parallel society work: the schools, the university, and health care and welfare networks. In contrast to many other Western observers who described the work of the parallel structures with awe, Clark provides a more evenhanded evaluation. He concludes that the parallel system produced mixed results: while it was a powerful tool in opposing the violent Serbian takeover of the province's institutions and in generating international sympathies for the Albanian cause, it had limited abilities in providing the previously state-sponsored public services it sought to replace. In the proceeding years, education levels plummeted taking the quality of education down with them, the university was ill-equipped to provide students with any meaningful training, while poverty increased in spite of the efforts to alleviate the shocks of massive unemployment and impoverishment.

An important question that the book tries to address is the failure of nonviolent resistance. Looking at the internal dynamics, Clark gives accounts of the monopolization of political power by the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), the party that became the core of the movement, while Ibrahim Rugova's increasingly self-congratulating style of leadership stifled most other initiatives for changes in tactics. The post-Dayton period is crucial in this regard, given the increasing feelings of desperation and hopelessness among Kosovar Albanians and the growing pressures on Rugova to adopt a more active approach in nonviolent resistance. While not explicitly endorsing the views of Rugova's critics, Clark does concur with them in arguing that sustaining the nonviolent resistance required a more proactive policy.

In his view, the type of nonviolent resistance practiced by the Kosovar Albanians had saturated its ability to undermine Serbian authority and garner international support for its cause, while it had limited its maneuvering space due to its exclusive reliance on international intervention as a means for resolving the conflict. Clark also notes the LDK's increasing rigidity and aloofness the party itself became an essentially undemocratic organization, and Rugova's preoccupation with developing the bearing of a head of state increasingly overrode the demands of waging an active struggle. Clark even suggests that the LDK should have been more flexible in its goal of independence in order to propose intermediate solutions that could have been more acceptable to Serbs. However, while I do concur with him that the two sides' intractable positions exacerbated the conflict, the cost of opting for autonomy rather than independence without any negotiations in place was too high it would have had a disastrous effect on the Kosovar movement and sown insurmountable divisions within the community, as Clark himself acknowledges. And it would have seriously undermined the LDK's claim that Serbia had taken from the Kosovars what was legitimately theirs prior to 1989 their right to a sovereign government (hence the Albanians' branding of Serbia's takeover as an "occupation"). Furthermore, it was more likely Milosevic's unflinching resolve to maintain its repressive apparatus in Kosova and the regime's unwillingness to negotiate the issue on more equitable terms that made it impossible for the LDK to publicly endorse solutions other than independence. But the regime's behavior does not exonerate the Serbian opposition, which frequently claims that if the Kosovar Albanians had helped its struggle the Milosevic regime would have collapsed earlier it too failed to provide any serious incentives to the Albanians to join their efforts while its treatment of Kosova as an exclusively Serbian national issue made it indistinguishable from the regime from the Albanian point-of-view. Clark does not make this point strongly enough, saying that the LDK should have given more serious thought to the possibility of participating in Serbian elections. But then again, such an act would have carried the same risks as those associated with altering the goal of independence.

At any rate, the heated period after the emergence of the KLA in 1997 and the Serbian police's massacres in the years that followed spelled the definite end of nonviolent resistance, and Clark's narrative covers the main events of this period exceptionally well. He also speaks about the NATO intervention, which he considers a candid illustration of the West's utter failure to meaningfully address the problem before the situation got out of hand. His judgment in this case is strongly grounded in his principles based on the rejection of violence, but he also gives a strongly worded indictment of NATO for not dealing with "the criminals in its own ranks" (p. 185). While he is not totally opposed to military intervention to defend unprotected civilians, he considers the magnitude of NATO's intervention uncalled for and contemptible. But his criticisms of the military intervention are rather perfunctory. He speaks a lot about what the West could have done in 1995, 1996 and 1997 to begin instituting a peace process, but gives few alternatives for what could have been done in the frantic period of early 1999.

In his final chapter, Clark attempts to summarize the "lessons learned" for nonviolent resistance from the Kosovar case, and this is where his broader agenda as a peace activist is most evident. While he does acknowledge that, ultimately, nonviolence did pay off for the Kosovar Albanians, it mainly did so by gaining the international support necessary to conduct violent conflict that successfully prompted Western military intervention. It failed, however, in other respects, having been unable to implant ideas of democracy and ethnic tolerance and prevent an overall corrosion of values, goals which Clark considers to be crucial components of nonviolent struggle. His underlying belief, grounded in both Gandhian thought and in the insights of advocates of nonviolent action, is that nonviolent resistance demands a dynamism in both methods and goals, something that was consistently absent in Kosova. There is, however, an underlying conceptual problem in his attempt to compare the Kosovar movement with nonviolent movements under socialist regimes. The problem is that while dissident movements and mass-based anti-regime groups struggled for regime change, the Kosovar Albanian movement was an essentially secessionist movement that sought to dismember the state. This brings up another key question: can nonviolence succeed in a struggle for secession? Clark does not provide a clear answer to this question, although he does acknowledge the problem of conducting nonviolent resistance against an opponent willing to resort to genocidal methods and "ethnic cleansing" as a means to end the conflict. 

Clark's book fills a gap in documenting a considerably neglected period of Kosova's very recent history. The recent focus on the violence and the war has overshadowed a more optimistic period when the bleakness of socialist rule gave way to grassroots empowerment in a struggle that combined both a drive for democracy and local autonomous rule. Clark covers the many aspects of the Kosovar Albanian movement and provides an understanding on its origins and the factors that contributed to its decline and its failure to prevent violence. While some readers might be put off by Clark's peace activist agenda or may bicker with his analysis, he covers the period in lucid detail and provides a well-developed historical account. His lack of native-language sources are well compensated by interviews with important actors (the Kosovar analyst Shkëlzen Maliqi is an important source cited throughout) and by Clark's own firsthand experiences in Kosova. Nonetheless, for anyone interested in getting a more in depth look of the Kosovar conflict of the 1990s, this book is a definite read.

(c) 2001 Balkan Academic News. This review may be distributed and reproduced electronically, if credit is given to Balkan Academic News and the author. For permission for re-printing, contact Balkan Academic News.


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