Nonviolent solutions in Kosova

By Howard Clark for War Resisters International

April 13, 1999

There are moments when the military manage to put a nonviolent solution beyond immediate reach.

The cycle of provocation-reaction between the Kosova Liberation Army and various Serbian forces has combined with the bullying of NATO to make this one of those times. What we can propose, however, are various steps towards demilitarising the situation and the kind of considerations that should be included in a peace policy.

Point 1: Opportunities missed

The best chances to initiate a peace process in Kosova happened when there was still a Kosovar consensus to refrain from violence. However, international powers took for granted this self-restraint in the face of heavy-handed repression and provocation. Disdaining the Kosovar demand for independence, they downgraded Kosova to a 'human rights' issue, doing next to nothing to help Kosovars achieve even those aspirations that were not connected with independence, and doing very little to restrain Serbia.

When one considers how much governments invest in military research and development, it is criminal that there was no significant effort to formulate an international peace policy for Kosova until some Kosovars took up arms. What lesson should other beleaguered peoples draw from that?

Point 2: A process is needed

There is a basic incompatibility between the Serbian claim that 'Kosovo is and always shall be Serbian' and the Kosova-Albanian demand for independence. What this meant - means - was that there could be no instant success through negotiations, and certainly no imposition of one 'solution'. What was - and is - called for is peace process: instead of tackling the difficult question of the ultimate status of Kosova, first working to change the atmosphere, to build up confidence by dealing with smaller issues of immediate interest to the whole population of Kosova - issues of security, economics, education, health, social development. There was room for manoeuvre on both sides.

Although in many respects the Kosovar claim to independence is backed by international and constitutional law as well as natural justice, many Kosovars recognised that this would be a 'war option' and tried to develop compromise positions. The main political party before the war began - the Democratic League for Kosova (LDK) - asked for Kosova to be a UN protectorate for two years, and then for a referendum to decide on its process. Adem Demai, later to be the general political representative of the Liberation Army, proposed a federation called 'Balkania', with three equal republics - Serbia, Montenegro and Kosova. Neither of these were acceptable to Belgrade. Some Albanians and some Serbians advocated 'Autonomy Plus'.

Until the end of 1997, most Kosovars would have accepted piecemeal improvements in the situation - as long as these did not rule out them ultimately attaining their independence. At the same time, among Serbs there was a growing feeling that Kosova was already 'lost'. Few Serbs want to live there, while in the face of daily harassment the Albanians had managed to maintain their own social structures. Serbs were increasingly reluctant to fight for Kosova, and the fact that leading nationalists were proposing constitutional compromises (cantonisation, regionalisation, partition) - even though these were compromises still unacceptable to Kosovars - showed some rethinking had begun.

Point 3: The emergence of the Kosova Liberation Army, UK, changed all that.

It rekindled the Serbian will to fight, and provoked horrific atrocities that united the Albanians more strongly than ever around the demand for independence. Meanwhile by the end of 1998 Albanian political leaders were paralysed by internal political rivalries. If the LDK had operated too much like a one-party state, the UK is even less democratic, functioning more by 'gun law'. Its activities against 'loyal Albanians' - those who have signed oaths of loyalty to Serbia in order to have jobs - are well known. However, it has also intimidated, detained and expelled from their homes Albanians who continued to speak up for nonviolence.

The NATO powers' response to the new mood among Albanians was not to look seriously at the option of independence, but to promise to defeat Serbia on their behalf. The result is that Serbs are now as united as ever behind Milosevic - and those most dismayed by the bombings and their consequences are the ones who have opposed his policy towards Kosova. A statement by 17 Belgrade NGOs says "the NATO intervention has destroyed everything that has been achieved and the very survival of civil society in Serbia". The monks of Decani - perhaps the Serbs most motivated to live in Kosova, and a body that won the trust of their Albanian neighbours for their commitment to peaceful coexistence - are reported to have gone to Montenegro, saying they do not want to stay in a Kosovo made Serbian by Milosevic's means.

The failure to develop a peace policy in previous years, and the latest debacle triggered by the NATO campaign, puts us in a much worse position to begin a peace process.

Point 4: The impact of war

The withdrawal of non-military international personnel from Kosova removed international inhibitions on Serbian ethnic cleansing. Every day that passes brings new reports of atrocities by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanians and of NATO causing death and destruction in various parts of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, hitting innocent and guilty alike.

Will Serbs and Albanians ever live together again in Kosova? Nobody knows. The two communities tended to live separately, for instance, without the inter-marriage one heard about during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Perhaps what little trust there was between Albanians and Serbs inside Kosova has been destroyed irreparably.

I see several reasons for expecting a Serbian community to remain in a predominantly Albanian Kosova:

- because at least the Serbs connected with the monasteries will stay.

- because other Serbs don't have good alternatives, and in other areas where there has been vicious fighting have often shown a strong attachment to their traditional homes, even when they are now discriminated against as a minority, as in parts of Croatia

- because in the past when the Albanians have had the chance to take revenge on Serbs, apparently they have usually tended to discriminate between their traditional neighbours and the people who've stolen their property or been part of their police force. Albanians have a strong traditional code and, even though war often has the impact of destroying traditional taboos and restraints, there are measures that can be taken to encourage Albanians to discriminate between those who took part an active part in ethnic cleansing and others.

Even now - alongside the stories of Serbian neighbours helping expel Albanians - one can hear some refugees referring with gratitude to Serbian neighbours who are keeping an eye on their homes. The object of international peacemaking is to lay the ground for renewed co-existence, even if to speak of 'reconciliation' would in some ways be too ambitious. This will require strategies encouraging Serbs to stay in a predominantly Albanian Kosova, and a recognition that the Belgrade regime does not have the interests of Kosova Serbs at heart.

Point 5: An International Transitional Programme

The most promising suggestion for Kosova - even at this late stage - is to make it an international protectorate, either under the United Nations or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. If traditional friends of Serbia - such as Russia and Greece - could be persuaded to work to establish this protectorate, rather than in Russia's case simply trying to stop the attacks on Serbia, then it would stand more change of being implemented. Any international authority would need to learn from the experience of previous experiences (such as the UN Transitional Authority in East Slavonia, and in Kosova itself the OSCE Verification Mission) and not repeat their mistakes. The military logic now dominating this situation will make the deployment of peacekeepers unavoidable. This is one reason why we cannot yet talk of a nonviolent solution but only of steps towards demilitarisation. Any peacekeepers should be under UN or OSCE auspices, and accompanied by a larger number of non-military staff working for social development. Any deployment of such peacekeepers in neighbouring areas of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should be by agreement with the government of the relevant republic. Such a Protectorate could be established for a five-year period with the following tasks: First, verifying Serbian military withdrawal. Second, physical reconstruction and the return of refugees. The practical work on this second task itself offers opportunities for inter-ethnic confidence-building and cooperation, especially if there is significant international non-military and non-governmental engagement by people determined to facilitate that. Third, social reconstruction. It is vital to build up local structures - at the level of village and municipality, structures for decision-making, for de-fusing possible conflicts, for managing the redevelopment. It would be a disaster to live a vacuum into which the paramilitaries on either side could step. This might include a programme encouraging local communities to declare themselves weapons-free zones. Any programme for peace in Kosova has to include the dimension of economic and social development, addressing the consequences of Kosova's long history of economic mal-development and of the educational discrimination against Kosovars that goes back to Ottoman times. Questions of regional stability, too, cannot be ignored, especially those areas that border on Kosova. One of the main arguments for the West failing to take earlier action over Kosova was its fear of de-stabilising the neighbouring areas. This is now happening. The spread of NATO targeting to include the entire civilian infrastructure of Serbia is exacerbating even further the economic crisis over which Milosevic has presided: a ceasefire has to be accompanied by reconstruction programmes in Serbia as well.

For perhaps three years, the Protectorate should declare a moratorium on formal negotiations about the future status of Kosova. This would be a time solely for confidence-building on a local level, working to satisfy the ordinary human aspirations of the civilian population. However, towards the end of its term, the Protectorate would supervise some process to decide on Kosova's future status. Rambouillet envisaged a referendum; others have suggested an international intergovernmental conference with local representation. In all this process, governments and intergovernmental bodies should not treat 'civil society' initiatives as an optional add-on, as they have done in other war areas in the former-Yugoslavia. Rather they should invest in these, with an eye to local sustainability and encouraging local self-reliance. There are a host of small scale initiatives - some that exist as suggestions, some that people were already working on when the war made it impossible. Vital to any peace process will be investigating war crimes - identifying the responsibility for particular atrocities and the chains of responsibility behind them - would need to be a separate responsibility, outside the remit of a Protectorate which has to build the widest possible cooperation between all groups in society.

Point 6: Building a peace

The process of building some kind of peace in Kosova can begin even before the displaced people are able to return. Both in the neighbouring countries where they have taken refuge and in countries further away that are receiving refugees, this is a time for setting up programmes to prepare refugees for their return - various forms of counselling and training can be useful for their re-orientation. Action strategies also need to be considered, such as some of those proposed earlier (but rarely implemented) for the return of displaced people and refugees to other war zones. One of these strategies is international accompaniment by non-military people committed to peacebuilding in the region.

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