bosnia report
New Series No. 8 January - March 1999
A Sarajevo meeting on Kosova

'"How come the Sarajlije aren't concerned about Kosovo? Why are they silent? How come you've so quickly forgotten what human rights mean?'': these were questions asked a few months ago by one foreign diplomat', wrote the Sarajevo weekly Dani in its 1 March 1999 issue. And it continued: 'How come indeed that we have so quickly forgotten the time when we would ask ourselves daily and others too why Belgrade was silent, why Zagreb was saying the wrong thing, and how anyone in Canberra could eat or sleep while we were suffering such bestial treatment?' Well, the lapse was finally remedied last February with a meeting on Kosovo organized by the Law Centre of the Open Society Foundation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the International Forum Bosnia and the Bosnia-Herzegovina Helsinki Group. The twenty-odd participants who attended, some very briefly, came out with widely different positions, some of which are presented below. Academician and former Bosnian ambassador to London Muhamed Filipovic argued that the Albanians' right to their freedom and country cannot be limited by the international community, which has 'refused to support only the Bosniaks and the Albanians, because of its view of Europe as an exclusively Christian land.' He went on to state that: 'It is meaningless for the international community to resist any alteration of borders in Europe, in view of its recent endorsement of major border changes. Have no doubt that it will change the FRY borders too, as soon as it decides that this will serve its interests.'

International Herald and Tribune
There's Good News...
We've figured out how to avoid doing anything about this. . .

I mean. . .peace is what we all WANT, isn't it!

Nijaz Durakovic, former member of the Bosnian state presidency and former leader of the SDP, argued by contrast that the Bosnians should support the Contact Group's plan for Kosovo autonomy within Serbia, for otherwise: 'If the FRY borders are changed, next on the agenda will be changes to Bosnia-Herzegovina's borders. So it is in our state interest that no borders should be changed.'

This was contested by Zarko Papic, who in 1991 was a junior minister in Ante Markovic's government, and now serves as a director of the International Forum Bosnia. He insisted that changing the FRY borders does not automatically imply altering other borders in Europe. 'The war in Kosovo is not between two ethnic groups, but between a totalitarian regime and a movement for survival. The Alba nians are conducting a national liberation war and this meeting, which we have finally managed to organize, will have a meaning only if we support theÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ Albanian struggle for democracy. Every normal person would wish to separate from the to talitarian Serbian regime. I myself have done so and for this reason. This is what motivates the Albanians and I see no reason why they should be held back. The real question, after all, is not whether Kosovo will leave Serbia, but the price it will have to pay for it.'

'As a Belgrade man in part, I spent a long time trying to work out why Belgrade remained silent when Sarajevo was being shelled. Last December I went to Prishtina and had to explain to the people there why Sarajevo was silent. In my view this is a moral problem, and I hope I shall never be put in a position to have to explain to someone in Skopje why Prishtina is silent while Skopje is being shelled. The fact is that B-H public opinion has remained silent about the Kosovo events, or has not paid them much attention. The answer: "Kosovo was silent when Bosnia was attacked'' comes easily. This explanation may satisfy some, but it cannot serve as a justification. There is a rational explanation for the behaviour of the politicians. Some have derived a logically faulty conclusion that if the Albanians succeeded in their struggle to separate from Serbia, this would endanger the B-H borders and could bring about an exchange of territory. However, rather than remaining silent, one could offer a whole series of counter-arguments to the kind of plans for territorial compensation being touted by people like Owen. Our intellectuals have offered nothing but silence or sterile views. Sarajevo's silence on the events in Kosovo, however, though it does testify to a moral crisis, cannot justify Belgrade's silence when Sarajevo was being shelled, since that too was a moral question.'

Gajo Sekulic, former member of the Praxis group of philosophers, then declared: 'Being a pacifist, I could not possibly agree that Sarajevo intellectuals should support anyone's struggle.' He was seconded by Nedzad Ibrisimovic, president of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Writers' Association: 'If we must write something, we should present ourselves as a humanistic and not a political intelligentsia. Also, we should not project our Bosnian traumas over there, nor come up with our Bosnian interests.'

Kasim Trnka, an advisor to Alija Izetbegovic, said: 'One could explain, though not justify, our silence on Kosovo by the fact that the people of Kosovo missed the opportunity during the war in Bosnia to mount an opposition to the repression in their own country that would have helped our struggle here. However, regardless of what the Albanians may have done, it was our duty to say that today, at the end of the 20th century, such grave and mass infringement of human rights should not be tolerated. We have been tardy in our response perhaps because we have been preoccupied with our own problems. It would have been better if we had reacted more forcefully, but then the international community itself did not react in time. The great powers react very quickly when Iraq is in question, when their economic interests are endangered, but far more slowly when human rights are under attack, as is the case in Kosovo. Their weak reaction clearly influenced our own weak response.'

Zdravko Grebo, director of the Law Centre: 'I do not think that people are obliged to support one or another political solution, but the humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo does impose an obligation on everyone to speak up. We ourselves used to be desperate and angry when faced with lack of reaction to what was happening to us. We should react also because this tragedy is happening in our immediate neighbourhood we should at least have shown our compassion when Kosovo refugees started to arrive. I was astonished when, in trying to organize this meeting, I was confronted with an almost official instruction on the part of the authorities not to speak about Kosovo. This instruction, which the state media and, I must say, also the independent media obey too ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ faithfully, is due, I believe, to the fact that the fate of B-H is being directly linked to the future status of Kosovo. However, even if there were a real possibility of exchange of Kosovo for Republika Srpska, which I doubt, this should not prevent us from taking up a moral stance. [. . .] Contrary to the expectation that Sarajevo, because of its own tragic experience, would be the first city to react with heart and reason, Sarajevo has in fact adopted a negative stance and behaves as if Kosovo has nothing to do with it Not only are the politicians carefully saying nothing, and the media limiting themselves to presenting bare facts without comment, but ordinary people too are saying: "Why bother.'' If so, then there is something very wrong with us.'

Dani offered the following comment: 'The behaviour of the majority at this belated meeting shows that Kosovo is taken seriously only in relation to Bosnia-Herzegovina, in relation to the possibility that Serbia may seek compensation for an eventual loss of Kosovo by annexing RS. In this context it was felt that there was a strange coincidence in the fact that the negotiations in Rambouillet were conducted in parallel with the meeting of the Br"ko arbitration commission in Vienna. The official silence on Kosovo can perhaps be explained, and one can even understand that moral principles may be put aside, in a situation in which so much is at stake. The official position that "the problem must be solved by peaceful means and within the FRY borders'' could not, perhaps, be different, given that this is the position of the West. As Camus noted long ago: "After the Second World War, the only question confronting intellectuals is that of the concentration camps.'' During the Bosnian war, Bosnia was rightly the main issue for every honest intellectual. Today it is Kosovo. Many of those whose moral and academic duty it is to speak up have done nothing but follow dry reports on the rising number of dead. It is not necessary to wait for historical distance to find the right word to describe this indifference: it already exists, but it is not very polite.'


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