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. . .
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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
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
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.'