War and Genocide in Kosovo

The war in Kosovo has escalated in a dramatic fashion. One may have believed at the onset of the offensive that the massive air attacks on “strategic targets” could force the Milosovic regime to sign the Rambouillet Agreement, but now consensus is growing, even among some of those responsible for the NATO mission, that this war was a wrong decision and that what is urgently needed now is an immediate cease-fire and new negotiations. The brutal expulsion of Kosovo Albanians from their homes and the genocide that had begun before NATO started their offensive have escalated in the course of the NATO bombing and have created a catastrophic situation for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people. It is becoming clear that the lethal repercussions of the NATO offensive were either totally underestimated or were not fully taken into consideration and analyzed beforehand. Was there any discussion at that time that acts of war could trigger a massive wave of refugees and displaced persons for which the governments and people of the countries carrying out the war should make preparations?

Those taking part in an ecumenical worship service for peace held in Wetzlar the week before Easter prayed the following in regards to the situation in Kosovo:
God, who raised Christ from the dead ... we bring before you and lament the destruction caused by the bombing, an attack which has created not only material damage but also wreaked all initiatives for democracy and a society of law and order, for peace and reconciliation, so that the difficult reconstruction work following the war in Bosnia and all efforts to prevent a war in Kosovo were doomed to failure. Once again no one heeded or listened to the voices of caution or seriously pursued alternative solutions. In the end violence and destruction triumphed once more.
We confess to you that we Christians and churches were not decisive witnesses of Jesus’ message of peace. We did not pay enough attention to nor support the many initiatives by Christians and non-Christians for nonviolent and non-military solutions to the conflicts and terror in the Balkan region. Today we must confess our own guilt and responsibility in regards to the political failure which we were not able to prevent...

Different Christian and non-Christian peace organizations and initiatives for peace continue to remind us that, contrary to the claims of NATO, there were possibilities for non-military alternatives to prevent the violence and ethnic persecution in Kosovo. In a memorandum in the Frankfurter Rundschau on March 31, 1999, legal experts indicated various alternatives, including the following:
The West has been aware of the extent of the deprivation of the rights of the Albanian population and the explosive nature of the situation in Kosovo for many years. Despite this the Kosovo conflict was ignored in the Dayton Agreement. Over the years the Albanians who maintained a strategy of nonviolence experienced no support of consequence from the West in terms of preventive conflict resolution. In this way western governments denied sufficient support to those persons and groups such as the Kosovo politician Rugova and his followers who have struggled over a period of many years to reach a political compromise without violence and by using civilian means. These groups were left at the mercy of Belgrade’s political whims...
The international community failed to station, under UN-mandate and with agreement of the involved parties, adequate international police and “blue helmet” forces in Kosovo to act as a buffer between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians and ensure a ceasefire.
There was a failure to develop a civilian program to overcome enmity that would have been build on cooperation with groups in Serbia and Kosovo open to reform.

The most horrible part of this war is the ever-increasing number of victims: traumatized people brutally driven out of Kosovo, victims of massacres and genocide, victims in Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. The “official” justification for the NATO offensive was to no longer remain as passive observers to the inhumane actions of the Belgrade government. However, now the amount of human suffering does not seem to have decreased but rather to have increased.

An equally depressing result of the NATO offensive is the loss of credibility of western democracies and their sworn commitment to establishing a society of law and order in the Balkans. Economically weak areas have been massively bombed, their non-military infrastructure and civil resources have been destroyed. Even houses that had been rebuilt so that refugees from Bosnia could return to their homes have been hit by bombs. Yesterday a person involved in work with refugees from the war in Bosnia stated that the entire refugee resettlement program in Bosnia has had to be discontinued.

In such a situation as Kosovo the Christian maxims of nonviolence and love for the enemy mean first and foremost “ defusing violence and protecting life ”. As Mennonite theologian Fernando Enns rightly emphasized, “ These commandments ask of us that we do not look away. It is a question of credibility, but one of the credibility of the defence of human rights and preservation of life, not that of a military alliance! And it is this credibility that the ‘Christian’ West is gambling away. ” ( idea spektrum , 14/1999, pp 21)

Many Church and Peace members and friends who have been working for peace, understanding, reconstruction and reconciliation for many years now in the former Yugoslavia have reported to us in the past few days that the NATO offensive has not only destroyed the results of their laborious work and that of many individuals and groups in Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia and Serbia, but also effectively destroyed any hope of being able to start anew. Gudrun Tappe-Freitag, member of Initiative Schalom and whose work is mentioned in the Spring issue of the Quarterly (pp. 15), wrote to us recently about the current developments in the region:
At that time [as a volunteer in Novi Sad] I was full of hope for the people in Voivodina. Today I feel only sorrow and concern. I, along with all those who have worked for peace, reconciliation and understanding between peoples for the past nine years, stand before a pile of rubble. Everything that we had build up has been destroyed. We can share our sorrow only by telephone, and it is over the phone that I become a witness to falling bombs as teacups rattle in the cupboard. I don’t ask any concrete questions over the phone, first because both parties are rendered speechless by what is happening and secondly because I am afraid of putting someone in even greater danger through such a conversation.
Will I as a German ever be able to travel to this country again? I have already experienced that the atrocities of the German soldiers during World War II have not been totally forgotten. And now we Germans are once again a part of a war. The organization TABITA in Novi Sad where I worked is predicting a humanitarian catastrophe for the people in the area. No one is working in the factories. No one is receiving a salary and soon no one will have any money on hand. They are appealing for a quick humanitarian assistance response. The most recent news broadcasts have reported the Serbian military’s intention of laying down their weapons in Kosovo for the Orthodox Easter celebrations. Dare we hope for a time of reflection and negotiation for all those concerned? Is there a small glimmer of hope?

Gudrun Tappe-Freitag has referred to the needs of persons in Voivodina. We have heard many similar requests for assistance recently from different organizations working for peace and reconciliation in the Balkans and who are bringing in humanitarian aid despite military and other dangers. The need is certainly greatest in Kosovo, but people in Serbia, Bosnia and other places in the region are also suffering and fearful for their lives. We hope that you will hear this plea for help now as well as later when the media has turned its attention to another topic. We will put together a list here in the International Office of different projects helping persons affected by the war and genocide. Please contact us for a copy (+49 6445 5588). Let us also support all efforts for an unconditional and warm acceptance here in our own countries of refugees and army deserters from the areas affected by this war and genocide.

Christian Hohmann, Church and Peace General Secretary
9 April 1999

Trans: TRM