Spontaneous CBD in Kosovo

A fascinating article in the May issue of World Press Review suggests that an embryonic form of civilian-based defense is occuring in the Balkan province of Kosovo. According to Theo Sommer, writing in the liberal weekly Die Zeit of Hamburg, Germany, Albanians comprise 90 percent of the population of Kosovo. Nonetheless, political control of the city is nominally in the hands of Serbs who regard Kosovo as both historically and spiritually a part of Serbia. "Serbia is every place where there are Serbian trenches, or Serbian graves," says Vuk Draskovic, who leads the largest Serbian opposition party.

How do the Serbs maintain control? "It's the Albanians' own fault," says the district governor, "they have boycotted the last three elections." However, they have not knuckled under. Rather, they have, in the tradition of advanced nonviolence, replaced Serb authority with their own. According to Sommer, "In September, 1990, they proclaimed their own constitution , and a referendum held shortly thereafter garnered 87 percent in favor of an independent Kosovo. In 1992, right under the noses of the Serbs, they held parliamentary elections and chose LDK [Democratic League of Kosovo] chairman [Ibrahim] Rugova as their president. From his office in downtown Pristina, he presides over a 'government in exile,' complete with a foreign minister and other cabinet officers and a fleet of Mercedes limousines."

Sommer continues, "The Albanians speak openly of their 'parallel adminstration.' It runs their own school system right up to the university, as well as a health-care system. Some 18,000 teachers and hundreds of doctors are on its payrolls. The government is financed by regular donations from Albanians in Kosovo and abroad. It is impressive to see what the Albanians have managed to achieve in three years."

"Private individuals have put their houses at the administration's disposal, and high schools now function there. What
were bedrooms are now packed with forty bright-eyed boys and girls taking notes. Since the universities were expelled from their former quarters, they have existed in old buildings scattered around the city, often in private homes. Today about 1,000 professors are teaching 15,000 students in thirteen departments. The same thing has happened with clinices. An individual will vacate his home, then volunteers will renovate the home into a clinic, while foreign-aid organizations will donate equipment and medicines. Albanian doctors staff the clinics, working for almost nothing."

The Albanians of Kosovo were not prepared for civilian-based defense before the Serbian military moved in in 1989. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic declared martial law when Albanians objected to Serbian government plans to pass constitutional amendments limiting Kosovo's autonomy. Under cover of the emergency declaration, there were, says Sommer, arrests, killings and torture. The regional legislature was abolished and the police and Communist party packed with Serbs. More than 100,000 Albanians lost their jobs and apartments. When the Albanian-language daily was shut down, Radio Pristina stopped broadcasting in Albanian and teachers were or
dered to lecture in Serbo-Croatian, the stage was set for revolt.

As many as 10,000 people at a time took part in mass protests, according to University of Washington professor Sabrina P. Ramet. On July 2, 1990, the provincial Assembly declared Kosovo's secession from Serbia (though not from Yugoslavia).

Ramet points out that three factors cooled the ugly confrontation that was developing between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbian military (and local Serbian vigilante groups).

1. The largely unarmed Albanians did not want to give the heavily-armed Serbs further excuses to escalate the repression.

2. President Rugova consistently counseled and modeled moderation.

3. The outbreak of the Serb-Croat war distracted Milosovic.

Despite all this, Kosovo's experience of determined nonviolent resistance can offer encouragement to advocates of CBD.

Peter Bergel

Reprinted with permission from Civilian-Based Defense, Summer 96, vol 11, no 2.