P r e s s I n f o # 46 September 4, 1998
Time to try True Nonviolence in Kosovo/a
"In Kosovo/a both Dr. Rugova's non-violence and KLA's violence have failed.
They seem both to lack political analysis and a clear cut philosophical
basis, and thus strategy. The alternative to Kosovo-Albanian pragmatic
nonviolence, however, is NOT terrorism and military struggle. The
alternative could be principled nonviolence and political innovation based
upon realism," says TFF director Jan Oberg.
Under Dr. Ibrahim Rugova's leadership the Kosovo-Albanians fought for their
independence from Serbia with non-violent means up till 1996 when the
clandestine Kosova Liberation Army - having armed itself since 1992-93 -
appeared on the scene. It was the only political leadership in
ex-Yugoslavia that followed non-violence and also favoured a neutral,
non-military, soft-bordered independent republic, Kosova. In short, it was
the wisest and most innovative political movement in the region.
The KLA has, at least for the time being, altered the political situation
in Kosovo/a conflict. And to the worse! During my recent conversation with
Dr. Rugova, on July 31, he assured me that LDK and he himself stand firmly
But what kind of non-violence? To put it crudely, it is a sympathetic
pragmatic non-violence rather than philosophical or principled nonviolence.
When principled, we say "nonviolence" in one word, not "non-violence," Jan
Oberg explains. "Dr. Rugova is a moderate, cultured, low-voiced and pretty
dogged personality. I have had the privilege to meet him several times for
hour long, informal discussions since 1992. I have no doubt that he is by
heart convinced that Kosova's independence must be achieved by non-violence
rather than by violence.
LDK's and Rugova's policies have been called "Gandhian" - by people who
don't know much about Gandhi. But there are some similarities. Perhaps the
most impressive achievements in terms of true nonviolence in the parallel
state of Kosova shall not be found in the political sphere but in civil
society of Kosova.
The development of an international information system and media presence -
through fax, e-mail and websites - and the international diplomatic
activity is impressing; indeed, much more so than that of
The development of parallel cultural, social and health sectors in Kosova
is "Gandhian" in many ways. It has not harmed the opponent, but it has
provided the minimum for Albanian teachers, children and youth who,
particularly from 1990, did not feel welcome in the school system run by
Belgrade. One can always discuss the quality of such alternative health and
education systems; I was told that 20 000 teachers are paid by the Kosova
government. And it is estimated that it costs the equivalent of US $ 1,5
million per day in total to keep the Kosova state as such operating. This
sum is generated inside Kosova but mostly collected outside by appealing to
all Albanians in the Diaspora to pay 3 % of their income to the Kosova
All this would have been impossible had there not been a strong public
support for such a non-violent strategy inside Kosova. Also, the
non-violent policies - not very isomorphic with the culture of Albanians in
general - was a stabilising, moderating factor during the wars in Croatia
and Bosnia. One hardly dares think of what could have happened if hotheads,
not Rugova, had been in charge of Kosova at the time!" - says Oberg.
"However impressive and unique these achievements are, the real problem
began, I believe, when the Kosovars proclaimed their sovereign republic of
Kosova and its cessation from Serbia on July 2nd, 1990. They did so on the
steps outside the parliament in the turmoil following the clamp-down by the
Serbian authorities on (parts of) their autonomy and the expelling of MPs
from the parliament building. On September 22, 1991, when the Kosova
Republic's parallel parliament declared the state independent and had this
decision confirmed by a referendum organised clandestinely a few days
later. In other words, a historical moment of panic.
This was 'symbol politics' - something Gandhi would hardly have done. The
dilemma thus created is evident: if you tell, or promise, your 2 million
people that they already live in the Independent Kosova, ANY negotiation
with Serbia, Yugoslavia or the international community would mean a backing
down from this maximalist position - and maximalist it was as seen by
Belgrade as well as by the international community. This is the reason that
no state, except at the time Albania, recognised the Kosova Republic. Youth
who were about 10 years old when their parents told them that they lived in
Independent Kosova are now entering university education and becoming
politically conscious; they become very frustrated when they find out that
this self-proclaimed state is a parallel society with gigantic
socio-economic problems and quite some hardships and certainly not a real
This explains why the Kosovo-Albanian leadership has been consistently
negative to negotiations - although declaring themselves for it, if an
international Third Party participated. My own experience from carrying
messages back and forth over four years is quite clear on this point: it
was NEVER the right time for Dr. Rugova to start negotiations. Also, in
spite of the fact that the Kosovo-Albanians, had they participated in
Yugoslav elections, could have ousted Milosevic, they refused to do so.
Those who advocated participation in elections were seen as traitors. The
strategy required someone 'evil' in Belgrade also to mobilize sympathy
This whole strategy is clearly un-Gandhian, clearly unprincipled. Gandhi
would have sought actively to establish a face-to-face dialogue and built
alliances with 'good' Serbs. So was the idea of advocating non-violence
while simultaneously calling for NATO to protect, alternatively bomb,
Serbian territory in support for Kosova's independence. I know that Dr.
Rugova saw this dilemma all the time, but the hardliners and
militarist-romantic hotheads would not hear a word about negotiations. "We
already ARE independent, so what is there to talk with fascist Serbia
about," they would often tell you.
Un-Gandhian was also the repeated advocacy of tougher sanctions against
Serbia and Serbs. A true Gandhian sees no point in harming the opponent and
certainly not the opponent's innocent citizens. Furthermore, the typical
stereotyping of all Serbs that you find so widespread - "seen one, you've
seen them all, and they are bad guys" was a great mistake. An even greater
mistake - from a Gandhian viewpoint - was that nothing was done by LDK to
introduce peace and human rights education and conflict understanding in
the alternative schools. And they did not link up with local Serbs and the
Serb people elsewhere. LDK has information centres around the world but not
in Belgrade where it is most needed!
Then there is the problem of political creativity and energy: it is evident
that the Kosovo-Albanian leadership have entertained a number of illusions
or high but unrealistic hopes: a) that the Dayton process would include
Kosovo; b) that the world would not recognise Yugoslavia with the Kosovo
province inside it, and c) that the world's support for the human rights of
Kosovo-Albanians was identical with a support for the project of an
independent republic. When these turned out to be false hopes, the
leadership lost momentum and got paralysed. There was no fall-back strategy
and no revision of means and goals. Public dialogue was stifled and people
started leaving LDK. It's sad, but that's the way it is," says Oberg.
"So, is a military struggle the alternative? Of course not, it's a blunder,
a dangerous intellectual and moral short circuit. You hear again and again
that it is understandable, people are so frustrated. But the clandestine,
illegal arms build-up started 5-6 years ago, not last year.
Many have criticised Rugova for choosing 'passive' non-violence. They
wanted more activism, more visibility. Why have elections, critics would
argue, when during all these years Rugova refused to assemble the Kosova
parliament? Why not have demonstrations and peaceful marches and strikes
all over the region, why not sit-downs, go-slow actions, civil
disobedience, obstruction of the factories - all nonviolently?
These are very good questions," comments Jan Oberg. I believe that the
education and training of all citizens for such activities - and they would
be dangerous without such education and training - was never contemplated
by Rugova's leadership. On the other hand, we must be careful with words
here: the build-up of a parallel society is not exactly expressions of
passivity. But, in addition to that, something was missing - because this
WAS NOT a Gandhian, nonviolent politics.
Be this as it may, Rugova's answer today is that they chose the right way
under the circumstances - that if more radical methods had been employed
"we would not be here today" as he told me recently.
Paradoxically, however, the only time the Kosova Parliament assembled was
this July, in the midst of heavy fighting in the province, not the safest
moment. But it was allowed to and important ceremonial functions took some
20 minutes before the MPs left. Remarkably, there was no attempt by Serbian
authorities to prevent the Assembly or interrupt it. (See PressInfo 45
about the tolerance also shown by Belgrade over the years).
For quite some time, oppositional Albanian intellectuals and politicians
have accused LDK/Rugova of lacking a sense of democracy, flexibility and
building consensus. That he doesn't listen, or listens but doesn't do
anything. Some even say that he is in collusion with Milosevic. It DOES
look strange" says Jan Oberg, "that there is still no government formed
since the elections in March. And the way the new - much too narrow -
negotiation team was composed is totally non-transparent.
Many of these intellectuals now uncritically embrace KLA/UCK and argue that
'the alternative to non-violence is this militant struggle.'
First, it is impossible to see KLA/UCK as more democratic or more tolerant
of diverse opinions than Rugova's leadership. Indeed, it has refused to be
under any democratic political control and public accountability; many
perform under false names and nobody seem to know who is leading which
fraction and responsible for which activities. Citizens of the Kosova
Republic have not been granted any opportunity to voice their opinion on
whether or not to switch from non-violence to a militant policy or directly
violent struggle. Sadly, Kosova's citizens have now either been victimised
directly by KLA's own activity and forced 'recruitment' or indirectly by
the counterattacks of Serb forces that hit them severely.
SECOND, it is interesting to see that Mr. Adem Demaqi has become the
political leader or spokesman of the KLA. For quite some time Mr. Demaqi
has advocated a "Balkania" solution which implies, among other things, that
Kosovo should become a third republic of Yugoslavia. Although this can be
seen as a step towards cessation, it is moderate in comparison with
Rugova's maximalist goal of total independence. In terms of means, Demaqi
until recently promoted maximalist active nonviolence which contrasts
Rugova's minimalist means. So the KLA has chosen a political figure who has
advocated goals and means directly opposite to those of KLA! And so, Mr
Demaqi has quickly radicalized his rhetoric.
So, yes, there are contradictions in Rugova's policies and it seems that
his movement has run out of vision and energy. The contradictions in and
among the opposition to him seems, however, to be considerably bigger,"
Oberg points out. While Rugova has been running on symbol politics, he
still has one major advantage: no blood on his hands.
One may ask how long time it will take for the Albanian advocates and
practitioners of violence to recognise that violence makes ANY process, ANY
settlement and ANY future life more, not less, difficult.
The KLA has already failed in four ways: 1) morally because it started with
terror and has announced that it intends to return to it; 2) militarily
because it miscalculated the 'balance of forces,' thought it could create
and hold liberated towns and thought it would be rescued by NATO; 3)
politically because its spokesperson talks about all Albanians in one
state, and 4) democratically because it is not a genuine guerrilla movement
that 'swims in the sea' of its citizens and is loved by them. Fear is
But is principled nonviolence not far to weak in the face of a repressive
regime such as Belgrade? We don't know the answer," says Oberg. "It has
been practised neither in Belgrade nor in Kosovo (or elsewhere in
ex-Yugoslavia for that matter). But it was nonviolent popular movement that
put an end to the Marcos regime, to the Shah of Iran and mobilised the
world opinion against the Vietnam war. It put an end to authoritarian
communist Poland - Solidarnosc - and carried the 'velvet revolution' in
Czechoslovakia. What would have happened if they had fought with weapons
against these militarily much stronger enemies? It was peace movements,
women, dissidents AND Michael Gorbachev who - non-violently - put an end to
the Cold War and paved the way for a very significant reduction in the
world's nuclear arsenals. These are no small achievements in human
history!" - emphasizes TFF director Oberg, "but, true, they are never
presented as victories for nonviolence in our media, so its potentials
remain largely hidden."
He concludes, "Like a military battle can be fought in different ways, so
can a non-violent struggle. The alternative to passive non-violence is NOT
violence and terror, not even in the face of violence and terror. It is a
different, principled - and of course active - nonviolence based not on
make-believe politics but on real politics in the tradition of Mahatma
Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
For decades Kosovo has been the shining illustration of Gandhi's famous
dictum that "the principle of an eye for an eye will one day make the whole
world blind." Hardline politicians and trigger-happy people on both sides
have been blinded long enough. Everyone should be able to now SEE that
violence, also having been tried now by the Albanian side, won't do the
trick. And if it did, the liberated Kosova would become a garrison state, a
state imbued with repression, a mirror of the state it seceded from and,
perhaps, the scene of a civil war.
The potentials of principled nonviolence is not consumed in Kosovo/a. In
fact, it has not been tried yet. It will have to be re-invented by new
energies. Indeed, that is the only means that can produce a viable
solution. One wonders why the international community, from left to right,
produces so many voices from a dark age senselessly advocating NATO
violence as THE solution. What's wrong with nonviolence based on analysis
and coherent conflict-mitigation principles? Why don't we see diplomats,
experts and media explore the potentials and teach the strengths of such a
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Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia
T F F
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone +46-46-145909 (0900-1100)