[balkans] Civil Society in Kosovo, Issue 2
- Subject: OTR Civil Society in Kosovo, Issue 2
ON THE RECORD: //Civil Society in Kosovo//----------------------------
Your Electronic Link to Civil Society in Kosovo
Volume 9, Issue 2 -- September 1, 1999
In this issue:
THE BIRTH AND REBIRTH OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN KOSOVO
PART TWO: MARCH 1998 TO MARCH 1999 -- COUNTDOWN TO DISASTER
FROM THE EDITORIAL DESK
During the late 1990s, some young Albanians grew restive and
impatient with the campaign of non-violent resistance and
began to turn to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The Serbian
regime's response was furious and violent. In February 1998,
Serbian forces attacked several villages in the region of
Drenica, to the west of Prishtina [Pristina]. This ushered in
a year of growing violence, brutality, and displacement.
Not surprisingly, this put enormous pressure on the civil
associations described in the last issue. Tens of thousands of
people were displaced, creating a major humanitarian burden
that fell squarely on the parallel society. Their response is
the subject of this issue, which also includes extracts from
Peter's 1998 diaries and field reports and assessments by
organizations working in the area.
THE BIRTH AND REBIRTH OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN KOSOVO
PART TWO: MARCH 1998 TO MARCH 1999 -- COUNTDOWN TO DISASTER
From Peter's diary:
Drenica is an area west of Prishtina. Around 10 villages there
were surrounded and attacked by the Serbian special police
forces (MUP) at the beginning of this month. Around 80 people
were killed, including many women and children. Of 46 that
were buried two days ago, there were 14 women and 12 children.
The Serbian government has promoted this as an
"anti-terrorist" campaign, but it was pure terrorism.
An American I met here went out to Drenica yesterday and today
and found bombed and burned-out houses. People are still
hiding in the woods there; afraid to go back to whatever homes
they have left. Five thousand Albanians have fled to
Montenegro and others to Macedonia, but most are staying.
One of the few options people here have is to do what they did
today, that is, create mass public events. People have lost
their fear of police violence. Public protests keep the issues
in the press, which helps put pressure on the government. I
don't really believe the repression will end here as long as
Milosevic is in power, but nonviolent action might mitigate
the repression. The student leadership is just finding its
way, but it has much support. Ibrahim Rugova, the president of
the parallel government, is also popular, but he has been
losing popularity because of his inactivity. He has a
reputation for not having done anything for the last seven
years. As one of our young translators said, "There is passive
non-violence and active non-violence. Only the latter can make
Today the demonstration took place. It was located on a grassy
area on a hillside. This was wise, because it was safe from
any attack by cars or tanks. The whole hillside was covered
with people, as many as a hundred thousand. There were a few
speeches. It lasted only around an hour. People of all ages
were there. Signs: "We are not terrorists." "Drenica, we are
with you." "Serb police out of Kosovo." "Peace, Freedom, and
Independence." "NATO: S.O.S."
As it turned out, there was no problem with police violence.
There were not even any police around, except for a couple on
the route downtown where we subsequently marched. I think
there is really too much international attention on Kosovo at
this point for the police to use violence against the
...In the evening we went to visit the Media Project. This is
a group of young women who, with the guidance of some older
women, learn journalism. Aferdita Kelmendi is one of the
counselors. We met with about 8 of the 30-odd women in the
group. The atmosphere is one of mutual motivation. The women
talked about gaining self-confidence through the friendship
and support they received from each other. On the wall was a
big slogan in English: "I want. I know. I can." The dominant
idea was to improve oneself in order to change the world.
The women of the Media Project work together on the magazine
"Eritrea." They learn graphics, layout, photojournalism, and
writing. They also have classes in conflict resolution. I
asked if they received harassment from paternalistic men. One
of them brushed this off, "Oh, those are just people who have
nothing to do."
Aferdita said, "I don't believe the propaganda about the
'terrorists.' I have never seen the KLA. Serbian television
shows police cars with bullet holes in them, but where are the
terrorists? I'll tell you where they are. If I go to sleep
every night knowing that the police can break into my
apartment, and disturb my family and my children, that's
psychological terrorism." (March 13, 1998 -- End of diary
* * *
When Albanians speak of "the war," they are referring not only to
Serbian outrages during the NATO campaign, but to the entire period
after the Serbian attack on the villages in the Drenica area west
of Prishtina in February and March of last year.
In this first major military campaign, Serbian forces attempted to
put an end to the disorganized, nascent military resistance known
as the KLA. Over 80 people, mostly civilian villagers including
women, children, and the elderly, were killed during this
offensive. Around 20 villages were attacked and burned, and most of
their inhabitants fled for the woods in fear of their lives.
This first offensive was characteristic of what came to be an
intermittent, one-sided campaign against the KLA over the next
year. By the end of 1998 it resulted in over 250,000 displaced
persons, hundreds of destroyed villages, and a drastic
deterioration of the human rights situation. The offensive was also
indirectly aimed at the parallel social structure of Kosovo. While
the international community issued threats and mild sanctions
against the Serbian regime, the nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) that constituted Kosovo's parallel society had to adjust to
wartime conditions in which their operations were severely
curtailed and their activists were in danger, at times, for their
In the face of this heightened repression, in which any Albanian
could be labeled a "terrorist," activists bravely continued their
work. City-based organizations oriented their operations towards
the villages, where people were hardest hit by the offensives.
Human rights organizations had their hands full documenting the
latest abuses. The independent student union dropped its attempt at
"non-political" activism and demonstrated in solidarity with
As Melihate Juniku of the Center for the Protection of Women And
Children told me, "This was a psychological war." The underground
schools were disrupted during this period, and many of the
alternative clinics, particularly those in the countryside, were
shut down. Mother Teresa's ability to deliver relief goods and
medicines was severely curtailed, as its workers were harassed,
arrested, and even killed. Relief supplies were routinely
The Center for the Protection of Women and Children, like many
other NGOs, also had to cope with the influx of displaced villagers
into the cities. Juniku continued, "The number of children in
school kept decreasing. We tried to encourage children to return to
school. We were also trying to teach young mothers how to raise
their children. We offered pediatric and gynecological services, as
well as pedagogical and psychological counseling."
* * *
The following is a field report from the Center for the Protection
of Woman and Children, Prishtina, Kosova, written by Sevdie Ahmeti,
human rights activist and director of the Center. The field report
assessed the situation of villages in the municipality of Klina, in
northwest Kosovo, during November and December 1998 and January and
By mid-December 1998, this village had 374 people back home out of
a previous total of 980. It had 42 IDPs. Residents usually used the
services of the clinic in Grabanice village, which is destroyed.
The population is traumatized. Out of 136 houses, 86 of them are
burned to ashes. Only elder people can travel with minimum problems
as the police checkpoints are frequent on the way to Klina. Needs
are serious in food, blankets, clothes and mattresses. Water is
being used from springs, otherwise water wells are poisoned. This
village has 3 checkpoints and loud explosions can be heard over the
nights. At short notice, people are ready to leave as the situation
is deteriorating. The Dolove-Kpuz road is mined. Gunfire is heard
As of the end of January 1999, only 8 families are back home.
Others are expected to return as soon as they feel secure. Out of
the total number of 59 houses, only 11 of them can be inhabited,
and 35 are completely destroyed. Needs of the population are in
food, shoes, blankets, bedding, winter clothes, and heating; 68
water wells are contaminated and only 2 can be used after they have
been cleared. Circulation of the residents is limited. They can
move as far as the villages of Jabllanice, Kpuz, and Bokshiq.
Police shoot at night from their nearby positions from time to
time. Villagers are intimidated and they are trapped.
Village: CUPEVE E ULET
By the end of November 1998, this village had 350 people back home
out of 430 before. It had 50 IDPs [internally displaced persons].
Most of the residents were suffering from scabies, diarrhea, TB
[Tuberculosis], and flu. All of them have psychosomatic problems.
The village is situated 7 km away from Klina, and any need to reach
Klina is obstructed by the police. Out of 20 houses, some 90% of
them are destroyed. Food usually used to be collected from Klina,
but the police make problems. All animals of the village are gone.
Everything is burned, needs are serious in all kinds. The quality
of water wells is uncertain. Fighting is reported at night. Heat
cannot be assured, because residents cannot go to the woods as
heavy police is present in the area. The population is complaining
about the behavior of their Serb neighbors in the neighboring
By early November 1998, this village had 500 people who returned
back out of a total of 1200 residents of the village. It has some
30 IDPs. Population suffers from hypertension and disorders. Out of
140 houses, only 13 of them remain intact, 23 of them destroyed and
the rest is damaged to a greater degree. Needs are serious in food,
clothes, and mattresses. Some water wells are poisoned with oil,
detergent, and dead animals. Population is surrounded by police
checkpoints, although there is no police in the village. They face
frequent night shooting and are afraid to travel outside the
village. The village does not have electricity. There is a sizeable
police and military presence.
By the end of December 1998, this village had 1600 people back and
300 IDPs. Out of 118 houses of the village, 24 of them are
completely destroyed, but 90% of the houses are damaged.
Electricity was not available to the residents until two days ago.
Needs of the population are serious in food and clothing. People
are very afraid to use the water wells. They are afraid of the
Yugoslavian Army movement around the village. The whole population
sleeps rough in the open frequently because of the fear of army
attacks on them.
By the beginning of February 1999, this village had half the
population back, 750 out of 1400 before the war. It had 22 IDPs.
Out of approximately 110 houses, only 6 houses are completely
intact. The whole community lives in some 50 houses, the other 50
houses are empty as the people are too afraid to come back. Some of
the houses are repaired. Needs of the population are in everything.
They are facing continuous intimidation from the shooting that
reportedly goes on from the bauxite factory where the Serb forces
are deployed ever since the summer offensive. Military forces want
the people move from the village. Movement is limited. (End of
* * *
During this period, the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and
Freedoms raised charges against the Serbian regime in the war
crimes tribunal at The Hague. It supplied witnesses from its
network of informants during visits of tribunal investigators.
The Humanitarian Law Center also contributed to the investigations.
A staff member described the conditions of her work after Drenica:
"We were the first investigators in Prekaz (a village in Drenica)
after the massacres last year. We saw all kinds of things, the
worst, right after the fighting. From March to May of last year was
the worst time to be traveling. We were at risk both from the
police and the KLA. It was easier for women to travel. The KLA got
used to us and allowed us passage. With the Serbian police, we just
lied about where we were going."
The Humanitarian Law Center's staff of lawyers and other trained
professionals continued to monitor trials. We were told, "All of
the trials took place in the same way. Suspects were beaten and
subjected to electroshock, often detained without food. All the
European rights conventions were violated. Suspects were deprived
of the right to send letters or have contact with relatives. Visits
from lawyers were only allowed in the presence of guards.
"Between January 1998 and February 1999 there were 2,400 political
imprisonments. In that period we were aware of three deaths from
torture in Ferizaj (Urosevac) and five more in Prizren.
"Anyone who came from an area where there was fighting could be
accused of being a 'terrorist.' We observed a trial of a
95-year-old man who was senile. We never saw KLA soldiers on trial.
People who were on the bus going shopping could be arrested. Often
their trials were based on forced admissions. In the cities,
intellectuals and students were arrested. Sometimes they were
arrested because they had relatives in the KLA.
"Activists such as Fatima Boshniaku, director of Mother Teresa in
Gjakova [Djakovica], were targeted. Boshniaku was accused of
terrorism. She spent seven months in jail, and was released two
weeks before the NATO intervention."
The League of Albanian Women opened the Center for the
Rehabilitation of Women and Children in March 1998, after the
massacres at Drenica began. Zahidi Zeqire, one of the
organization's founders, told me, "Women began to come to our
center to sleep and to get food. OXFAM and the ICRC [International
Committee of the Red Cross] helped us, as did Save the Children and
ADRA [Adventist Development and Relief Agency].
"During this period we worked non-stop. We were one of the only
organizations that worked in the field. We cared for around 300
children of the Jashari, Ahmeti, and Sejdiu families from Drenica.
They were all here. They slept at relatives' houses, and came here
for help by day. Some of them eventually went home and some went
abroad. Since March of 1998, over 400 pregnant women stayed here
and gave birth. Only one of their children died.
Flora Brovina, pediatrician and human rights activist, was another
founder of this organization. (Editor's note: Imprisoned by the
Serbian police during the NATO intervention, Brovina remains in a
jail in Serbia, prohibited from communicating with her friends and
colleagues.) During the Drenica offensive and afterwards, she
worked in the woods with the displaced villagers. She also helped
to organize a solidarity march, during which thousands of women set
out from Prishtina carrying bread for the families hiding in the
woods without food. The march was stopped and turned around by the
Igo Rogova of Motrat Qiriazi told me, "After the massacres at
Drenica we thought, 'We can't just sit around.' So we started
working with families that were displaced from Drenica to
Mitrovica. In Mitrovica we organized women's meetings and
psychosocial programs. We organized games and drawing sessions for
"One problem was that many displaced families could not get
assistance. Some of them would not seek aid because they were
ashamed. With funding that we received, we gave families cash
grants of 100 DM a month for six months."
* * *
From Peter's diary:
Fifteen women work at the Center for the Protection of Women
and Children, putting in long days. They receive 50 to 70
visitors a day and two workshops are held a week, on such
things as contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.
There are up to 60 people attending each workshop, and many of
the junior and senior high school students have come through
The Center organizes protests, and lobbies on human rights. It
serves both Albanian and Serbian women. There has been some
discomfort on the part of the Albanians when Serbians come to
the Center, but this tension has decreased. Vjosa said she
considered it a success that Serbian women, who have access to
better care than the Albanians, would come into the Center.
Vjosa said that women and children were the most vulnerable in
Kosovar society. She told us that she was the first doctor
fired from the hospital, on August 13, 1990. Around 2,300 were
fired, and since then Albanian women have been afraid to go to
the hospital. We were told that 72% of working people had been
fired from their jobs. People are hard pressed to afford
Fewer than 3% of women are currently working, according to
Vjosa. Women make up 38% of college graduates, but most are at
home; the Center is trying to help them. Among other problems,
there is an increase in domestic violence, as men's
frustration rises. Women have few choices in how to deal with
this problem, since they don't have their own money and the
law doesn't protect them.
It is difficult for outside donors to get supplies through to
Kosovo, because much of it may be stolen by the police. The
Mother Teresa clinic is one of the few institutions receiving
any supplies. We were given some medical statistics: 26 people
died from polio in 1996: infant mortality among Albanians is
estimated to be around 50 per 1,000, but it is probably
higher; sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, as is
teenage pregnancy (This refers to pregnancy among young
married women as pregnancy among unmarried women is rare.);
the birth rate is higher because more women are at home with
less to do; there has been a 1/3 dropout rate from high school
for young women; and more than half the population is under
the age of 19.
The Center is harassed by police, who park in front of its
door and frighten clients. I sat by the computer, listening to
Vjosa. On the screen was a list of Drenica refugees who needed
places to stay. Vjosa told us she thought that all Kosovo
should become a demilitarized area.
As we left we learned that an 11-year-old boy from Drenica had
just shown up. Both of his parents had been killed, and he had
escaped by walking alone through the woods. (March 16, 1998)
* * *
We met with Mary from Balkan Peace Teams (BPT) this morning.
The organization has one team in Belgrade and two in Croatia.
BPT monitors human rights in Serbia and comes to Prishtina
each month. It works to get Serbians and Albanians talking to
each other. There has been some success with this, but it is a
risky proposition for the Albanians.
Mary spent some time evaluating the student movement,
criticizing them for failure to speak to the Serbians. She
thought they should at least have some of their signs in
Serbian, so people can understand what the demands are.
Certainly it would be good if Serbians could have more
alternative information about the conditions the Albanians are
living under, because they are (mostly) terribly
indoctrinated. But it is risky for Albanians to reach out to
the Serbs at this point, because of the potential for being
ostracized by their own people. (March 17, 1999)
* * *
I went with David Hartsough to the office of Koha Ditore, the
local independent daily Albanian newspaper, to meet with its
editor, Veton Surroi. We sat in Veton's office with him and a
co-editor, Ylber Hysa. Veton seems to be even busier than the
other journalists these days. He is a quiet, serious man with
a low voice. He did not waste words. David was asking about
possibilities for action, trying to feel out the situation.
Veton, speaking of the students' indecision, said, "There is a
leadership vacuum. The students need to move. When you jump
into the water, you don't look to see whether it's hot or cold
Speaking of what was needed to help Kosovo, Veton said that
troops should be gathered around Serbia's borders. David asked
if he meant NATO troops. Veton said, "Who else? The Warsaw
Pact?" (March 18, 1999 -- End of diary excerpt.)
* * *
Lepa Mladjenovic is an activist in the Belgrade organization
Autonomous Women's Center against Sexual Violence. This
organization has been a strong supporter of independent activist
organizations in Kosovo. Mladjenovic posted the following
assessment of the situation in Kosovo on the Internet on August 31,
"The situation in Kosovo is very bad. Three days ago the first rain
and bad weather started, and more than 100,000 Albanian people are
'under the sky', in woods and bushes. Many of us activists as well
had a hard time sleeping that night.
"This morning a feminist and pediatrician, Vjosa Dobruna, from the
Center for Protection of Women and Children was here in Belgrade
and was very tired. Her eyes are now on the edge of tears. Vjosa,
like all the other activists in Kosovo is all the time on the spot
-- in the woods and so on, with humanitarian aid and medical
equipment. Many women who are giving birth are dying afterwards,
and many children are sick. She also said that many people have
recently been put in prison, among them some women activists and as
well three women students from the Independent Student Union. The
three students were sentenced to three months in prison 'because
they gave first aid courses to people.'
"Vjosa also said that she is very sad for the fact that Albanian
politics in Kosovo, of peaceful conflict resolution that they have
patiently cherished for 8 years, following the precious politics of
Ghandi, ended with war and catastrophe!"
Autonomous Women's Center Against Sexual Violence, Lepa
Mladjenovic, Tirsova 5a, Beograd, Yugoslavia; tel/fax:
381-11-687-190; email: awcasv@...
* * *
The following statistics come from Albanian sources:
"Near 1000 killed, over 800 missing or held hostage, over 400
settlements and villages destroyed, over 14,000 buildings ruined,
over 380,000 Albanians displaced or made refugees. The makeup of
IDPs: 63% children, 25% women, and 12% men of different ages.
"Three-hundred-and-fifty villages have been destroyed completely,
together with Decan and Rahovec. Over 25% of the population of
Kosova is faced with a humanitarian catastrophe. The needs of IDPs
and the whole endangered population are: food, shelter, clothing,
medicine, health care, and hygienic supplies."
Center for Protection of Women and Children, Pristina, Kosovo;
Center for Protection of Women and Children, Vjosa Dobruna,
Sevdie Ahmeti, , Pristina, Kosovo; email: sevdie.a@...
Sister Qiriazi, Igballe Rogova, Rachel Wareham; email:
Center for Women's Human Rights, Nazlie Bala; email:
In the next issue: Expulsion and Exile.
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