Geert Lovink on Sun, 25 Apr 1999 22:35:41 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> (fwd) My personal view on Kosovo

>Date:   12/04/99 21:05
>RE:     My personal view on Kosovo
>Dear friends,
>I can no longer resist an impulse to write to you and share my personal
>view on the Kosovo war and the role of European human rights defenders in
>the current and future course of events. I do not speak on behalf of the
>organization I direct, the European Roma Rights Center. This letter is
>I believe that when an abusive government engages in gross and systematic
>human rights violations, the international community must intervene, if
>necessary, by military force. Therefore, I trusted that the NATO decision
>to bomb Yugoslavia, once the peace talks came to a dead end, was justified.
>I believed that military action would be an enforcement of that basic
>principle which most of us share, i.e. that human rights are of
>international concern. If we don't act to defend the victims, we
>accommodate with the slaughterers. It would not be moral, and it has not
>been moral in the past, to sit back and watch when thousands of people are
>killed, tortured, evicted from their homes, and abused in a number of ways.
>But at this stage, I strongly oppose further military strikes of whatever
>kind. It seems to me that the continuation of the NATO air campaign - and
>even more so a follow-up by introduction of ground troops in Kosovo - is
>likely to cause bigger loss of life and more severe violations of human
>rights than if an immediate cease fire is opted for today.
>Of course, it should be feared that if NATO stops its offensive now, the
>status quo imposed by Milosevic - the status quo of an ethnically cleansed
>Kosovo - will prevail. But, if the armed conflict rages on and on - and
>even if in the end NATO achieves the goal of completely reversing the
>ethnic cleansing - what will be the price for such a victory? I believe
>that it will be the unjustifiably high price of hundreds and probably
>thousands of further deaths and devastated lives - events definitely less
>reversible than the current status quo.
>At this stage, the continuation of the air strikes and even more so the
>possible quagmire of a ground warfare, will likely bring about more
>violations of human rights (particularly of the Kosovo Albanians
>themselves) than it can possibly prevent or punish. Only in the case of a
>miraculously fast and enormously efficient blitz offensive this may be
>untrue, but the prospect of winning a blitz war against Milosevic is now
>slim. Even partial achievement of NATO's goals will take weeks and months.
>And time will work against the civilian population of Kosovo, as well as
>against the innocent civilians of  Serbia. Retaliation against remaining
>Kosovars will intensify if strikes continue, and will become truly
>apocalyptic if ground troops invade Yugoslavia. How will NATO prevent the
>mass executions that may follow? The Serb population will also be heavily
>taxed - as if living under Milosevic has not been enough. Whole
>communities, including the Roma everywhere in Yugoslavia, will be decimated
>by the realities of war. Therefore, continuation of military action cannot
>be justified by human rights concerns.
>And this is where I have lost my peace of mind. My human rights equation
>wouldn't solve. I calculate in terms of lives first, and in lives lived in
>dignity, second.  Listening to NATO and the mainstream media supportive of
>its actions, I realize that they are trapped into calculating according to
>a different scale of success and failure. NATO experts- very predictably
>--build their strategy according to the quite different rationality of
>military victory. As the days passed, and as the pictures of refugees
>pouring out of Kosovo became more and more haunting, while the bombs were
>falling on Yugoslavia, I began to witness how, with a tragic inevitability,
>the game changed. From a campaign to defend the lives and rights of Kosovo
>Albanians, which I, like many others from the human rights community,
>understood and supported, it metamorphosed into something other: the
>monster of a prolonged and escalated war.
>There have been moments in human history, when projects based on a good
>principle, once put into practice, have taken a course according to a logic
>of their own, not envisioned by the proponents of the good principle. The
>process of realization can start to fire back and ultimately defeat the
>good principle. This is an essential aspect of our human existence: our
>fallibility.  It takes genuine courage, openness and humility to
>acknowledge the failure of a principle one believes in, and to surrender to
>reality. Because human life is part of reality before it is grasped in any
>kind of principle, even the most humane.
>The human rights community in the region is confused. We read and circulate
>dozens of messages on Kosovo every day, but have been trying not to abandon
>our traditional political neutrality. Since March 24, we have limited our
>statements only to reporting on human rights violations. We are taking no
>clear stand on what the western alliance should do next. We have left this
>question to the military and political decision-makers. But we must not
>overlook  that our silence on the issue of what should be done is
>interpreted as continued support for NATO military strikes.
>Dear friends from Eastern Europe, we should want to be opinion makers on
>the destiny of our part of the world, should we not? Our region is probably
>heading toward a war. I think we should speak out as soon as we have a
>viewpoint, even if we are not asked. (And, judging by who dominates the
>discussions on the mainstream western media: we are not asked.) In addition
>to our political neutrality, at least three further factors overwhelm our
>judgement. First, the democratic forces of our societies have opted for
>NATO membership and we are afraid not to risk our chances of being admitted
>in the alliance, if strong voices from within our countries criticize NATO.
> Second, our very status and jobs as human rights defenders have been made
>sustainable by the generous support of western donors, and we see no future
>for our movement and even for civil society itself without continued
>support from them. Third, we are already caught in the politics of Cold
>War: we fear that whatever we say immediately places us in one of two
>camps: we are either for or against NATO, and if we are against some action
>of NATO now, we side with Russia and China, and therefore we are enemies to
>democracy, etc. The western political scholars and analysts can still
>afford a more nuanced view. While here, whatever we say, will be
>interpreted as taking sides and used manipulatively. Sophistication first,
>a little later freedom of judgement, and finally simple, everyday common
>sense, are all too often casualties of war.
>Having taken into account all of the above, I nevertheless emerge from
>these crucifying dilemmas with a conviction that we should speak out as
>soon as possible, before it is too late. It is up to us to make human
>rights matter. We need a human rights discussion and a human rights
>argumentation, arriving at recommendations based on human rights concerns.
>I hope that many of us will prefer to voice their concerns too.
>Several years ago I bought in the United States a wall plate saying, "War
>doesn't decide who is right but only who is left". I kept in on my wall
>during the Bosnian war. Now I will do three things. First, I will search
>among my possessions to find that plate, and will put it above my desk
>again. Second, I will act accordingly: will send a letter and encourage
>others to send letters to the parties to the Kosovo conflict, appealing to
>them to stop immediately any military action and return to the negotiating
>table. Third, I will keep my mind open to your thoughts and reactions in
>these tragic days.
>Warmest regards,
>Dimitrina Petrova
>Human rights activist
>Budapest, 12 April 1999

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