PO Box 10372
SUMMER 1999: v4i2 INDEX
What About [email protected]? by Val Liveoak
Note: The use of [email protected] is PTN’s way of recognizing that the Albanians use ‘Kosova’ and the Serbs ‘Kosovo.’
As a Quaker and a believer in nonviolence, I am asked and ask myself that question as the bombs continue to fall and the genocide (sometimes called “ethnic cleansing”) goes on in [email protected] Wasn’t it wrong for NATO, the UN and the western governments to fail to prevent the violence and genocide in Bosnia? Didn’t something need to be done to keep this from happening again in [email protected]?
My answer to these questions is, “Yes!” At the same time, I don’t think the NATO bombing was any more right than the acts of the Serbian government in [email protected], nor than the KLA’s attacks on Serbs there. Certainly we can’t say that the fate of Albanian Kosovars has improved. As I see it, all the violence, on all sides, is wrong. And all these wrongs still don’t make a right.
I feel especially bad about the situation in [email protected], because I was warned. I’ve known, as have many in Europe and some here in the US, that [email protected] was a powder keg. I also have known that there were active nonviolent opponents to Milosevic in both [email protected] and Yugoslavia. Yet our government seemed to prefer to encourage the small number of armed KLA guerrillas when it refused to allow Ibrahim Rugova, the elected head of the nonviolent Albanian Kosovar opposition, to participate in negotiations last year. Furthermore, the US insisted that only NATO forces, not UN or the civilian Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), could monitor Milosevic’s agreement-in-principle to accept autonomy in [email protected] The Yugoslav government believed accepting NATO forces would compromise the sovereignty of their country. To try to end the oppression of the Kosovars, the NATO governments (led by the US and Britain) chose a military hammer—escalating threats to Milosevic—rather than some other tool: working with the UN and OSCE, supporting the democratic opposition movement in Serbia, negotiation and offers of rewards for more acceptable tactics. As the saying goes, “When you have only a hammer in your toolbox, every problem looks like a nail.”
I suppose I can’t let myself off the hook when I’m blaming the US government for this lack of foresight. After all, the process is only the continuation of what President Eisenhower warned of in his closing address to the US public: the disproportionate power of the Military-Industrial Complex which would overwhelm democracy and peaceful initiatives. I believe this process has only increased in the years since he made that warning. Since I believe this and knew about the situation in [email protected], I wonder, why didn’t I do something more to prevent the war?
Along with other worldwide supporters of nonviolent action for peace and justice, my failure was not finding a strong enough way to respond to the worsening situation in [email protected] Where now some people see an urgent need to intensify the war, I see an urgent need to build up the numbers and skills of people who believe that violence is wrong and are willing to risk their lives and give up some of their comforts to struggle against it. I hope that when this struggle falls off the front pages, we’ll remember the urgency and keep up our efforts.
For more than ten years, Sojourners, among many others, has been calling for the development of a civilian, nonviolent body of people who are willing and able to respond to crisis situations with massive deployments of trained nonviolent activists. Early in this century, Gandhi envisioned a Shanti sena, a peace army. In 1984, Ron Sider inspired the formation of Christian Peacemaker Teams when he issued a challenge to the Anabaptists to develop a corps of Christians who were willing to make the same sacrifices that are asked of soldiers—to give up everyday pleasures, to train extensively, to be prepared to go wherever needed at a moment’s notice, and to be prepared to risk their own lives in the cause of peace. Quakers and others have formed Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace and other groups.
Yet today all these groups are the tiniest fraction of what is needed to confront even one crisis in one part of the world. Friends Peace Teams Project is yet another group trying to develop its own particular gifts in this field, and we need all the help we can get. To paraphrase CPT’s challenge, can Quakers begin to devote the material and human resources to peacemaking that our government devotes to war? Can we inspire young and old alike to take time from our busy lives to prepare for action? Can we give to peacemakers a part of the money that we pay in taxes to the military? Can we develop the training and logistical support that peacemakers in the field need? These questions seem very urgent to me today as the bombs fall.
Working with the Friends Peace Teams Project has been my answer to “What about [email protected]?” I think it is the right answer for me, but I must admit that at times like these, when the crisis is so grave, I am discouraged by the slowness of our progress. Certainly many other Quakers have had the same complaint about Quaker process over the years. Testing our leadings and being sure that God has guided us is a painstaking process, and it sometimes seems to inhibit action. If the action it inhibits is too rash, then I hope I can accept that. But when the situation is urgent, I believe that we need to be sure that our slowness to respond doesn’t stem from our own complacency, fear, or needs for a sense of safety, comfort, or the familiar. So my question is not the one in our title, but, “Even if it means sacrifice, am I answering God’s call to be a peacemaker in an active and timely way?”