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April, 1999

From Kosovo to us

by Carl Stieren

Friends from Meetings in Ottawa and Halifax in Canada, and in Philadelphia and Media, Pennyslvania have held vigils in public gathering places in silent opposition to the war in the Balkans.

When NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began on March 23, 1999, it marked the internationalization of what had begun as a struggle for their rights by Kosovo Albanians in Yugoslavia, and had turned into a war for independence against the Serbian-controlled Yugoslav government by an armed group called the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA. Canadian participation in that war was announced almost immediately by the Canadian government, while Parliament was in its Easter recess.

The conflict in Kosovo, or as the Albanian Kosovars call it, Kosova, began centuries ago. In 1989, the Yugoslav government revoked the autonomy that Kosovo had enjoyed since 1974, when Tito's Yugoslavia granted that province special status. More recently, the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1992 with the independence of Slovenia, and the four-year war between Croatia and Yugoslavia, marked dangerous times for rival national groups in the (still) multi-ethnic state of Yugoslavia.

Images of suffering Kosovo refugees of Albanian descent began flashing on our television screens after the NATO bombing campaign began. There had been some coverage before, notably for the stillborn Rambouillet Agreement, a peace pact that NATO leaders had tried to get both the KLA and the Yugoslav government to sign. The agreement, which left the door open for Kosovo independence if no final agreement were reached in three years, was signed only by the KLA.

The first time this reporter remembered hearing of Kosovo -- other than as a vague recollection that it was an autonomous region in Yugoslavia similar to Vojvodina -- was at a conference on Friends and the Vietnam War, held in July, 1998, at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania by Pendle Hill Conference Centere. There David Hartsough, Executive Director of Peaceworkers in San Francisco, told us of his work with the nonviolent Kosovo movement of Albanian Kosovars.

Friends have been involved in the area in small ways. British Friends have been involved since 1991, through Quaker Peace & Service, which now had two Quaker Peace & Service representatives in Sarajevo, Bosnia, working with civil society groups committed to rebuilding a sustainable peace in the region. A search on the Web for the words "Quaker" and "Kosovo" brought up articles about American Friends Service Committee's campaign for "Kits for Kosovo" in October, 1998, when that American Quaker agency organized a campaign for sending aid to Kosovo refugees of Albanian origin in an area which was by then involved in a guerilla war.

Direct Quaker involvement in Kosovo:



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