Volume 6, Number 1 -- October 1999
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FOB Delivers Aid to Refugees during Height of Kosovo War
FOB director Glenn Ruga traveled to Macedonia during the first week of April 1999 when hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees were streaming across the borders into Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro. Ruga documented in photos and interviews the exodus to Macedonia and also brought $800 worth of emergency aid to the borders at Blace and Jazince. Since his return, FOB has raised $8,000 for Kosovo relief. (See back page.) Following are photos and excerpts from a longer piece that Ruga wrote about his trip.
"I spoke with numerous refugees, both in English and in Albanian (with a translator), and the stories were all very similar. Everyone spoke of armed men in black ski masks entering their towns and villages and giving people five to ten minutes to leave. The alternative was death. Many people I spoke to told of seeing people killed, especially the elderly, for refusing the leave. Most people also saw corpses on their way out of Pristina and other towns and villages.
"Blace is the infamous 'no-man's-land, heavily reported in all the international media. Upon my arrival on Friday morning, April 2, the refugee flow was still on the rise and almost nothing was in place yet. I observed a huge sea of people standing in a dark, misty, and muddy field, being held back by armed Macedonian police and military guards.
"Many Albanians I spoke with said they must fight for their freedom and can imagine taking up arms against Macedonia. It is unclear from my discussions if greater autonomy would satisfy their need for freedom, although they did say they do not need land, just control of their destiny. Understandably, the Macedonians are extremely nervous about this new influx of Albanians, which will skew the demographics in favor of the Albanian population.
"For a brief period of 20 minutes, we grabbed all the food that we brought, as well as food stockpiled by the Macedonian Red Cross, and brought it to the border, where it was delivered to the waiting Kosovar refugees on the other side. Finally the Macedonian police forced us to stop.
"Enver (my translator) and I went into a few tents while he was looking for family members from Pristina who were unaccounted for. The refugees now were living the slow, sad life away from their homes, with no apparent future. They didn't have access to news and didn't know what was happening in Kosovo or Belgrade, or to the hundreds of thousands of other refugees coming across the border into Macedonia and Albania. They all wanted to know when they could go home.
"I met one woman with a five-week-old baby swaddled in white cloth. The infant had been driven out like everyone else, and now was lying peacefully on a green army-issue blanket in the tent."
Since returning from Macedonia, Glenn has given speaking presentations at 14 locations.
Kosovo Village Reconstruction Project Launched
Friends of Bosnia is launching the Kosovo Village Reconstruction Project/Emergency Winterization Program. This effort will supply a village in Kosovo with construction materials to enable residents to provide basic shelter for the coming winter.
Since 1998, when the Serbs began large scale assaults on Albanian villages in Kosovo, and accelerating in March 1999 when the U.S.-led air war began, hundreds of thousands of homes have been partially or completely destroyed, wells have been contaminated, and basic infrastructure disrupted. While much of the Albanian population was driven out of Kosovo during the war, most are now returning and finding their homes uninhabitable.
With the onset of winter, there is a desperate need for winterization supplies so that returnees can provide basic shelter for themselves. Of immediate need is heavy plastic sheeting, lumber, and tools. FOB will be asking for donations from construction companies and building material suppliers to help with this relief effort.
How Can You Help?
FOB can use your help in the following areas:
Following the winter of 1999®2000, FOB plans to provide ongoing reconstruction aid to the same village we will be helping with winterization. This may include rebuilding schools, medical facilities, or municipal infrastructure. FOB will provide more information on this project in early 2000.
If you are interested in helping with the Kosovo Village Reconstruction Project, contact Michael Kane, project coordinator, at 413-586-0403 or mkane2000 @aol.com.
Friends of Bosnia Moves to Boston
On July 1, Friends of Bosnia
relocated from its Hadley office to Boston. FOB hopes to make greater use of the
resources in a large metropolitan area to be more effective in its work of educating
the public about the Balkans and providing humanitarian aid.The new address is:
FOB Associate Director Leaves to Pursue Balkan Activism in New York
Sharon Webb, a pillar of FOB for five years, left the organization in August to pursue new directions in Balkan activism.
The energy, tenacity, and sheer hard work that Sharon poured into FOB are legendary. She organized vital conferences at Amherst College, Wellesley College, and the College of William and Mary. She worked tirelessly on behalf of Bosnian refugees in Western Massachusetts and delivered packages for them to family members in Bosnia. She helped to collect ten tons of humanitarian aid, and then -- in February, 1995 -- made the perilous drive over snow-clad, war-torn Mt. Igman to deliver some of that aid, in person, to the people of Sarajevo.
As FOB explores new possibilities in Boston, Sharon will tap the enormous activist potential of the New York area with a new organization devoted to the pursuit of peace and justice in the Balkans.
After nine months of collecting aid, Friends of Bosnia sent a container of medical supplies, computers, and educational supplies to Bosnia in November 1998. FOB Directors Glenn Ruga and Sharon Webb accompanied the shipment to hospitals in Bugojno, Gorazde, Klujc, and Sarajevo; the Sarajevo Music Conservatory; and Firefly Reconciliation Project, Brcko.
FOB would like to thank the following people and organizations that made this effort possible.
During the weekend of April 24®26, 1998, FOB co-organized with the Department of Sociology at Wellesley College a
conference titled "In Search of a Nation: Restoring a Multiethnic Bosnia." More than 200 people from across the U.S., Canada, and the Balkans attended the event. Keynote speaker was Selim Beslagic, mayor of Tuzla and a renowned advocate for a multiethnic Bosnia. Other speakers from the Balkans were Senka Nozica, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Sarajevo; and Sonja Biserko, chair, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. Among the U.S. speakers were Professor Michael Sells, author of The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia; Landrum Bollings from Mercy Corp. International; George Biddle, vice president, International Crisis Group; Nina Bang-Jensen, special counsel and advocacy director, Coalition for International Justice; Julie Mertus, professor of law at Ohio Northern University and author of Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War; and Sheila Berry, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues.
Roads to Reconciliation
On October 29®30, 1998, Friends of Bosnia cosponsored "Roads to Reconciliation" with the UMass Office of Jewish Affairs and the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding from Leverett, Massachusetts. Speakers at this event were Jakob Finci, president of La Benevolencia, Sarajevo, and director of Soros Foundation for Bosnia Herzegovina; Mirha Kratina, field facilitator and psychologist for Save the Children, Zenica, Bosnia Herzegovina; Lidija Obad, coordinator for the Center for Peace, Nonviolence, and Human Rights, Osijek, Croatia; and Dragan Popadic, professor of psychology, University of Belgrade and a founding member of the Center for Antiwar Action, Belgrade, Serbia.
Washington Press Conference
On July 28, 1999, FOB organized a press conference on the steps of the capitol building in Washington with Congressman John Olver from Massachusetts. The press conference coincided with the third anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. Speakers demanded a more forceful policy in Kosovo (eight months before the bombing campaign began). Steve Albert, from the Bosnet editorial board presented a petition to President Clinton with more than 18,000 names demanding the arrest of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Speakers included Rep. John Olver and Holly Burkhalter, advocacy director, Physicians for Human Rights.
Zones of Separation Update
FOB is excited to announce that our traveling educational exhibit about the war in Bosnia, "Zones of Separation: The Struggle for a Multiethnic Bosnia," has continued to be a great success. Since our last newsletter, it has been exhibited at Otter Tail County Historical Society in Fergus Falls, Minn.; the Greensboro Public Library in Greensboro, N.C.; the Embassy of Bosnia Herzegovina, Washington, D.C.; and The Lipa Gallery, Washington, D.C. Individual photos have appeared in Metropolis magazine, Child Express World Wide, and in the international Art & Photo Exhibitsion I Bambini di Sarajevo.
Japanese Student Writes to FOB
FOB briefs was very touched by this e-mail note we received from a Japanese student at the Center for Women's Studies, University of York, UK.
Dear Friends of Bosnia:
I'm a student and writing my dissertation about your country -- Women, nationalism and also about the women's anti-war movement.
I've learned and been learning lots of things through study. It's been very painful experience to me as well to know what happened during war as I don't know what to do for that. I often felt powerless, and hopeless as many people feel about the war in Balkans. I've been searching for what I can do for you. I know I can do maybe nothing, but when I get job, at least I can send contribution or I believe, I can do something even if it's small thing.
In Japan, it's still limited information available about your country's tragedy, which is still lasting. I'd like to tell many people as much as possible, about your country when I go back to Japan (next month).
I'll keep up to get information of your country. And also, I'm a Buddhist. So I pray for your people's happiness in the morning and evening very sincerely.
This is what I've been doing since I started to know about Bosnia.
Thank you so much for reading this.
Nam myoho renge kyo
"Bosnia Daily" Launched by Network Bosnia
Network Bosnia, from Washington, has launched a new e-mail newsletter with regular news and information about Bosnia.To subscribe, send the following e-mail message to [email protected] with a blank subject line:
Subscribe balkans-news- digest [your e-mail address]
Problems or questions should be directed to Dara at [email protected]
FOB mourns the passing of Shin Yasui, 26, a citizen of Japan and a University of Oregon graduate, who died June 29, 1998, of injuries suffered in a traffic accident in Austria. Shin was a tireless human rights activist concerned about Bosnia, Kosovo, Tibet, and East Timor and a founder of the Committee for World Peace at the University of Oregon. Among Bosnia activists, Shin is best remembered for his work at Mladi Most in Mostar, and for setting up a satellite Mladi Most in Foca, a town described by Human Rights Watch as "a closed, dark place." While there, he started a youth center and engaged young people in magazine production, writing, music, theater, and discussions of peace. He left voluntarily after four months of harassment and threats from city authorities, but he had stayed longer than perhaps any other international aid worker. (Excerpted from an article written by Sheri Fink in the Oregonian, July 12, 1998.)
New Western Mass. FOB Committee Formed
With Friends of Bosnia moving to Boston, a new committee has formed to carry on the humanitarian and educational work of FOB in western Massachusetts. The first project is the Kosovo Village Reconstruction Project. Committee members are Michael Kane, Suzie Russin, Rob Wilson, Molly Martin, and Norbert Goldfield. If you would like to become active in the committee, contact Michael Kane at 413-586-0403 or at [email protected]
Friends of Bosnia Raises $8,000 for Kosovo Relief
Since FOB Director Glenn Ruga returned from Macedonia in early April, FOB has raised over $8,000 for Kosovo relief, mostly from unsolicited donations. $5000 went to support El Hillal, a Macedonia-based relief organization. The remainder will go toward the Kosovo Village Reconstruction Project. FOB extends a warm thank you to all who have contributed to this effort.
New Book on Kosovo Released by Julie Mertus
Julie Mertus, professor of law at Ohio Northern University, released her new book over the summer, Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War (University of California, 1999). Extremely well researched, the book follows the last two decades after the death of Tito and the conflicts between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. Mertus interviews both Albanians and Serbs about their experiences during the student demonstrations in 1981 and other key events in Albanian/ Serb relations: the Martinovic case, 1985; the Paracin massacre, 1987; the loss of Albanian autonomy, 1989; and open warfare in 1999 and the NATO air campaign to prevent a wholesale genocide against the Kosovar Albanians. Mertus doesn't hide her sympathies for the Kosovar victims, nor her criticism of Serbs who are blind to the plight of fellow human beings, nor her condemnation of years of calculated aggression from Belgrade. Kosovo is available on the FOB electronic bookstore, www.friendsofbosnia.org.
Tel: 978-461-0909, Fax: 978-461-2552/ / email: [email protected]