Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)

Barbra Bearden (Kosova Women’s Network – KWN): Barbra Bearden graduated in 2004 with a BA in Communications from Centenary College of Louisiana. She then worked in non-profit development and external communications; corporate public relations and marketing; and website design. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Louisiana Chapter), Sigma Tau Delta honors society, and the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority. At the time of her fellowship, Barbra was pursuing her Masters in International Communications at American University in Washington, DC.

Fighting Bureaucracy for Civil Society: Silence and Rage

20 Jun

When I hear Igo’s speeches, read some of her letters, and listen to what she has said in causal correspondence with foreign representatives – it is all I can do not to vocally gasp. Blunt simply does not describe it – she directly ‘calls out’ almost everyone she has meetings with. Contrast that to the way she talks to women seeking assistance from KWN; where she speaks gently, sitting close with an uncharacteristic passivity to listen more intently.

I am always surprised at the stark differences between the business of NGOs in the US and those here. I have mentioned coffee and slippers – but Igo’s language is another. Constantly attending meetings, she comes back to the office looking haggard with one story or another about an international twit, a pompous UN visitor, or an unresponsive government official (I’m using slightly softer language than she does). They chide her and mock the dedicated work of civil society in Kosova with their inaction. Her response to the bureaucracy, which prevents any real change in Kosova, is absolute silence or absolute rage. She told me a story of how she responded, less than diplomatically, when an official, in an extreme example of the disrespect she faces, referred to her as ‘barking like a dog’. (I will not share with all of the internet community her response out of respect to our confidence; but, I think she would laugh if I did.).

Today she came home from a meeting regarding Kosova status talks, where she was there to represent civil society. Responding as both a citizen and the Executive Director of an NGO, Igo spoke of our issues and answered questions. When she called herself a citizen – they told her she was here to represent civil society as an organization. When she responded as the Executive Director, they told her she was answering as a self interested NGO. Who is civil society, if not the combination of those two? What can you do in this situation? How do you work with leaders who refer to you as a friend over dinner and leave you decimated after any meeting with UNMIK?

This is not to say the more diplomatic NGOs have anymore luck getting the government to their issues, per say. I know all to well the struggle, in America, to find funding and support. Those NGOs remain diplomatic because small successes fuel the civil system; and diplomacy, (for them) brings small successes. Here, according to almost everyone I have talked to, the first 7 years of KWN correspondences were examples of the utmost diplomacy; without any results. Now, while they chide, government officials are at least listening (if only to hear what she will say next). Having the voice of civil society listened to is a small success that will fuel the movement in Kosova.

Igo’s ferocity is, obviously, not without warrant given the hostile diplomatic situations she too often finds herself in. The impressive part is that she is not ferocious in order to defend herself. She is defending: Besa, Cuca, and Alba, the KWN staff that work tirelessly to make the organization run, every KWN member organization that fights to make their programs better, and every woman who wants a voice in her social and political system.

Her methods seem unorthodox to me, but I am no one to judge. The struggle to maintain the thriving civil society in Kosova rests in the hands of dedicate people who, at this point, are sick of taking (for lack of a better word) crap from self important people and the constraints of bureaucracy. I won’t be writing anything more stern than this blog (because I’d still like a job when I get out of graduate school) but know that I support whatever language or actions are necessary for KWN to impart its message.

Posted By Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)

Posted Jun 20th, 2006

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