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.

UNMIK and the Truth from Civil Society

06 Jun

From the KWN office you can see the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) – the branch of the United Nations (UN) designated specifically to aid Kosova in establishing rule of law and international relations. As graduate students we are taught both to look critically but idealize the UN and all it stands for. Here though, working with KWN, my idealism has been squashed.

On May 25, 2006 members of the UNMIK police force assaulted over 36 Kosovar men, women and children from Krusha – the very people they are here to protect. The police were escorting a group of Serbians who used to live in the village. Uninformed of the visit and still traumatized by the massacre of 70% of the village’s male population in 1999, a group of women asked to speak with their former neighbors. When their request was refused the women formed a human blockade in the rode. Using batons and tear gas the police removed the women. Fighting back with stones, the women and others who came to help were hardly formidable opponents. Until today, the UN called the incident ethnic strife.

Igo, my supervisor and the Executive Director of KWN, was in Krusha within hours of the assault. She took statements from eye witnesses detailing what happened, created a report and presented it to Soren Jessen-Petersen (the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo – SRSG). After weeks of ‘investigation’, nothing had been done to bring justice to the people of Krusha or to address the real issue at hand. The persistence of KWN to bring this injustice to light paid off in the daily paper where the SRSG publicly admitted the truth. Igo burst into the office this morning holding the paper up triumphantly; “this is us, this is our work”, she said. To my dismay she is not at all exaggerating. Without the personal accounts that KWN provided I do not believe that the truth would have come out. Only days before, the SRSG sent out a press release calling the actions of the police reasonable. I would ask, what is reasonable about blowing tear gas near a primary school?

This type of incident is not isolated. The bureaucracy and politics of UNMIK prevents it from governing properly (I should mention that Kosova is not a sovereign state, nor is it part of Serbia – it is completely under the control of UNMIK). Daily, KWN and thousands of other NGOs here (particularly women’s organizations) fight to be heard and to assist the UN in its mission; with only small successes. In light of the adversity facing women’s civil society organizations, and to stand in solidarity, KWN has formed a joint organization with the Serbian Women in Black: the Women’s Peace Coalition (WPC).

WPC spoke out against what happened in Kursha, and they are currently campaigning for protection of cultural sites throughout Bosnia, Kosova, and Serbia. Beyond the simple need to protect these historical sites physically – WPC aims to protect them from political abuse. In their statement WPC said, “…cultural sites are linked to the cultural heritage, history, and communities of all ethnic groups, and thus all ethnic groups have the right to share, preserve, and protect these heritage sites.” The fear is, after the final status of Kosova is decided, that politicians and land owners will uses these sites for personal and political gain.

I have lots of ‘alone time’ here: to reflect on my work, the work of KWN and WPC, as well as my perspective on international politics. I am disheartened, but not broken. I still believe that the work of individuals can make a difference for the better. The success of today is testament to that.

Posted By Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)

Posted Jun 6th, 2006

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