Our television screens erupted this spring with images of streams of Kosovar Albanians fleeing across borders just ahead of Serbian troops, and office buildings in Belgrade going up in flames from NATO bombs. We have felt a deepening anguish over the bloodshed and human suffering.
We have been appalled by the atrocities of massacre and "ethnic cleansing" committed by Serbian troops in Kosovo. But we have also felt the suffering of Serbs as buses, trains, and residential neighborhoods have been destroyed by NATO war planes.
While the air attacks may have been a well-intentioned effort to stop the terror against Kosovar civilians, the bombing has been a strategic and moral failure. It has served only to increase the misery and death on all sides. The attempts to destroy the civilian infrastructure of bridges and power plants, and the use of anti-personnel cluster bombs against residential neighborhoods, cannot be morally justified. Rather than prevent the killing in Kosovo, it has served only to exacerbate it.
The history of the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo is a long and complicated one. It involves repressive Serb activities against ethnic Albanians, and it also involves terrorist activities by the Kosovo Liberation Army against Serbs in Kosovo. It involves the United States acting in such as way at the Dayton conference in 1995 that legitimized the Milosevic regimes control of Kosovo, and it also involves the West funding and arming the militant, undemocratic KLA. It involves the opposition to Milosevic by members of religious and other civil society sectors in Serbia, and it also involves the nonviolent efforts to create an alternative civil society in Kosovoboth of which were largely ignored by the United States.
And rather than the patient diplomatic negotiations that might have produced a political solution, it involves the decision by President Clinton and NATO to solve a centuries-old problem by bombing. The Rambouillet conference in February and March, as has now been amply demonstrated, was a "take-it-or-leave-it" ultimatum, not a genuine search for a solution.
WHAT IS NOW the way forward? Can a peaceful future arise out of the blood and ashes of war?
It is clear that the hundreds of thousands of refugees must be enabled to return safely to their homes. This will require an international protective force that can ensure their repatriation. Once they have returned, how can the Kosovars rebuild a life? The vigorous involvement of the religious community and other civil society organizations in both Serbia and Kosovo will be of central importance.
In a moving letter addressed "To Albanian friends, from non-governmental organizations in Serbia," 22 Serbian organizations wrote recently: "This tragedy, yours and ours, personal and collective, is a result of a long series of erroneous policies of the most radical forces among us and in the international community. The continuation of these policies will take both Serbs and Albanians into an abyss....Our first step of distancing from hatred, ethnic conflict, and bloody retaliations is a public expression of our deepest compassion and sincere condemnation of everything that you and your fellow citizens are experiencing."
The letter from the Serbs goes on to say, "We are convinced that, together, we will find strength and courage to step on the road of peace, democracy, respect of human rights, mutual reconciliation, and respect....We are convinced that by joining forces we can contribute to the reaching of a just and rational political solution to the status of Kosovo and build confidence and cooperation between Serbs and Albanians."
As the fog of war begins to lift, it is clear that it will be the people on both sides who will determine the future. Our hope must be that faith and reason will prevail, and that they will be able to find a way to live together.
DUANE SHANK is director of outreach and executive assistant at Sojourners.