Diana Francis

Lessons From Kosovo/a:
Alternatives To War

The Peace Testimony In The Twenty-First Century


The peace testimony has always been central to Quaker beliefs and identity, though it can never have been easy to maintain. It is not an optional appendix to Quakerism, but integral to it: an expression of the fundamental affirmation of ‘that of God in everyone’. For Quakers, faith and practice go hand in hand. Practice has always included not only the spiritual, personal and social lives and work of individual Friends, but relating to ‘power’: witnessing to certain values and the need for their expression in political, social and economic structures. Joining the Society of Friends implies acceptance of public as well as private responsibilities.

Members of the Society felt sorely challenged when NATO went to war against Serbia over Kosovo/a. Confronted by images of families in their thousands driven from their homes and leaving their land in pitiful convoys, many felt torn between a feeling that they should, as Quakers, maintain the Society’s witness against war, and their personal doubts as to what else could have been done. This pamphlet will attempt to address those doubts. Its production is part of a move throughout the world family of Quakers to make known and promote alternatives to war in addressing social and political conflict.

The first section will review the development of the Kosovo/a crisis and suggest what could have been done, both early and late, by Western governments, inter-governmental organisations, the media, and ‘ordinary people’ in non-governmental organisations, to address the conflict constructively. The second section will look more generally at alternatives to violence in defending human rights and creating peaceful relationships, suggesting the changes required at the level of government policy and, finally, listing some of the things that Friends can do.


(Thanks to Howard Clark for expert advice on this section. His book, Civil Resistance in Kosovo, was published in London by Pluto Press at the end of  2000)

Beginnings of the conflict The recent crisis in Kosovo/a, which culminated in the NATO bombing campaign, in death and destruction, and the expulsion of more than a million Albanians from their homes and land, was building up over ten years and more. Slobodan Milosevic came to power at a time of major upheaval, after the collapse of Communism, when politics and identities were being redefined. Kosovo/a had, since 1974, been an autonomous or self-governing region within Yugoslavia. It was, however, impoverished, and most of the best jobs went to minority Serbs and Montenegrins. In the 1980s there was increasing unrest and in 1989 Milosevic used this situation to consolidate his political standing as a nationalist and champion of Serbs, rescinding Kosovo/a’s autonomy. Step by step, Kosovo/a’s independent institutions were closed down, Albanians were removed from all positions of power, and in total more than 70% of Albanians were sacked.

The response of the Albanian population of Kosovo/a, under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova, was to launch a massive campaign of nonviolent resistance, setting up ‘parallel institutions’, opening their own schools and medical services. In addition, large public demonstrations were organised, though by the mid-1990s these public actions had diminished.

What could have been done at this stage?

  • Support at all levels for the nonviolence campaign; solidarity actions around the world; intergovernmental attention to human rights and development needs in Kosovo/a
  • Political and economic incentives for the Serbian government to restore the human rights of Albanians and other marginalised groups in Kosovo/a and renegotiate the constitutional status of Kosovo/a
  • Fostering dialogue at every level, including that of political leadership; exploration of new forms of political and constitutional relationship
  • Encouraging stronger links between peace and human rights activists in ‘Serbia proper’ and those in Kosovo/a
  • A consistent, regional approach in all negotiations and agreements related to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia

The Dayton Agreement and beyond. The human rights abuses against the majority Albanian population, and some non-Serb minorities, along with the parallel structures and other forms of resistance, continued throughout the war in what had been Yugoslavia, which began in 1991 and was formally ended by the Dayton Agreement in 1995. At the time of that agreement, no provision was made for addressing the conflict in Kosovo/a by restoring human rights and democracy there. The power of Slobodan Milosevic, who was used by the Western powers in persuading Radovan Karadzic to sign the agreement, was consolidated by this tacit recognition. However, because of its government’s role in the conflict, Serbia was subsequently made a ‘pariah state’ and punished economically and politically. With its own huge population of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia, and massive unemployment, Serbia was a beleaguered state, and the suffering of its people was intense. Despite the heroic efforts of peace and democracy movements in Serbia, human rights and democratic processes were constantly under attack, and the situation in Kosovo/a continued to deteriorate.

What could have been done at this stage?

  • Incentives for democratisation and devolution in Serbia
  • Support for ‘civil society’ organisations in all parts of Serbia working for peace and democracy
  • Support for the continuing nonviolent movement in Kosovo/a
  • Fostering dialogue between the nonviolent movement in Kosovo/a and the opposition movement in Serbia
  • Facilitation of inter-ethnic dialogue at the grass-roots level and among middle level leaders
  • Economic and political incentives for all parties to reach a settlement
  • Respect and encouragement for Russia’s potential intermediary role in persuading the Serb President to introduce reforms, rein in his police and allow the monitoring of human rights
  • A consistent, regional approach in all negotiations and agreements related to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia
  • Addressing the situation in Kosovo/a and reaching a negotiated agreement over its future status alongside the Dayton agreement

As human rights abuses intensified, the nonviolent campaign and its leadership came under increasing pressure to abandon nonviolence in favour of armed struggle. In 1996 the Kosova Liberation Army was formed, and fed into a spiral of violence in which murders of Serb police and militia by the KLA became the pretext for wholesale attacks on Albanians. After years of warnings and neglect, and as attacks on villages, with many notorious atrocities, as well as smaller-scale acts of vengeance and intimidation, international attention was intensified. Permission was given by the Serb government for the introduction of an OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) ‘verification mission’ of human rights monitors into Kosovo/a. 2000 was the proposed number. Less than 1300 were in fact sent, and most of those belatedly. Even this relatively small team of observers made a remarkable difference, and although there were still atrocities, they were far fewer in number. It seems reasonable, therefore, to believe that if the full number of monitors had been sent, and that if they had been well-prepared for their task (rather than almost entirely unprepared) they could have gone a long way to ending the killings.

What could have been done at this stage?

  • Sending in, quickly, the full complement of monitors, whether UN or OSCE, with appropriate backgrounds and training; providing them with expert advice and full logistical support, and allowing them to do their job
  • Creating a space for serious talks and negotiations at all levels, and concerted international support for a peaceful interim settlement of the conflict: a modus vivendi which would protect human rights, and a process for ongoing consideration of the constitutional issue
  • Giving authority to the UN to act as intermediary and using the ‘good offices’ of Russia
  • Making it clear that the issue was one of human rights, not of blanket hostility to Serbs or disregard for Serb perspectives

The war and its aftermath. Instead, the OSCE verification mission was abruptly withdrawn, deadlines were set, and in the Rambouillet ‘talks’ in which the ‘international community’ suddenly shifted its own position, placing the possibility of a constitutional separation on the table for the first time. This was done in order to induce the Albanian Kosovars to participate. It meant that Slobodan Milosevic was asked to accept, at ‘gun point’, radically new proposals for which his electorate was in no way prepared. When he refused to sign the proposed ‘agreement’, it was announced, without any UN debate, that there was no choice but for NATO to launch an attack. As various military experts warned, the violence against Albanians in Kosovo/a was not stopped but massively increased, and the terrible exodus began. Civilians of all ethnicities were killed. The infrastructure of Kosovo/a and the rest of Serbia was severely damaged, chemical pollution and the radiation from depleted uranium in warheads poisoned the region, the land was littered with deadly cluster bombs, and all hope of inter-ethnic co-existence in Kosovo/a was propelled decades into the future. The hatred engendered by what had been done by the Serb militias and by NATO’s action was such that the space for interethnic tolerance had been virtually eradicated. The Albanian population, seeing their aspirations for separation as having been vindicated, were no longer open to continuing within the same framework as Serbia, but demanded full statehood. Ethnic minorities and tolerant Albanians were intimidated and murdered. Serbs remained only under the protection of international forces. Meanwhile, local capacities for self-reliance have been seriously undermined by the overwhelming international presence in Kosovo/a, military and humanitarian, which soaks up skilled personnel for menial work.

What could have been/ could be done at this stage?

  • Sending a UN police force to the region, in non-military uniform
  • Supporting local individuals and organisations experienced in social action, to meet short term needs and plan long-term reconstruction
  • Drawing on the experiences gained in the ‘parallel institutions’ for rebuilding social services and structures
  • Supporting the establishment of local peace committees to monitor human rights and rebuilding communication between hostile and fearful communities.
  • Giving priority to the establishment of local police and judiciary, with strong human rights training and international accompaniment (for monitoring and protection), to represent and serve all sectors of society
  • Employing ex-combatants in reconstruction projects
  • Guaranteeing enough continuing aid for there to be a viable base for the establishment of a democratic unit of government and the rebuilding of the economy
  • Offering training and support for peacebuilding to public employees, politicians, NGO workers and community leaders
  • Offering outside facilitation for local dialogue if needed

Conclusion There were no easy solutions to events in what was once Yugoslavia. We cannot say, ‘If only this and this had been done, everything would have been all right.’ We can say that there were constructive things that could have been done, given the will and resources, and that mistakes were made at many stages, because of national interests in the West, the lack of any coherent approach, the lack of respect for local populations, and the lack of any serious analysis of what the ‘military solution’ was likely to achieve. In this case as elsewhere, uncritical and ill-founded  trust in what is euphemistically called ‘force’ was no doubt coupled with ignorance of alternatives.


Perhaps because recent decades have seen so much violence across the globe, there seems to be a political awakening to the need for alternatives. The current time is one of opportunity as well as challenge: a time for exploring and promoting alternatives to violence. Nonviolent approaches to conflict are characterised by:

  • Respect for all parties and for human life, dignity and rights
  • Communication: dialogue first and last
  • Inclusion of all those affected, in the thinking, processes and decisions by which conflict is addressed
  • Agreements reached by the parties themselves, not ‘third parties’: mediation as facilitation
  • Recognising the role of conflict in addressing injustice; distinguishing between conflict and violence

Not all conflicts are alike. Here we are focussing on social and political conflicts, but these vary in scale and intensity.

Latent/ suppressed conflict or oppression When one section (or more) of society is oppressed by another, there may temporary stability and the appearance of ‘peace’. However, the underlying violence of such relationships means that there is a conflict waiting to happen. This comes about when some of the people who are oppressed wake up to their situation, begin to talk about it, educate others and organise to change it. They may work for change through dialogue, public and private. It is possible for those who oppress them to acknowledge what is happening and act to change the relationship. Those who take on the role of bridge-builders may help their society to address the injustices which are prevalent, through education and media coverage, and through political lobbying and action, and outsiders may well be asked for their support. Outsiders may also be able to offer additional ideas for thinking about how to address injustice and conflict.

However, those who hold power do not easily relinquish it, and may well be unready to talk about change and concede power until those they have held on the margins, or kept in a subservient position, find ways of making themselves felt and heard, i.e. increase their relative power by organising a movement. Outside supporters can play a role in such movements, but their role is secondary. In the meantime those who find themselves in, or adopt, some kind of middle position in the conflict have a role to play in building bridges from one community to another, so that communication begins. The bridges that are built may be institutional as well as personal. They may include development work which helps address the social and economic marginalisation of oppressed or excluded groups. Cross-community organisations and people from outside can act as monitors and protectors of human rights, can offer training and dialogue workshops for constructive engagement with conflict, and help give voice to the needs and rights of oppressed groups. Public educators and the media will also have a role to play in encouraging rounded and temperate debate.

Confrontation/ chronic or sporadic violence Even nonviolent confrontation is often

met with a degree of violence. In circumstances where there is no nonviolent movement, an underlying conflict is liable to erupt into overt violence from time to time, or to result in chronic inter-communal violence. Not only will lives be lost and blighted, but there will be the constant danger that the violence will escalate. The most important means for defusing the tension will be for the parties to the conflict to acknowledge each other’s legitimate concerns and to enter into dialogue (at the community level) and negotiations (at the political level).  Much will depend on the efforts of those who promote dialogue, community responsibility and nonviolent means of working for change. The promotion of cross-party organisations and loyalties will again be needed, and one common task will be the promotion and protection of human rights. Once more, the importance of the media in cooling passions and standing against violence is hard to overstate.

Outsiders may be able to help with human rights protection, offer on-the-spot mediation, and fulfil the support roles of training and facilitation, providing financial and logistical support for roundtables, pre-negotiation meetings, seminars and behind the scenes mediation. They may also help establish cross-party organisations or institutions.

Wide-scale violence Where widescale violence has taken hold, peaceworkers, even those who support the cause of one of the parties to the conflict, can go on promoting nonviolent strategies and seeking routes to negotiation. Within local communities, people may declare ‘peace-zones’, refusing to join in with the violence. Individuals and organisations can call for the adoption of nonviolent strategies, stand for and protect human rights, and engage in cross-party humanitarian work, thereby upholding the equal valuing of all. Outsiders prepared to take the risk can still act as monitors and protectors of human rights, and offer ‘shuttle-diplomacy’ to build bridges between isolated parties. The work of dialogue through workshops, seminars and private meetings continues, outside the area of violence. The voices of free media are liable to be silenced at such times, but where they can still be heard they can help prepare a ‘peace constituency’, by pointing to the costs of violence and advocating negotiations.

Post-violence As ever, the parties to the conflict are central to the recovery process after violence. Their commitment to peace and reconciliation will be of fundamental importance. Letting go of interests which have been vested in violent struggle, at whatever level, is not easy. Handing in weapons has significance beyond immediate questions of physical security. Those who have been part of the fighting need to be supported in re-education, social rehabilitation and new employment. Support is needed for new democratic government and institutions. Bridges need to be built between communities, and processes devised and facilitated to help those who are traumatised to recover, as individuals and communities. Educational institutions and organisations, along with the media (both affiliated and non-affiliated), will need to promote a ‘post-war peace culture’. Outside support may still be valuable in monitoring human rights observation, facilitating particular aspects of the reconciliation and trauma-recovery process, training trainers, and otherwise contributing to education and training for peacebuilding and democracy. It will also be important that those from other countries encourage their governments to support peacebuilding, reconstruction and development.

Here is a chart of nonviolent actions which can be taken by ‘civil actors’ in conflict (i.e. non-governmental and non-military people). It will be noted that ‘education and training’ appears in every box (except those referring to situations of widescale violence, where they are likely to be on hold, with efforts going into crisis management and the search for a ceasefire). They are constantly needed to enhance the numbers and effectiveness of both internal and external actors, and to help raise levels of awareness at home and abroad. Likewise the media role is always important. And for people who live outside the conflict zone, there is always the task of lobbying their/ our own governments, to encourage them to act in support of peace initiatives, rather than trying to impose a ‘solution’ by threat or violence.

(‘Partisan actors’ here means those who identify with and support one side in the conflict and are acting on their behalf. The term ‘cross-party workers’ is used to refer to people who are members of communities in conflict, but who choose the role of reaching out to ‘the other side’ and building channels of communication and means of co-operation with them. The term ‘multi-ethnic’ structures reflects recent experience of conflicts which have been seen as ethnicity-based. The term ‘inclusive’ could be substituted.)

Constructive Roles in Situations of Conflict

State of Conflict Partisan actors Cross-party workers External actors / ‘third parties’

Latent / suppressed conflict or oppression

  • Creation of poli-tical awareness and growing capa-city for self-advocacy by disadvantaged groups
  • Responsible media advocacy
  • Acknowledgement and redress by dominant group
  • Education and training
  • Development policy aimed at reducing ethnic stratification
  • Promotion of multi-ethnic structures
  • Bridge-building
  • Education and training
  • Careful media discussion
  • Monitoring of human rights and protection of minorities
  • Encouraging creation of poli-tical awareness, capacity for conflict engagement and handling
  • Acknowledgement of underprivileged parties
  • Education and training
  • Lobbying own governments to act constructively – support minority rights and development

Confrontation / chronic or sporadic violence

  • Working for non-violent strategies
  • Media stand against  violence
  • Mutual acknowledgement of legitimate concerns
  • Direct negotiat-ions
  • Education and training
  • Bridge-building
  • Promotion of multi-ethnic structures and loyalties
  • Promotion of nonviolent strategies
  • Media stand against violence and for dialogue
  • Monitoring and nonviolent protection
  • Promotion and facilitation of constructive conflict resolution: round tables, pre-negotiations, seminars, mediation
  • Establishment of institutions involving all parties
  • Education and training
  • Lobbying own governments to act constructively, supporting dialogue and development

Wide scale violence

  • Working for non-violent strategies
  • Seeking direct negotiations for inclusive solution
  • Media voice for cease-fire and  negotiations
  • Bridge-building
  • Refusal to join in the violence
  • Lobbying for non-violent strategies
  • Building support for peace
  • Cross-party humanitarian  work
  • Media voice for cease-fire and negotiations
  • Monitoring and nonviolent protection
  • Shuttle diplomacy and bridge-building
  • Organisation and facilitation of pre-negotiations, seminars;
  • Mediation
  • Lobbying own governments to act constructively – support dialogue


  • Acknowledgement of responsibility; reparation
  • Demilitarisation
  • Participation in reconciliation process
  • Education and training for peace
  • Media support for peace culture
  • Support for democratic process, government, law
  • Bridge-building
  • Facilitation of reconciliation process
  • Social rehabili-tation and re-construction
  • Promotion of a post-war peace culture(media)
  • Promotion of multi-ethnic structures
  • Education and training for peace
  • Monitoring and nonviolent protection
  • Facilitation of reconciliation process
  • Support in working through the traumas of the violence
  • Education and training
  • Lobbying own governments to act constructively – support reconstruction and peacebuilding work and new democratic institutions

Examples To give examples of all the roles described above is not possible within this pamphlet. However, if those roles are summarised under some generalised headings, brief examples can be given under each.

Nonviolent action to confront injustice

  • Campaign led by Mohandas Gandhi to achieve India’s independence from Britain
  • Nonviolent action of Philippinos to overthrow the tyranny of President Marcos (captured on our television screens as nuns sat in front of tanks and offered the soldiers flowers)
  • School and rent boycotts in South African townships which finally began to shake the pillars of apartheid
  • The disintegration of the Communist system in Europe (and Eurasia) when unarmed people took to the streets and insisted that things had to change

(The primary actors in all these cases were those who were the victims of oppression. However, support from outside played a part: mill-workers in the north of England supported Gandhi and his followers, those in South Africa who were working for the removal of apartheid were supported by solidarity movements, boycotts and sanctions, and nonviolent activists in the Philippines had received nonviolence training from those with experience in other parts of the world.)

Cross-party/ bridge-building work by ‘insiders’

  • Community work for peace and behind the scenes mediation in  Northern Ireland, which prepared the ground, over many years, for peace
  • Continuing dialogue in Israel/ Palestine between those who understand that peace will come only when justice is assured for Palestinians, as well as security for Jews
  • Women’s action in Kenya to bring traditional leaders of feuding tribes together in a dialogue which led to an end in the fighting
  • Groups in Hungary organising play schemes to bring children and parents from different ethnic communities together
  • ‘Radio Contact’ – an interethnic radio station in Kosovo/a, broadcasting in different languages and letting different voices be heard

Intermediary work by outsiders

  • Unofficial political mediation by Quakers – in the Biafra-Nigeria civil war, in the anti-colonial war in Zimbabwe, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere
  • Organisation and facilitation of workshops for dialogue and ‘problem-solving’ in the Middle East, which prepared future government members and others on the way to the peace agreement now in disarray; also the ‘Oslo process’ which led directly to the agreement
  • Organisation and facilitation of dialogue workshops for young leaders of all ethnicities about the political future of the Balkans
  • Organisation and facilitation of training workshops for women from Georgia and the seceded territory of Abkhazia; problem-solving workshops for their political leaders

Protecting human rights; acting to control violence

Large-scale protection need to be undertaken by regional civilian security bodies (such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) and the UN. However, there are examples of small-scale non-governmental intervention to protect human rights.

  • Peace and human rights activists in Osijek, Croatia, risking their own safety by going to be with people threatened with violence and eviction from their homes
  • Multi-ethnic peace teams, with an international component, organised by the same group to help manage the conflicts associated with the return of refugees
  • Individuals in Uganda, during the civil war in the days of Idi Amin, taking into their homes neighbours who were threatened with murder and refusing to give them up
  • People in Colombia declaring their territory a peace zone and refusing to co-operate with any of the armed factions
  • The work of Peace Brigades International, with team members acting as ‘nonviolent bodyguards’, for instance in Guatemala, protecting those campaigning against political ‘disappearances’; in Honduras and Southern Mexico, accompanying returning refugees

Education and training

School lessons to teach tolerance and conflict handling skills have been pioneered in many countries. Peace studies, under various names, is a growing academic field, and the centres which offer them also do important research work, analysing and collating the findings of people in the field. Training workshops provide an opportunity for reflection and skills development, so helping people to recognise and develop their own capacities for peace. Some examples:

  • The work of  MOST (‘Bridge’) in Belgrade, formed in the 1990s, during the war: class work in schools, training for teachers and the development of teaching materials. Outside trainers worked originally with MOST’s members; now they are the experts
  • The nonviolence training which prepared people in the Philippines for the action which helped to oust President Marcos – done mostly by local organisations, but trainers from other countries made an initial input and continued for some years in a support role
  • Training for journalists in the run-up to elections in Nigeria
  • Training for women in India who work to overcome the violence associated with the caste system and  the oppression and abuse of women

Campaigning for constructive government policies Although non-governmental actors can do a great deal to build peace and overcome violence, governments and inter-governmental organisations like the OSCE and the UN have the possibility of acting on a different scale. In theory they should act on behalf of the people they serve, but in order for that to be true, their structures need to facilitate their accountability and to reflect the notion of human equality for which they claim to stand. Equally importantly, the people on whose behalf they act – all of us – need to make ourselves responsible for their supervision and direction, keeping ourselves as well informed as we reasonably can, making our views known, and exerting moral pressure for change in the way the notion of security is understood and addressed.

Here are some of the things that could be done by governments:

  • Strengthen systems for early attention to conflict areas and political will to respond to problems at an early stage
  • Build civil administrative systems for the peaceful conduct and resolution of conflicts
  • Establish and strengthen regional, inclusive structures for security and cooperation, enhancing their capacity to prevent armed conflict and human rights violations
  • Create and enhance UN and regional capacities for the rapid deployment of civilian teams for intervention, monitoring and policing, to prevent violence and support peacebuilding
  • Curb and control the proliferation of conventional weapons and gun trafficking
  • Make progress on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agreements
  • Extend the application of humanitarian ‘rules of war’ to cover the use of  all indiscriminate weapons, including cluster bombs, warheads strengthened by depleted uranium, and weapons of mass destruction
  • Make progress on the advancement of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agreements

(Acknowledgements to Joe Volk, on whose suggestions, in his paper ‘Peaceful Prevention of Genocide and Armed Conflict?’, the above list is based.)

So what can Friends do?

  • Continue to support those who work for us in areas of conflict, and those who do similar work for other organisations
  • Support the work of local groups in areas of conflict
  • Support and get involved in initiatives to address violence and injustice in our own country
  • Support the work of our parliamentary worker, Global Concerns programme and Quaker UN Office in Geneva, in their work with Friends worldwide to promote nonviolent alternatives
  • Organise at the local level to lobby for change in government policy on security and conflict
  • Go on witnessing against violence in all its forms and affirming our belief that there is a life and power that takes away the occasion of war

Diana Francis. December 2000.

Diana Francis, a member of North West Somerset and Wiltshire Monthly Meeting, a life-long disarmament campaigner and former president of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, is currently Chair of the Committee for Conflict Transformation Support (a network of organisations working in areas afflicted by war). Her own work, as a facilitator of workshops for training and dialogue, has taken her to many parts of the world, but her particular focus has been the Balkans, especially Serbia and/ including Kosovo/a.