Balkans

Bring Them Home Now

As the Iraq war moves to­ward its fifth anniversary (which gift experts say should be commemorated with keepsakes of wood or, for the more modern couple, silverware), a weary nation is crying out with one voice: It’s time to bring our contractors home.

Yes, it’s time to hang out yellow ribbons for Blackwater, to cover our cars with bumper stickers that support the mercenaries, to wear with pride the red, white, and blue wristbands that say, simply, “You’re either FOR our soldiers of fortune or for the terrorists.”

Let’s be honest here. Since the war began, it’s been the contractors who’ve borne the true risks of bringing democracy to the people of Iraq. While U.S. soldiers perform their missions in full battle gear and armored vehicles, contractors do their duty with only sunglasses and a nasty attitude. They rarely use their weapons, except in extreme cases, such as when they’re held up in traffic. And who can blame them? During rush hour, who among us hasn’t wished we could spray a clogged intersection with sustained fire from automatic weapons? (If ever there was a justification for driving a Humvee bristling with AK47s, it’s when you’re late getting home to watch Oprah.)

Unfortunately for Blackwater, its employees have gotten some bad press lately, mainly because they look like former members of the World Wrestling Federation, where the key job skills involve breaking chairs over each other’s heads. (Admittedly, these were fake chairs, but the bravado was very real.) No question, these men are a little rough around the edges, but what better place to put them to work than in a foreign country desperate for the benefits of democracy and the free market system. And without capitalism, “freedom is just another word for nothin’ left to bill for.”

Chorus:

You know, billin’ was good enough for me,

good enough for me and other war profiteers,

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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The Mercy Seat

Sex slaves. Type that into your "search" field and the filtering software will get a workout. You’ll also get steered to the U.N.’s International War Crimes Tribunal Web site highlighting information on this winter’s groundbreaking conviction of three Bosnian Serbs for the systematic rape of Muslim women during the Bosnian war. The charge? Sexual enslavement.

The Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia is the first to write rape and sexual enslavement into international war-tribunal statutes as a criminal offense and a crime against humanity in war. The Nuremberg Tribunal heard sex crime evidence, but did not allow it in the formal records. The Tokyo Tribunal allowed rape to form part of the evidence for those convicted during the Rape of Nanking, but sexual crimes were not prosecuted on their own merit.

"I support wholeheartedly the decision of the War Crimes Tribunal to convict these men of rape," said Subhija Sejdic, program director of Sarajevo Phoenix, a micro-business that works primarily with women suffering from effects of the war. "However, the lasting consequences of this violence against the thousands raped—grandmothers, mothers, and daughters—can in no way restore to these women the dignity they enjoyed prior to being violated."

The Tribunal judge stated that these "lawless opportunists" were without mercy in their torture of the women they enslaved and "should expect no mercy, no matter how low their position in the chain of command may be."

In the world’s highest court, the law has exacted retributive justice. Now on to the horrors of the Sudan and East Timor. Is that the end of the story? Has the world’s common good been served? Retributive justice stops at punishment. But what about healing and mercy?

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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Good Evening, Liberated Serbia!

Prior to the October 2000 ouster of Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic, the United States pumped $77 million into the fragile opposition movement—an attempt to do with ballots what could not be done with bombs: Get rid of Milosevic. U.S. support of pro-democracy movements did not begin in earnest until after the NATO air campaign ended—a bombing campaign that nearly destroyed 15 years of heroic opposition work by religious, peace, labor, and alternative media groups.

The church was perhaps the defining force in Serbia's peaceful revolution. Under the leadership of Patriarch Pavle, the Serbian Orthodox Church slowly and consistently pushed Milosevic to step aside. The day after the election, Pavle officially recognized Vojislav Kostunica as the president-elect of Yugoslavia and encouraged church leaders around the world to do the same.

Ten days after the election—when Milosevic still did not concede defeat and state-run TV played soap operas—a million people stormed the parliament building.

Protestors brought apples for the police. One policeman told a demonstrator, "Don't worry. We won't beat you." She replied, "We won't beat you either, brother." That evening Vojislav Kostunica addressed the crowd: "Good evening, liberated Serbia!"

"Our wish," Kostunica said in a campaign speech, "is to translate the New Testament's message of peace into reality...to live in a democratic state, in which the authorities will be in fear of the will of the people, and not vice versa." In order for this to happen, Serbia must repent—for the rape camps at Trnopolje, for the Omarska concentration camp, for the Breadline Massacre in Sarajevo, for running tanks over nonviolent protestors in Pristina, for allowing Milosevic his power.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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A Marshall Plan for the Balkans

As NATO governments begin the reconstruction of Kosovo, they should take lessons from the Marshall Plan that followed World War II. In the late 1940s the United States invested massively in rebuilding war-torn Europe, helping both allies and former enemies recover economically and become functioning democracies. The strategy was a success that laid the foundation for prosperity and cooperation and helped secure the peace in Western Europe for more than 50 years. No less an effort is needed now to bring lasting peace and security to Southeast Europe.

The present situation in Kosovo is more an armed truce than a genuine peace. As long as NATO troops remain, war between Serbs and Albanians can be prevented. But the underlying grievances that sparked the conflict have not been resolved. Similar conditions prevail in Bosnia, where approximately 35,000 troops prevent renewed carnage, but where Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims remain bitterly divided. Martin Luther King Jr. said that peace is more than the absence of war; it is the presence of justice. By that standard the Balkans are a long way from peace.

It is no accident that the Balkan wars have raged in the poorest parts of Europe. Conflicts over resources, jobs, and economic opportunity have been at the heart of the region’s troubles. Building a just peace will require addressing these issues and lifting the region out of relative poverty. The promise of economic assistance and integration into the European community can be offered as incentives to encourage human rights and multi-ethnic cooperation. The goal of U.S. and European strategy should be to create prosperous, democratic, open societies throughout the Balkans—to build communities where people trade rather than invade, where commerce, communication, and interdependence gradually break down the animosities that have so often fueled armed conflict in the region.

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Faith on the Front Lines

A new aspect of this war is its immediacy to people around the globe. Many people receive news about events in Yugoslavia not via CNN, but through thousands of e-mail messages from friends and colleagues on the front lines. Here, a sampler of notes from people of faith immersed in the Balkans war.

What Pain Must God Feel

From an American missionary in Nis, Serbia.

Friday, March 26, 8:41 a.m. From the time the sun goes down there is nothing but fear and terror, sirens and the horrible anticipation of the bombs. I know what’s happened in Kosovo, I know it’s wrong, but to bomb the villages, towns, homes, of people who have in many cases been the ones protesting these very problems—this is not the answer.

Friday, March 26, 7:45 p.m. The landlady where I live said, "Come quickly—the neighbors want to burn your car!" I ran outside and faced about 10 angry young men who live just a few houses down. I know them. I said, "Vlada, why?" He said, "Because your government is killing our people—I hate Americans!"

The whole church has dispersed—everyone is with their families in their basements. I realized that for me to stay was actually endangering the lives of the very people I was there for. So I packed the van with a few belongings and as the sirens were signaling another attack, I fled. I hugged and kissed my landlords goodbye; there were tears all around. As I drove through the city, huge convoys of military personnel were preparing for the night’s activities. What pain must God feel over this; for the Albanians, for the Serbs, for his world that refuses to turn to him but pursues violence because of enslavement to unresolved anger and hate. Where were the missionaries? Where was the church 10 years ago when we still had time?

A Media War

From a Serbian husband and wife pastoral team.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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Adding Fuel to the Fire

The U.S.-led NATO intervention in the Balkans seems to have provoked the humanitarian disasters it was intended to prevent. As widely expected, aerial bombardment of military targets in Serbia failed to deter a bitter retaliation by forces on the ground, resulting in a river of freshly displaced civilians and untold slaughter across the Kosovo countryside.

Food and fuel shortages were already real for the pastors and other church workers whose messages churn across the e-mail connections as war comes (again) to the Balkans. Former students of mine, many of whom are now pastoring, tell of spending nights in basement fallout shelters (again), of fears that young men will be hit with conscription (again), of regrets that the diplomats and foreign missionaries have abandoned the scene (again).

Slaughter on an ethnic basis had preceded the recent international interventions. What is different this time is the attack on a sovereign nation, NATO intervening without specific U.N. sanction in a dispute that should have been resolved within the boundaries of a U.N. member state. Even those Serbs who oppose their leaders’ policies voice outrage that allies and enemies alike from the past two world wars should join in this action. The precedent is hazardous, if it means further weakening of the U.N.’s role in serious efforts to pursue peace.

Another loss is the voice of moderation and sober political opposition within the Yugoslav regime of President Slobodan Milosevic. As in other recent times of national crisis, Milosevic is making his standard moves to clamp down on dissent, eliminate press freedoms, and consolidate his power ever more firmly.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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