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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Civil Resistance in Kosovo
Howard Clark

London: Pluto Press, 2000
288pp. Biblio. Index. Hb.: 45.00; ISBN 0-7453-1574-7. Pb.: 14.99; ISBN 0-7453-1569-0.



The vast majority of the books, articles and monographs published in the past year on Kosovo have concentrated on the province's recent history. After short context-setting histories, most quickly gallop on up to the late 90s and the rise of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the mass displacement of the province's Albanian majority, the NATO campaign and the establishment of the United Nations interim administration in the aftermath of the war.

Clark's book is an exception in terms of time period and subject matter. The author- a veteran peace activist who has been involved for years in facilitating Serb-Albanian dialogue- focuses on the ten years of Albanian non-violent resistance preceding the conflict. It is a fascinating topic and sheds light upon an overlooked period of Kosovo history. As bloody wars of secession were raging in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, Clark describes how Kosovo Albanians adopted a strategy of pacific opposition. They established a parallel political system under the nose of the Milosevic regime. With their own parliament, presidency and ministries the internationally unrecognised Republic of Kosova collected taxes, and effectively ran health and education services. At the same time, the author argues that Kosovars were being individually, sectorally and collectively empowered through their non-violent opposition. He examines actions -strikes, marches and exhibitions - and describes organisations - student unions, sports clubs, newspapers, that are often held up as being emblematic of a strong and flourishing civil society.

Clark is no utopian. He pulls no punches in his criticism of Kosovo's embryonic institutions. Arguing that the alternative political institutions often did not function properly and sometimes not at all, he lambastes Kosovar politicians for their failure to build on their institutional base and let them stagnate. He is also scathing of Western diplomacy. Assuming that no violence equalled no problem, they ignored Kosovo throughout most of the 1990s, leaving a problem to fester until its tragic eruption into violence.

In writing this book, Clark has ensured that a non-violent chapter of the province's recent past is given due importance and not written out of history. Nevertheless, his book could have been much better. The writing could have been much tighter and the book better structured, especially when he talks about societal empowerment. There are, for example, too many itsy-bitsy sections on disconnected events, making it difficult to join the dots and come up with a big picture. Drawbacks aside, however, this is an extremely worthwhile book and a valuable corrective to the perception that Kosovo's history has been perpetually violent.


Gordon Peake



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