Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, International Policy Committee
United States Catholic Conference
August 31, 1998
To those who have watched with horror the crimes against humanity which defined the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia during the years of the terrible struggle there, the story of Kosovo in 1998 seems chillingly similar. Indiscriminate shelling of villages; deliberate destruction of homes, farms and villages; reckless -- or indeed -- planned and premeditated killing of combatants and noncombatants alike; tens of thousands of refugees forced to seek shelter in intolerable conditions: this is the pattern of the past being recreated before our eyes.
And to add the final shameful note of similarity, all this is taking place while the great nations of the world watch and wait and watch and wait.
Of course, there are no easy solutions. Kosovo means much to the Serbs; and yet it means at least as much to the Kosovar Albanians who comprise nine out of every ten people who live there. Despite divisions among ethnic Albanian political leaders, Ibrahim Rugova and his administration were overwhelmingly re-elected only a brief time ago to represent that people. The separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), however, lacks any such mandate and has brought terrible retaliation upon itself; and yet the Serbian response is recognized by credible outside observers to be wholly disproportionate, far beyond what is necessary.
In this case changing borders by force would be a curse that could easily destabilize the entire region; and yet there has to be a solution which is reasonable, acceptable to the majority of people of good will, and worth a try.
The question is not whether a solution is possible. The question is whether the international community has the will to find one now -- now before more innocent people are killed, now before more homes and villages are destroyed, now before this smoldering fuse ignites the regional powder keg.
The elements of a solution -- at least an interim solution -- are present. First the killing must be stopped on both sides, then a new relationship between Kosovo and Serbia must be agreed upon -- or imposed by the common sense of outside parties. This must grant authentic self-government within the general framework of Serbia and Yugoslavia, with control of local institutions returned to the local population and effective guarantees of minority rights put in place. This will have to be guaranteed by the major powers, including the United States, in a way that is at least generally acceptable to both sides.
This is not an easy solution, but what is the alternative? It is too terrible to contemplate; it would bring shame and disgrace on humanity. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers. We are bound to keep them from a deadly path which could destroy them and ultimately endanger more and more of our global society, just as we move into a new millenium and a new chance at peace and justice. The task is not simple, but the time is now.