Civil Courage Prize
for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk

Copyright 2000 The Guardian; Source: World Reporter (TM)

Elections in Yogoslavia: Young are a beacon of hope for new Serbia: The future Optimism and uncertainty

By Jonathan Steele, September 27, 2000, The Guardian. Date transcribed 31 May 2001.

Few Serbs are more delighted with the opposition's apparent election victory than Natasha Kadic, founder and director of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade. She is champing to get back to the frontline where she has been working for several months with the student-based resistance movement, Otpor, which sparked the first major protests against Slobodan Milosevic's rule this spring and summer.

"This victory is a victory for young people," she told the Guardian in London, where she picked up an international human rights award last night. "for the first time we have young people without any nationalistic views. They represent something new, hopeful, innocent, and with no burden of responsibility for the last 10 years."

Several hundred members of Otpor have been questioned by Serbian police and briefly detained this year. Some have had to go into hiding. "Otpor young people voted for [the leader of the democratic opposition] Vojislav Kostunica of course, but they did it from a distance. No one in the opposition, except for one party - Civic Alliance - gave them support when they needed it," she said.

For all her optimism that the opposition's election victory has "created space for discussion and change", Ms. Kandic has a sense of foreboding. "Ordinary people refuse to think about next week. They just want to keep up this atmosphere of celebration. Milosevic is trying to buy time and decide what to do. He is surprised, angry and scared, and he may use force."

Long before the Kosovo crisis reached a head with Nato's intervention, Ms. Kandic and her small team of human rights workers regularly visited Kosovo to compile evidence of abuse by Serb police and Albanian freedom-fighters. They were almost the only Serbs who took an interest in atrocities by Serb forces. Now she campaign for Albanians held in Serbian prisons, as well as for Serbs from Kosovo who were abducted by Albanian revenge-seekers after Nato-led troops reached the province.

"Two days after the bombing started, I went to Pristina. I saw a city without people. I saw fear. Maybe there will soon be the same atmosphere in Belgrade. Perhaps we cannot reach peace in Serbia without going through the same things as the other peoples of former Yugoslavia," she says.

Some Albanians have called Ms. Kandic a "Serbian Schindler". On one occasion, at the height of the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo last year, she drove to Prizren to rescue the wife and young son of Baton Haxhiu, the editor of the newspaper Koha Ditore, who had been reported missing. Last month she had an astonishing exchange of letters in a Belgrade newspaper with the information officer of the general staff of the Yugoslav army who accused her of supporting terrorism.

In her reply Ms. Kandic wrote: "In Serbia today, the authorities put everyone, including children, under suspicion of being terrorists. When anyone dares to raise the question of the responsibility of the Yogoslav army, you respond with secret trials. I am one of those people who refuses to remain silent, even at the cost of being brought to trial by you.

"I will not remain silent about the horrors your generals sent young recruits to witness in Kosovo. I can still see the anguish on the faces of 20-year-olds who gave their rations of milk, bread and cheese to Kosovo-Albanian mothers and children driven from their homes by the army and police.

"The road from Kosovoska Mitrovice to Pec and Djakovica on April 14 and 15 is engraved on my memory: a column of Albanian civilians, young soldiers going up to them with tears in their eyes, pleading with them to accept their food, to forgive them, saying it was not their fault that their officers ordered them to Kosovo, that they did not know where they were being taken. Young soldiers were the bright light of humanity and life in other localities of Kosovo too.

"If you can find no one else to hold accountable for these events, you may count on me. I stand here and plead guilty because I did nothing to prevent these crimes from being committed. You rebuke me for not praising the Yogoslav army, the astuteness of its commanding generals, its high morale, good tactics and ingenious camouflaging. Do you really think the people of Serbia believe you fought against a flesh and blood enemy, those you label 'Nato criminals', and you won? Every casualty of the combing is your casualty too.

She was the first recipient last night of a new Dollars 50,000 (pounds 34,000) award offered by the Northcote Parkinson Fund of New York for "civil courage — resisting evil at great personal risk".

 

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