Kosovo in Perspective

Mainstream media coverage of the crisis in Kosovo tends to present the current war in black and white – with Slobodan Milosevic portrayed as “the face of evil” (as seen on a recent cover of
Newsweek), and the NATO bombers as the heroes of the day. This piece, taken from the Institute for Global Futures's electronic newsletter, presents a different view of the causes and the repercussions of the NATO air strikes.

The massive NATO air strikes in Kosovo have set back prospects for democracy in Yugoslavia, according to professor Vojin Dimitrijevic of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights. Dimitrijevic believes that only a democratic transition provides the opportunity for stability and peace in the Balkans.

“The air strikes erased in one night the results of 10 years of hard work of groups of courageous people in the non-governmental organizations and in the democratic opposition, who have ... tried to develop the institutions of civil society, to promote liberal and civic values, and to teach nonviolent conflict resolution. The emerging democracy in Montenegro is in peril and will be hard to maintain now,” says Dimitrijevic.

The total number of refugees is now over 850,000, or 40 percent of Kosovo's population, and continuing to grow. More than 2,000 people have died in Kosovo, at least 500 of those Serbian.

Of the 15 nations on the UN Security Council, three opposed the military intervention – Russia, China and Namibia. Russia and China have veto power (along with the US, UK, and France). Some argue that the NATO powers broke off negotiations after presenting Milosevic with an ultimatum they knew he would not accept.

Lewis MacKenzie, the retired major general who commanded UN troops during the 1992 siege of Sarajevo, suggests that the NATO action not only broke international law by lacking authorization from the Security Council, but was also selective – otherwise NATO should also have intervened to protect the Kurds in Turkey, Tibetans in China, East Timorese in Indonesia, and Chechens in Russia, to name a few examples.

Harvard professor Samuel Huntington warns that in the eyes of much of the world, if not most, the US is “becoming the rogue superpower,” considered “the single greatest external threat to their societies.” According to Huntington, international relations theory predicts that coalitions may arise to counterbalance the rogue superpower.

Such a coalition could include Russia and China.

There is also evidence of some technical/military cooperation between Yugoslavia and Iraq, supported by Russia (eg. ground-to-air defense systems). However, Iraq has not made major provocations during the NATO raids on Yugoslavia to test overstretched US military resources, as some had originally expected.

Michel Chossudovsky, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa, argues that the strategic interests of Germany and the US laid the groundwork for the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

In the 1980s, radical economic reforms imposed by the IMF –including “a new devalued currency, the freeze of wages, a drastic curtailment of government expenditures, and the abrogation of socially owned enterprises under self-management” – contributed to a massive increase in unemployment and economic contraction, says Chossudovsky. He argues that this in turn exacerbated social tensions and the ascendancy of nationalism, xenophobia, and racism.

According to Chossudovsky, “state revenues that should have gone as transfer payments to the republics and autonomous provinces were instead funneled towards servicing Belgrade's debt. ... In one fell swoop, the reformers had engineered the demise of the federal fiscal structure and mortally wounded its federal political institutions.”

This financial crisis, he says, “in part paved the way for ... political balkanization and secessionism.” A more gradual reform with greater economic concessions may have helped avoid much of the (costly and wasteful) trauma the region is now suffering.

– The Global Futures Bulletin

From The Global Futures Bulletin #81,01 April 1999;

Denmark Goes Organic

Members of the Danish Parliament are calling for the government to make the country totally organic by 2010, according to New Renaissance magazine.

Responding to that call, the government is assessing the ways a total pesticide ban in the country would affect Denmark's economy, environment, and health.

In the meantime, the Danish government says it plans to introduce tougher regulations on hazardous chemicals, lengthening its list of chemicals it wants phased out of use in the long term.

– Tracy Rysavy

Landmine Ban in Force

Church bells rang out March 1st in Ottawa – birthplace of the international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines – as the treaty became international law.

The treaty has been signed by 134 countries and ratified by 65.

The treaty bans the use, storage, production, and transfer of most types of landmines, which kill about 25,000 people every year. (See pages 53-55 for a story on landmine removal in Vietnam.)

Notable holdouts to signing the treaty include the US, China, Russia, Israel, Iraq, North and South Korea, India, and Pakistan.

US President Bill Clinton has supported an anti-personnel landmines ban, but the Pentagon argues that it still needs them on the border between North and South Korea. Clinton says the US will sign the treaty by 2006, giving the military time to come up with new technologies to replace mines on the Korean border.

– Mark Bourrie, Inter Press Service

Norway Bans Malls

This past January, the Norwegian government banned the construction outside city centers of shopping malls larger than 3,000 square meters. The ban, which will last for at least five years, aims to reduce automobile pollution and revive ailing downtown areas.

Norway has seen a sharp rise in the number of malls in recent years due to an increase in oil revenue that left its citizens with more disposable income.

Says Jasper Simonsen, Norway's deputy minister for the environment, “In some areas, big malls have reduced the shopping in the centers of the city by 30 percent. But I think it could have gone much further if we hadn't stopped it now.”

Of the 450 local authorities in Norway, only seven opposed the ban, according to Simonsen.

– Tracy Rysavy

“The Last Days of Oil”

CEO of ARCO Mike Bowlin says the world is entering “the last days of the Age of Oil.” In a speech at the Cambridge Energy Research Associates' annual conference, Bowlin said that the energy industry must respond wisely or face the consequences.

“Global demand for clean energy – natural gas, renewables, electricity, and new energy technologies – will grow faster than overall demand for energy, including oil and coal,” said Bowlin.

In keeping with Bowlin's vision, Iceland has announced plans to turn itself into the world's first hydrogen economy. Together with Shell and Daimler-Benz, the country will replace its gas and diesel-powered cars, buses, and fishing fleet with non-polluting hydrogen in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

– Tracy Rysavy

Population growth slows

For the first time since China's great famine claimed 30 million lives in 1959-1961, rising death rates are slowing world population growth.

“Tragically, the world is dividing into two parts: one where population growth is slowing as fertility falls, and one where population growth is slowing as mortality rises,” says Lester R. Brown, coauthor of Beyond Malthus: 19 Dimensions of the Population Challenge.

When the United Nations released its biennial population update in late 1998, it reduced the projected world population figures for 2050 from 9.4 billion to 8.9 billion. Of the 500 million drop, roughly two-thirds is because of falling birth rates. But one-third is the result of rising death rates.

“That rising death rates have already reduced the projected population for 2050 by 150 million represents a failure of our political institutions unmatched since the outbreak of World War II,” says Brown.

– World Watch Institute

US Navy Goes Green

The Department of the Navy has become the first federal agency in the US to require all facilities and infrastructure-related design and construction to incorporate sustainable design principles.

After running a pilot project in 1993, Naval Facilities Engineering Command determined that sustainable design could be incorporated into Navy projects without increasing the total initial costs. “Many of the issues we wanted to address – sustainable design, building performance, energy use – are best handled by looking at the building as a whole,” says Navy chief architect Terrel M. Emmons. In the long run, green building will save the Navy millions of dollars in energy costs, according to Emmons.

“We're only going to hire architects and engineers who understand [sustainable design] concepts,” says Emmons. “Some of the firms working with us now will not be working with us in the future.”

– Tracy Rysavy

Activists Killed in U'wa Territory

On March 5th, US citizens Terence Freitas, 24, Ingrid Washinawatok, 41, and Lahe'ena'e Gay, 39, were killed by a commando of the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). The three were murdered by a local commander for having entered the U'wa region without guerrilla authorization, according to the rebel group.

The leadership of FARC – the largest insurgent organization involved in Colombia's decades-old armed conflict – called the murders an “error.”

Freitas, Washinawatok, and Gay had been invited by the U'wa indigenous people to study the community's model of education and cultural preservation. The three activists were participating in a traditional culture education project organized through Pacific Cultural Conservancy International, a Hawaii-based indigenous rights organization.

Freitas was also involved in the fight against oil exploration on the U'wa's traditional land. The U'wa argue that oil exploration in their territory would cause their way of life to collapse. The ethnic nation has threatened to commit mass suicide if Occidental begins exploration in their area, which is also known as the Samore Bloc.

Freitas had founded the U'wa Defense Working Group in California to assist the U'wa in bringing their case against US oil giant Occidental Petroleum to the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Gay was director of Pacific Cultural Conservancy International, and Washinawatok was co-chair of the Indigenous Women's Network and executive director of the Fund for Four Directions.

Hernan Correa, an environmentalist with the Centre of Regional and Economic Studies in Colombia, says the murders demonstrate that the U'wa reserve has become a war zone, where the U'wa are no longer only fighting Occidental, but also defending their territory from FARC.

Several analysts say the violence has worsened throughout Colombia due to the development of oil activity since the second half of the 1980s. The National Liberation Army (ELN) – the second largest rebel group – bombs oil pipelines to protest the presence of multinational oil companies; FARC levies “taxes” in order to allow the companies to operate; and the government has militarized the area to fight the rebel groups.

Occidental was awarded a prospecting license in 1995, but it suspended its plans in the face of the protest movement mounted by the U'wa and other groups supporting their struggle. Last year, the company renounced claims to 75 percent of the area in which it had been allowed to explore for oil. However, it then submitted a study to the Ministry of the Environment laying out plans for exploring the remaining 25 percent of the Samore Bloc.

– Yadira Ferrer, Inter Press Service

Editor's Note: Terence Freitas assisted YES! editor Sarah van Gelder as an interpreter for our article by Berito Kuwar U'wa, “Banking on Earth, Light, Water,” YES! #9, Spring 1999. Our condolences go out to the families and colleagues of Lahe'ena'e Gay, Ingrid Washinawatok, and Terence Freitas. For more information and links to the slain activists' organizations, see the Indigenous Environmental Network's Web site:

Antarctic Ice Shelves

Two Antarctic ice shelves have lost nearly 1,200 square miles of area in the last year due to global warming, according to researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the British Atlantic Survey in Cambridge.

Ice shelves are floating plates of ice that are anchored to continents and form when glaciers move toward the ocean in polar regions. The northernmost Larson B shelf has existed for nearly 400 years and is roughly the size of Delaware at 2,700 square miles. The Wilkins shelf is almost twice that size.

The ice shelves are in full retreat and vanishing faster than predicted, the scientists say. The last year saw “nearly as much activity in a single year as we've seen in 10 or 15 years,” says Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado.

Since the 1940s, British scientists have reported a 4.5 degree Fahrenheit increase in Antarctic temperatures, resulting in an increase of two to three weeks in the annual melt season over the past 20 years.

“A relatively small amount of climate warming can destroy a large, centuries-old ice shelf,” says Scambos.

The melting shelves should not raise the sea level because “an ice shelf is floating anyway,” says British researcher David Vaughn. Birds and animals are believed to have no reliance on the shelves. However, researchers say, the glaciers behind the shelves could melt faster once they disappear, which would raise ocean levels.

– Johanna Zetterberg

HOPE for Africa

Last February, Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. introduced the “HOPE for Africa” Act, a bill that many see as an equitable alternative to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, also known as “NAFTA for Africa” by its critics.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (HR 434) has been under fire from many trade watchdog groups who say it contains MAI- and NAFTA-like provisions. For example, sub-Saharan African countries would be required to treat foreign investors as well or better than domestic companies.

Jackson drafted his alternative to HR 434, the HOPE for Africa Act, in consultation with Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, a US-based advocacy group. Wallach and Jackson conferred with African-American groups, African non-governmental organizations, labor groups, and others to create HOPE for Africa.

According to Public Citizen, the HOPE for Africa Act “adopts a holistic approach to the elements essential to ensuring a mutually successful US/sub-Saharan African economic policy.”

The HOPE for Africa Act:

• grants trade benefits included in HR 434, but ensures that such benefits do not harm US workers;

• ensures that expanding trade will benefit Africans by requiring participating companies to employ 90 percent African workers, have 60 percent African ownership, respect labor rights, and require foreign firms to meet the same environmental standards as their developed country operations;

• establishes a plan for complete US forgiveness of African debt, with provisions stating the US should push for multilateral debt relief.

Some speculate that the support for the HOPE for Africa bill is what has caused HR 434 to stall in the House. Although HR 434 is expected to pass the House, Capitol Hill watchers say its primary challenge will be in the Senate.

– Tracy Rysavy

Contact Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch; 202/546-4996; Web:

The Forgiveness Factor

Forgiveness is being seen as an alternative to responding to wrongs with violence or self-destructive activities like drug and alcohol abuse, says the Christian Science Monitor.

“Forgiveness is more than a moral imperative. ... It is the only means ... to overcome hate and condemnation,” says Paul Coleman, a New York-based psychologist who told the Monitor that working with clients on their capacity to forgive “rejuvenated” his work.

In addition, the potential for healing has spurred an increase in forgiveness research. The concept of forgiveness so intrigued Robert Enright, a professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, that he created the first research program on forgiveness – others are now appearing across the country. Enright and his colleagues found that “for those who achieve it, forgiveness reduces anxiety, anger, and depression, and increases self-esteem and hope,” according to the Monitor.

Nonprofit organizations – including the “Campaign for Forgiveness Research,” co-chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Ruby Bridges – are also making forgiveness their mission. The restorative justice movement, where crime victims and perpetrators are making peace with one another, is just one example of their efforts to promote the healing power of reconciliation.

– Tracy Rysavy

German Tax Shift

The German Parliament has approved a tax shift designed to reduce consumption of energy and lower the cost of unemployment.

As of April 1, German taxes went up on gasoline, heating oil, electricity, and natural gas. The tax increase will yield 12.4 billion marks in the next year.

The German government plans to use revenues gained from the energy taxes to lower state pension contributions from 20.3 percent of gross earnings to 19.5 percent.

The tax shift vote in the Bundestag, Parliament's lower chamber, was 332 for and 299 against. The upper house of Parliament, the Bundesrat, is not required to approve the bill.

– Johanna Zetterberg

US Overturns WTO Ruling

The US Court of International Trade has decided that attempts by the US State Department to comply with rules set by the World Trade Organization (WTO) violate US laws designed to protect endangered sea turtles.

Earlier this year, environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, filed suit against the State Department after it proposed new sea turtle protection guidelines, which the groups said were much weaker than previous regulations and therefore violated existing US law.

The law states that all countries importing shrimp into the US must use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on their nets to protect sea turtles. Without the use of TEDs, more than 150,000 turtles drown in shrimp nets worldwide each year.

The WTO dispute panel ruled against the US ban on imports after four countries said the requirement discriminated unfairly against them and violated the trade body's rules. In response, the State Department set up new guidelines that allow shrimp to be imported from nations that do not require the use of TEDs.

In a decision announced last April, the federal judge with the US Court of International Trade agreed with the environmentalists, saying that the State Department's watered down sea turtle protection standards violated the original law.

Environmentalists declared the decision a victory, not just for sea turtles, but for domestic environmental protection laws in general.

The State Department has made no comment but is expected to appeal the ruling. Given public support for sea turtle and other environmental protections, Peter Fugazzotto of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project says the State Department probably will not be successful in changing US laws. The ruling, “calls into question exactly how the US will come into compliance with the WTO ruling,” he says.
No Paywall. No Ads. Just Readers Like You.
You can help fund powerful stories to light the way forward.
Donate Now.