Hello, my name is Josef Martinsen. I will start this presentation by telling you about my intention with this new web page. After working and living in the Balkans for the last fifteen years, most of the time in Kosovo and Serbia, I have experienced the results of atrocities that none should have been exposed to on the threshold of the new millennium. My hope is that the younger generation in Serbia and Kosovo will see the unique opportunity they have to influence their society to turn away from their habitual way of thinking.
As an early retiree I decided to take on an eight-month assignment with the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and ended up in Kosovo in July 1999 coordinating the removal of human bodies from wells. Before my arrival I had not known much about Kosovo, only the basic facts that it was located in the Balkans, as part of Yugoslavia. For us in Scandinavia the people in this area were referred to Yugoslavians, we never made a distinction between the nationalities living there. After the death of the long-standing President of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, new leaders like Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic appeared on the political scene, who managed to tear apart the great Yugoslav state. The state itself started back in 1918 as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and after World War II was known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY).
The reason why I am setting up the initiative “Truth Commission Serbia-Kosovo” is my love for the Balkans and all the people living here. I have spent many years studying what happened and documenting war crimes committed in Kosovo. Four hundred mass graves were reported and registered at the UN Security Council in November 1999 by Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
What I experienced and personally witnessed during my eight months working for the NCA and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and in the following years documenting war crimes, was literally terrifying.
I was thinking to myself: How could something like this happen in 1998-99, on the eve of a new millennium in the very heart of Europe?
After my assignment with UNHCR/NCA came to an end in 2000, I started a personal initiative in 2006 documenting the background of those four hundred mass graves containing thousands of civilians. No official authority, including the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) or the acting local authorities at the time, had taken any initiative to document the circumstances around the mass graves and the events leading up to what had actually taken place there.
In the bibliography section of my book “What Happened in Kosovo 1998-99”, you will find references to testimonies from Serbians and Albanians who participated in the atrocities or personally witnessed the events:
- Some of these testimonies are recorded in the book “Podujevo 1999, Beyond Resonable doubt” published by the Humanitarian Law Centre, which documents the details of the Podujevo war crime case that took place on the 28th of March 1999 (pages 5-201). The book refers to the five-year court proceedings, convictions and verdicts talking about one of the Serbian Interior Ministry’s reserve unit called “The Scorpions”, who were responsible for killing more than fifteen civilians – children, women and men – in a backyard. Members of the Scorpions made confessions about these atrocities.
- Svetlana Djordjevic, a taxi driver 1995-99 in Kosovo Polje wrote in 2003 “Svedocanstvo o Kosovu” (ISBN 86-8299-43-0) telling about her experiences of atrocities committed by the Serbian police forces. Due to persecution and harassments in Serbia she got asylum in Norway.
- In the article “Serbia’s Kosovo Cover-Up: Who Hid the Bodies?” (published in BIRN investigation 23 April 2015) author Marija Ristic writes that the Belgrade officials and policemen who took hundreds of murdered Albanians’ corpses from Kosovo to Serbia and concealed them in mass graves have never been prosecuted in their home country.
- Fadil Muqolli, from the village of Old Poklek, lost his whole family – wife, children, mother, father and siblings – fourteen in all, who were massacred among the fifty-two people killed and burned in a single house. In an interview Fadil told me that he was willing to forgive the perpetrators providing that the Serbian authorities acknowledged the atrocities committed by their forces. The region, he said, would never recover psychologically unless the governments involved understood the necessity of acknowledgement. Germany recognized and acknowledged the Nazi’s atrocities during World War II and that paved the way for normalization.
Do we need a Truth Commission? I certainly think so!
The reason behind doing this website is my desire to see a better relationship between the Albanians, Serbs and Roma people in Kosovo and Serbia. During my time in this area, I have seen sufferings on all sides of the conflict. I have dealt with Albanian and Serbian issues relating to war crimes towards civilians committed in Kosovo 1998-99. The present situation, now in May 2015, 16 years after these events, is still not good. The tension that has prevailed in the last hundred years has been sort of a Gordian Knot. However, there is a time in every nation’s history when a new generation with new ideas takes the scene, changing a country’s direction and future fate. They see the importance of not having to carry the historical and political burdens anymore that their ancestors were loaded with. I believe the time has come for this to happen in this area and the young generation of today has been given a unique chance to create a better future for themselves, their children and grandchildren. They are going to achieve this by changing their country’s direction concerning attitudes towards common things like equal rights, communication, negotiation, understanding, compromising in order to create trust and peace for the people of Kosovo and Serbia.
The “Truth Commission” requires compromises in all aspects of the problem at hand. The Balkans, however, do not have either a record, experience or history of making compromises.
The “Truth Commission’s” goal, whose participants are both international bodies and local contributors, is to encourage all parties involved to reach a compromise in order to pave the road for a better future.
The younger generation in both Serbia and Kosovo today has a unique chance to break this evil circle of political “tit for tat” game that has lasted way too long and infested both states’ internal and mutual affairs. They can achieve what their forefathers failed to accomplish, namely to create an environment for talking together on all levels without being afraid of the man next door, who might turn on them in retaliation or just because they happen to have a different view on the issues at hand.
Based on the two books “Kosovo: The Wells of Death” and “What Happened in Kosovo 1998-1999 – A Documentation” and the documentary film “The Process after a War”, the author will try to focus on the possibilities to engage the younger generation in Kosovo and Serbia to deal with the following:
- The truth regarding the war crimes in Kosovo.
As a source of information the above mentioned books and the documentary together with the investigation done by the ICTY (International Crime Tribunal for Yugoslavia) are available, that could pave the way for the reconciliation and the process towards forgiveness in order to ease and ultimately close the animosity between the groups.
- Establish a sort of a “Truth Commission” that can lead to a final and common chapter in the effort of establishing the truth.
Not once in the last century has there been a historical narrative that has been approved by all groups in the area. It is time to come up with the first such narrative, in this case the period of 1998-99 in Kosovo. This is may be the best and only chance to change the direction towards equal rights, communication, negotiation, understanding and compromising in order to create mutual trust and peace for the people of Kosovo and Serbia.