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Finding A Way Out Of Yugoslavia: Lessons From MOVE

Another place – another time – another violent conflict – but haunting parallels. In the 70’s and 80’s it was the predominately black counter-culture group called MOVE and the City of Philadelphia. It escalated from a conflict between an assertive community group and its neighbors to armed sieges, a shootout in 1978 which killed one policeman, and an armed assault and bombing by the city in 1985 which killed 11 and burned down an entire neighborhood.

Like the Yugoslavians, MOVE had a charismatic leader. Mainstream citizens perceived him, and consequently MOVE, as either too crazy or too radical to negotiate with. It was thought that MOVE would violate any agreement. They were seen as only understanding force. When the police intervened in a conflict that was mainly between MOVE and their immediate neighborhood, the focus of the conflict shifted. It became MOVE vs. the police and the suffering of the neighborhood got worse. Once it was decided that force was the only language that would work, the city authorities were boxed in. The violence level kept escalating until the disastrous 1985 assault and bombing.

Another lesson: I was taught in history courses in the 1950’s that one of the research findings from World War II was that bombing an enemy’s cities did not demoralize or immobilize their war effort. Quite the contrary, it unified the enemy and focused more citizen energy on the war.

Short of bombing Yugoslavia into a parking lot, somebody must intervene to negotiate a way out. But could a mediated intervention work? What about the dismal record of Dayton and Rambouillet? Here again, MOVE may be a precedent. Contrary to the popular myth that MOVE would violate any agreement I found evidence to the contrary. It was a negotiated settlement with the neighbors over an environmental issue and was honored. The agreement grew out of a healthy, non-coercive, process that allowed all parties to find a solution that was in their interest to maintain.

It may be that Dayton and Rambouillet failed because the Serbian leadership is too crazy or expansionist to be trusted. Or it may be that real mediation was never tried. Rather than engage in a mediation process where adversaries are brought together to search for a mutually acceptable solution, Dayton and especially Rambouillet were exercises in power politics. The “mediators” said in essence, “Here is the plan, sign on or suffer the consequences.” With that approach as soon as the consequences appear to be unreal, the party that was coerced into the “settlement” normally backs out. Parties are more likely to keep agreements that they helped invent because they understand how it meets their needs.

NATO and Yugoslavia are locked in a no-win, escalating force situation now. Neither seems able to think of any alternative to more violence even though both sides most likely have an interest in finding a way out.

A credible intervention is needed. It should be conducted by independent third parties with solid conflict resolution resources and who are not aligned with either Yugoslavia or NATO. The initiative could be started by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan identifying an intervention team to begin behind the scenes shuttle mediation. He might look to Australia and Ireland, both of which have strong mediation and conflict resolution resources to draw on Ukraine, has a growing infrastructure of mediators, and China could add Eastern/Western balance to the effort.

Therefore, I encourage readers to contact Secretary General Anan and urge him to appoint a mediation task force to help the warring parties disengage. They should also urge our government leadership to be open to a negotiated way out.


Paul Wahrhaftig

Paul Wahrhaftig, has been active in organized conflict resolution since its modern beginnings in the early 1970s, both as a practitioner and organizer/networker. While maintaining an active mediation practice he continues to maintain contact with conflict resolvers around the world. Recently retired from his  position as President of the Conflict Resolution… MORE >

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