Zealots who send the Pill to women who have lost their husbands
FIER WEEKS of watching the desperate TV images and reading f 11-st-hand accounts from CAFOD partners in Albania, the news reported in last week's Catholic Herald, that the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is sending contraception to Kosovar refugees, left me feeling deeply uneasy.
Like many others, I had been reduced to tears by stories of women my mother's age dying en route to the camps, or of women my age giving birth in the mud with no pain relief or sanitation. At the same time I had been mildly heartened to hear reports that slowly agencies had started meeting the basic needs of the refugees. Food and shelter arrived at the camps, latrines were built and local families were queueing up to welcome refugee families into their homes. Not once did I or anyone I spoke to in Albania or Macedonia think of the need for contraceptive pills.
I remember feeling a similar sense of bewilderment after hearing a few years ago that the same agencies were sending abortion equipment into Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire. Having spent time in those camps, I had been struck by the desperate pleas of the people. After living in the camps for over two years they yearned for education, employment, improved living conditions and some hope for the future. Not one of them had suggested that access to abortion facilities was in their list of demands.
ON tom occasions I have found myself dwelling on two things: firstly I genuinely try to imagine the kind of discussions which produce a decision that what refugees need is access to the means to limit their families (I cannot help thinking that these agencies impose their own rather unhealthy obsession with sex on to the poor refugees they are debating). How do refugees interpret the arrival of truck loads of contraceptives from Western aid agencies? What message does it give them?
To date, more than half a million ethnic Albanians have been driven over neighbouring borders to become refugees. Many more are displaced within Kosovo. Terms like ethnic cleansing and genocide trip off the tongues of politicians and NATO spokesmen like Jamie Shea. At a moment like this it can't just be me that feels that presenting refugees with a packet of pills to help further limit their numbers is just a little insensitive.
Constant media images of suffering Kosovar refugees have been a key element of NATO's justification for continued bombing raids on Serbia. The media images are not inaccurate as such, but they do, as in all emergencies, give us a distorted picture of the full reality of these people's lives. We do not see that just weeks ago they lived in homes like ours, went to work like we did and ate and drank in bars and cafés in modern European towns and cities. They also, it seems, managed to control their fertility without any help from external population agencies. The role of aid agencies in such crises should be to meet the immediate material needs of these people while pushing the international community to develop a strategy to allow them to regain control of their own lives whether in Kosovo, Albania or Europe. What agencies should not be doing is further degrading them by suggesting that outside agencies can help control their fertility in the meantime.
I suspect that the urge to send contraceptives to Kosovar refugee camps says more about organisations like the IPPF than it does about the needs of the refugees. In a world where development and industrialisation have produced a widespread reduction in family sizes, the need for a whole series of agencies concerned with population growth is questionable. The sight of hundreds of thousands of miserable, desperate women and children arriving in over-crowded camps in Albania and Macedonia has provided a new raison d etre for these agencies. Suddenly, the dubious mandate of reducing the world's population can take on a humanitarian gloss.
So far it is difficult to see how the war being carried out in their name is benefiting Kosovan Albanians. But never fear. The bombs may not be working but help is at hand: the contraceptives are on the way! NOT FOR the first time, I had an angry argument last week about the war in Kosovo — incongruously over an entirely congenial restaurant lunch. My companion had been much moved by John Simpson's account of finding a dead make-up artist in the rubble of the bombed Serbian television station and said that of course, there must be a peace plan, any peace plan, which would bring the Russians on board and introduce monitors back into Kosovo. I said that it wasn't much good having monitors unless we were prepared to act on their reports. And we had tried talking peace with Mr Milosevic at Rambouillet; he had used the time to deploy 40,000 Yugoslav Army troops in Kosovo.
My friend said that the NATO bombing had indisputably caused the ethnic cleansing on its present scale and that if we hadn't interfered things would be much, much better than the present grisly mess. Wrong, I said; 70 per cent of Bosnia had been cleansed of over 90 per cent of its non-Serb population in a matter of months without any intervention whatever from NATO.
In short, we went on to rehearse the same sort of arguments that crop up on every other Today prog ramme. But what got me most, what really infuriated me, was his calm assertion that the opinion of Albanian refugees about the bombing (they support it) was of no moment, that he knew better than they did what caused the war, why they were in their present condition. This is a man who proba bly heard of Kosovo for the first time last summer.
But my friend's perspective is hardly unique. Judging by the coverage to date by critics of the Government, there appear to be four classes of humanity involved in the conflict. In descending order of importance, there are those NATO servicemen who must on no account be subjected to any mortal risk, particularly of the kind involved in ground warfare. When I was in Albania at the time American soldiers were captured, their plight instantly obliterated the attention given to the dispossessed Kosovars who were pouring across the border at the very same time. Then there are Serbian civilians, whose difficult situation is movingly described by Mr John Simpson of the BBC whenever a NATO bombardment results inadvertently in civilian casualties — these are remarkably easy of access for those journalists whom the Belgrade authorities have allowed to remain in the capital.
Next there are the ethnically cleansed Kosovo Albanians who were forced from their houses by tanks in front of their doors and masked paramilitaries with guns and knives and are now displaced in Albania and Macedonia: these are the people whom the aid agencies try to help. Finally, there is the class which attracts no attention whatever, simply because they are unseen.
THESE ARE the uncounted majority of the 800,000 -odd Kosovo Albanians who have been driven from their homes and have taken refuge with the KLA in the mountains, where they are dying of exposure, shelling, malnutrition and want of medicine. They will simply not survive the leisurely pace at which NATO progresses to commitment of ground troops in Kosovo: the beginning of July is the date one spokesman suggested. By then, many of them will not survive to be rescued. But because there are no television cameras to record old ladies trying to eat grass they don't really figure.
What would be our policy if that pecking order were reversed, if the first were to be last and the last first? What if we were to ask the Albanians what approach is in their interests? We'd get a different policy, I think, than that adopted by NATO. We would not simply be bombing Yugoslav military-industrial targets from 15,000 feet in the air, even though this is obviously a necessary element in making subsequent options possible. We would be dropping from the air, food and medicine parcels on the areas where we know the trapped and starving refugees to be: and messy as this method is, it worked in besieged enclaves in Bosnia.
Then we would give priority to the question of how quickly we can deploy enough ground troops to arrest ethnic cleansing and liberate the trapped and starving population in the mountains, to supplement the use of air power. The air bombardment has crippled the Yugoslav Army, but it cannot by itself preserve what remains of the 800,000 Albanians inside Kosovo let alone allow refugees to return where they came from. The operation is a great success, but the patient is dying, not before our eyes, but away from our view. If our ends are to dictate our means, troops are necessary much sooner than the beginning of July, which is the date NATO spokesmen mention, and if we are willing to commit them, we should accept that we are left with no alternative but to provide the KLA with the means of resistance. Whatever their ideological origins, whatever their sources of funding, they are now simply co-extensive with that part of the ordinary male Albanian population whichis in a position to fight. Obiously, we could make use of the KLA even if we did deploy our own troops.
Of course there is a better way to end the war. The Belgrade Government could allow Albanians to return to their homes, admit armed peacekeepers worthy of the Albanians' trust to Kosovo, and concede protectorate status to the region, as a prelude to giving its citizens self-determination. But for that we need, not just NATO, but the power of prayer.