Day: January 15, 2012

Nonviolence is nonviolent

I’m taking flak for yesterday’s post on the violence between Albin Kurti’s demonstrators and the police in Kosovo yesterday.  Most of the criticism is based on misunderstanding or distortion.  I don’t know what RTK read over the air during the evening news, but I would urge those who were upset by it to read the entire original, then compose and submit a reasoned comment.  I’ve published a few already.  In the meanwhile, I’ll try to respond to what I have heard so far.

First, I wasn’t there, so I depended on news reports that the demonstrators were throwing rocks, which in my book is a violent act.  Here is a BBC account:

Police said more than 30 officers were injured after protesters hurled rocks and metal bars at them in the town of Podujevo, and at the nearby border crossings of Merdare and Dheu i Bardhe….Police responded with tear gas and water cannon and a Reuters reporter saw several injured protesters in the ensuing clashes.

It is Martin Luther King day tomorrow in the U.S., so this is a fine weekend to make this point:  nonviolence is nonviolent.  It requires the demonstrators to resist the temptation to throw rocks, push the police, whack them with baseball bats or attack them in any way.  This requires training and discipline.

The first time I sat down in a street for a cause was 1964 in Cambridge, Maryland, then a segregated city in which the police and National Guard were not on our side.  We were civil rights demonstrators advocating equal treatment for the Black population.  The National Guard, which was under state (not national) authority at the time, was armed with tear gas and bayonets.  Yes, fixed bayonets.  Had we in any way provoked them, there would surely have been a much worse mess than yesterday in Kosovo, including deaths.  Had we tried to remain seated in the street, they would have dispersed or arrested us, or both.  We would have had to remain nonviolent throughout that process as well, not resisting arrest or trying to escape, even when the tear gas burned and the billy clubs (or the bayonets) got used.

It appears to me that Albin is not exerting the kind of nonviolent discipline that nonviolence requires.  He seems to me to be trying to provoke the authorities, knowing full well that they will hesitate to use lethal force.  If I am correct about that, I stand by every word of what I wrote yesterday.  If I am wrong, I may need to adjust my view, but I’d like someone who was there to tell me that there was no physical provocation of the police, even after the police started to try to disperse the protesters. As a citizen, you are not entitled to use force against the authorities just because they use force against you.  The monopoly on the legitimate means of violence is theirs, even when they are in the wrong. You have the right to resist passively (not actively!) and sue them in court after the fact.

Of course Albin may reject this view and challenge the authorities with rocks or other means.  If he does, he can expect to be arrested and tried.

I’ve also been challenged on grounds that I showed bias toward the Serbs by opposing the Albanian blockage of the border crossings and not the Serb embargo of Kosovar goods.  This is wrong.  I have decried the Serbian blockade of Kosovo and urged that it be lifted.

I have been told the underlying cause of what happened is that Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has refused to implement a parliamentary resolution calling for reciprocity with Serbia.  All the demonstrators were trying to do is ensure that reciprocity.

There is a big difference in the American system of government between a Congressional resolution, which the executive branch can ignore, and a law, which it cannot.  Even with a law, there is often some leeway in implementation.  In a case like this, where implementation requires the cooperation of another sovereign government, it may well take time and effort to get results.  Thaci’s government has chosen the route of negotiation without (further) unilateral action.  Whether that is wise or not, Albin is entitled to demonstrate against it, to speak against it in parliament, but not to try to implement the resolution by blocking the roads.

A final concern I heard yesterday was that this might lead to civil war within Kosovo.  That I take very seriously.  Kosovars, from Albin Kurti to Hashim Thaci, should take stock now and come to the realization that further incidents of this sort are in no one’s interest.  The Serbs have already done themselves tremendous damage by blocking the roads in northern Kosovo and challenging the international authorities, which has put at risk their hopes for European Union candidacy.  How much sympathy with Kosovo do you think will survive in Washington, Brussels or even Tirana if you continue to fight with each other when there are so many more important things to do?


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