Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kosovo and Serbia- A never ending saga of conflict

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US President George Bush with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in White House | Source: Wikimedia

Kosovo is a small landlocked country in the Western Balkans with a majority of ethnic Albanians and Muslims. The country formerly was a part of Serbia but declared independence in 2008. While Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by nearly a hundred nations including the US, countries like Russia and China along with a few European Union nations have sided with Serbia against Kosovo.

Kosovo and Serbia have been at crossroads for a long time. Kosovo used to be a Serbian province under the communist-run Yugoslavia. However, the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the move by Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević to bring Kosovo directly under Belgrade’s administration fuelled war between the two regions.

The situation worsened with the violence in the Bosnian War ensuing from 1992-95 which was termed as “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims. By 1996, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a paramilitary group had been formed in response to the campaign of Milošević. The situation remained tense with Serbian Police killing nearly 50 people of a KLA member’s family in 1998.

Violence continued to escalate from both sides as international calls for putting an end to the violence grew. "We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing in Bosnia," US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly said. The UN banned the sale of arms and ammunition to Serbia as NATO began to plan an intervention in 1998.

However, the situation escalated to a worse in the "Račak Massacre" of 1999, wherein Serbian special police killed 45 ethnic Albanians. The NATO then initiated a 77-day air campaign which ended with the withdrawal of the Serbian army and the paramilitary force of Kosovo. Kosovo became a self-governed territory post the NATO campaign under the United Nations.

Despite several efforts from the European Union and the UN, the two countries have failed to arrive at a common ground till date. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia does not acknowledge it despite having no formal control in the region.

In 2016, the countries yet again saw each other at crossroads when Kosovo sought to attain 80% shares of the Trepca mining and metallurgical complex in the northern region which is dominated by Serbs. The dispute became so pressing that it became one of the agendas for the UN Security Council.

In early 2017, Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, issued an international arrest warrant for former Kosover guerrillas including Ramush Haradinaj who served as a commander in the 1998-99 war against Serbian rule. He also briefly served as Prime Minister of Kosovo in 2004 and 2005.

As Kosovo asked the EU to press Serbia for dropping the charges, government and opposition leaders called for an end to the EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia’s move to give the nod for Haradinaj’s extradition from France where he was being detained was met by Kosovo’s move to cancel Serbian President’s visit to a mainly ethnic Serb town in Kosovo on the eve of Christmas Day.

The gunning down of Oliver Ivanović, an ethnic-Serb politician in northern Kosovo in 2018 was yet another setback for the worsening ties between the two countries. Then Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic termed it an “act of terrorism”.

Late in 2018, Serbia blocked Kosovo’s bid to join Interpol, a move that saw Kosovo raise customs duties on Serbian imports by 100%.

In May 2019, Kosovo carried out a large anti-corruption and anti-smuggling drill wherein it detained nearly 23 people including two UN personnel and fired tear gas as well as live ammunition as per a few reports. The entire drill was concentrated in a Serb-dominated region in the North.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic reacted by saying that he wants to "preserve peace and stability", but that Serbia "will be fully ready to protect its people at the shortest notice". The European Union, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR (the NATO-led international military presence) all called for the two countries to maintain peace. However, the situation remains critical.

With Serbia being under pressure from international peacekeepers, it’s highly unlikely that it will intervene through its military forces. However, its influence in the Northern region of Kosovo means that both the countries will have to work towards maintaining amicable ties with each other as Kosovo hopes to become a UN member and a fully functional state.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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