Thursday, October 27, 2005

Kosovo fieldwork: violence, uncertainty and insecurity

Kosova/Kosovo fieldwork notes extracts

Not shaken, as I was later, but certainly unsettled by the attacks that I seemed to be missing by smaller and smaller margins, I confirmed my earlier suspicions that the levels of violence, uncertainty and insecurity in Kosovo were such that they would hinder my work more than they would help it ("help" inasmuch as they would create the conditions in which I could research conflicts over cultural heritage and in which a human rights archaeology could be most obviously productive).

The feasibility study became a matter of: first, amassing what evidence I could of action upon cultural heritage in Kosovo; second, taking in as much as I could about the experience of life in contemporary Kosovo; and third, justifying changing fieldwork location from Kosovo to elsewhere (though I was still not certain that I couldn't front it out in Kosovo for a year).

At 11.30am on the 16th of July 2005, I relayed that:
I'm torn. Now I'm here... in a relatively peaceful period and apart from bombings that I wasn't present for, murders that I was elsewhere during and bomb threats that I turned up too late to be affected by (as happened two minutes after I got off the bus in Prizren, [when] half-a-dozen heavily-armoured (and armed) vehicles speeding past, sirens wailing, occupants shouting), there hasn't been anything I've really experienced in a direct or really negative way.
I extended this line of thought, contemplating that, "if I go home now", the lack of direct, negative experience could be taken as "proof Kosovo's safe to work in, despite the fact that all those things have still happened and if I were living here I could - or would - have been affected or directly involved."
This just reinforces my morbid curiosity about the violence and an almost disappointment that I keep missing the incidents (apart from a bar being forced to close down by its 'protectors').
Mulling over what I would do if I became embroiled in the violence, I decided that the answer was "an uncertainty I'm happier to live with than without". I concluded that "another uncertainty I think I could accept living with, I, at least at this very moment am not certain I could not live with, is that of the violence in Kosovo."
If I do stay here, then I will know - and I will be able to say I told you so [to myself for not following my gut instincts] but, if I do stay here, I will be affected by or involved in the violence. Thankfully, (though that's definitely not the right word), if I am involved, it will be most likely by far that I will be involved as, at best, a powerless bystander and, at worst, a powerless victim, so I will not have to live with uncertainty over the moral rectitude of my actions - of the necessity of the force I used were I required to use it.

This still does not bring into question my conception of human rights, as I would not be denying a right to others that I claimed myself but, if I acted, trying to prevent them denying me or others that right or trying to restore that balance, that equality between agents.

Still, don't think I want to be here in March. By all accounts, apart from those of (apparently) simplistically idealistic Vetevendosje advocates, March 2006 is going to be 'anarchy'; 'much worse than last March [2004]'; and still don't think I want to learn Serbian.

The answers to the question of whether I should [learn Serbian] were consistent in their practical judgement that it's not necessary ('just about everybody speaks Albanian - they have to'), in their ethical judgement that it's not necessary ('the Serbs don't expect it of you' and 'they're in precisely the position to understand why you can't') and in their general judgement that it's a stupid idea ('what? Are you fucking joking!?'... Do you wanna get yourself killed!?').

After all, 'Serbs live in enclaves, stuck in their houses, scared to go out', 'Serbs live in fear for their lives'. So, what to do... Answer the question, 'where should I have lunch?'
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