The Mother Teresa society and the war in Kosovo
by Gani Demolli October 2002

The Mother Teresa charitable society was founded in 1990 as part of the ‘parallel society’ established in Kosovo in response to the Serb repression of the province’s Albanian majority. Albanians were dismissed from their jobs and evicted from their homes; their institutions were closed down in a thoroughgoing effort to expunge them from the province’s social and political life. By 1998, the Mother Teresa organisation had over 7,000 volunteers and 1,700 doctors, with 92 clinics around the province. The society also operated a maternity clinic in Pristina, provided special services to the disabled and elderly and distributed food and clothing to over 30,000 needy families a year. Branches were established in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the US. In 1999, everything changed with NATO’s bombing campaign and the removal of Serb forces from Kosovo. In the wake of the NATO action, international relief agencies flooded into Kosovo, bringing with them uncounted numbers of aid workers and massive amounts of funding. How many organisations came, and how much money flowed into Kosovo, will never be known.

We welcomed these organisations as our rescuers, heroes of humanity and charity, and we supported them as best we could. They have made an extraordinary contribution to life in Kosovo, and we will always be grateful to them, and to their countries. Yet at the same time, the presence of so many international agencies and aid workers has changed the way Kosovans think and act, and our feelings are inevitably mixed. In the chaos that followed the departure of Serb forces, someone somewhere decided that supplies of electricity, water and other public services would be free, and that everyone without exception would be supplied with food, clothes and domestic appliances. International aid workers distributed food, clothes and other items in the street indiscriminately, without any evidence and criteria of need. Aid workers rented the best houses, forcing rents up, and bought expensive vehicles (even armoured vehicles, despite the end of hostilities). Agencies were competing in a race to see which could hire the most local staff, whether they needed them or not. Most staff were unqualified and inexperienced in the tasks they were asked to perform, yet they were paid between ten and 15 times more than university staff, doctors and engineers in Kosovan institutions. Through their efforts, local ‘societies’ were registered, many of them set up by relatives hoping to attract foreign funds, but with no intention of using this money for relief work.

Now that the emergency phase is over, the international humanitarian organisations have withdrawn from Kosovo, leaving the Mother Teresa society and other local NGOs without means and without premises. Levels of unemployment are high, up to 80%, and corruption, drug use and prostitution are widespread. The psychological damage is perhaps more far-reaching; the massive relief presence has left Kosovans passive and confused, with nostalgia for past abundance, but few plans or ideas for the future.

Gani Demolli is a doctor with the Mother Theresa Society.

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