What is the meaning, and the value, of achieving sustainability, in a world which is constantly changing, because there is no way to stop change without freezing out of spacetime?
Is there a way into sustainable growth of something within the outside world of phenomena, such as a continuous eternal growth in wealth, a continuous uninterrupted reduction of poverty, a continuous and never-ending growth of nurturing wholesome values, such as those we consider to be “fundamental”?
And if we would accept that everything changes, sometimes to what we consider being “better”’ and sometimes towards what we would consider to be “worse”, what is the answer then to the question “Why am I investing into something which won’t last?”, “What’s the point of all of these efforts?”
Inasmuch as you could say “Well, you’re losing yourself in philosophy again, don’t ya?”, I could also respond that I have heard such questions on countless occasions from likeminded people in the field of humanitarian work and work on peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and I have my own share of moments when I was full of despair and disappointment and struggled with soldiering on. The “March Riots” of 2004 in Kosovo come to my mind as a prominent personal example of such a situation I found myself in, together with thousands of us idealists, Kosovans, soldiers in KFOR, police officers in UNMIK, and all civilian staff in UNMIK and the larger international community.
But also recently, in a coffee chat, when a colleague and friend of mine went on the gloomy side, asking whether all the long-term strategic efforts we are putting into supporting a five-year-initiative have had a real impact. Or, when friends of mine and myself mourned the implosion in Afghanistan. And one year later, we still can’t believe we are witnessing a menacing and extremely dangerous land war of aggression waged against the Ukraine, with every human suffering and every loss of hard-fought values throughout many decades within.
Putting these questions forward, and answering them, is in my experience extremely dependent on the general personal mood one is in. I find myself seeing that my answers will depend on how I feel, at that moment. And because I know that, I have my toolset: Taking a break, zipping my mouth and, if possible, calming the crazy committee of voices in my head, stepping out of the picture and taking a larger vantage point.
So, asking these questions, and writing about what, for example, constitutes sustainability, is the opposite of an abstract philosophical approach. We use phrases like “sustainable solutions”, “domestic ownership”, and a thousand other buzzwords in uncounted strategic and political statements, documents, sessions of the UN Security Council or the EU Political and Security Committee, and annoyingly we throw it on each other in myriads of PowerPoint presentations.
So, it is appropriate and very practical to write about it. Like in my previous article, where I analysed the meaning of the word “truth”, it is also relevant for a word such as “sustainability “.
Sustainability sits at the heart of any strategic approach, and it is reflected in the name of my blog. When I founded this blog in 2014, I looked for an Internet Domain Name which would be unique, artificial, and reflective of the theme of my blog. I combined “durable” with “mobile”, forged these words into one: “durabile”. It is just one of the many miraculous manifestations of the Yin Yang – principle.
I love this artificial word until today. So, where is the Yin and the Yang in “Sustainability”?
On the most fundamental level, I would personally characterise sustainability as a relation between the dynamics of change, and relative temporary stability. Nothing, literally nothing in the world of composite phenomena is able to escape impermanence. It is our day-to-day denial of the fundamental law of impermanence, our clinging to the wish of living in unending happiness, which is limiting our appreciation that sustainability is like the suspensor component in every shock absorber in cars: The shock absorbers attached to wheels are composed of a spring and a suspensor, countering the radical wildness of the spring’s frequency, smoothening the bumpiness of the ride. The right pressure in the tires adds to that, as any overland camper or vanlifer traveling the back country can tell you.
When I had come this far in my writing on a rainy late fall morning, sitting in my favorite street cafeteria in Belgrade, December 01, 2022, I took a deep dive into my memories, and then subsequently deep into my digital archives. Writing about the “March Riots” of 2004, I remembered a morning after these horrible events when I managed for the first time to come up with a formulation of my thoughts on how to move on, and to move constructively forward. My later (and now ex-) wife and I had our first weekend with some sleep, and it was April 07, 2004, when I wrote the following text, which I found just now. Except for Lori, nobody has heard or read the words of this text until now, eighteen years later. And when I read it now, I also understand the sustainability behind the theme of my blog “Durabile”.
So, take your time, read this, and remember: A few days before I wrote “We Are Starting To Wake Up”, we were in one of the worst nightmares one can have been in, and for many of us it felt like the implosion of a lifetime of efforts in the service of peace and security. After reading it, use the following link to watch a video about a travel I undertook in Kosovo, and to Gracanica, just a few weeks ago. In this video I do not make specific reference to what I am writing about below. But you will understand what I am talking about, once you have read the text below.
And then, continue with the final part of this blog entry, please, if you’re still glued to this lengthy, but hopefully interesting, train of thoughts and emotions.
We are starting to wake up. After days and nights being one nightmare we are diving up to the surface. We are faced with a new reality and with new memories. Memories we have to integrate into our lives and into our previous memories, those which created our perception of the reality we would have believed to live in. A reality which happened to become so brutally changed for all of us.
The recalls of these days around mid of March 2004 are new. And radically different. Whatever perception of the reality each one of us had, no one of us would have expected that atrocities on such a large scale could have been able to happen. Day by day new aspects are showing up in our minds, situations that we have not been able to integrate into our memory. As so much has happened, thousand times more than anybody of us could just take in a regular and sequential order. The intensity of these events prevented that anyone of us could realise the full flegded scope of individual memories we have and the corporate memory we just are about to create right now. As we are discussing our individual memories amongst ourselves, the corporate memory is being created.
It is a fundamental human process, one of the strongest and the most unavoidable ones that memories are integrated into the already given. So this is starting to happen with these nightmare-memories as well.
On a normal day memories which are not different from previous ones will just be added. Another Sunday here or there, with the usual procedure of getting up, doing things, seeing relatives, having a meal, playing with the children, having a walk or whatever else, such memories just add.
A death of a relative or a friend, if we had to expect it, if it was obvious that it would happen, it leaves us saddened, full of tears and pain, mourning, but we realise that such things happen, and we integrate this memory. Life goes on, this is what we say and know.
A severe traffic accident, a sudden unexpected death for whatever reasons, it makes us speechless, we try to find explanations. We are saddened, we mourn, we cry, but we raise the question „Why?“. Step by step we integrate these memories as well, but it takes us more efforts and it takes longer. If the given reason for the unexpected is not obvious, we will look for further explanations. As we need explanations in order to integrate the unexplainable into our memories. We do not like open wounds in our memories, we always attempt to heal. If it is impossible to find explanations, we will create some sort of protection around this wound in our memories, as we have to continue to live with our memories, which are, as I said, the fundament of how we perceive the reality. And as I also said: „Life goes on“.
The wish to reestablish normalcy, to find back to a normal pattern and rhythm in our lives, it is overwhelming. No one can endure a traumatization for a longer period of time. When the shelling of Sarajewo would not end, the normal life reestablished itself under most terrific and life-threatening circumstances. If a nightmare interrupts reality for too long, the nightmare will become the daily routine. This fundamental human process which keeps us alive, it will enable to live a regular life under all circumstances. For the one who looks on it from an outer world perpective it might be unimaginable, but the insider knows: „I have to live a normal life even under these circumstances, otherwise I will die, otherwise my soul will die“.
This is not what happened here. The nightmare came to a halt after some days and I pray for that it will not reoccur again. And our daily normalization is already starting.
The internationals, as we call ourselves, are in our offices and attempt to reestablish the work. Frantically, exhausted, traumatized. Whenever having a break, we will talk amongst ourselves, recalling our individual memories and putting them into an explanatory context. As we talk mainly amongst ourselves, the explanations being found are isolated to the extend that they include only limited other views communicating with some local colleagues and friends. The collective memory becoming created is including the explanations created by this process.
Those of us, the Kosovo-Serbs from places which have been burned down to ruins and ashes we will talk amongst ourselves, having to create normalcy under the awful conditions of being displaced, with all homes left burned and destroyed. The individual and corporate memories will exclusively be comprised of how those of us explain what happened. The Kosovo-Serbs returning to their homes in enclaves where they had to be evacuated from, they perceive a new reality including high-level protection again. And they will start to establish some normalcy depending on individual and corporate memory being different from others of us. The explanations about what happened during this nightmare will be exclusively based on restricted, on isolated communication.
Let me have a look on those thousands of us, the Kosovo-Albanians who have been part of violent crowds without committing individual offences. As I do believe and all of us know that there is a difference between the fact that participation in a violent crowd can establish a crime in itself but that in addition to that individual crimes like arsoning, assault and brutal murders have happened. Let me look at first on those of us who participated in violent crowds without individual criminal offences. As these Kosovo-Albanians do create the majority of all participants. And as they come home with a specific recall of the nightmare, in all likelihood a triumphant one. These Kosovo-Albanians who stood in a violent crowd for example moving forward and backward between Caglavica and Pristina, held on distance from a defensive crowd of Kosovo-Serbs by international police officers, Kosovo Police Service officers and KFOR soldiers, they will have returned home to Pristina or elsewhere, living a life there not much different from that one before the nightmare. A return to normalcy is including talks to Kosovo-Albanian friends, no talks to Kosovo-Serbs or other minority members, not much talk to internationals. Reading newspapers in which the International Community is depicted as the real cause of what happened and where still „the others“ are painted as the living and existing evil. Putting this memory into such a context, explaining the nightmare by this. Life goes on on this side as well, perhaps not too much different. Some might regret and have a bad feeling, which they will try to cover and to hide rather quickly, explanations which are putting others into the position of being responsible are most welcome. Some more thoughtful will feel depressed, I would wish to see as many as possible feeling guilty and responsible from an overall perspective. But some weeks from now everything will be normal again.
Those of us, the international police officer and the KFOR soldier, after a couple of months they will go home. An interim normalcy here in Kosovo, some explanations, many of them blaming one group, as another group, minority members had to be protected. This is a reality no one can argue against without being absolutely irresponsible: during these days the minorities amongst us had to be protected against attacks, let us be clear about this. So this officer or soldier will have his picture, his memories and will go home with his explanations.
The Kosovo Police Service officer might be looked upon much different. If he or she is a Kosovo-Serb, he or she acted during those days protecting the own kin. If he or she is a Kosovo-Albanian, the own relatives or friends might have been part of the attacking crowd between Caglavica and Gracanica. And as all groups in Kosovo create their own reality with their own memories and explanations, the Kosovo Police Service as an organizational entity and part of the UNMIK-Police is subject to collective memory and accusations. Either having been not helpful for the Kosovo-Serbs or even participating in the violence or not been seen as a supportive element for the underlying extremism on the Kosovo-Albanian side. I am aware of terrible reports as well as of courageous actions. Establishing the truth will take time, time during which the establishment of the corporate memory and all kinds of explanations and accusations will not stop.
The Kosovo-Serb, who stood in the other crowd, he or she saw houses arsoned, going home to Caglavica or Gracanica, now again under protection by checkpoints. I have been here in 2000 and 2001, I am so familiar with these checkpoints. Checkpoints interrupt communication. When we were able to remove them in 2002, we could see an increased joint live of the ethnic communities. One would see Kosovo-Albanians in restaurants in Lapje Selo, one could speak Serbian in the streets of Pristina. Is the latter possible after the YU-flats had to be evacuated and the Kosovo-Serbs there have been displaced? Is it wanted in a situation where speeches in the Assembly from which I have transcripts earlier this year speak about English as the „second“ language in the school-system in Kosovo? So this Kosovo-Serb will establish normalcy in his or her individual context, the explanations are driven by exclusively this perception.
Many things are being said currently in the public, as all of us attempt to find explanations. We will read about accusations against the international community, but it is being raised by some of us who are not part of this international community. Others will talk about circles of extremists organising this nightmare. But it is public knowledge and not a secret of the Police Commissioner that organised extremists can not act without the underlying readyness of the many to allow this and to participate. Opposed to unorganised mobs we have witnessed directed crowds. A crowd can not act without a leader, but a leader can also not direct without a crowd.
But all of us have one thing in common, we, the Kosovans and the so-called Internationals, all of us who experienced this nightmare, we want to reestablish normalcy as quick as possible. What we are faced with is the danger that we establish separate normalcies. And I have to say that this is one of the fundamental reasons for what happened. Extremists and terrorists and regular criminals can not act to this extent in an environment which does not allow this. The experience is a world-wide one, I can use many many examples.
In a situation where all of us wake up we desperately try to find explanations. And explanations which are deflecting from the own corporate and individual responsibility are most welcome from a psychological perspective. I have to say that those who should not be considered to be part of us, the organised criminals, the extremists and terrorists are the only ones who have the benefit of this separate establishment of reasons why this nightmare could occur.
As a Police Commissioner I am responsible for the security of all of us. And I have to say that the establishment of the Rule of Law, the vigorous prosecutions and conviction of individuals who committed crimes is one of the most powerful instruments in a democratic and peaceful society. But to what extent does this apply in an environment where arrests would be perceived contradictory to the separated explanations about what happened?
The Rule of Law applies to all who wish to have it established in order to prevent that anybody is above it. To what extent the many of us reckognize that all of us are part of the same society? Will the arrest of an individual having committed a crime during this nightmare being perceived the same way amongst all groups which are so separated from each other?
Kosovo is at the crossroads. There is a joint responsibility of the civil society. All of us are part of this civil society. If the reality is different from this, if separated civil societies do exist in Kosovo, there is no joint Rule of Law other than the externally imposed.
So, the civil society is asked to recognize an inseparable responsibility beyond ethnic and religious groups. This civil society are all of us, local and central kosovan politicians, all religious and spiritual leaders, intellectuals and the ordinary man or woman on the streets. As long as we perceive separated realities and why things happened, as long as we communicate along ethnic and religious borderlines, as long as we make a difference between us and the others, nothing will change.
Communication is the ground for reconciliation, the South-African model of reconciliation has been discussed here from time to time and I have had some personal opportunity to explore it more. This is not South-Africa, this is Kosovo, this is the Balkans. But this is a reality of different groups not talking. I would like to see discussions organized by the civil society or it´s political, spiritual and intellectual leaders with Kosovo-Albanians, Kosovo-Serbs and international and local police officers participating who have been part of the same violent situation.
I would like to see really joint perceptions of what happened. May be reconciliation is a dream far along the road. But without inter-society-dialogue even the preconditions for such a dream are missing. And without dialogue there is no joint. I am concerned, as dialogue is also a precondition for a joint recognition for one Rule of Law for everyone within a civil society.
When I came back to Kosovo on many occasions, I was still processing, and healing. I finally healed a few weeks ago, and that’s what that Youtube video is about.
At the same time, impermanence, but also growth, has accompanied me throughout my private life. Those events in March 2004 were the beginning of the end of Lori’s and my time in Kosovo, we knew that we had to hand over efforts, after some final stabilisation. We moved on, and we married, and we gave life to amazing twins a few years later. And we suffered, and we had pain, when things broke apart in 2013, finally. And we moved on, sustainably committed to what was always defining the foundation of our relationship, true love and friendship. We went through these transitions of impermanence, and were rewarded. I have to speak specifically for myself, as I tend to stay on my side of the street: I was rewarded. For sustainable commitment to truth, honesty, compassion, and love, I was rewarded with an uninhibited trust and friendship. I strive for giving that back. And both of us are rewarded with seeing our children growing, with values, with fallible human parents, who commit to sustainability.
So, here you have it, sustainability in the small and the large, because the video also makes clear that process, development, and also the all-pervasiveness of growth and decay, applies to everything. In that sense, the above text feels, to me, like a piece of evidence for that contributing to sustainable solutions does not only matter, but is the only way.
Sustainability built into concepts and efforts works best when I accept the larger validity of impermanence. I spoke of relative and absolute truths in my previous article. Buddhism tells me: Every composite phenomenon is impermanent. Physics does agree, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics is universal within that part of the spacetime continuum which we can observe and measure. In itself, this statement is an axiom, and in my belief system it is an absolute truth. Whether I like it, or not, it is defining our existence in this world of phenomena. Meaning, it doesn’t make a difference whether I like it, or not.
But I can use it to my advantage. Like, that a sustainable commitment to human values is useful for growth of prosperity and happiness of All. I don’t have to be spiritual even to see the advantage. Betterment for All is the sustainable solution for bettering the fate of the individual. Every dictator and selfish autocrat and selfish billionaire dies the same way like I will die. But, as Pema Chödrön says: How we live is how we die (How We Live Is How We Die, 2022 Shambala Publications).
Sustainable commitment to peace and security is my personal means to achieve the happiness which prepares me for every transition in this life, and beyond. In that, I am Durabile.