International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Human Rights and Social Policies Interest Group Report: Kosovo Comes to the ISTSS

Posted 1 January 2000 in StressPoints by Stevan M. Weine, MD, University of Illinois at Chicago

Late in the afternoon before the start of the ISTSS 15th Annual Meeting, a group of young persons milling around the hotel lobby hailed me down. I was surprised to see Afrim Blyta and Yusuf Ulaj, new friends from Pristina, along with several of their colleagues, Enver Cesko, Zana Ferizi, and Majd Kam-Almaz. They were far more surprised to be transported from Kosovo to Miami to attend the ISTSS conference on short notice. But what a wonderful opportunity the trip presented for them and for ISTSS.

The Human Rights and Social Policies Special Interest Group hastily arranged a 7 a.m. meeting. More than 30 people attended, including ISTSS President John Fairbank, ESTSS President Ulrich Schnyder, Past Presidents Yael Danieli, Bessel van der Kolk and Matt Friedman, several other board members and distinguished ISTSS members.

The professionals from Kosovo told their stories and shared with members the formidable challenges in developing trauma mental health in Kosovo. One person said, "We feel like we are in a station, lots of people are telling us to get on their trains, and we are not sure how to decide which is the right one that is going to take us where we want to go."

A vigorous dialogue by attendees followed the stories where everyone asked each other difficult questions. Who is in charge? What is the role for international or regional experts? Shouldn't persons who receive trauma training get credentials? How do we integrate services for children and adults? How can we build affordable and more lasting structures that Kosovo can afford when the international community and its money leave? One overall question framed the dialogue: What kind of collaboration is needed to strengthen the relationship between needs, resources and goals? ISTSS and ESTSS leadership wants to facilitate the development of trauma mental health services in Kosovo, but there are obstacles and limits. It is imperative that the Kosovar professionals themselves make a plan of where they want mental health services to be in five years. Perhaps the society can help by refining the trauma mental health facets of their plan and finding ways to build trauma-focused collaborations with interested individuals and organizations associated with ISTSS.

At the meeting, the Kosovars were initiated into the relationship between mental health and human rights. They received generous gifts of informative, instructive books from Yael Danieli and Charles Marmar. I hesitated to give them a copy of my narrative non-fiction book, When History is a Nightmare: Lives and Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina." What would someone living in one historical nightmare derive from reading of another?

Before we embraced and said goodbye, Blyta pointed to the announcement for the ISTSS meeting next year in San Antonio and said, "Next year we will make a big presentation."
"It will be fantastic if you can," I said.

 I am so happy that the Kosovars came and that ISTSS members and leadership were so engaged with them. Besa in Kosovar means you are obligated to your word. Let's take up the challenge and make what we have said real.