He has lived in Turkey and Yugoslavia, speaks fluent Turkish and Serbo-Croatian, sponsored Bosnian refugees and is active in human rights groups.
With that background, plus a passion for Middle Eastern and Balkan dancing and music, Peter Lippman was a logical choice for a mission to Kosovo by the San Francisco-based group Peaceworkers.
Now, friends fear for Lippman’s safety following his arrest Saturday - his 46th birthday - with five others from the group in Pristina, Yugoslavia. The group went to monitor a student protest and other unrest among the ethnic Albanians who constitute most of the population in Kosovo province.
“I just hope he’s all right,” said Hanna Eady, a Bainbridge Island playwright and stage director. “It’s hard to say, with what’s going on over there.”
Lippman is known among local left-wing activists as a carpenter whose brother, Roger Lippman, was one of the “Seattle Seven” demonstrators who were arrested in an anti-Vietnam War protest and found guilty of contempt by the late U.S. District Judge George H. Boldt in 1971.
Roger Lippman, away on business, said via e-mail that a State Department representative told him Sunday that the U.S. consul in Yugoslavia had visited Peter Lippman in jail and found the conditions to be humane.
“The embassy does not feel that they are in any danger,” Roger Lippman wrote.
He also said he was told that Richard Miles, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Belgrade, planned to go to Pristina on Monday to seek the release of the Peaceworkers group.
A Peaceworkers representative and Roger Lippman said Peter Lippman was on the mission as an independent journalist.
In an e-mail message dated March 13, Peter Lippman wrote that he had been staying for two days with a Pristina family whose two sons are among a group of students in “an underground school system that meets in people’s houses and is supported by a parallel tax system organized by the Kosovo parallel government.”
“Young Albanians anywhere in Kosovo can be picked up by the police any time and taken to the station for ‘informative discussions,”’ Lippman wrote. “Torture and disappearances are not unusual. Beating is routine.
“One of my hosts was beaten for having a library card. He told me that you could be beaten for not knowing the Serbian language.”
Eady said he was working on a documentary play, “Bosnia,” in 1993 when he met Lippman, who sponsored Bosnian Muslim refugees and helped them find housing, clothing and other basic necessities.
Lippman brought some of the refugees to Eady and translated their accounts, “fresh stories as they arrive, straight from the camp … word for word” for use in the play.
Once the play was written, Lippman helped Eady prepare a few refugees for on-stage roles.
In November 1996, Lippman helped lead a demonstration by the Coalition Against the Israeli Occupation during the Council of Jewish Federations, an annual convention that was held in Seattle that year.
Last year he was listed among the contributors to a publication called Eat the State!, a self-described “forum for anti-authoritarian opinion, research and humor.”
Even so, friends like Rod Regan and Shannon Freeman, who is house-sitting for Lippman, said they did not know him as a writer.
“He’s a brilliant carpenter. He’s done a lot of work at people’s houses that I know,” Freeman said. “I never thought of him as a journalist.”
Regan said Lippman worked on some remodeling and restoration at his house - “great guy, he’s very good” - and is in the Radost Folk Ensemble, which performs Eastern European and Balkan dances.
“He’s a great folk dancer,” Regan said.
Eady said Lippman also plays saz, a Turkish stringed instrument resembling a long-necked lute, or bouzouki, in a Turkish band.
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