To Serb With Love

Pavle Milic untangles his Balkan roots and discovers a cauldron of ancient passion and prejudice

After hearing of grandfather Pavle's gun-toting justice in Kosovo, you might find it hard to imagine that any Albanian would choose to migrate to an area controlled by Serbs.

But living with the Serbs might well have been preferable to life with the erratic Hoxha, an obsessive conniver who covered his diminutive and potholed nation with more than 500,000 concrete bunkers as defense against invaders who might covet a nation whose capital city airport, prior to the NATO strikes, had exactly eight daily flights.

Tito, says Maritza, didn't care that those coming to Kosovo were Albanians--as long as they were communists.

She wonders how many Americans can list the atrocities committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against Serbians and, of course, there have been precious few reports on this topic.

Maritza cites the May 13 issue of the British journal Defense and Foreign Affairs, which describes the KLA as "a product of Islamic extremists who have support in the U.S. and Germany and other governments despite the fact that they are involved in drug trafficking and crime."

She says her country's troubles motivated others to act.
"When Yugoslavia dissolved, it was a signal to the Albanians to commense organizing terrorist groups . . . in '97 and '98 massive, coordinated attacks were carried out on Serbian police and the military."

Maritza writes, "The Albanians in Kosovo wanted to ethnically cleanse Kosovo so they offered to buy Serb land and homes in the hope that the Serbs would move away. The Serbs refused since they and their fathers have lived there for centuries and loved that soil. Then the Albanians threatened them, first verbally and then physically. They attacked them from ambushes--they never attack face to face. They have done many evil things to the Serbs. . . ."

How severe were the assaults by the ethnic-Albanian partisans in the KLA?
According to Maritza, the KLA was brutal.
"There were cases that were similar to the atrocities the Turks did to the Serbs in earlier centuries."

Maritza's declaration is not so much a measure of Serbian nationalism--though it is certainly that--as it is the Balkan lament: No matter which side you are on, the current atrocity was foreshadowed by a medieval outrage that is neither forgotten nor forgiven.

Maritza compares the KLA to the Islamic Turks who crushed the Serbs in Kosovo in 1389, a point of reference six decades before Gutenberg invented movable type, 200 years before Galileo created the pendulum and 300 years before Newton explained gravity.

Consequently, the hatred between the ethnic Albanians and the Serbs is not the sort of mindless prejudice directed at people who have done you no wrong, unlike, say, the viciousness that led three Texans to drag a black man behind their truck, or the thugs in Wyoming who left a gay man to die upon a wilderness fence.

In the Balkans, all sides can point to murder and rape on an organized scale to validate their loathing of each other. It is not racism or homophobia or any generalized feeling of bias that we are so familiar with here in the United States.

In fact, Maritza is quick to point out that she does not prejudge Albanians.
"Personally, I did not have any bad experience with Albanians. I visited the monasteries of Kosovo when I was in high school, twice.

"In 1986, while I was visiting . . . New York, I was a guest of one very rich Albanian family that lived in the suburbs of the city. They wanted to pay back a favor one of my relatives did to them. Individually, they pay good with good. . . . What I like and respect about them is that they are very industrious and disciplined. No matter how rich a family may be all the members work with no vanity at all."

Even Rade, four oceans removed from the current conflict, suffers complicated emotions over Kosovo.

Rade, like Maritza, thinks the Albanians must yield.
"Kosovo is the result of six centuries of ethnic and religious oppression," says Rade. "There is no end. If Kosovo doesn't seek independence, it will always be a problem. But Kosovo is the nest of Serbian culture.

"I don't see a solution. The only way to finish is that the Albanians have to abandon Kosovo. Any peace arrangement where they live within a Yugoslavian regime will only cause more fighting."

Unlike Maritza, he accepts the likelihood that the Serbs have committed genocide.

"War is like a fever," explains Rade. "You lose the concept of reality, old hatreds come alive."

Rade asks that before we unequivocally condemn the Serbs for ethnic cleansing, we first answer what our government would do if the Cubans in Miami, like the Albanians in Kosovo, organized a rebel army that murdered American policemen and postal workers in an effort to promote Miami's secession from the union.

The long, snaking lines of Albanians fleeing to refugee camps trigger crushing flashbacks for Rade, who told his son that what he sees on television reminds him of his own flight from Kosovo during World War II.

Except the tables were turned in the Forties and it was the Albanians who were hunting down Serbs.

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