To Serb With Love

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

"What is going on with the Albanians today, I experienced," Rade says with exhaustion over the phone.

Maritza, too, is but a moment removed from her own, fresher wounds.
"Many relatives of mine lived in Sarajevo. I loved that city and visited it many times," she says.

"I never had problems with the Muslims. But during the war my family there was dispersed, like the majority of Serbs. Some went to Australia, others to London."

As NATO's bombs fell about her, Maritza did not see the Serbian genocide against the Kosovars that we in America use to justify the attacks on Belgrade.

"I have heard from friends who have relatives in the security forces in Kosovo that there are cases of killing of civilians, stealing of property and expulsions," says Maritza.

"These are usually committed by Serbs who have once themselves lived in Kosovo and have suffered at the hands of Albanians."

She insists that these are isolated incidents and not government policy.
"The photos of mass graves [of ethnic Albanians] killed by Serb troops are photomontages, forged," avers Maritza.

She dismisses the horror stories emerging from international relief agencies because she believes that most of those organizations, like the Red Cross, for example, "have long ago been infiltrated by the CIA."

If you wonder how a civilized person can say such a thing . . . well, there is no comforting answer. Her act of denial, however, is not so unlike many of our reactions when we were first told of the slaughter at My Lai in Vietnam.

Nor is she prepared to accept the allegation that it is her countrymen who are purging Kosovo of its Albanian residents.

Instead, Maritza echoes her government's position: that the ethnic Albanians are fleeing NATO's air attacks, which she says include 400 cruise missiles and smart bombs dropped on Kosovo daily.

"With such a concentration of firepower, it was inevitable that people of Kosovo would flee," Maritza says. "The pictures of destruction caused by these projectiles are so horrible that the only thing that can be compared with this devastation is the destruction of London by German V-1 and V-2 projectiles by the end of World War II. I am asking you: Who is crazy as to stay in a city exposed to such destruction? And why all that bombing?

"Exactly to force Shiptars [ethnic Albanians] to start evacuating themselves and the CNN reporters take pictures of them with explanation that they are fleeing persecution by Serbs. It is so evident, almost transparent, that I really cannot understand how can anybody think different or believe in what CNN is serving the world."

Certainly the bombing of Kosovo by NATO made a bad situation worse.
One of the first United States senators to visit Kosovo and the refugee camps in Albania was Oklahoma's James M. Inhofe, who said on his return: "Without exception, the refugees were convinced their plight was precipitated by the NATO bombing campaign."

Maritza's unflinching perspective on the war, and the extent to which it mirrors popular Serbian opinion, makes evident the enormity of any peacekeeping mission that must follow NATO's air raids.

"Yes, we have seen Albanian refugees, especially on cable TV, since CNN does not emit anything else," says Maritza. "They are fleeing from NATO bombs, not from Serbs and I presume they were paid for, or rather, forced to give such reports. You are certainly aware of the fact that Albanians kill their own people if they try to be friends with Serbs."

I was not aware.
"I myself was watching CNN when a woman refugee was explaining in Serbian before the cameras how she fled NATO bombing while the translator translating in English spoke of Serb atrocities."

Referring to the writing of Noam Chomsky, Maritza believes that Americans suffer from media naivete.

"The U.S. lives a life of relative isolation from the rest of the planet," she says. "This isolation is cultural, political but most noticeable in its information aspect.

"Yes it is propaganda. Yes only one side of the killing is being reported."
True enough.
"You should know that now, here in Belgrade, we have many Albanian refugees, their wounded people are being treated together with Serbs in our hospitals, but of course you will not see that on CNN.

"I will tell you one more thing," she concludes. "During our demonstrations and gatherings on squares, there were many signs against NATO and Clinton. But never one has appeared against the Albanians. As far as I know, ordinary Albanian people lived quite well, on friendly terms with Serbs. They were good neighbors."

This picture is at dramatic odds with the loss of autonomy that occurred March 27, 1989, when the Kosovars were stripped of their rights by Slobodan Milosevic, a step that inflamed the KLA.

"I think their politicians [ethnic Albanian leadership] are to blame," says Maritza of Milosevic's harsh measures. "You cannot imagine all the privileges they had and they behaved like spoilt children.

"The more you gave them, the more they wanted."

As I drive to meet Pavle for coffee on a fine spring morning, hikers march forth en route to the desert's mountain preserve. None appears burdened by anything heavier than a fanny pack. Halfway around the world, ethnic Albanians sit upon wagons pulled by tractors through the mountainous Balkans on their way to the shelter of refugee camps.

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