[Preamble: This post takes issue with a few paragraphs of a very long and overall excellent report from Kosovo. I have the author at a disadvantage as I am nitpicking over words and phrases that perhaps I have misinterpreted and that perhaps require more context. Please judge for yourselves by reading the article first before this commentary.]
“Why is it that the worst extremes of jingoism and racialism have to be tolerated when they come from an Irishman? Why is a statement like “My country right or wrong” reprehensible if applied to England and worthy of respect if applied to Ireland (or for that matter to India)? For there is no doubt that some such convention exists and that “enlightened” opinion in England can swallow even the most blatant nationalism so long as it is not British nationalism. Poems like “Rule, Britannia!” or “Ye Mariners of England” would be taken seriously if one inserted at the right places the name of some foreign country, as one can see by the respect accorded to various French and Russian war poets to-day.” – George Orwell’s review of “Drums under the Windows” by Sean O’Casey [ The Observer, 28 October 1945]
Michael Totten has published another instalment of his Balkan series, this time a look at secularism and Islamism in contemporary Kosovo. I get the feeling he is trying to get the point across that Kosovo is not some Islamist beach-head in Europe as some have claimed, but a highly secular country filled with nominal Muslims who are really more pro-American Europeans than anything else.
The article inadvertently makes a powerful case for showing that Albanian Nationalism is THE enormously powerful core value that binds the society. Totten quotes Stacy Sullivan on the KLA, “their only religion was Albanianism.” To me this reads that Nationalism has the same fervour and power as religion, that Albanians – regardless of which national territory they are in – see themselves as first and foremost Albanian, with national and religious loyalties following. This makes Serbian radical nationalism look comparatively mild.
I wish Michael had got the Serb side of the story. He speaks to many Albanians – many of them scholars and diplomats – and they freely comment on what they think Serbs think, but we do not hear from a single Serb. I think this is a glaring oversight for Michael. He really should have found the time to speak to Serbs, especially moderate Serbs and the embattled communities living in NATO guarded ghettos in the South of Kosovo.
Through the series we keep hearing from nasty Serb characters, and we are constantly told of Serb malignancy, yet it is the non-Serbs who betray their bigotries and prejudice.
Even Professor Xhabir Hamiti from the Islamic Studies Department at the University of Prishtina, opined:
“But here [Kosovo]…we haven’t had anything to do with Serbs and the Slavic language and the Slavic culture. Our culture is different, our language is different and they hate us.”
And “they” hate us, huh? “They” are are the Serbs, who we learned in previous dispatches are “not all bad”.
I suppose Professor Hamiti has failed to notice that far from having nothing to do with Slavic Culture and Language, Albanians in Kosovo have been living cheek by jowl with Serbs for hundreds of years. Almost every Kosovo Albanian speaks Serbian. The two cultures are deeply embedded in each other and the future of peace and prosperity for all means the continued integration and fostering of respect of these neighbour’s cultures.
The Kosovo government or their EU/UN overseers know this. Michael photographed billboard’s celebrating tolerance, but they compete with desecrated churches, sign posts with Serbian blackened out and the casual racist comments and attitude of like those of Professor Hamiti.
One key passage Michael writes:
“Kosovo’s war, then, wasn’t religious. It was ethnic. Christians did not fight Muslims; Serbs fought Albanians. Serbian nationalists ethnically-cleansed Kosovo’s Catholics right along with the Muslims”
And in turn Albanian Nationalists Ethnically Cleansed non-Albanians: the Roma, Gorani (Muslims) and Serbs from Kosovo. Today in Serbia and Croatia nationalism is in steep decline, yet we are pouring in support and aid to Albanian Ethnic nationalists. It reminds me of the quote by Orwell at the start of this post.
“Why is it that the worst extremes of bigotry and racism have to be tolerated when they come from an Albanian? Why is a statement like “My country right or wrong” reprehensible if applied to Serbs and worthy of respect if applied to Kosovo (or for that matter to Croatia)? For there is no doubt that some such convention exists and that “enlightened” opinion in the West can swallow even the most blatant nationalism so long as it is not Serbian nationalism. ”
“90 percent of all Kosovar Albanians, Catholic and Muslim alike, were displaced from their homes by Milosevic’s armed forces during their ethnic-cleansing campaign. In 1999 they were allowed to return to their homes under NATO protection. Enraged mobs then set to firebombing Serb houses and Serbian Orthodox churches.”
He, like so many, has forgotten what actually happened. There was no “campaign”. Those people were displaced more by the bombing and by the terrifying reports they were getting from the West than anything real on the ground.
When 2,000,000 refugee’s fled the Swat Valley in Pakistan after the Pakistani government attacked the Taliban, no one declared that they were “ethnically cleansed”. They were doing what civilians do when war starts, they fled the fighting.
Two years of insurgency and counter-insurgency did not cause a refugee crisis, yet three days after the NATO bombing commenced, people started pouring over the borders? To claim it was because orchestrated “ethnic cleansing” belies the facts.
When the bombing stopped, the Albanian civilians flooded back. And when they got back, they continued the campaign of ethnic violence and harassment that had been under way since 1996, but now without the retraining presence Yugoslav soldiers to protect the non-Albanian minorities.
Five years later, in 2004, violence exploded in Kosovo once again following rumors that Serbs chased Albanian children into the Ibar River where they drowned. Serb and Albanian gunmen fired shots at each other from their respective sides of the river. Mobs of enraged Albanians burned Serb churches and houses for three days. According to U.N. spokeswoman Isabella Karlowitz, 16 churches and 110 houses were destroyed. Dozens were killed. Hundreds were wounded…Neither Catholic citizens nor Catholic churches were touched in either of these spasms of violence.”
So the the hatred is reserved for non-Albanians. So what? In the 21st Century we have a large block of people in the region showing signs of fanatical transcendental nationalism (“The religion of Albanianism”) and they are oppressing their national minorities (the few remaining Serbs, Roma and Gorani) yet it is Serbs that command worry and attention. It is Serbia – which underwent regime change nearly 10 years ago – that is the bad boy of the region, whilst Kosovo and Albania – hotbeds of radical nationalism – are glorified thanks to their being “allies” to the friend starved US. And it is not over, Serbs are still oppressed in contemporary Kosovo. The excuse? Putative Serb wrongs nearly a decade ago.
Albania and Kosovo aren’t the only countries in the Balkan Peninsula where ethnic Albanians live. They also inhabit a portion of southeastern Montenegro near the Albanian border.
Michael forgot Serbia, where hundreds of thousands of Albanians live in peace and have done so for hundreds of years. Their only problems are intra-Albanian rivalries and blood feuds. How does that square with all the propaganda about the oppression of Albanians? The only place in Europe where there has been peacetime ethnic cleaning of national minorities in the 21st century is…..KOSOVO. Tell me again why we are harassing the Serbs, the victims of this aggression and nationalism?
Finally, in the comment of the piece, someone writes:
“I have found your [Michael Totten’s] writings on Kosovo very interesting but I have seen numerous pictures of burned out churches and interviews with Serbs that indicate they are not at all welcome in Kosovo now. I also have to question references to genocide since the death tolls were 100’s of thousands less than we were told they were to justify bombing civilian targets in Yugoslavia.”
“The death toll in the war, by the way, was less because NATO stopped Milosevic long before it could turn into another Bosnia. “
This is of course the great post-fact speculation that is used to justify what was a baseless and illegal act of war. The singular fact that everyone should keep in mind is that the justifications for the bombing all turned out to be baseless. The supposed massacres and war crimes that were touted as justifications were as unreal as the Iraq’ “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. Nearly a decade of desperate search has revealed nothing to support NATO’s lies in the build up to war. The mass migration of Albanian civilians started after the NATO bombing started, not as a result of Serb Ethnic cleansing (there had been serious fighting since 1998) but as a response to the bombing and the chilling propaganda exaggerations put out by NATO’s black ops propagandists.
For a thorough demolition of anti-Serb propaganda and an account of the injustices against then, see “Travesty” by John Laughland.