Will There Be a War in Kosovo?

The fighting has subsided in Kosovo for now, but the waiting has begun. Villages blockaded by the Serbian police are silent, almost deserted, but the police are under fire from snipers. In a hamlet I visited in the Drenica hills, frightened Albanians told me they cannot leave. “If we pass the police checkpoint they’ll arrest us and say we’re terrorists,” an Albanian named Agim said. A crowd of peasant farmers gathered around him to tell their tales of woe and fear.

In the valley below, on a muddy bank in the village of Donji Prekaz, are the fifty-three freshly dug graves of the Jashari clan. On February 28 Albanian guerrillas killed four policemen and wounded two others on the road to the nearby town of Klina. The police, convinced that their attackers were Jasharis, took their revenge on members of the clan. Their houses now lie in ruins; their blood, congealed and dark, stains the walls.

Here the tradition of revenge, the obligation to match blood with blood, runs deep. For now, the blood of the Jasharis—and that of twenty-four members of the Ahmeti clan killed in a neighboring hamlet—remains to be avenged. In the nearby town of Glogovac the streets are empty, and the sense of menace, the creeping feeling of threatening violence, is pervasive. Two of the four policemen who died near Klina set out from here. Today each of their colleagues goes to work knowing that this day could be his last.

Throughout the Drenica region, where last month’s fighting took place, the police are digging in. They are hauling sandbags, scanning the horizon, and fixing arc lamps over the road. They walk about in their flak jackets, uncomfortable and cold. They say the armed Albanians, guerrillas, terrorists—who knows for sure—are somewhere “over there,” taking potshots at them, sometimes firing wobbly flares at night.

Serbia’s southern province is now being called, in the old cliché, the “Balkan powder keg,” even though the powder is still damp. There is still time to avert the long-awaited explosion, but it is slipping away. In principle the Kosovo problem is relatively straightforward. Kosovo is the province of southern Serbia that the Serbs claim as their Jerusalem, the spiritual and historic heartland of their people. In that case, the ethnic Albanians who live here reply, the Serbian heart is lodged in a foreign body, for of Kosovo’s population of two million barely 200,000 are Serbs. All but a few of the rest are ethnic Albanians. Either descendants of ancient Illyrian tribes or of migrants from Albania, they speak Albanian. Many have family connections in Albania, and, as with other Albanians, most of them are Muslims. They demand independence. The Serbs—who make up some six and a half million of the approximately ten and a half million citizens of the Yugoslavia ruled by President Slobodan Milosevic—say they cannot have it.

For years it was predicted that if violent conflict broke out …

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Letters

Kosovo’s History July 16, 1998