On the hill near the Serbian village of Drsnik in central Kosovo I counted smoke billowing from eight houses. Or at least I thought they were houses. Some proved to be haystacks. For Albanians taking revenge, even Serbian haystacks must now be burned.
In the northern town of Mitrovica I sat on a wall with Meli Uka, a pretty, twenty-two-year-old student. We sipped Coke as we watched a column of fleeing Serb families packed into cars and tractor-trailers. They looked no different from the Kosovars I had seen who had been expelled from Kosovo a few weeks earlier. Meli was smiling and said: “They wanted Albanians out and now this is our revenge. I am very happy about it and I never want them to come back. Now we are free.”
Forty-five minutes later I saw the Serbian village of Samodreza on fire. Two Albanian brothers, Naim and Namun Bala, were watching it burn. The Serbs had left two hours earlier. “The Kosovo Liberation Army did it,” they said. “These Serbs were our neighbors. We never had any problems with them. We grew up with them, played with them, and ate with them. But when the Serbian police came and burned our houses they turned their backs and said: ‘Fuck you!”’ Namun said: “There are twenty-eight of us in our family. We asked the KLA not to burn the houses because we could live in them, but still they went ahead and did it.” Cars full of KLA fighters drove past waving happily and tooting their horns in triumph.
In the town of Vucitrn, Albanian families swarmed through the Serbian Orthodox priest’s house. Mothers maneuvered sofas down stairs, children roamed about smashing religious pictures with hammers while others piled food, church candles, and anything else they could carry onto wheelbarrows. When they were done they moved to the church. A girl with a manic expression on her face smashed the windows. Women tugged on dark red velvet altar cloths and precious icons crashed to the floor. A man struggled to wrench the chandelier from the ceiling.
Outside two French soldiers from the Kosovo Force, KFOR, the newly arrived international peace force which has NATO at its core, looked on amiably. Up the road a Gypsy house was on fire. Albanians accuse many Gypsies of having “collaborated” with the Serbs. At that moment the local French commander drove past. According to the sticker on his jeep his regimental motto was “Avec le sourire.” He said: “Our job is to reassure the population.” I said it didn’t look as if he was reassuring the few remaining Serbs. He replied, sans sourire: “The orders are to let them pillage.” I said: “That’s mad.” He said: “Of course it’s mad, but those are the orders, from NATO, from above.”
As everywhere else in Kosovo, Serbs in Pristina, the provincial capital, live in terror. I rented a flat and soon Mileva, the Serbian woman from next door, came by. Almost whispering …
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