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Anarchy & Madness

Balushe is back! With a quiet smile on her pleasant face, she stands under a blue UN tarpaulin in a makeshift wooden hut. They found her wandering nearby, bemused, hungry, but otherwise unharmed. Balushe is the Latifaj family cow, and her return is a small sign of what has gone right in the place we should now, realistically, call Kosova.

The Latifajs used to live in a large house next to the mosque in the village of Prilep, at the foot of the Cursed Mountains that separate Kosova from Albania. Now they live amid the rubble that was their house, next to the ruined mosque, in a village that Milosevic’s artillery and special forces have almost entirely destroyed. A year ago I found the whole family cowering in their yard. Serb forces had just beaten them up after a KLA ambush of Serb police outside the mosque.1 Six months ago, I found Granny Latifaj standing alone, weeping, in the rubble. She was trying to heat some water in a bucket by placing it in the sun.

Today, half the family have returned. They’ve built a large wooden hut in the snow-covered ruins, with materials supplied by international agencies and charities. They have a wood-burning stove and enough wood to see them through Kosova’s freezing winter. (One daughter tells me they received an extra allowance of firewood because her brother died in the war, fighting with the KLA’s legendary Commander Ramush.) Like so many Kosovars, they are helped out financially by family members working in Germany. They hope their fields will be cleared of land mines in time for the spring sowing. Meanwhile, with international aid and family help, they have just enough to eat. The children go to a rudimentary school, with the same teacher who used to teach them illegally before the war. Most people in the village have come back and, yes, they finally feel free. “We’d like to thank you,” says the hoxha, the local clergyman from the ruined mosque, whom I find repainting his own house, “you Americans and Europeans, for doing so much for our freedom.”

This is the good news, and it’s repeated all over the battered province. The main street of every town looks like a do-it-yourself exhibition. Small shops contain everything you need to rebuild a house, from bricks and timber, through electrical cables and drainpipes, to the all-important rugs and coffee cups. A family I have visited several times in Malisevo, once the capital of the KLA and “the most dangerous place in Europe,” have such a shop, newly built with money sent from Germany by their Gastarbeiter son. The father cautiously estimates his profit at DM35-40 a day. He hopes to rebuild his own house on the earnings from selling reconstruction materials to others.

In the trashed bazaar of what used to be the Serbian city of Pec and is now the Albanian city of Pejë, local children have painted the ruins with brightly colored frescoes. There’s a thriving market, and even a couple of jewelers’ shops. Young girls stand in the mud, distributing calendars for Ramadan.

In sum, most of the Kosovars who were expelled have come home; they are surviving and will eventually rebuild. Here, however, the good news ends. For Kosova today is an almighty mess. The province for which NATO fought the first war in its history is now the most ambitious project of truly international administration in the whole history of the United Nations. The experiment is not going well.

1.

Thanks to us, Kosova ends with an a—the Albanian as opposed to the Serbian spelling. A stands for Albanian. It also, at the moment, stands for Anarchy. Take A for Albanian first. It’s now entirely clear that the NATO intervention has decisively resolved, in favor of the Albanians, a Serb-Albanian struggle for control of this territory that goes back at least 120 years. This was neither the stated nor the real intention of Western policymakers.

Although most Serbs don’t believe it, the representatives of the so-called international community are genuine and even passionate in their desire to see a future for the Serbs in Kosova. Dr. Klaus Reinhardt, the impressive German general who now commands the multilateral, NATO-led military force (KFOR), thumps his right fist into his left palm as he tells me that he will bring Serbs back to live again in their homes, even though those homes have been torched and plundered by Albanians since KFOR marched in. Bernard Kouchner, the very French head of the United Nations mission (UNMIK), tells me: “History will judge us on our ability to protect a minority [i.e., the Serbs] inside another minority [i.e., the Albanians in Yugoslavia].”

These are bold terms on which to invite history’s judgment. For the reality on the ground is one of almost total ethnic separation. Many Serbs fled to Serbia proper when KFOR marched in last June. Most of the rest have subsequently been driven into Serbian enclaves by intimidation and outright terror from returning Albanians. Particularly among the younger generation of Albanians, who have known Serbs only as remote oppressors, there is a growing intolerance of all ethnic others (including Roma and Muslim Slavs). People under thirty make up more than half the population and young Kosovars manifest a thirst for revenge that sickens not just foreigners but also many among the older generation of Kosovars, who still have personal memories of peaceful coexistence with the Serbs.

Just before I arrived, an elderly Serb professor was lynched by a mob celebrating the Albanian “flag day” in Pristina. There used to be some 40,000 Serbs living in Pristina; now there are just a few hundred. The exquisite Serbian monastery of Decani has lost all the lay Serbs who used to sustain it. When the monks need to go shopping, they travel under Italian KFOR escort to Montenegro. In Podujevo, British troops mount a twenty-four-hour guard over two remaining Serb grandmothers—“and the Albanians would slot them if we didn’t,” a British officer remarks, using a slang term for “kill.” It is entirely fitting to speak, in this context, of reverse ethnic cleansing. Yet this ethnic cleansing has been carried out under the very noses and tank barrels of more than 40,000 international troops.

Momcilo Trajkovic, the leading Serb politician still in Kosova, fled Pristina after being shot at through his front door by an Albanian. He now lives in what he calls the Serb “ghetto” around the monastery of Gracanica, an area a few miles across. When he wants to travel anywhere outside the ghetto, he needs a KFOR escort. “This means,” he explains, “that I can go to Pristina to meet President Clinton but I can’t go there to buy a loaf of bread.” He’s still indomitable. When I ask him how long people can live in such a ghetto, he replies, “A thousand years!” They outlived more than five hundred years of Ottoman rule, he says, and they’ll survive this. But he is alone in his heroic optimism.

Besides these enclaves, which contain perhaps some 20,000 to 30,000 Serbs, there is an area north of a line running roughly east-west through the city of Kosovska Mitrovica. This area makes up less than 10 percent of the whole territory. It contains some (though not all) of the valuable Trepca mines, and is contiguous with Serbia proper. Here, an estimated 70,000 Serbs still rule the roost. The situation in the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica is astonishing. Passing the barbed wire barriers on the bridge over the Ibar River, my papers are checked by French soldiers as I enter the Serb-controlled northern sector. French, British, and Scandinavian troops patrol this part, too, but within a few yards of a British armored car I am accosted by several burly Serbs in plainclothes, armed with walkie-talkies.

They sharply ask my business, and my resourceful Albanian interpreter rapidly becomes “Dragan Trajkovic from Belgrade.” We walk up through a peaceful-looking Serb town—schoolgirls giggling on their way home, couples quietly going shopping—to the regional hospital, which is run by Serbs, though with a French director and French soldiers at the gate.

Here we meet a doctor who is also a member of a Belgrade-based, moderate nationalist opposition party. He explains how all the salaries of local people are paid from Belgrade, and their electricity, water, and other supplies come from the north. “The multi-ethnic concept of Kosovo is finished,” he says. Partition is the only answer. Back in the southern part of town, the KLA-appointed unofficial Albanian mayor, Dr. Bajram Rexhepi, a surgeon who tended the KLA wounded, earning the affectionate nickname “Doctor Terrorist,” retorts that this is intolerable. If nothing changes by the spring, he says, the Albanians will again resort to pressure, even force, to storm the bridge over the Ibar River. Some of the local French soldiers have been seen carousing with Serb paramilitaries, he claims, and are pro-Serb, but he thinks their commanders are not.

In truth, the refusal to force open the bridge over the Ibar is not just French policy but that of the entire international administration, both civil and military. For if the guardians of the bridge let the massed Albanians surge across, the Serbs would either fight or flee—probably first one then the other. NATO and the UN would again be parties to ethnic cleansing. So instead, KFOR and UNMIK ineffectually struggle to implement a few schemes for Albanian-Serb cooperation—in the hospital, in a factory—that do nothing to change the overall reality of partition. Indeed, Kouchner has now tacitly acknowledged this, proclaiming his medium-term goal to be no longer a “multiethnic” society but “peaceful coexistence” between largely separate communities.

Yet this hate-filled Albanian-Serb separation is only half the story—and for the future of Kosova not even the most important half. More important is the worsening state of anarchy. It’s hard to convey what a chaotic, threatening place the Albanian 90 percent of Kosova is this winter. In the dark, through freezing fog, along potholed, icy roads, race endless columns of cars, many of them probably stolen in Western Europe. Half the cars display no registration plates and have black-clad, unshaven young men at the wheel, driving like madmen. Once, our column stops because a kid has thrown a brick through the windshield of what he thinks is a Serb car. More often, it’s because a car has spun off the road. I have never in my life seen so many serious traffic accidents. At one particularly nasty one, a KFOR armored car trundles past while a car lies upside down in the snow, its warning lights flashing in the dark and its driver presumably crushed. There are still virtually no police, and there is no effective law. I kept thinking of Graham Greene’s title: The Lawless Roads.

Meanwhile, the Albanian mafia has entered with a vengeance. Young women are afraid to go out at night in Pristina for fear of being kidnapped into forced prostitution. Drug consumption among the students has soared, as the pushers get to work. In the last week of November, there were twenty-two recorded murders, several of them cold-blooded executions. The independent newspaper publisher Veton Surroi, who in the summer courageously denounced Albanian revenge killings against Serbs, sees his prophecy coming true: what began with Albanians murdering Serbs ends with Albanians murdering each other.2 Before and during the war, Kosovars kept assuring me that Kosova would not be like Albania: corrupt, anarchic, ruled by the gun and the gang. Increasingly, it is. The Albanization of Kosova is taking place in a way no ordinary Kosova Albanian wanted. The gangsters have stepped into the vacuum left by the slowness of the West.

  1. 1

    See my “Cry, the Dismembered Country,” The New York Review, January 14, 1999.

  2. 2

    See Veton Surroi, “Victims of the Victims,” The New York Review, October 7, 1999.

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