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 in Yugoslavia it would start in Kosovo. It did not happen that way, but the conflict between Serb and Albanian nationalism that began here did in fact precipitate the destruction of the old Yugoslavia. As Noel Malcolm writes in the first line of his excellent book, “The Yugoslav crisis began in Kosovo, and it will end in Kosovo.” Miranda Vickers says much the same thing.
During the 1980s, as an autonomous province of Serbia, Kosovo was ruled by its own ethnic Albanian Communist leaders. But the Albanians demanded more. They argued that it was unjust that they should be regarded as a “national minority” in Yugoslavia when, for example, there were three times more Albanians than Montenegrins, who had been given the right to their own republic. Tito’s 1974 constitution was unclear about a republic’s right to secede. But four Yugoslav republics that asked for international recognition got it, in 1992. Today NATO and other foreign powers insist that the Albanians of Kosovo must stay locked in a country they despise because their territory is just a province.
Albanians were, of course, not the only malcontents in Kosovo during the 1980s. The province’s Serbs were also deeply unhappy and many migrated to central Serbia in search of new lives. They went not only because Kosovo was poor but also because they felt persecuted by the Albanians; and they thought their children had no future in a territory ruled by Albanians. It was the genius of Slobodan Milosevic, then the secretary of the Serbian Communist Party, to exploit this discontent and encourage a revival of Serbian nationalism as part of his bid to secure full power. He succeeded and in early 1989 crowned his success by stripping Kosovo of its autonomy and sending in police to place it under harsh Serbian rule.
The triumph proved short-lived. Alarm at Milosevic’s behavior in Kosovo did much to set off the spiraling nationalism in the rest of Yugoslavia which was to culminate in its violent destruction. And Milosevic’s failure to face up to the Kosovo problem has returned to haunt him ever since.
In 1991 ethnic Albanians declared their own Republika e Kosoves an independent state. Ever since, they have built up their own parallel schools and clinics; but the province remains under tight Serbian control. The abuses of Serbian police, whether in arresting or in beating up Albanians, are probably the worst in Europe today. One question arises, as the Serbs continue to dismiss Albanian demands for statehood: Is war inevitable? The answer is: perhaps, but not necessarily. Kosovo is not Croatia or Bosnia. It is a looking-glass world all of its own.
As night falls over the Serbian monastery church of Visoki Decani in western Kosovo the monks chant their evening prayers. It has been like this since the 1330s. Every Thursday the monks open the sarcophagus of their patron saint, King Stefan Decanski, to ask for his help in times of trouble. They say that when the sarcophagus is open, the church fills with the smell of roses. When Serbs say that Kosovo is the spiritual heart of their nation, they have such symbols in mind.
In 1992 the Church hierarchy decided to rejuvenate the monastery of Decani. The old men were sent elsewhere and a new generation of monks were installed. They are young, vigorous, and well-educated. They guard the bones of their holy king and dream of a Serbian “Empire of Heaven.” Father Sava is thirty-two years old. He speaks flawless English and has been to Washington twice in the past two months to argue the case for dialogue and compromise with the Albanians. If Serbian leaders had all been as capable and as sincere as Father Sava, the old Yugoslavia would today be yet another boring ex-Communist country. Unfortunately they were not like Father Sava.
“Milosevic,” Father Sava told me, “is playing a wicked game with the emotions of Serbs here. He saved them at a bad moment; he bandaged the wound but he has left it to fester.” Father Sava says that a compromise deal must be struck soon. If not, “Kosovo’s Serbs will pay the price for Belgrade’s behavior.” They do not have to look very far to see their worst fears confirmed. In every town in Serbia, including Kosovo, bedraggled, pathetic communities of some of the 200,000 Serbs expelled from Krajina in Croatia in August 1995 provide a sad example of a people who once placed their faith in Milosevic and then were driven from their homes.
Apart from his visits to Washington, Father Sava has taken the local Serbians’ cause into cyberspace. As another brother explained to me: “It is our ‘obedience.’ One day we might be told to chop wood, the next to work in the stables, and the next to work on the computers.” But the brutal truth is that Decani’s web page and its e-mailing monks can do little to appease the fears of their flock. Barely twenty-five souls turn up to worship with them on Sunday. Father Sava says that local Serbs are frightened: “For us monks it is different. We think about death every day.”
Ilija, aged thirty-two, the father of a two-year-old daughter, is very frightened indeed. The foundations of his family’s house are even older than those of the monastery. He can remember when half the population in his village were Serbs. Now, he said, there are sixty-three of them left living among 1500 Albanians. “Nonsense,” his wife, Mirjana, interrupts. “Half of those sixty-three have left in the last few weeks and half of the rest are old grannies.” With odds like these against him, Ilija does not even pretend that he is going to fight for the house of his ancestors.
A mile down the road Albanian men drink coffee at the Edona café, ignoring three Serb policemen at a corner table. The police pick up their machine guns and leave, followed by stares of silent, distilled hatred. Toni, who has worked “in construction” in New York for twelve years, now feels free to express his anger at the police. “You can hardly even drive around here. They stop you, and just rip you off, demanding money for whatever they can think of. They come into your shop, take stuff, and say they’ll pay you tomorrow. Of course they never do.” Toni says he has come home to protect his family. He believes that a compromise with the Serbs is still possible, but “if they wanna war we gonna win.”
The Albanian border is barely ten miles from here. Piled on the backs of donkeys, guns are coming across, just as they have done for hundreds of years. The police snare some of these weapons, but only if war begins for real will we be able to estimate how many donkeys slipped through in the dead of night.
In the nearby town of Pec the owner of the Prince café shows me the house next door whose windows were shattered by a hand grenade. “It’s Serb terror,” he says. “Someone chucked it from a car because he knew that we’d all been to the demonstration”—a demonstration against Serb rule. There is, however, another version of the tale of the hand grenade. Albanian political leaders have far more control over daily life than many visitors realize. Just after the Jashari killings, Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of Kosovo’s Albanians and president of the phantom Republika, ordered a day of mourning. But, as several people told me, the owner of the Prince café failed to shut his doors. It is possible that an enforcer was sent out to remind him just who is the boss. Everyone here knows that in both Croatia and Bosnia the very first casualties of war were the cafés, because they were easy targets and also gathering places of men from “the other side.”
When the wars began in Croatia and Bosnia, one of the problems journalists and others faced was that there were no up-to-date, modern histories of the region. The loud debate over whether “ancient hatreds” were the source of the conflict was strangely uninformed. American and European politicians—such as Lawrence Eagleburger—argued that there was not much point in intervening since Balkan peoples had hated one another for many hundreds of years and were now indulging in more bloodletting, as they had done every few generations. Their opponents argued that the peoples of the Balkans had, for hundreds of years, shown themselves capable of tolerance and interethnic peace, and that evil and aggressive politicians were mainly responsible for the wars. Of course both these arguments were wrong. Yugoslav politicians inflamed murderous passions that had long been smoldering.
This time the debate should be more measured, thanks to the two books on the history of Kosovo under review. With the exception of patchy studies by Serbs and Albanians these are the first books in English to concentrate solely on Kosovo’s truly miserable history. Noel Malcolm is a respected British Hobbes scholar who wrote a well-received history of Bosnia, now standard reading for diplomats, journalists, and others working in the former combat zone. Miranda Vickers is one of Britain’s foremost experts on Albania. In 1995 she published the first nonpartisan history of the country and, last year, a study of Albania’s tortuous post-Communist transition.
Mr. Malcolm is more concerned with Kosovo’s history, while Ms. Vickers has more to say about its recent situation. She avoids the conventional political line in which bad Serbs are pitted against valiant Albanians. But if the past, as recalled by both writers, is any guide to the future, then Kosovo’s destiny is grim indeed. For more than five hundred years the region has gone through cycles of conquest, war, repression, and flight. No golden age, no cultural flowering, no renaissance, no enlightenment. Kosovo’s mainly peasant population never developed as sophisticated a culture as that of Bosnia’s more urban Muslims. They labored for more than a generation longer than the Bosnians under Ottoman rule (until 1912) and unlike them were unable, not being Slavs, to assert themselves in the new Yugoslavia, the state of the “South Slavs” after 1918.
Of the two books Mr. Malcolm’s is the more controversial. He has clearly taken it upon himself to explode virtually all Serbian historical claims to the province. The standard Serbian historical explanation of how the heartland of their medieval kingdoms became overwhelmingly populated by Albanians takes the year 1690 as the turning point. Until now it has been generally accepted that when the forces of an Austrian Army penetrated Kosovo in 1689 and pushed the ruling Ottoman Turks out of the region, they were greeted by Arsenije Crnojevic, the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch. He then encouraged the local Serbs to join the Austrian ranks in order to fight the Ottomans. Shortly afterward, on New Year’s Day, 1690, the Austrians were defeated in battle by the Turks, and the Patriarch, fearing bloody reprisals, led columns of Serbian refugees out of Kosovo. After that the Turks encouraged Muslim Albanians to settle the land, and in this way the population balance slowly began to change.
Mr. Malcolm says that all of this is untrue. He argues that the Austrians were greeted by an Albanian Catholic archbishop called Pjeter Bogdani, and that Patriarch Crnojevic fled in haste; he did not lead a “Great Migration” of Serbs out of Kosovo. In setting out this view, Malcolm is rather like someone claiming that the Mayflower sailed from America to Britain or that Ellis Island had little to do with immigration to the United States. But is it true?
Mr. Malcolm makes a convincing case, drawing on seventeenth-century archival material he has brought to light; it is surprising however that he does not cite comparable Serbian documents. He lists thirty-one archives and libraries in which he has worked, including five in Rome and the Vatican alone, and one in Zagreb and one in Tirana. He doesn’t say whether he visited a library in Serbia or consulted the archives of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Both books were finished before the current round of violence, but what Mr. Malcolm and Ms. Vickers have to say about other uprisings during this century provides the necessary background to today’s events. In 1912, after almost five hundred years of Ottoman domination, the Serbian army returned to Kosovo but was expelled again by Austrian and Bulgarian troops during World War I. For Kosovo’s Serbs the return of the Serbian army was a liberation; for the Albanians, now a majority, it was nothing less than conquest. When the Serbs returned again in 1918 at the end of the war some parts of Kosovo resisted, particularly in the Drenica region, the epicenter of today’s violence. The rebels were called kacaks. In 1919, writes Mr. Malcolm, the by-now Serb-dominated Yugoslav authorities moved to crush them.
The kacaks, only half of whom had rifles, were no match against the machine-gun units and artillery batteries of the Yugoslav army, which drove them off towards the mountains near Pec, destroying many villages as it did so and carrying out reprisals afterwards.
Their methods have not changed much since.
Following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1941, the larger part of Kosovo was incorporated into the Italian-ruled Greater Albania. By the end of the war the Germans were in control of most of Kosovo, and most of their forces retreating from Greece and southern Yugoslavia passed through the region. The return of a Yugoslav army, now organized as a Communist partisan force, was of course resented by most Albanians. They had hoped that Albania and Kosovo would stay united after the war, and a Communist Party meeting in January 1944 passed a resolution granting Kosovo “the right to self-determination, up to and including secession.” When the Albanians realized that they would not in fact be allowed to exercise this right, fighting broke out again at the end of 1944, this time against Tito’s forces. Malcolm describes this conflict as follows:
One Albanian Partisan commander, Shaban Polluzha, rejected an order to take his men to the front in Srem (the Croatian region west of Belgrade), saying he wanted to stay and defend his home region of Drenica against attacks on Albanians by [Serbian Royalist] Cetnik bands. His force, composed of roughly 8,000 men, was then attacked by other [Titoist] Partisan units; fighting in the Drenica region lasted until March, and forty-four villages were destroyed there. It has been estimated that 20,000 local Albanians joined Polluzha’s force; in the end the revolt was completely suppressed.
Ms. Vickers has even more graphic details. Following reports from the Drenica region of a massacre by Tito’s partisans, a commission was set up by the Yugoslav army’s operational staff for Kosovo to investigate what happened. When it arrived it found that:
A large number of Albanian civilians had been killed. In the Klina river the population showed the delegates the bodies of some 250 men, bound together in groups of six, from the village of Skenderaj (now known as Srbica), many of whom had been hacked to death with axes. The commission presented its findings to the Staff of the Yugoslav detachments who, instead of taking measures to find the perpetrators of the massacre, opened fire on the commission delegate. Immediately following this incident and for the next two months, the region of Drenica became the scene of extremely bitter fighting.
Srbica is about a mile from Donji Prekaz, where last month members of the Jashari clan were killed.
Noel Malcolm finished his book too early to take account of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the guerrilla force that has now emerged in the Drenica hills. Ms. Vickers writes that its commanders are former Yugoslav army officers and that many of their men fought the Serbs in Bosnia. Some reports say they received training in Albania, Iran, and Pakistan, and Vickers writes that “apart from receiving money from the large and wealthy Kosovar diaspora in Western Europe, regular funding was reportedly coming direct from militant Islamic groups.” These claims have not been proven, but it would not be surprising if they turned out to be true.
A small group of trained men is now fighting in regions that, as Malcolm and Vickers show, have always been a bastion of resistance against the Serbs and whose clan chiefs can be counted on for support. Adem Jashari, for example, was a powerful man in the region who had already been convicted in absentia of killing a policeman. He was not a trained guerrilla but more than likely had been working closely with the KLA well before dozens of the members of his clan were killed last month. In him we can see at work the Kosovo tradition of farmers-in-arms working in combination with a modern, committed fighting force.
The KLA raises cash from the Kosovo Albanians living abroad, mainly in Switzerland and Germany, and it issues communiqués from an office in Switzerland. Its aim, it says, is to encourage an increasingly militant population to take up arms—if they can get them—so as to throw out their Serb rulers. It also wants to stop the people of Kosovo from supporting—as most of them have—the pacifist policies of Ibrahim Rugova and his party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). In the Drenica hills new recruits swear the following oath:
In front of my flag I give my oath and my life that I will die for freedom and for my land and that I will obey my army. If I betray my comrades they have the right to kill me. Now I am a soldier who fights for freedom.
During the past two years, there have been dozens of attacks against Serbian policemen and alleged Albanian “collaborators.” Many Albanians have mixed feelings about this. In recent mass rallies across Kosovo they have carried portraits of both Adem Jashari and Ibrahim Rugova. They say they want peace, yet they also shout slogans in support of the KLA. After years of brutal repression, and with seemingly no way to break the stalemate, it is not surprising that they sound desperate and take contradictory positions. Most Albanians are not committed to violence. Still, having suffered so long at the hands of the Serbian police, they feel at least a frisson of pride every time one of them is killed in a hail of Albanian bullets.
There are simply too few Serbs in Kosovo for a conflict there to resemble the wars in Bosnia and Croatia. If fighting breaks out, it will, at least at first, more closely resemble a West Bank-style intifada. There will be large-scale Albanian riots; in some parts of the province there will be Albanian refugees, but thousands of the Serbs living in isolated regions will also flee, turning over large chunks of “ethnically pure” territory to the Albanians. Before long the Serbs would be left in control of the main roads and the towns. Most people in Kosovo, whether Serbs or Albanians, do not want such a war. They are not preparing themselves psychologically or making practical arrangements for an outright military conflict.
Over the past few months political commentators in Kosovo have been saying that Ibrahim Rugova has been losing support to those who have been demanding a more hard-line approach. Veton Surroi, for example, the editor of the popular daily Koha Ditore—which is supported by George Soros’s foundation—is scathing, saying that Mr. Rugova, as the president of the unrecognized Republika e Kosoves, has failed his people and that “any leadership, even military leadership, is welcome.” For good measure he adds that the recent Serbian police actions, far from crushing armed “splinter groups,” will transform them into a serious guerrilla movement.
Ms. Vickers quotes Rugova’s original arguments against a strategy of violence which he made as Yugoslavia began to descend into war in 1991. In April 1992, as Sarajevo began to burn, he said: “We would have no chance of successfully resisting the army. In fact the Serbs only wait for a pretext to attack the Albanian population and wipe it out. We believe it is better to do nothing and stay alive than be massacred.” Critics like Veton Surroi and the radical leader Adem Demaci—who used to be called Kosovo’s Mandela, for the twenty-eight years he spent as a political prisoner—have been saying, with increasing ferocity, that this policy has failed. But Kosovo’s Albanians, however restless they have become, still put their faith in Rugova.
On March 22 they voted in general elections that were declared illegal by the Serbs, who did nothing to stop them. Some of the Albanians who oppose Rugova and want a more militant strategy called for a boycott of the elections, saying that this was not the time for voting. But the Xhevdet Doda School in the center of Pristina, the provincial capital, was jammed with voters, as was every other polling station across Kosovo. Mr. Rugova, whose party claims to have won easily, had better judged the mood of his people than the small, elite circles of opposition politicians who are frequently sought out by foreigners. Bekim Latifi, an urbane, English-speaking, middle-class rap musician with three albums to his credit, said of Mr. Rugova: “He knows what’s best for us. He is our sun.” In the hamlet above Donji Prekaz, the scene of the Jashari clan massacre, one man spoke for the group around him: “Rugova is against war but if he says ‘Go to the KLA,’ we’ll all go to war for him. Whatever he says, we’ll do it.”
Ibrahim Rugova is one of the more puzzling and paradoxical leaders in Europe today. Many reports will tell you that he studied linguistics in France under Roland Barthes, that he is a longstanding pacifist, and that he rose to power by virtue of being the president of the writers association of Kosovo—the organization that provided the nucleus of the leaders of the LDK. The reports will also probably mention that he always wears a dark silk scarf. What is also true is that he seems so boring in speech and manner that listening to him repeat over and over the same benign-sounding phrases can numb the mind. Of course, in the former Yugoslavia, with its oversupply of swaggering, superficially charming, and brutish leaders, this may be a virtue. If all of the country’s politicians had been so apparently dull (and shrewd), hundreds of thousands of people who died in the war would still be alive. Yet it is a remarkable achievement to inspire such intense loyalty while having no charisma at all.
Apart from his winning the elections, Rugova’s continuing power in the past few weeks has been demonstrated in the mass rallies that have taken place, with his encouragement, across Kosovo. In one of the largest, in Pristina, thousands of Albanians sat silently on the road. Asked why, one demonstrator looked puzzled and said, as though one should have known: “Because they told us to sit down.” When the rally organizers told the people to go home they stood up, shook themselves, and went home.
Later the same day thousands of Serbs took to the streets. They marched around Pristina and when they came to a crossroads the men at the front began arguing about which way to go next. At this point the Serbian police stepped in and told them what to do. A little later however the rally broke up into three columns, each marching in a different direction. This behavior was telling. Whether they like it or not the Albanians will, in the end, probably do what their leaders tell them to do, and Rugova is likely to be the dominant leader. The Serbs, however, risk losing everything since they cannot agree on what they want.
Sooner or later serious talks on the fate of Kosovo must begin. The Albanians have been avoiding such talks; they are holding out for international mediation and international guarantees of any settlement. After much resistance, the Serbs will probably accept this, although Milosevic has, as a delaying tactic, called for a referendum on foreign mediation to take place on April 23. The Serbs know the NATO nations and Russia will support their claim that Kosovo cannot secede from Yugoslavia. If Kosovo were to secede, this would have two immediate consequences. The first would be that Bosnia, as it emerged from the Dayton agreements, would cease to exist. NATO could hardly prevent the Republika Srpska from uniting with Serbia if Kosovo became independent and then, as everyone expects, chose to unite, or very closely ally itself, with Albania. Secondly, Macedonia, with a higher proportion of Albanians than Serbia, would very soon break up, with Albania itself intervening on behalf of its ethnic protégés. This could set off the long-feared general Balkan war, possibly including both Greece, which would be loath to see Macedonia divided, and Turkey, which has been giving military support to Albania.
Today the Albanians are uncertain what to do because they know that during the talks they will be forced to back down from their demand for independence. The shape of a compromise solution, in which the Albanians would have considerable autonomy, seems discernible, at least when such a compromise is stated as an abstract proposition; the question for the Albanians is how to extract the best possible deal. What is seriously worrying though, and could cause a violent conflict, is that no Serb in authority has given even a hint that he has a rational idea of how to resolve the conflict.
In Pristina, Paris, Bonn, and Washington, the compromise being talked about would not simply return Kosovo to its former autonomy under the Communist regime. A recent Franco-German proposal spoke of a “special status” for Kosovo. Another commonly discussed idea is the “three republic” solution by which Kosovo would become a third republic of Yugoslavia alongside Serbia and Montenegro. Serb rights in Kosovo could be guaranteed by a new provision in the constitution. Albanians would rule themselves, but, just as in Bosnia, the internationally recognized frontier would remain unchanged. Discreet discussions have been informally taking place on the ways such a compromise might be worked out.
One of the participants has been Blerim Shala, the Albanian editor of the weekly Zeri. A central problem, he told me, is that Kosovo’s Albanian politicians have declared again and again that independence is the only solution, and so they are very reluctant to admit that they may be forced to go back on their word. Mr. Shala says, however, that, when the time comes, it will be possible to win people around, “if Rugova says, every day, ‘This is what we must do.”‘
Some of the Albanian public statements already suggest that, as a Western diplomat put it, “reality is finally sinking in.” Fehmi Agani, Rugova’s adviser for political affairs, says: “I’m sure that independence is the best solution but everything is negotiable”—one of the strongest public statements about a possible compromise I have seen by a Kosovo leader. Last August Gazmend Pula, a leading human rights activist, was denounced for saying that the “three republic” solution might be acceptable. “He was ostracized,” the same diplomat told me, “not for saying what everyone thinks but for saying what everyone knows to be the case.”
Bitter as it may be for them, the Kosovo Albanians have at least a general idea of what they may have to settle for, and they have a leader whom most of the people will follow. The Serbs by contrast have no coherent approach to Kosovo. Mr. Milosevic remains in full control in Belgrade. The opposition coalition which last year brought hundreds of thousands into the streets of Belgrade has completely vanished. On March 26, Vojislav Seselj, a former paramilitary leader and an extreme nationalist, was made a deputy prime minister of Serbia.
No one can say definitively what the Serbs want. In Pristina the government spokesman is the affable Bosko Drobnjak. At first he merely restates the party line: that any solution must be found “within the borders of Serbia.” Not only does this obviously rule out independence, but it is also code for rejecting the “three republics” solution.
In June last year, Aleksandar Despic, the head of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, which strongly promoted Serbian nationalism in Kosovo in 1986, voiced one of the underlying fears of many Serbs. He pointed out that since Kosovo Albanians have the highest birthrate in Europe, the Serbs will be a minority in Serbia by 2020. According to the Serbian Statistical Office, in 1996 only 62 percent of Serbia’s population of about ten million were Serbs. Half of the rest were Albanians and the remainder were a mixture of other, smaller groups, including ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina as well as Muslims and gypsies. Fewer than half of live births in Serbia today are Serbian babies. Mr. Malcolm remarks tartly that, on this point, the Serbs have “only themselves to blame” since, he says, they have “the highest abortion rate in the whole of Europe.”
For their part, the Albanians have for years boycotted Serbian elections, claiming that they had nothing to do with them. If a solution was found “within Serbia,” however, then Albanian deputies, on returning to Belgrade, would hold the balance of power in parliament. Indeed, if they had been in parliament they could, in alliance with other opponents of Milosevic, have brought about his fall years ago. The Serbian authorities are not going to advocate a solution that would eventually subjugate Serbs to Kosovo’s Albanians. But, as Mr. Drobnjak more or less openly admits, his government has no idea how to avoid such an outcome if Albanians were to take part in Serbian politics. Shrugging, he says: “I only wish my people were thinking twenty years ahead and not twenty years backwards.”
The historian Aleksa Djilas has one of Belgrade’s sharpest minds. He deeply doubts that an acceptable compromise formula can be found and says that he believes that his government “will be obstinate to the end and then lose everything as they did in Croatia.” Although, like many other Serbs or Montenegrins, he feels he has spiritual roots in Kosovo, he also believes that its exploding birthrate and the deep political antagonism of Serbs and Albanians means that Kosovo may become “the Serbian Algeria, except that Kosovo means more to us than Algeria did to the French.”
Some Serbs have argued that Kosovo should be partitioned, with, of course, the province’s main economic resources being kept by Serbia, including its zinc and lead mines and power production plants. Even this is self-deception. According to Boris Begovic, a leading Belgrade economist, Kosovo as a whole, especially with its high population density, cannot avoid being an economic drain on Serbia. Its resources are worth far less than most people imagine. Even the Trepca zinc mines, always cited as one the province’s greatest natural resources, are, in Begovic’s view, “clapped out.”
Practically all Kosovo Albanians believe that they will be free only once they have rid themselves of Serb rule, and it is hard to disagree with them. What only a few Serbs are now beginning to realize is that they, too, will only be free once they have rid themselves of Kosovo. Whether that can be done through a civilized and rational compromise is still far from clear, at least while Slobodan Milosevic stays in power.
Late on the night of March 24 a drunk lurched into a road in Belgrade and was hit by a Volkswagen driven by a quite sober young dental student. As the drunk lay sprawled in a pool of blood the student, his friends, and the witnesses stood shivering, waiting for what seemed an eternity for someone to arrive. One of them, Maja Ilic, said the ambulance and the police must be taking so long because “they’re all down in Kosovo.” It was no joke.
—April 15, 1998
May 14, 1998