NEWS

‘Identity develops and transforms over time’

People’s concerns: When asked to rank the major problems in Kosovo, Albanians tend to identify status, meaning a lack of independence, while minority Bosniaks place unemployment first, which runs at more than 60 percent. Others draw attention to the unpredictably frequent power cuts. One explanation for the cuts, given in a single well-articulated word is «corruption,» with the implication that machinery can be damaged, and if replaced means commerce and kickbacks. Another explanation given is the «Titanic analogy,» in that cuts in service are a reflection of the economic stratification of Kosovars. Consumers who are poor with little means of payment and with the expectation of displacement from their homes suffer the most. In Kosovo, existing problems have a long history and reflect the diverse coexistent cultures, which have expressed themselves sometimes in harmony and sometimes with uneasy tension for centuries. Forced conversions have occurred and sometimes massacres. In general, language shifts, forced conversion, reconversion sometimes encouraged by flogging or the threat of death, violent expulsions, enforced displacement and the occasional accommodating exchange of populations have been commonplace in the Balkans. Until the Balkan Wars about a hundred years ago, conversion to the Muslim faith held greater sway. Later the asymmetry swung in the opposite direction with further untold misery best expressed by Edith Durham: «When a Muslim kills a Muslim, it does not count; when a Christian kills a Muslim it is a righteous act; when a Christian kills a Christian it is an error of judgment better not talked about; it is only when a Muslim kills a Christian that we arrive at a full-blown atrocity.» Acts of conversion from Islam to Christianity occur today for mainly economic reasons as a result of payments by Christian sects. Clearly identity [ethnic, religious, linguistic] develops and transforms over time and history can often backtrack upon itself. I recall one individual who told me that he had grown up as a Yugoslav and suddenly found out that he was Albanian. Amulets hold the evil eye and keep «djinns» at bay and earthly consolation is found in the will of God. In the arena of tolerance and reconciliation, DNA studies might be useful. In the Balkans, the genome project might well find productive application. On the outskirts of Ferizaj [Urosevac], we were treated with typical Kosovar hospitality. We ate a lunch and drank a local nutty Merlot [Rahovecit] on the banks of the Nerodimka, a place where the river bifurcates, one part coursing toward the Danube and the Black Sea, the other toward the Vardar and on to the Mediterranean. Legend has it that 1,000 years ago, a prosperous miller accidentally deflected the waters to better exploit the flow of kinetic energy for his mill in order to grind more flour. Perhaps this is a symbolism for what might be a coming split from Serbia. Hopefully, the course of both Serbia and Kosovo will flow eventually into the more tranquil EU sea. Behind the restaurant was a kennel with three frisky sheepdogs from the rugged Sar Mountains. As we left they expressed sadness. The legendary Accursed Mountains and the Sar peaks are sights worth seeing. One foggy evening we took the road out of Prizren up the valley. Just ahead bright spotlights penetrated the mist, illuminating a now cordoned-off monastery, which was destroyed in the 2004 riots. As the mists swirled and interacted with the artificial light, the monastery was wrapped in an eerie incandescent blanket. A little higher up the valley the fog lifted and Orion low on the horizon and the rest of the star-studded sky were marvels to be seen. Kosovo is a recent European example of the long ruinous passage of man-made disaster, which has pushed poverty to the surface. However, in its aftermath one detects that there is also a mounting European sense of hope. The safety of the peoples must come first and improper acts of state machinery must be held in check, especially if Kosovo separates from Serbia. Most recently, rhetoric went national, history was mystified and fanaticism resulted. There are still myths to be demystified and truths to be told, especially «the truths of harm,» as one Balkan expert told me. In the words of Ismail Kadare: «There once was a time when there was space for everyone: for different languages, faiths and peoples.» Hopefully that time is again close at hand. One can only hope that the policy of Milosevic and NATO’s «humanitarian» war on Yugoslavia have not created unbridgeable gaps between Slav and Albanian. The Balkan region with Kosovo at its heart is unique in many ways and deserves much greater consideration by the international community: a major intercontinental crossroads, the cultural birthplace of Europe, a dark continent and an inconsistent and contradictory space. At the same time, it is a region rich in divergence and convergence, heritage and history. Various forms of conflict are never far from the surface. Such dark contrasts are a threat to Europe. I left Kosovo at night in cold misty drizzle and arrived in Belgrade in early morning snow with foggy patches here and there. Meanwhile in Skopje and because of Balkan fog, the two top political leaders of Serbia and Kosovo were unable to take off for their respective destinations. They came together in the airport VIP lounge and communicated – as ordinary Serbs and Kosovars wait with different expectations the deliberations of the international community. The takeoff to independence is still veiled in undercurrents of mist and no one can predict the outcome. Two things are certain: namely that the Albania National Army is becoming more active in Kosovo and that Christmas 2006 in both Pristina and Belgrade is gaining momentum, more so in Belgrade. To reach accord in 2007 on the final status of Kosovo may be a case of leaving the frying pan for the fire.