Balkanalysis.com

Balkanalysis on Twitter

A Pause that Refreshes

By David Binder

Remember what it was like last winter and spring with the Kosovo issue? Hardly a day went by without a declaration or a prediction that a resolution would be achieved in days, weeks, a month. Independence was just around the corner. Condoleezza Rice, Nicholas Burns, Daniel Fried, Frank Wisner and the pathetic Michael Polt went before microphones and cameras to make these vows with the seeming assurance of biblical prophets on behalf of the Bush Administration.

They were echoed by longtime advocates of independence for Kosovo (some of them paid by Albanians) like Richard Holbrooke, Morton Abramowitz, Rep. Tom Lantos and Janus Bugajski. And those were only the Americans speaking.

Then on April 3, Marti Ahtisaari submitted his version of a solution-resolution to the United Nations Security Council. Did anyone hear a “kerplunk” sound of something dropping into the Hudson River behind the U.N. Building?

Since then the silence has grown.

It seems that Serbia, with a huge boost from Vladimir Putin and his able team of diplomats has succeeded in torpedoing Ahtisaari, paralyzing the Security Council and stalling the Albanian drive for independence. At least for a moment it leaves Serbia with more to hope for than could have been expected last winter and the Kosovo Albanians with less than they were counting on as late as April.

We now have a pause. (For an American it calls to mind the first great advertising slogan for Coca Cola, from 1929: “The pause that refreshes”).What might we expect when the pause ends sometime in the autumn? Predictions in foreign affairs are dangerous, especially concerning the Balkans. Yet I think we can discern several changes that may influence the Kosovo deliberations.

Even before his July meeting with Putin in Maine, President Bush seemed to be in the process of scaling down United States plans on Kosovo, leading him to one of his “what did I mean when I said that?” moments. In Rome on June 9 he stated: “In terms of the deadline there needs to be one”

However, a day later in Tirana, the president forgot that he had mentioned a “deadline” and then said: “The question is whether or not there is going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we have made up our mind about. We believe Kosovo ought to be independent.” And, a bit later, “At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you’ve got to say: Enough is enough – Kosovo is independent.”

Whether he expressed such plaintive thoughts to Putin in Maine is not known. But it was clear that the two presidents decided not to tangle on the issue and to delegate it to their foreign secretaries. At least the Kosovo conundrum momentarily reached that height between the superpowers, which it had never ascended before.

Another factor has appeared, which may gain some bearing on the next stage of Kosovo deliberations: a decline in the political influence of the United States as President Bush’s time in office draws to a close.

A Pew poll conducted among 1,000 citizens in each of 47 countries and made public in June showed the United States in disfavor in 26 countries. Germans, French, Canadians and Britons said they trusted Putin more than Bush. Two-thirds of Germans said they disliked American ideas about democracy. Three-quarters of the French polled said the same.

Conceivably, these sentiments could translate here or there into government policies. Still, the Bush Administration continues to be numb to the interests and commitments of others. Among the numbest it seems is Condoleezza Rice. On June 28, she said at the US-India Business Council: “What is the meaning of non-alignment? It has lost its meaning. One is aligned not with the interests and power of one bloc or another, but with the values of a common humanity.” The next day India‘s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, icily retorted: “India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and believes that the movement has contributed substantially to the struggle against colonialism and apartheid.”

€šÃ„¶

*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade‘s Politika on July 7, 2007.

Kosovo’s Apparently Suicidal Police Minders Power Down

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- The July 3 decision by Richard Monk, the UN police commissioner in Kosovo, to ban rubber bullets in anticipated upcoming showdowns with Albanian protestors angry at the slow pace of independence bodes ill for the efficacy of UN policing, against protestors who have already been emboldened by the apparently weak-willed nature of the UN mission. A scenario by which UN peacekeepers could actually be taken hostage and used as political collateral by protesters is thus becoming likely, for the first time.

Behind the commissioner’s decision was the deadly events of February 10, when two Albanians from the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) group were killed by UN peacekeepers firing rubber bullets. The police involved were reprimanded and sent back to their home country,Romania, but no further charges were filed as the UNMIK claimed it could not allocate individual responsibility.

The Romanians, like the Serbs Orthodox Christians, were already unpopular among Muslim Albanians. But the February incident increased the hatred even more so. “Now, you cannot find a Romanian living outside of [the Serbian enclaves of] Gracanica and Caglavica,” attested a local Serb in May. “They do not trust and are not trusted by Albanians.”

Where this has become a problem for the United States owes to the fact that, as American law enforcement officials complained to Balkanalysis.com last fall, the US has effectively “farmed out” its intelligence-gathering operations to Romanian and Ukrainian underlings.

With the best American assets shipped out to Afghanistan and Iraq, doing the legwork in Kosovo — which could blow up at any time — has been left to assistants who have zero trust or credibility among the Muslim Albanians, who view them quite rightly as pro-Serbian. And since the only counter-terrorist investigations in Kosovo involve Albanian organized crime and foreign-funded Albanian Islamic extremists, the reliance on Romanians and Ukrainians seems at very best counter-productive, and at worst downright stupid.

The police commissioner’s decision to ban rubber bullets was no doubt meant as a confidence-building measure designed to assure Albanians that there would be no repeat of the fatal February shootings.

At the same time, however, UN programs to diminish the lawlessness and violence of Kosovar society through voluntary gun collection programs have failed miserably. A province-wide operation conducted a few years ago, and billed brightly as a major step in demilitarizing Kosovo, succeeded in collecting only a few hundred guns, and most of them old or unserviceable. In Kosovo, therefore, the surreal situation exists where the international police force meant to be safeguarding the police disarms itself while allowing fanatical and paramilitary elements to stay well-armed.

The absolutely farcical nature of this disparity becomes evident in the earnest words of Commissioner Monk, who instituted in March “a bottom to top review” of peacekeeping procedures and tactics for dealing with protesters:

“I received notification from [UN headquarters in] New York that all police contributing nations are being consulted with a view to banning their use in peacekeeping missions. I also directed that all out-of-date rubber bullets be returned to their respective state or destroyed and I have prohibited the carriage or use of rubber bullets by any police unit in Kosovo for whatever purpose.”

In other words, even as Kosovo is awash in guns, grenades and heavy weaponry, and even as the Albanian clan chiefs’ historic decision to allow contract killings in the case of inter-Albanian vendettas has sent murder rates soaring, the UN is intent on nothing other than destroying its own deadly arsenal of rubber bullets.

In thus bending over backwards to appease its disgruntled, independence-craving subjects, has the UNMIK signed its own death warrant? There is ample precedent for scenarios in which angry protesters might overpower police- with dark consequences for Kosovo’s vulnerable minorities.

During the March 2004 riots, for example, American and other UN police testified that the only thing that saved them was, as a very last resort, the use of deadly force. But this was a luxury that was a long time in coming as the riots unfolded. “As Americans, our philosophy is that deadly force can be used,” said one Texan peacekeeper interviewed at the time by Balkanalysis.com director Christopher Deliso. “The UN takes a somewhat different approach. So it is sometimes frustrating and restricting, working for the UN. To save life and property we were not allowed to use deadly force.”

The policeman recounted how a multi-national force tried to deter heavily-armed Albanians who were rapidly burning down Caglavica and marching on Gracanica. Some 5,000-6,000 rioters were “lined up with rows of Molotov cocktails prepared beforehand. [They had] AK-47’s, heavy machine guns, hand grenades, pistols, hunting rifles, farm tools, knives, rocks, you name it. We were ordered not to fire.”

Further, he added, “the Indian policemen, who were facing the worst of it at the front, were asking for permission to use rubber bullets. That permission was not granted at the time. The ground commander thought that we could deter the mob with our presence alone. But with the use of firepower we could have driven them back, thus saving a lot of houses.”

In the end, not even a powerful water cannon proved sufficient to disperse the mob: it was only when an Albanian bore down on the peacekeepers in a dump truck, with the intent of running them over, was one policeman forced to disobey orders and shoot the man in order to save the contingent. The Albanians, who had felt it their right to act with impunity, were stunned: “the crowd went silent when they saw that he was dead,” recounted the Texan. “Now we’re probably going to have a new monument go up somewhere in Pristina, for this latest hero of the national cause.”

Now, three years later and with independence for the restive Albanian majority still deferred, the UN is predictably panicking. But in its bid to prevent the creation of such future “martyrs’ by disarming itself, the international mission has perhaps just signed up for its own martyrdom in the line of duty.

No wonder that front-line riot-control duty, formerly the domain of Eastern Europeans, has been assigned to Indians and other purportedly “expendable” third-world contingents. After all, they should have no trouble adapting to the new rules. They already know how it is to keep the peace with barrels empty.

An Israel in the Balkans?

By David Binder

Could Kosovo, as a newly independent state in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula, become a second Israel? A thorny question: Merely linking Kosovo and Israel in the same sentence could invite accusations of anti-Zionism on the one hand or anti Illyrianism on the other. Yet there are some historic parallels.

I do not propose to evaluate the parallels in terms of good or bad, but rather to explore the question of what happens when great powers try to resolve ethnic and territorial disputes by authorizing a new national state. A basic question poses itself: whether the creation of an Israel or a Kosovo is a factor fostering stability in its region, or fostering strife.

Since its birth Israel has fought five wars as well as engaging in numerous lesser combat actions. In modern times, Kosovo has been the scene of major battles at the end of World War II and again in 1999. The foundation of the State of Israel began with the partition 60 years ago of what had been the British Mandate of Palestine into separate homelands for Jews and for Palestinians.

The UN General Assembly approved the United Nations Partition Plan with a two-thirds majority. In May 1948, a provisional government announced the creation of the State of Israel. US President Harry Truman, who had previously been skeptical about the viability of an independent Jewish entity, swiftly declared de facto recognition of Israel (de jure recognition followed in 1949).

While American political support for Israel was strong and steady, substantial financial assistance was slower in coming. It started with a $100 million loan in 1949, but now amounts to nearly $3 billion in annual grants.

Kosovo became a ward of the United States in a similarly stumbling fashion. In late December 1992 – eight months into the Bosnian civil war – President George H.W. Bush sent a letter to President Slobodan Milosevic declaring: “in the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action, the United States will be prepared to employ military force against the Serbs in Kosovo and in Serbia proper.”

At that time there was no physical conflict whatsoever in Kosovo. So the Bush message struck the Serbian leadership like a bolt out of the blue. But the marker was set and the warning was repeated later by the Clinton Administration. The US finally implemented it in March 1999 with heavy air attacks.

Then, as soon as Serbian forces withdrew, President Clinton dumped Kosovo into the hands of the United Nations. Since it was taken over by the UN, Kosovo, the eternal economic basket case, has received more than $500 million from the United States and $3 billion from the European Union.

In the case of Israel, foreshadowing its creation was the Nazi genocide, which provided surviving European Jews and their supporters with a powerful argument for establishment of a Jewish homeland. In addition, from World War I on there was also a strongly articulated contention that nations had the right to self-determination. In the case of Jews that was the starting point of the Zionist cause in the late 19th century. In the argumentation of Albanians, Kosovo was the scene of genocidal actions by Serbs -although they do not dare to compare it to the fate of European Jews in World War II. (Their contentions were also weakened by the Albanians’ savage treatment of Kosovo Serbs).

Rather, the most vehement Albanian demands are framed in terms of the right of self-determination. For a long time they have been staunchly backed by the United States. As Condoleezza Rice stated on May 15: “it is important now to recognize that Kosovo will never again be part of Serbia.”

As it enters its seventh decade, Israel appears to be a fairly secure entity, despite being surrounded by hostile neighbors. The Zionist dream of Greater Israel (Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah) – including biting off big chunks of its neighbors – has been reduced to nibbles by militant settlers in West Bank lands. Yet Israel for all its extraordinary accomplishments remains a factor of great instability, not only in its immediate vicinity but well beyond. Now here is Kosovo on the eve of possible independence -no longer as a ward of the UN, but of the European Union. What are its prospects? Given the ambitions of the more militant elements among the Albanians — including fanatical elements in the diaspora – one wonders whether an independent state of Kosovo will contribute to stability in the region. (Stability, we must keep in mind, is the declared policy goal of the United States and of the European Union in the Balkans.)

As with the Zionists of yore harkening back to Biblical times, contemporary Albanians cultivate myths of Illyrian ancestry which would make them coeval with classical Greeks, and of an ancient “Dardania,” encompassing Kosovo, southern Serbia, western Macedonia and northern Albania. (Some chauvinistic elements toy with the idea of renaming the province “Dardania”.) Myths are harmless if they are confined to books and songs. For a dozen years Illyria Newspaper, published in the Bronx, carried a map of the “Greater Albania” encompassing pieces of Macedonia, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro. But the Illyria-Dardania myths have also inspired forays by armed Albanian militants into places like western Macedonia and southern Serbia, as well as irredentist threats to southern Montenegro (“Malesia”) and northwestern Greece (to Albanians, “Chameria”).

Could a new State of Kosovo with its barely tested government and security forces, made up in large part by former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, cope with such elements? Could the European Union and the remains of KFOR still posted in the region contain Kosovo?

*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn. The current piece was published in Belgrade‘s Politika on May 25, 2007.

Slovenian Intelligence Confirms Kosovo Link to Sandzak Arrests

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- A Slovenian intelligence source has confirmed for Balkanalysis.com a claim made recently in the Serbian media- that the Wahhabis arrested at a training camp broken up near Novi Pazar on St. Patrick’s Day had connections with Kosovo militants, the final status process there and potential violence again Serbs in the North Mitrovica enclaves.

The March 17, 2007 Serbian police operation against a suspected Islamic extremist mountain training camp near Novi Pazar, which yielded weapons, ammunition and assorted paraphernalia, has inspired unprecedented interest in the phenomenon of Wahhabi extremism in this forgotten area of western Serbia in the international media.

What is perhaps most interesting about the recent foreign media coverage, however, is that no one has cast doubt upon the Serbian government’s version of events. For the first time in a long time, a Serbian counter-terrorism operation has gotten the “benefit of the doubt.” Whether this means that the international media feels the Serbs are trustworthy, or that the former would just like a compelling story, is not clear. However, it is significant.

The facts of the case, according to Serbian authorities, is that a small group of militant Wahhabis from Novi Pazar had organized a training camp west of Novi Pazar, at which assorted weapons, plastic explosives and ammunition were discovered, as well as masks, uniforms, provisions and tents. Serbian medai reports immediately after the operation placed the location more specifically at ˆšÃ–¬Ωabren, on Mt. Ninaji, in the municipality of Sjenica. The reugged and remote area is also close to the Bosnian border and sensitive of Goradze Corridor. According to Serbian counterrorism expert Darko Trifunovic, who has complied a lengthy report identifying numerous members of the Sandzak Wahhabi substratum, “All but one of the arrested men were bearded in the fashion of jihadis, but all were white Europeans.”

The four Wahhabis arrested, all from Novi Pazar, have been identified as Mirsad Prentic, Faud Hodzic, Vahid Vejselovic and his brother Senad Vejselovic. All of these men were between 23-33 years of age- evidence of the foreign Wahhabi strategy of appealing to young and alienated Muslims in the Balkans.

Serbian police reported that one member of the group had evaded arrest. An UNMIK police press release of April 2, bore the photo of a white-capped, dark-bearded young Bosniak “who is to be considered armed and dangerous”- the fifth Wahhabi, Ismail Prentic.

Although Albanian Muslims in Kosovo base their identities much more on secular nationalism than do the Bosnian Muslims just north of the border, Wahhabism has nevertheless caught on in pockets of Kosovo, including even the capital. The arrests in Sandzak had the immediate result of increasing distrust and fear, particularly for the minority Christian Serbs. But the arrests also prompted Pristina’s Wahhabis to lay low. According to one source near the capital, “on that day, the muj [mujahedin, ie, Wahhabis] vanished. You couldn’t see one of them on the streets.”

New information received by Balkanalysis.com from a Slovenian intelligence source confirms Serbian media allegations that at least some of the weaponry found in the Wahhabi training camp had arrived from Kosovo- and for a reason: :according to our information, extremist Albanians in Kosovo opposed to negotiation with Serbs are collaborating with the Wahhabis [in Sandzak]… in the case of new violence, the goal would be a show of force against Serbs from both sides.”

Adding that both groups have different ideologies and purposes, both the ex-KLA militants and Islamic extremists have similar needs. “Both use weapons, and both reply to varying extents on organized crime to fund their movements,” said the Slovenian source, adding that his country had recently taken a more active role in Kosovo/Serbia intelligence-gathering..

The enhanced Slovenian role should come as no surprise. The only former Yugoslav republic thus far to have joined the EU, the small country on the northeastern tip of the Adriatic is also getting ready to assume the mantle of honorary EU president on January 1, 2008. Ljubljana is eager to assert its leadership role in the Balkans and is supporting heavily, for example, Macedonia’s EU and NATO bids.

Slovenian intelligence-gathering operations have been enhanced of late, according to an OSCE officer in Kosovo, who points to the replacement of Italian security officers by some 600 Slovenes a month or two ago, in the area of Pec. One of the most dangerous areas of Kosovo, nationalistic Pec also has a thriving Wahhabi community and was visited by Pakistani al Qaeda member Arfan Qaeder Bhatti at the behest of the powerful former narcotics trafficker, Princ Dobroshi, who exerts considerable influence locally despite being jailed in the Czech Republic. Bhatti had been arrested after plotting to bomb the Israeli and American embassies in Oslo.

“Pec and all of western Kosovo is indeed some of the toughest areas in Kosovo to cover,” stated this OSCE source. “The Slovenes replaced an Italian contingent, with almost no announcement at all.” Although the Christian Slovenes are not bound to be particularly popular with local Albanians, this source confirmed that the new Slovene role in the area probably played a role in the intelligence service’s ability to make the connection between Kosovo arms trafficking and the Sandzak arrests.

The Hague Reclaims Haradinaj as Protest Looms in Kosovo

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- Former KLA chief and ex-Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj was returned to the custody of the Hague Tribunal today, just as the recent death of a potential key witness in the international court’s war crimes case against him underscored the likelihood that the powerful Albanian leader will prevail by way of intimidation.

In Haradinaj’s opinion, what will actually prevail is “justice”: the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo has steadfastly and categorically denied the prosecution’s claims that atrocities against Serbs and Roma occurred under his watch during the Kosovo war some eight years ago. He was indicted in 2005, but soon released and allowed to return to Kosovo, where the UN administration and its then-leader, Soren Jessen-Petersen, treated the ex-militant like royalty, attending his family events and losing no opportunity to praise his alleged positive role in stabilizing Kosovo.

The slain witness, Kujtim Berisha of Decani in western Kosovo, was hit by a car in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica on February 16. Podgorica daily Vijesti reported that Berisha “had recently met with a representative of a “foreign organization or foreign state,’ concerning to the upcoming Haradinaj trial.” Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic noted that “some of the previous murders directly linked to the Hague indictee [Haradinaj] never ended up in court since those who pointed in his direction would later mysteriously withdraw their statements and keep silent.” In a separate case investigating Albanian-on-Albanian war crimes, and implicating Haradinaj’s brother Daut, several key witnesses were also killed. There are few who would risk the ire of one of Kosovo’s most powerful clans to serve international justice.

Haradinaj, whose 37-count indictment was handed down in February 2005, is scheduled to take the stand on Monday, two days after a major protest is to be held by Kosovo Albanians over the perceived slow process of making the Serbian province an independent state of its own. Chants of “Free Ramush” are sure to be heard, and it is likely that the Hague’s actions against a man perceived to be a war hero will provide further fuel for the fire. The February 10th deaths of two protesters at the hands of police led to the resignation of Fatmir Rexhepi, the Kosovo Albanian interior minister and raised the temperature on an already volatile situation.

As protests in Kosovo have increasingly come to target the UNMIK staff, it is no surprise that the civil administration was given a mandatory day off on Friday, March 2, the day before the protest.

According to an internal UNMIK memo, the day “has been deemed a compensatory day off for all staff members, making next weekend a 3 day weekend.” No doubt Kosovo’s finest will be better off taking the weekend for shopping in Skopje or sightseeing in Thessaloniki. The interim administration, increasingly unpopular with locals and acutely aware of its own unending string of failures, has no interest in coming into the line of fire.

Attacks against the UN, the scapegoat replacement for the old Yugoslav authorities, have been increasing. In the early hours on Monday, a hand grenade was thrown in the parking lot of the OSCE building in Pec, 80 kilometers to the west of Pristina. Seven OSCE vehicles and two civilian cars were damaged. The attack was calculated to have been worse, and had political significance: another, unexploded hand grenade was also found nearby, and “the blast occurred ahead of the visit by the OSCE Chairman-in- Office, the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who was due to arrive in Pristina from Belgrade Tuesday.”

A similar attack at a UN parking lot in Pristina caused UNMIK top brass to issue an order that all vehicles must now be parked “only in secured areas.” UNMIK’s area of operation, already reduced of its own accord since the reappearance of armed militant checkpoints in western Kosovo in 2005, continues to shrink as the international administration comes increasingly under siege from the very people who welcomed it as a liberating force almost eight long years ago.

Is There No Independence Station for the Kosovo Train?

By Borka Tomic (Serbian Institute for Public Diplomacy, Brussels)

While some high US officials have claimed that Kosovo’s “train for independence has left the station,” recent developments show that the train for Kosovo’s future might not be stopping at the station of independence. Namely, the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest political organization, with the input of deputy delegations from all European countries apart from Belarus and Montenegro, has voted to exclude from the proposed text of Lord Russell Johnston the part of the resolution containing an open call for Kosovo’s independence in the name of Balkan stability.

The meeting of the Council of Europe showed that the support for Kosovo’s permanent secession from Serbia seems to be waning, not only in the neighboring Balkan countries or Spain, mindful of its Basque separatist problem, but also with permanent member states of the Contact Group such as France and Great Britain. The internationally recognized state of Serbia confirmed its sovereignty over Kosovo in its recently adopted constitution. And the EU Commission representatives confirmed that as well.

In addition, the stance of Russia remains ever firm in its opposition to Kosovo’s independence, and various high-level Russian officials announced earlier that their country’s UN Security Council veto would be used against any decision on the future status of Kosovo not previously accepted by Belgrade.

There are strong concerns especially in the US as to how to overcome Russian opposition to Kosovo’s independence. Russian President Putin has raised the stakes by calling for ‘universal principles’ to apply in settling frozen conflicts, referring in particular to Georgia’s two separatist regions — Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What’s more, the emotional dimension of the Serbian-Russian relations cannot be undermined, as Russia will not leave Serbia’s Christian Orthodox cradle in Kosovo at the mercy of its majority Muslim Albanian population.

At the same time, another major world power, China, has a similar stance regarding the Kosovo issue. As Jiang Men, a professor at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies of the Free University of Brussels put it at a recent conference organized by the European Institute for International Relations, “China and Russia agree and cooperate in the matter of Kosovo, and China’s veto against Kosovo’s independence at the UN Security Council is very possible. This is even more likely, bearing in mind the timing of the Taiwan elections due in 2007 and Olympic Games in China in 2008. China would, thus, try to prevent any destabilizing factors that question its sovereignty over Taiwan.” These significant comments were not however widely reported in the media.

On the other hand, the tension and the threat of violence in Kosovo are increasing. Demonstrations from the majority Albanian population are expected on 10 February as the word “independence” was not included in lead negotiator Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal. The proposal is rather frustrating for the Serbs too, and it is not easy to predict how the remaining Serbian population, less than 10 percent, will react to the potential unilateral secession of Kosovo.

NATO, with its 16,500 soldiers, however, claims to have learnt its lesson from past turbulence, especially the March 2004 pogrom in which a total of 4,100 Serbs were expelled from their homes by Albanians, and 35 Serbian churches and monasteries were torched, among them several dating back to the Middle Ages and of irreplaceable value to Serbian and indeed European cultural heritage. Nevertheless, NATO promises to maintain peace in the troubled Serbian province.

Not many people would like to step into the shoes of the special UN envoy for Kosovo. As for now, Mr. Ahtisaari has presented his proposal to the Contact Group in Vienna and the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers in Brussels, as well as to the authorities Belgrade and Pristina. While there was hardly any consensus to report following these meetings, the two sides will have to bring closer their divergent views through new talks, for a peaceful resolution to be realized.

Skopje Municipal Mayor Proposes Renaming Streets after NATO’s Kosovo War Heroes

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)-  According to a report from A1 TV yesterday, Izet Mexhiti, the young Albanian mayor of Skopje’s Cair municipality, from the DUI party of former NLA leader Ali Ahmeti, has proposed that 20 percent of the city’s streets should be renamed to honor the many heroes of the Albanian people.

Among these heroes, apparently, are Bill Clinton, Wesley Clark and Tony Blair- the prime architects of NATO’s bombing campaign in 1999 in neighboring Kosovo.

In that bombing, an incompetent NATO failed to damage the Yugoslav Army, but did eventually triumph after bombing bridges, hospitals, schools, TV stations and markets, not to mention the supremely reckless deliberate destruction of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

In the wake of the air campaign, hundreds of thousands of non-Albanians were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo, and NATO’s own soldiers (especially Italians) came down with cancer, while Kosovar Albanians too began to suffer as a result of the dangers of the depleted uranium NATO expended over the Serbian province. Every now and again a small child, usually Albanian, is injured or killed from playing with a random piece of ordinance left undetected in a field. The cluster bombs are especially fun.

The street renaming proposal, like all others made by the Albanian parties in Macedonia since the war, comes by way of analogy to the Ohrid Agreement’s 20-percent-threshold of minority population for things such as language usage and flag-waving to kick in. Most things seem to apply to this analogy.

Said the mayor, “our request will be for at least 20 percent of the names of the boulevards and major streets of Skopje to have the names of persons or events from Albanian history.”

While there was a public debate in the municipality of Cair to give proposals for names, the debate was conducted only in the Albanian language, stated A1, though Macedonians, Turks and Roma also live in Cair. The report added that the procedure of changing the names would involve taking the suggestions to the council of Skopje municipalities, which will look at the list, before going before a government commission which would decide.

Mayor Mexhiti won his office in March 2005 and has since pledged to stamp out crime. He is said to be an insider in Ali Ahmeti’s DUI party, the political incarnation of the 2001 paramilitary NLA. When the DUI was not selected to join the ruling coalition following July 2006 elections, the party cried foul and ominously intimated that it could not be held responsible if further violence broke out, forcing Western ambassadors to embark on a tedious and time-wasting round of baby-sitting and hand-holding. DUI’s recent announcement that it would boycott parliament is bound to only intensify this trend, just at a time when other more important issues need to be dealt with.

While the DUI has protested its exclusion from government despite being called obstructionist and unhelpful by the international community, party leader Ahmeti did take time out of his busy schedule to deal with an important issue: the erection of a statue of perceived national hero Skanderbeg, also in Cair. The statue had been cast in Albania and carried to rapturous applause throughout western Macedonia on the way to its final resting place in Skopje.

Earlier last year, there was some controversy over whether the polarizing statue would be erected. Yet erected it was. On Nov. 28, 2006, Independence Day in the Republic of Albania, self-proclaimed spokesman for the Albanian people Ahmeti orated to great applause from a large crowd of Albanian Muslims in Cair. Skanderbeg (real name, Gjergji Kastrioti) battled the Ottoman Turks, and was honored by Pope Paul II as an Athleta Christi, a “champion of Christ” for his work in… killing Muslims.

Somewhat later, in 1944, Heinrich Himmler created a Nazi SS division of Kosovo Muslim Albanians named after Skanderbeg, to kill the Christian Serbs of Kosovo.

So what do Clinton, Clark and Blair think of their incorporation into the great family of Albanian heroes, side-by-side with Mother Teresa and John Belushi? We’ll probably never know.

The Cair mayor justified the initiative by pointing out that other Skopje streets have long been named after great Americans presidents such as Roosevelt and Kennedy. So what’s the harm in honoring one somewhat less great ex-president, one failed presidential candidate, and one presidential poodle from Britain? After all, Kosovo is already full of streets, structures and red-light bordellos named after such people.

Yet it might all seem a ribald enough gesture, certainly a less menacing one, were these adopted heroes to have some association with the Albanian history of Macedonia, rather than that of Kosovo. For those who fear a possible transition from FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to FMRK (Future Macedonian Republic of Kosovo) a distinct possibility, naming Macedonian streets after the foreign “heroes” of an immoral and illegal war conducted in a third country, a war deeply opposed by the Macedonian majority, is a disconcerting idea.

More immediately, these grand initiatives of statues and streets have allowed ordinary Albanians in Macedonia to continue to be manipulated by political leaders offering a lot of symbolic triumphs in place of something more substantial. A sickly devotion to political correctness, however, means that few outsiders dare draw attention to this travesty.

Formative Early Events in Kosovo’s Serbian History, and the UN-Overseen Destruction of that Historical Legacy

By Carl Savich

When discussing the opposing claims of Serbs and Albanians over Kosovo, its history and its rightful future status, mass media reports often include the obligatory sentence about Kosovo being “Serbia’s historic and culture heartland.’ Usually, the unstated implication for including the phrase is that the Serbs are unfortunate and delusional nostalgics, living in a world of anachronistic fantasy.

The need to address this matter has been brought up again, after the Serbian people recently voted for a new constitution which reaffirms that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. Pragmatic-minded outsiders impatiently ask: why don’t the Serbs, who now make up only ten percent of Kosovo’s population, just give up? Historian Carl Savich provides a concise account of the facts explaining why the don’t.

…………………………..

The Serbs, one of the Slavic tribes that settled the Balkans in the 6th-7th centuries AD, acquired the spiritual and cultural orientation they have retained to this day when they accepted Byzantine Orthodox Christianity in the 9th century. They remained within Constantinople’s cultural sphere of influence, while however becoming more independent, forging autonomous kingdoms based on the opportunities that this Christian orientation provided for the development of a coherent civilization and state.

While there were some predecessors, the first major Serbian power arose in 1166, when the Nemanjic dynasty emerged, headed first by Tihomir and then by his brother Stefan. The Serbian Nemanjic dynasty would base the Serbian empire in Kosovo and Metohija, making Kosovo the political, cultural, and religious center of the Serbia. Metohija, which refers more specifically to western Kosovo, is a Byzantine Greek word indicating possessions held by the Orthodox Church. The Nemanjic dynasty would endure until 1371 when it would end due to the invasion of the Ottoman Turks and defeat at the 1371 battle of Marica.

As the Serbian empire sought an outlet to the Adriatic coast, the administrative and religious center of the empire shifted to Shkoder, Prizren, and Decani. From 1180 to 1190, Stefan Nemanja or Nemanjic conquered the Kosovo and Metohija regions, northern Macedonia, Skopje, and the upper Vardar River valley of Macedonia. After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, Kosovo became the administrative and cultural center of the Serbian state.

In 1219 the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church was moved to Pec in Metohija after the church obtained autocephalous or independent status. In 1054, the Christian church had split into two branches, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, an event known as the Great Schism. Northern Albania became predominately Roman Catholic and was thus incorporated into a powerful anti-Serb coalition led by Europe’s Catholic monarchs, led by the Pope. This created for the first time a divisive and confrontational setting for Albanians and Serbs.

During the reign of Stefan Dusan, 1331-55, the area of Antivar or Bar, Prizren, Ohrid, and Vlora were added to the Serbian Empire. In 1346 the patriarchal throne was permanently established at the Pec Monastery. In 1346, after Epirus and Thessaly were added to the Serbian Empire, Dusan was crowned the emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Albanians in the Macedonian city of Skopje. A legal code was promulgated and the bishopric of Pec was proclaimed a patriarchate which established the Serbian Orthodox Church as independent from Constantinople. Prizren became the political capital of the Serbian Empire and was the chief Serbian city of trade and commerce. After the death of Dusan in 1355, Kosovo was ruled by King Vukasin Mrnjavcevic, who was a co-ruler with Tsar Uros, the last of the Nemanjic rulers.

On September 26, 1371, the Ottoman Turks scored a major military victory at the Battle of Marica near Crnomen over the Serbian forces of the Nemanjic Empire. In 1386, the Turks invaded Serbia and captured the town of Nis. The Bosnian King Tvrtko Kotromanic sent a detachment of troops to bolster the Serbian army and a combined force of Serbs and Albanians defeated the Ottoman Turkish army in Montenegro. Ottoman Turkish Sultan Murad I, 1362-1389, then in Asia Minor, began preparing a massive army to invade and conquer Serbia. This set the stage for one of the greatest battles in history, the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.

The Battle of Kosovo took place in Kosovo Polje (“field of blackbirds,” in Serbian) outside of Pristina on June 28, 1389, on St. Vitus Day, or Vidov Dan. Northern Kosovo was then ruled by Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, while his brother-in-law, Vuk Brankovic, ruled Metohija. Bosnian King Tvrtko sent a large contingent of Bosnian troops under the command of Vlatko Vukovic, while Vuk Brankovic led his troops himself.

Thus, the Ottoman army was confronted by a Serbian army which included Hungarian, Bulgarian, Bosnian, and certain Albanian nobles led by Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebljanovic. These Albanian princes were close allies of the Serbs at that time and there were close political and economic ties between the two groups. Both Murad and Lazar were killed in the battle which involved approximately 30,000 troops on each side. As the battle ended, the two Serbian contingents and the one Bosnian contingent withdrew, while the Turkish troops held the field. The Turkish troops also had to withdraw. But the death of Murad created a crisis in Ottoman leadership, so his successor, Bayezid, also had to withdraw his troops, lacking the manpower to continue the offensive. Thus it can be argued that the battle was inconclusive.

In 1448, the Second Battle of Kosovo occurred when the forces of the Hungarian noble Janos Hunyadi were defeated by an Ottoman Turkish army under the command of Murad II. By 1455, all of Kosovo fell to the advancing Ottoman Turks, who two years earlier had captured Byzantine Constantinople. By 1459, with the surrender of Smederevo, all of Serbia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, and a new period of vassalage to a Muslim theocracy began.

Nevertheless, the center of Serbian religious life — the patriarchate at Pec — continued to operate, and the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of its lands was not questioned, and the Serbs continued to live in Kosovo. Only in 1689, as an aftershock of the Ottoman-Austrian wars then going on, were Serbs forced to migrate en masse to the north and east. Nevertheless, the Serbian traditions, life and religion continued unbroken until very recently. And no occupier, neither the Ottomans, nor the Austro-Hungarians nor Nazis, could change this.

So despite the occasional wars and other turbulent events throughout the centuries, the cultural and historical continuity of the Serb’s in Kosovo was generally recognized and affirmed until 1999, when NATO invaded Serbia and the process of the final destruction of the age-old Serbian human and religious presence in Kosovo began in earnest, carried out by the descendents of those Albanian princes who had in ancient times fought side by side with the Serbs against the Ottoman Turks.

There are numerous examples of Serbian cultural heritage that were damaged or destroyed by Albanian extremists, following the NATO intervention, after which time the military alliance and UN police had promised to protect these sites. Roughly half of the total attacks (so far) happened in one four-month spree of violence.

Between June 13 and October 30, 1999, after NATO and UN troops occupied Kosovo, some 74 Serbian Orthodox Churches in Kosovo were damaged, destroyed or vandalized, many dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church in Musutiste, built in 1465, was “leveled with explosives,” while the Monastery of the Archangel of Vitina, built in the 14th century, was burned down. The Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, also in Musutiste, which contained valuable painted frescoes and was built in 1315, was burned and later demolished. The Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Djurakovac, another 14th century structure, was also destroyed in 1999.

Near Korisa in the southwestern area of Prizren, St. Mark’s Orthodox Monastery, built in 1467, was looted, burned, and completely destroyed by explosives. The 14th-century Monastery of St. Archangel Gabriel in Binac, near Vitina, was also looted and burned down. The Monastery of St. Joannicius of Devic, near Srbica, built in the 15th century, was demolished and looted. The Monastery of Dormition-St. Uros in Gornja Nerodimlja, originally built in the 14th century, was dynamited and demolished too by Kosovo Albanians.
St. Stephen’s Church, built in the 14th century in Donje Nerodimlje, was mined and blown up. The Presentation of the Virgin Orthodox Church in Dolac, near Klina, built in 1620, was mined and torn down. The Presentation of the Virgin Church in Belo Polje near Pec, dating from the 16th century was burned. The 14th-century Monastery of St. Cosma and St. Damian, in Zociste, which contained priceless medieval frescoes, was looted and demolished.

These are just a few examples of the disgraceful events that have been allowed to go on under an international administration supposedly dedicated to upholding human rights and cultural diversity. During the past seven years, a UN administration manned mostly by international employees hired for six-month or one-year contracts, and who generally have shown little interest in or knowledge of Kosovo’s history and society, have allowed an entire culture and legacy to be all but wiped off the face of the earth. The United Nations, supposedly the world body that promotes peace and tolerance while celebrating history and culture, has in Kosovo violated its founding principles, guided by a handful of mere mortals eager to re-write history by destroying it, and to secure for themselves a place in it. It will be left to future generations to assess exactly what that place should be.

Austrian Heads

By Ferid Muhic*

It was during the dying days of World War I, and the Austrian army was retreating from the Thessalonica front, up through the mountains of northwestern Macedonia. The fate that befell them remains almost unknown today, with the author’s chance conversion with an elderly Italian man in 1970 representing perhaps the sole remaining source attesting to it.

In this imaginative literary retelling of what occurred at an isolated mountain plateau near the Kosovo frontier almost a century ago, Macedonia’s foremost philosopher, Ferid Muhic, reveals the unsettling legend of the affair at Austrian Heads.

Captain Franciscus Trackle, beloved leader of the 6th Hill’s Regiment, was the first to gaze upon the mountain plateau early that morning. Behind him were 162 men stretching back in a long file up a sloping hill. The soldiers near the front, who were close enough to see him, had the impression that their “Franci” — dignified in demeanor, his broad and straight back captured in silhouette, high in the saddle of his muscular Kulash — had somehow sunk down into the light blue that stretched across the dark edge of the crest, that he had sunk abruptly and irrevocably down, as do those who will never come back, or like the undreamt dream that is broken off suddenly and without a sound.

His horse crossed the shadow’s verge at the very edge of the hill, itself sharply outlined by the purple dusk, as the ocean’s indigo outlines the island’s edge and separates it from the darkness of the depths below. And so Captain Trackle was suddenly submerged in the blinding splendor of the outstretched plateau. He forgot about the difficult four years of waging war that were barely behind him. And he forgot all about the company of men he was leading into this unknown.

The captain harnessed the reins and the horse halted. Indeed, so synchronically with his movement did it halt that an onlooker, had there been one, might have been forgiven for imagining that the horse too was mesmerized by the wonder unfolding before them, and even that it had halted a nanosecond prior to his command.

For it was not just any plateau! An ocean of green grass shone in the morning sun, clean and bright and heaving gently, all the way to the horizon’s edge. Only the far-off mountain crests flecked with white stones differentiated this oceanic presence, while complementing it, the stones like the foaming crests of waves. As his eyes grew accustomed to this, Captain Trackle noticed that the silent blissful wasteland was strewn with thick galaxies of meadow flowers — blue mirrors, small lakes, darker and bluer than the rest of the surfaces, which reminded Trackle of Kornati in the Adriatic, where the dark stains of a peaceful sea shimmer under the mild strokes of the mistral, amidst the grayness of a surging sea furrowed like elephant’s skin. The captain was taken somewhat by surprise that he did not miss the absolute absence of any traces of people, civilization, culture or history in this silent place. And then the gentle smile that had always so attracted his lovers passed over Captain Franciscus Trackle’s face. He was astonished by a thought, one that was at once clear and already inscribed, as if it had been read somewhere before.

Yes, undoubtedly, there is nothing of Vienna or Salzburg, nothing of Venice or Prague here. But this is not a human world either. All of these four elements, which rule so lavishly over this great plateau, the transparent, brisk mountain air, the crystal clear water of streams and the sparkling small lakes, these and the flame of this eternal Sun which reigns over everything and everybody, all must have looked like this long before people had ever been created. How? I will never know that. However, I now know for sure what it will look like after our extinction!

……………………………………………

At the surface of this immense, timeless ocean, quietly and purposefully, like a saint walking on water, came Lieutenant Musil, commander of the reconnaissance patrol. He approached the captain through the long and mild green waves, with four people from the patrol coming down, with the same calm and sovereign gait of a saint, like in a prayer or in a dream.

When he had saluted him, Lieutenant Musil briskly made a report.

“Everything is alright, my captain! No traces of people, or of any blocks of flats, walls, trenches or other proofs of a human presence.”

Afterwards, he let himself make a comment:

“All seems unreal, timeless to me; as though I have been dreaming for the entirety of my life up to now. It seems to me as if we, those of us now standing before all this, had never existed before, as if we had never actually been anywhere!”

Captain Trackle and Lieutenant Musil had been friends since the time of the Military Academy. Such informality between them was not unusual, and their friendship resisted all temptations of strict military subordination.

“I agree, my old chap. Although I’d like to add that I am impressed by the other, complementary point: as though we came to being just now and as though we had just arrived where we would forever remain. We passed from time into everlastingness, from darkness into light, from illusion into reality.”

Franciscus Trackle was an experienced soldier. As one of the three best cadets of his generation at the Militarsiche Akademie, he had all the prerequisites for a brilliant soldier’s career. The war took him by surprise and postponed those prospects, but for the time being, nearing the end, all could be started again. It could even be sped up, since after such a defeat the country would need every able-bodied accomplished man.

Frequently preoccupied with plans for the future, the captain was taken aback by the curious feeling that had fallen over him, one of carelessness, peace and an almost complete indifference regarding any thoughts of making plans. His unit was withdrawing from the Thessalonica Front, up from the mountainous Kajmakcalan region, after long years of trench warfare. Through wise decision-making, by understanding the unique logic of the battlefield and with his excellent knowledge of tactics, Captain Trackle had preserved his unit, suffering almost no losses during the three years of endless war.

The captain was very close to all of his men, which was why he was beloved by them. He shared their concerns, hopes, interests and dreams. In the 6th Hill’s Regiment, there were one professor of philosophy, two painters, four musicians (one of whom was a composer and one a violin player from the Wienner Filharmonische orchestra), two physicists and so on- and each of them was astonished by the thorough knowledge and spiritual inventiveness of their captain. No matter whether the discussion was about the aesthetic concepts of Mark Plank, or of painting in the periods of Quattrocenta and Cinquecenta, Ticiano and Rafaello, or about the subtleties of modern music, the captain was at ease and equally qualified to speak. And not only that: Franciscus Trackle even had such a wonderful command of the violin that at the age of seventeen he was offered a place in the Conservatorium.

Yet the captain was also capable of getting on with every member of his company, regardless of their level of education. He could be found, say, partying and carousing with three tailor’s assistants, or cracking dirty jokes with a dozen factory workers. And then there were the pair of professional wrestlers in the regiment; Trackle had found a way to entertain them as well.

……………………………………………

Franciscus Trackle was born in Innsbruck, but his family wintered in Bolsano. This was how, when still very young, he had learned to speak Italian immaculately. Later, at the age of fifteen, he met and befriended an Italian boy, an assistant at the Bolsano hotel where the family regularly stayed. His name was Martin Lupino, and he was also fifteen. Some time later, when the war began, Martin joined Captain Trackle’s unit. Probably the discrete intervention of the captain himself could be detected behind this; but he neither left a single trace, nor ever touched upon the matter in conversation.

Their friendship did not stop with the fast-receding war, which they had both survived. And they were together at this very moment, too. Martin had been appointed as the captain’s personal adjutant, and during these three years their friendship developed into that kind of immediate, nearly instinctive and telepathic understanding one encounters only rarely. In fact, Martin had once joked about this, remarking, “The unfavorable side of our understanding is that we actually don’t need to talk anymore. First, we already know what the other one thinks; second, because by keeping silent we better express our own thoughts than when we blend them into speech!”

At that moment the echo of this old remark reverberated in Trackle’s mind. He abandoned the enthralling silence and his gaze fell upon a mild hillside, naturally framed and cast in an almost perfect amphitheater facing the southeast. His soldiers were exhausted by the daily marches. After so many months in the mud of the rainy and snowy trenches, he thought, an intensive dose of sunshine will do them good. He issued an order that, as soon as everyone had descended onto the plateau, rations should be distributed, and the men would be granted a full four hours of idle rest and leisure. It was the usual guard-roster that finalized the order which Lieutenant Musil conveyed further on.

“Entre nous, my dear Captain, it looks to me as if we are very safe here in this primordial region of eternal silence- even safer than we would be in our military barracks in Lindz,” said the lieutenant while they were slowly walking to the place they chose to rest.

“Are you thinking of the order for setting up a guard?” asked Captain Trackle.

“Yes, I think that any other reason for setting up a guard other than the rules of the service would be a true miracle!” Musil explained.

Captain Trackle smiled. “Meine Lieber Hauptmann! I believe in miracles. It is part of my job!”

……………………………………………

Martin Lupino, Captain Trackle’s orderly, took a seat next to his supervisor. Although in their communication Trackle never used any tone of subordination, even when he was giving instructions to him in front of others, Martin had a feeling of enormous respect for him, even of admiration. Perhaps, the difference in their social status was not an insignificant factor behind this. Yet even if it had a certain influence, it had only been when they met first — when the young Lupino served tea for Trackle’s family, respectable guests of the hotel where Martin worked as an assistant and occasionally as a waiter.

Very handsome, of gracious stature, Martin was an agile young man, with a fighting spirit, and on the very same afternoon the slightly older Franciscus Trackle and he were fiercely competing in foolhardy downhill races on the steepest ski runs in Bolsano. Since then, the social barrier between the two young men fell by the wayside. Yet Martin still was fascinated by whatever Trackle said or did afterwards. And so his admiration for his friend found an excellent outlet in their work relationship, without insulting his conceit and without imposing any extorted obligations. The closeness of their souls remained untarnished.

At that moment Martin got the feeling that his friend, the beloved captain, was entering into some very particular mood never before shown. Something was happening with Trackle, and something contagious, for Martin felt it happening with himself too, and with all of them in the enchanted space of this heavenly island of green plunged into blue. Something was hovering over the one-hundred-and-sixty souls lying carefree in the deep, sweet-smelling grass, dozing amidst flowers on the warm slopes of a natural amphitheatre, a place which the captain himself had chosen for their resting point, a place cut out for the dream that is not meant to cease.

“There are some conditions of state, Martin,” Trackle began. “Conditions of state that seem to be coming from nowhere. They fall upon a certain spot as fog; they capture people in such a manner that their thoughts become thick, sticky presentiment. All plans stop, all differences are erased, all sense disappears.”

……………………………………………

The captain was not looking at Martin. His gaze was wandering somewhere far away, focused somewhere in infinity, perhaps a few centimeters above God’s forehead. He knew that Martin understood him better than he was capable of understanding his own thoughts.

“On such occasions,” continued the captain, “it is what such a condition of state bears within itself that happens to us, and not what we want, nor what we yearn for. We clutch at that feeling, set apart from ourselves, give in to something that is indifferent to us, and which determines us — just as a sun-shone landscape gives in to dusk without grumbling, not knowing and not asking what it brings, and…

The Italian was looking at his friend intently, waiting for the conclusion he already knew.

“That is when both fortune and accident most easily happen to us,” said Trackle, gazing off somewhere past the endless horizon. “This is what grips me now.”

Stretching out on the gentle slope, leaning on bundles of clothes, shirts unbuttoned, barefoot, resting their legs and airing out their boots, Trackle’s soldiers soon found themselves asleep.

All of a sudden, while all around his soldier were giving in to the radiant sun and to this otherworldly beauty, the captain recognized his destiny. Although he was still standing, he again forgot about all that preceded this moment, as when in a dream the second dream descends, and with the soft wing of oblivion envelops both the sleeper and the first dream.

Martin, already comfortably reclining, surrendered to the hypnotic power of sky tint glistening in the morning, clear as if having fallen from the first drop of God’s quill pen. And he counted them: seven great eagles that were soundlessly circling in gyres, ascending towards the blue precipice opening before them as a gigantic bell. It looked as if with every new circle they were opening further a huge sack, tied with invisible laces they carried in their beaks; and out of the sack poured bulks of golden yellow, cyanic blue, white, gently pink flowers, as big as stars, and all that like a thick swarm of flakes inaudibly covered the stupefied desolation.

“Now I have come to understand those stories where the soul of the main hero hides in the eagle,” said the captain, in a murmur. “The body would never accede to abandon such mortal beauty. The eagle — it is the soul which atones for its craving for immortality by sacrificing everything that is not beautiful. This is because beauty dies and one must pay for it with life.”

Martin didn’t respond. He knew that his friend, Captain Trackle, together with him, was watching the eagles, which were moving away from the majestic allegory of this world, and that he hadn’t expected a reply, but only expressed the joint trembling before what shook both of them to the very bottom of their souls.

……………………………………………

At the peak of the turquoise mountain crest, like a mass of towers with the color of lichen in hazelnut’s shadow, was a dark, subdued reflection of green, taken from the trembling of heated murky granite; underneath, a couple of rocks shimmered like purple and pink crystals. Where the mountain crest changed into a plateau, the streams of the mountain river heaved joyfully and in erratic motions struck the deep passage with the color of young meat. To Martin, it seemed like a gigantic green horse with a snow-white tail, flogging his own thighs while waiting for his rider, a giant who would ascend into the saddle, holding the reins tight.

All over the magnificent plateau, a deep melancholic symphony echoed incessantly, yet quietly; the splendor of innumerable galaxies woven of flowers, blended into the green waves of the grassy open space, all changing through lucid accords, in the sporadically drawn shadows of high lonesome rocks, like on some kind of a death wreath prepared for someone who is still not here, but is expected to be brought in any minute. All around, a serene, tranquil aura trembled, turning the visible world into exalted existence. Captain Franciscus Trackle sighed and eventually lay down amidst the vale of flowers, as though lying in God’s hand.

He flinched; there was some indistinct omen. A graveyard silence hung tightly everywhere. The sun was still high and was shining with that pleasant mountainous warmth that leaves the air fresh and easy to breath. His clear-cut soldier’s instinct was saying that something was wrong- something big. Trackle could simply sense the smell of danger — and what was happening now was more than a danger.

He once again thought of the sunny landscape giving up to the dusk at the end of the day, as a lamb surrenders to the knife. He felt like he was very far away from his past, from all he could remember, from all that was important to him. Captain Trackle realized that he was not in control of anything anymore, that a kind of a decision had been already made, that such a decision was in fact a verdict, and that the verdict was irrevocable. And that the very hour had come.

The very matter of his soul — Europe! — it disappeared completely from his deepest memory, was set apart and separated from himself and became less real than any of the blades of grass in which he was still immersed, lying motionless, just transferred from a dream, and still, surprisingly, wide awake. It disappeared just as the desire for a woman, for company, for a glass of cognac might disappear. And though he could still touch and feel it, he knew that even his own life was already far away from him, that it resembled a distant sight; we run our hand across it and conceal it from ourselves. The veil of silent beauty was already falling upon him and his men, covering them and almost separating them from this world.

“The guards have been killed!” he shouted, and simultaneously felt it, without knowing how come he knew!

Martin jumped at this shout from his captain. It was too late. Guns roared from all sides. Franciscus Trackle gazed upon his soldiers getting up, enveloped in dreams, and immediately falling back in the thick grass and the flowers, shot down by bullets from every direction. He reached for his carbine, leaned on some thick clump of earth, almost like a trench, and surveyed the situation. Rifles roared incessantly, but none of the attackers could be seen. The natural amphitheater, so fit for sunbathing and luxuriating, now became a doomed trap whose edges were occupied by invisible attackers.

Trying to rally into groups, Trackle’s soldiers were getting up, running a few steps, or not even a single one, and falling like flies in swathes. The meadow clearing did not offer any shelter. To stand and fight meant to become a target. But not standing up meant missing one’s final chance to face the world in a standing-up position and on one’s own feet. At least for a short while, it was safer to lie down, but the situation demanded action instead of passivity and inevitable death.

A little later, it became clear that neither the former nor the latter had an impact on the final outcome. The rifles of the 6th Hill’s Regiment resounded less and less, with only a few shots here and there. The captain could recognize the individual carbine of every one of his soldiers. This is Herman! This is Thomas now! Coming from the stream, it is Marcello! It must have been Werner!

He himself was also firing, of course. Trackle was aware of the fact that his soldiers also recognized the sound of his carbine. As a first-class shooter, and winner of many military competitions, Captain Franciscus Trackle was very careful in how he used every single bullet. He was shooting at places from where, an instant earlier, a cloud of gunpowder smoke had risen, where, according to the field logic, an attacker could be hiding. Only twice did he think that after his firing, the shots from those places he had fixed as a target stopped coming; the tall, thick grass was indeed hiding the truth about whether he had cut down any of the invisible snipers for which he had aimed. A few steps further down, it was only his oldest friend Martin Lupino remaining along with him, and he was shooting ravenously cocking the rifle and reloading in a futile struggle to stave off death.

At one moment Trackle noticed them: the dark figures swiftly coming out of the grass and changing positions, coming closer and closer, already very deep into their lines. Trackle pointed his officer’s binoculars at one man who was crossing over the open space at that very moment. He wanted to make sure he would get him and waited for the man to stop at the new position he would precisely locate, even if he shot at the place in the grass that could hide the man from the eye but not from the bullet.

In the glass there appeared the sharp, dry face of the highlander, complete with a thick moustache. Neither his gaze nor his expression revealed anger, avarice or the ardent need for struggle, nor the glee that comes with accomplishing a great feat. No, the highlander was shooting at a speedy pace, as though carrying out a command. It was not an ordinary, soldier’s command, but more the calm resoluteness of a martial trance. As if an execution, an order issued by destiny itself, a sentence, as if being on a duty given by the angel of death in person.

Trackle let the binoculars down, and reached for his rifle. No one here hates anybody, he thought. It seemed to him as if all of them had been in a field of gravitation that determined their acts in the same way as the earth’s gravitation determines the path of a heavy rock, which breaks, ruins, and crushes all things standing in its way, mute and without reason, indifferent, hating no one and not caring about whatever disaster might occur.

The captain let the binoculars down. That figure which only Captain Trackle’s naked eye could see now looked extremely minute and unexpectedly distant. He was completely overwhelmed by the strong urge of the hunter resolute to kill the game, so precious even for a confirmed warrior.

He rose a bit above the line of the grass and fired. At the same instant, while the echo of his shot was still roaring in his ears, Captain Franciscus Trackle felt a hot stroke from his breast, a sudden warmth in his cheeks, a murmur in his ears. And a very mild fatigue.

Softly, more like he was getting down rather than falling, the captain returned to the cozy delight of the fragrant grass. He held on to one of his knees. His face touched the flowers that were caressing him, very close to his eyes. He then let the other knee go to ground. He clung still to his carbine, an award from the all-army competition held in Graz in the summer of 1912, more or less right at this time, perhaps on the same day as today; he remembered vividly the moment when he received that carbine from Colonel Stall’s hands, when sweet Paula had smiled with her shining eyes, golden hair, snow-white top and dress with straps as red as wild strawberries, standing in the first row, in the company of her dear and respected mama and papa, who will become, in the very autumn of the same year, his mother-in-law and father-in-law, and everybody sincerely and merrily applauding him…

Captain Trackle stretched his arms as never before; they were stretched so much that he himself was surprised; as though all were made of rubber, or without bones and ligaments. In his eyes, his outstretched arms reached farther and farther away, across the boundaries of the battlefield, and straightforward reached to the horizon itself, which, it seemed to him, he could easily embrace, only should he desire it. He felt he was heading for somewhere, he felt that it was the way one departs from one’s own life.

Now, he could still do all he wished. His mouth gently touched the mouth of his beloved, simultaneously aware that that feeling would never repeat or replace any other. All sensitivity gradually perished, extinguished, like when the hand becomes numb when the elbow rests on too soft a pillow. As though he had brought his own life to a halt. Again, he had had enough composure to perceive himself, in a state of wonder, clearly following the ever more distant flight of those eagles, starkly outlined against this transparent sky, as if the air itself had been sucked out of it.

He was bewildered by the fact that, despite the stronger and stronger feeling that he was himself sinking into the heavenly abyss, and that he had already become one of those infinitesimal, distant points the eagles turned into, nevertheless perfectly clear and from the immediate vicinity of his eyes, he could see the flower petals of blue cyan, the golden reflection of mountain buttercups, the rich bouquet of the heavenly messenger, which like a floral ikebana pierced through the cloud of lichen. He could very clearly recognize the pervasive, bitter smell of hellebore.

Captain Franciscus Trackle then realized that his sudden coveting for the future faced the sudden discovery that here, in this wonderful meadow, he would soon lie dead! Or that he was already laying dead… all the senses through which he felt his body — joy, courage, hunger, passion, thirst — disappeared, just as the pus rushes out of the pressed wound. He felt like he was becoming fragile, abruptly but carelessly, like butterflies become fragile in early autumn.

He thought his senses sharpened beyond whatsoever comprehensible limit, grabbed and shaped the light, smells, sounds… with plentitude and magic by means of which secrets hidden in earth were revealed through the crown of the cherry tree in blossom. A lightning struck the superb crown of the April cherry tree, which had an instant earlier appeared in front of his inner eye. He was battered by a terrifically severe feeling of pain. It seemed like the pain was not going to cease, that such a pain could not pass away till the end of time and the world, it was so deep, harsh, as though made out of some pre-matter, which would never disintegrate and which nothing could destroy.

No pain lasts longer than life! — It dawned on him, with a feeling of relief.

A little afterwards, the pain unexpectedly diminished, and then completely passed away. The perfect, relieving strength of the realization that life had passed, took the burden of every other thought away from Captain Franciscus Trackle.

……………………………………………

Martin Lupino was lying behind a big boulder, high above the battlefield. Sweating but not injured, he was still catching his breath while motionless he gazed upon the scene of the catastrophe. The entire regiment was destroyed. All of his friends were dead. He saw Captain Franciscus Trackle, his dear friend Franci, sink into the grass slowly after having knocked down one of the attackers by shooting precisely — and bravely — Franci, one of the few who had dared run out of the shelter, a leader to the end.

Now one of the bandits was shouting something in an unfamiliar language right from the spot where the captain was lying down. Stooped in the grass for a while, the bandit stood up and joyfully, in triumph started waving the captain’s dolman. Human figures, in dark garments of raw woolen texture, were walking all over the battlefield, occasionally bending over the dead. They stripped the uniforms from dead bodies, searching their pockets, collecting weapons and ammunition with the seriousness, concentration and indifference with which they had just shot them. It looked like they were at their work posts executing everyday tasks from which they made a living.

When darkness crept over the stricken plateau, Lupino set off. He never did find out where exactly was the place he was so sadly running away from, on the way to Restelica. He remembered at some point having fallen into a ditch so narrow that for a while he had fully reconciled himself to the idea that he would die there. In those horrible moments, he felt the feeling of narrowness, the fear of closed space, the claustrophobia, he thought, that probably came from the unconscious remembrance of the horrors of birth. The man that was born, who managed to get through the narrowest strait they would ever get through and, if the birth was particularly long, would be consumed with tunnels, ditches, and straits for the whole rest of his life.

However, Martin was luckier. He extricated himself, somehow, and managed to reach, late at night, a remote mountain village over 1,800 meters above the sea at Salonika.

The first person who found the lost Italian staggering up the steep path accepted him wordlessly. He didn’t talk; he had lost all speaking capability. And they did not bother him with questions. They had obviously seen strangers in similar states before.

Martin was given dinner at the same table with his host and spent the night in the room where the whole family slept. The next day, while he was at the village’s only tearoom trying to get along with the local people, some of the attackers entered. To buy food.

The one who was wearing Captain Franciscus Trackle’s tunic, the very leader of the highland bandits, approached the man who had escaped death at his hand. Smiling amiably, in a friendly way the bandit leader tapped Martin on the shoulder. He even gave him three golden coins.

Nothing personal against anybody. This is simply my trade. I make a living from it. And in this way you can neither live easy nor long. Since you survived now, you really will live. You will certainly outlive me, too. Here you have three ducats. Just in case. For luck. So that you can remember me when you learn that I am no more.

Laughing noisily, the highlander rode away along with his three escorts. In the saddle and on the horse which had until very recently belonged to Captain Franciscus Trackle.

……………………………………………

Martin understood all this later. He spent whole three years in Restelica. He worked as a country cook. Indeed, some of his Italian recipes have been kept right up to the present day. “La cuisina Italiana di Restelica,” Martin sometimes used to joke, explaining to the passers-by what those strange dishes were that none of them had ever seen or tasted before. But the local inhabitants, the people from Restelica, got accustomed in no time and accepted some of his specialties. Still, most of the time they would just ask for their nomadic shepherd’s dishes.

Long after the plateau and Restelica, Martin disclosed what he had learned there: that an audacious group of thirty-eight Albanian bandits had planned the attack for three days, and secretly followed the Austrian regiment as it happily retreated homewards from the Salonika Front. The bandit leader wouldn’t have decided to attack if it hadn’t been for the two other army companies that gave themselves away to him — a total of 94 men — and he had to promise his comrades in advance that the share of the spoils would be strictly apportioned according to the number fighters, the same for each of them.

The fatal ambush on that beautiful warm day occurred in that valley, encircled by Crni Kamen, a little above Veselova Mountain and Menuglova Tower, at the very boundary of Restelica, 2,200 meters above sea level, wreathed by abundant and clear springs. Until that event, this deep valley did not have a name, but was only called Rupa (Hole). By the following summer it became known as Austrian Heads, and has kept that name ever since.

Always in a hurry, permanently pursued, hunted by military and police, the bandits did not even try to bury the soldiers they had killed. They had only one casualty among their own people (Martin believed it was exactly the one Captain Trackle fired at in the moment when he himself was shot), whom they swiftly buried near a spring (so that his soul wouldn’t be thirsty!), and four wounded, whom they took to the villages in the Ljuma region, where was their base and their own accomplices. One hundred and sixty two men, i.e. the entire company minus him, Martin Lupino, remained in the grass and in the flowers, at the disposal of beasts, birds, and gradual organic decay.

The rare passers-by, mainly shepherds, avoided that place for a long time. It was not for a couple of years afterwards that a very few of them dared to pass through this area covered with already whitened, scattered bones. They would hurriedly turn their eyes away when they chanced upon a shattered skull peeking out of the thick grass and the abundant flowers.

So no one took their cattle there to graze, and since then the “Austrian Heads” toponym took on the more general connotation of marking a place that you crossed when only in the direst of circumstances, when pressed by the greatest of needs, and even then you did so swiftly, without words, in humble and fearful piety.

……………………………………………

When he had earned some money and when the news of the stabilization of the situation came to Restelica, remote and solitary, Martin prepared a big lunch for all the village, said goodbye to the people and said he was going home to Italy. Bolcano had waited for Martin with anxiety. In his thoughts he embraced all those dear places where he was in the company of Franciscus Trackle, overcome with a grief that tore at his heart at the thought of all those places where now his captain would never again see.

And so Martin didn’t want to be employed in the same hotel where they had first met, so many happy winters before and, a while later, he moved to Abrusa and the Marema region. He did this for two reasons. One was to avoid meeting Franciscus Trackle’s parents and unmarried widow. Martin felt that his former friend and captain would not have wanted them to know anything other what the official army report had said: that somewhere in the mountains of northwest Macedonia, Captain Trackle and the 6th Hill’s Regiment had simply and irrevocably disappeared.

Then there was that elusive and captivating energy of that region of such fearsome, fatal beauty. It seemed to Martin such a significant part of the destiny they both shared that he believed the inevitable future encounter with Franciscus Trackle and all those comrades who had died there could only recur in a place of similar beauty. To him, it seemed that Central Italy, most probably Gran Sasso, was the place of greatest similarity. And so he went.

……………………………………………

For the remainder of his long life, Martin Lupino would have two recurrent dreams. Once, he even jotted down some notes about them, in a rare waking moment when he could perceive their distance.

Dream one:

“I saw her, by the waterfall there, pretty, ominous, so enticing, like the slender deadly nightshade mushroom glistening in the May morning dew. I’ll be waiting for you in the Dervish Teke. In the oak forest, she was riding a bay horse. And all of a sudden I found myself in the middle of the beautiful, heavy hair, as when a man is engrossed in the dense smell of the forest floor, abundant in secret sprouting plants.”

As for the meaning of that note, something perhaps could be grasped by the dim fact that an unknown amount of gold from a foreign country kept coming, for many years, to the address of Mursel, whose pretty daughter for a long time resisted marriage.

Dream two:

“I see it once, I dream for an entire lifetime!

In their heads they have the dreams of Croce and Hegel; the paintings of Rafael and Titian, Michelangelo and Leonardo, they hover…

big bears, noiseless shadows of wolves; smart foxes come, ravens croak, eagles flap their powerful wings, the bearded vulture flies in circles! And with their ghastly jaws they tear Newton’s theories apart and crunch David’s sculptures into pieces. They boil the frescoes from the walls of the Sistine Chapel in a bath of diluted digestive acids. The paint of Renaissance masters leaks from their bloody beaks; Pico della Mirandola flies to the guts of the griffon vulture.

I see it once, and I dream for an entire lifetime! And I know that those beasts and big birds suffer pains and groan to start speaking, to make it easier for themselves; I know that all of a sudden before their eyes, or in dreams, while copulating or amidst hunting, the painters’ canvases and the sculptures and the pages of many books start to dance.

I listen to what they listen to, in my ears I hear an echo while Hegel and Leonardo shout with their howl and roar, croak and shriek, through the bear’s jaws and the wolf’s sharp forehead, through the fox’s snout, through the horn-shaped beak of ravens and eagles. There’s no hope for us, there’s no hope for them either, unless I go there. Since it is only I who can understand the mute language of souls transformed into beasts…

And then I go there and collect the remnants of those paintings and books, fragments of cries and music, and take them back to museums, to the library shelves. All is in its ordered place again, and they are alive again; the agreeable masters shake hands with me, the pleasant philosophers stroll and then go somewhere to sleep in peace, while animals and birds bless me and joyfully chirp, and croak and cheerily cry in their mother tongues.

Then I wake up. And wide awake I see all that, exactly the same.”

This, the second dream, exceeds us. Only Martin Lupino could perhaps say the right thing about the whole idea of this note. Mursel received both notes by mail many years later and, in suspicion as to what they might mean, shoved them into a hole between two stones, in the wall of a sheep’s pen where in late autumn they went wintering along with the flocks of sheep, in the house in Restelica, as usual taking the longer way through Dedel Beg and Zendel Beg, bypassing the open space of Austrian Heads.

……………………………………………

*Ferid Muhic (born 1944) is a professor of philosophy at Skopje’s Cyril and Methodius University. He has taught at numerous universities around the world and published many books of philosophy, poetry and literature. More information about him can be found here.

New Kosovo Violence as Possible Threats Predicted in UN Internal Document Loom

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- The senior UN security official in Kosovo has disclosed that KFOR is “anticipating wide-scale violent actions and demonstrations carried out by hardline Serbian and Albanian groups,” as negotiations reach a climax over Kosovo’s projected independence.

According to Makfax, on Sept. 22, KFOR arrested seven Kosovar Albanians allegedly involved in the anti-Serbian riots of March 2004. However, four recent bombings, some of which left elderly Serbs hospitalized, have led to UN condemnation- but little else.

On Sept. 1, Italy’s 2,500 KFOR forces passed on the overall command to the dependable Germans. German general Roland Kather took over for General Giuseppe Valotto and will have a mandate through summer 2007, according to AKI. The Germans, avenging their failed World War II efforts to crush the Serbs in Kosovo, are expected to take a hard line. The KFOR presence has in recent months been expanded in northern Kosovo, inhabited by Serbs. The stated justification has been to protect the Serbs but to most engaged observers it is fairly obvious that the real goal is to prevent weapons or reinforcements from arriving out of Serbia proper in case of future Albanian attacks on the beleaguered Serbian minority.

The UN regime in Pristina has long been aware of the potential for large-scale violence if the two ethnic groups fail to reach an agreement, which remains the case even as the deadline for conclusion of negotiations draws nearer, and UNMIK’s mandate draws to a close.

Inside documents reveal that the UN has long been brainstorming possible scenarios that could materialize by the end of the year. The existence of these reports shows that UN and related personnel in the UNMIK mission have been discussing and debating the potential for violence according to the possible results of the status talks.

The most celebrated such report was the internal UNHCR document on refugees. It was deliberated in January, 2006 (though the exact dates were not given later) and caused a sensation in the local and foreign media when it was cited in late spring.

This report indicated that the refugee body was making contingency plans for up to 70,000 Serbian refugees (out of around 100,000 total) being forced to flee in case of future trouble. At first UNHCR rejected the allegations, then downplayed the significance of the report, passing it off as a “routine” bit of brainstorming and not a policy. Eventually, after the initial furor had subsided, wire services such as Reuters were referencing the text, in a bizarre twist, as almost a confidence-building measure which would indicate that fear not, the authorities have got the master plan all worked out.

However, a second internal document, from the UN’s Civil Police, was made available several months ago to Balkanalysis.com several months ago. Dated February 2006, the informal report considers five possible scenarios that could unfold in the disputed province by November. The hypotheses considered include: 1.) a decision for full independence in November; 2.) “more than autonomy, less than independence’; 3.) talks prolonged into the new year of 2007; 4.) a repetition of Yugoslavia’s experience of the 1990″s, when armed Albanians operating from rural areas target the authorities (in this case, internationals).

All of these scenarios have since been discussed in the media and either championed or rejected by different international powers. What is perhaps most interesting about the UN document is that the events of 2006 have proven its accuracy. Generally speaking, none of the possible scenarios lead to happy results, at least as far the security situation is concerned. Take the conclusion to option 2:

“After lengthy talks and shuttle diplomacy, spearheaded by Marti Ahtisaari, and ending with a for-and-against balance between the contact group members. Kosovo is granted more than autonomy, less than independence. When official news of the outcome is presented to the public, extremist factions of former KLA veterans take up arms and commit to a strategy of hit and run against the IC, however, the IC are reluctant to officially claim who is responsible for the attacks.”

Kosovo Albanians, have stated they will settle for nothing less than full independence, which the Belgrade authorities adamantly oppose. The West supports the former, but if independence is granted, the internal report hypothesizes, the following could occur:

“Serbs do not accept full independence, Serb dominated part of Mitrovica, north of the Ibar is partitioned. The international and PISG administration are helpless in preventing the division, former KLA fighters prepare take direct action against Serb resistance in the north, disregarding moderate Albanian efforts for direct dialogue. Adjoining this, a faction of KA extremists commit to hit and run tactics against IC, IC condemns attacks, majority try to pin the blame on rebel Serbs south of Ibar, who became disgruntled at the decision for Independence.”

The third scenario — talks deferment — is also being seen as a face-saving alternative. Several recent articles following Serbian President Tadic’s visit to Washington have alleged that the Bush administration will delay a decision on Kosovo until after the Serbian elections, in the hopes that the Radical Party will not be able to use the Kosovo issue to seize power. In this context, the conclusion to the third hypothetical situation in the February 2006 UN report seems prescient as well:

“By the end of November 2006 and running into early December, talks on future status are weakening and the contact group proposes a break until the new year, Kosovo Albanians show signs of frustration by demanding that a settlement is made, however, recent security incidents affecting minority communities, freedom of movement and other issues, provide stumbling blocks for the majority administration.”

As November draws closer, it remains to be seen which of these scenarios will materialize. In whatever case, it is instructive to note that the UN has been well aware of them for some time. Larger political decisions that will emerge should be analyzed in light of this awareness.

2004-2009 Back Archives