Branko Brudar smiles and tells the new war joke, while carefully placing the Turkish coffee pot on the small office hot plate. “Until when will the Serbs and Croats fight?” goes the joke. “Till the last Muslim.”
Branko, a young bearded man in his mid-20s, works as a reporter for Pristina’s television station. In the “velvet” tradition of Eastern Europe, the beard and his blue jeans are a sign of an opposition-party mind.
I ask him about the oppression of the Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo’s population. “Oh, don’t give me this crap,” says Branko. “They are so rich, the best houses and businesses in Kosovo belong to the Albanians. Here they are out of place. Kosovo is Serbia’s pride.”
Budar is not alone in this belief. Almost every Serb, even the most educated and cosmopolitan, reacts the same way when Kosovo comes up. Every Serbian child learns from an early age the songs and legends of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Fields between Serbian Prince Lazar and the Turks. For the next 500 years, Serbia was part of the Turkish Empire. For the Serbs, in the case of Kosovo, it is still Christian versus Muslim.
Even though it is small and of little economic or geopolitical importance to the Serbs, Kosovo could be the final and bloodiest battle of the war. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic rose to power in 1987 over the issue of Kosovo’s status. The central plank in his platform was the subjugation of the then-autonomous Yugoslav province to Serbian authority. After Serbian officials abolished Kosovo’s provincial government and legislature in 1990, the Albanian institutions went underground.
War in Kosovo, whether tomorrow or in the next century, is almost unavoidable without international intervention. The Serbs will not give up their “national pride,” and the Albanians in Kosovo, now patient, will not forget their ultimate goal of uniting Kosovo and the predominantly Albanian areas of Macedonia (up to the Vardar River), Montenegro and Serbia with the Republic of Albania. Until recently, Kosovo’s nationalists were backed by Albania in pursuing this goal. But the leadership in Tirana, under pressure from the United States and the European Community, now calls for Kosovo to be awarded a special status within Yugoslavia.
“People strictly follow our advice to remain calm and do not let themselves be provoked,” Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, President of the underground Albanian government in Kosovo, told me when I visited him in the hut that houses the outlawed Albanian League of Democracy Party in Pristina. “Kosovans are aware of the fact that we are empty-handed before the heavily armed Serbian police, army and paramilitary forces in Kosovo, and the civilians who support them. And if such conflict breaks out, Albanians will be massacred. We should remain calm and patient, although the fear remains that one day the people will become fed up with maltreatment, starvation, the lack of public health institutions and might choose another course.”
Rugova and his government now call for creation of an independent Kosovo as a neutral state, “which would be a kind of link with all other surrounding states.” He believes this idea would calm down even the most radical Albanian nationalists in Kosovo and in Albanian. “But in the future,” said Rugova, “it’s quite obvious and quite natural that one nation should stick to m idea of living together in one state. And it won’t be a ‘Greater Albania,’ as it is usually referred to by the Serbs, but a ‘Normal Albania.'”
Even the idea of a “Normal Albania” keeps open the possibility of a new Balkan war wide open. If Macedonia with its 20 to 40 percent Albanian population is involved in an eventual conflict, Greece and Bulgaria might get into the fray as well, either supporting Macedonia or seeking to occupy its territory. It is not likely that Turkey would stay out if Muslim interests are endangered–as it showed by gathering the foreign ministers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in June 1992 in Istanbul, to take up the question of aid to Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For now, Kosovo should remain a part of Yugoslavia with autonomous status. After the war, the question of Kosovo’s independence could be dealt with by an international conference, including all interested parties, which also settles the future status of Macedonia. The new, independent Kosovo should be prohibited from changing its borders; the free flow of Albanians who want to live in the new country should be permitted.
As leading Albanian writer and dissident Ismail Kadare says, “Kosovo is a test case for all of us. But it is a sacred test that does not allow superficiality, arrogance or hot tempers. Above all, any manipulation of Kosovo for group or party interests is unforgivable. One should not resort to desperate acts. Desperate acts may be committed by individuals but not by nations. What, then, is the solution? The Kosovo file should remain open.”