In the ashes of Serb nationalism

An ethnically motivated murder in Kosovo this week indicates that 'Greater Serbia' plan is dead.

The dirt track in central Kosovo appeared safe enough: a conveyor belt from a nearby mine followed one side; a thicket of brush lined the other.

But along that track - just 200 yards from the house of Radosav Ognjanovic, an ethnic Serb - was a lethal surprise that shows how much minority Serbs are under pressure in Kosovo today from majority ethnic Albanians.

That surprise illustrates, too, how the once-proud myths of Serbian nationalism - a flame fanned to new life by former President Slobodan Milosevic a decade ago right here in Kosovo, which the Serbs call "the cradle of their civilization" - have been turned upside down. Serbs here are even more uneasy now that Mr. Milosevic was ousted by more moderate nationalist Vojislav Kostunica, fearing that ethnic Albanians will now push their case for independence from Serbia even harder.

Tension between the few ethnic Serbs who remain in Janina Voda village and their ethnic-Albanian neighbors has never been worse.

So when Mr. Ognjanovic and his friend Lubinko Andielkovic hopped onto a tractor a couple of nights ago, bumped down the road, and hit an antitank mine, the battle lines were quickly drawn.

Ethnic Albanian police officers who came with United Nations police to investigate were pushed back and stoned. Local Serbs gathered to bid farewell to Ognjanovic, who died in the blast, and to pray for Mr. Andielkovic, who was badly wounded.

"You will see how Serbs are dying here," said one family friend. "The Albanian terrorists have been attacking several times, and now they have left this family with no hope."

"Our Albanian neighbors probably did that ... they want to kill all Serbs," said Marina Verica, daughter of the wounded man. At the sound of a distant explosion, she jumped: "Those mad dogs don't know when to stop."

The angry aftermath is a potent reminder of the animosity that still afflicts Kosovo, more than a year after the 78-day US-led NATO bombing campaign aimed at reversing an ethnic-cleansing campaign against ethnic Albanian Kosovars by Serbian Yugoslav troops.

After years of repression at the hands of the Serb minority, ethnic Albanians were forced out of Kosovo en masse. As they came back - demanding independence from Yugoslavia, and with NATO troops and a new UN administration to ensure their safety - the sense of revenge was strong.

Anti-Serb attacks are still routine, such that UN police had to help this village escort mourners and the coffin from another Serb enclave. The UN reports some 430 murders, most ethnically motivated revenge killings, were carried out in Kosovo between mid-June 1999 and the end of the year. So far this year, there have been 205.

So it is an irony of history - especially for Serbs under fire today - that it was here, on the 600th anniversary of a spectacular Serbian defeat at the hands of the Turkish Army in 1389, that Milosevic spoke of the "talismanic power" of nationalism, and promised that Serbs would "never again be beaten."

The result has been the worst violence in Europe since World War II, and finally failure, as Milosevic - who has been indicted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague - was forced to give up power in Belgrade to President Kostunica two weeks ago.

"Nationalism existed before Milosevic, but he misused that dream and elevated it to the ideology of the regime," says Slobodan Antonic, a political scientist at the University of Novi Sad.

"The best treatment for nationalism is that a country experience defeat in war, like Nazi Germany," he adds. "Given that Milosevic managed not to lose one war, but four wars, we can say that Serb nationalism is broken."

The mine blast Oct. 16, in fact, took place within sight of the stone tower that juts from the rolling fields where the Battle of Kosovo Polje was fought, and from where Milosevic spelled out his plans for "Greater Serbia" to tens of thousands of cheering people.

Today the monument is protected by a KFOR watchtower. The brass lettering on the monument is telling: Any Serb who "does not come to fight in Kosovo, may he not have any descendants, neither male nor female...."

Talk of Kosovo being the Serbian holy land is brushed off by local Serbs, however, who say they want to live quietly and are no more than patriots. Prior to NATO intervention in the spring of 1999, that was the exact sentiment of repressed ethnic Albanians, too.

"It was superb," says Stojanovic Jordan of Milosevic's speech. A relative of the wounded man, he says he has been a member of Milosevic's Socialist Party "since the first day," but stayed in Kosovo throughout the conflict and still works at the railway with ethnic Albanian friends.

"Nobody supported Serb nationalism," he says. "People supported Serbia, and wanted to protect their country."

That view is echoed by a local Serb politician, Goran Stankovic, before sitting down to a traditional mourning meal of boiled meat and cabbage, paprika and rough bread.

"Milosevic is not the only one to blame for what happened here. There wasn't any Serb nationalism," Mr. Stankovic says. "I am a nationalist: I love my nation. But all people in power - even in America - will protect the integrity of their own nation."

"If there were no Milosevic, we wouldn't be here," agreed Stanislav, another family friend, as others nodded approvingly. Kosovo Serbs voted overwhelmingly for Milosevic in the September election. But now in Kosovo they feel besieged, and even under threat in their enclaves, despite the international troop presence.

"It's a very difficult task to prevent such a thing," says UN policeman John Wise, a retired Colorado state trooper from Denver, who was at the scene of the mine blast. "You would need thousands more people. We can't do everything."

Mourners say they are grieving over Ognjanovic's kindness, and random nature of his death. "He fought for unity and fought for everyone," says Vladimir Todorovic, head of the local human rights committee that he says counted the deceased as a member, showing an identity card. "But this is exactly what terrorists do - they don't care about multi-ethnicity."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.