Serb Jerusalem

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Surviving World War III

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In 1989, the "Kosovo question" did not refer directly to the ancient battle of 1389 or to the feast day of Lazar and Vid. It referred to a political crisis in the Serbian province of Kosovo, a crisis that enraged Serb nationalists and tore apart the Yugoslav federation. Kosovo is more than the site of the archetypal founding event in Serb romantic mythology. It is also the center of many of Serbia's greatest works of religious art and architecture and the ancient seat of the Serb Orthodox leadership. Some call it the "Serb Jerusalem." [1]

The Serb Patriarchate (the institutional heart of Serb Orthodox Christianity) was established at Pec in the Kosovo region in 1346. It was abolished after the Ottoman conquests in the fifteenth century. The Patriarchate was reestablished in 1557 by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic, the famous Bosnian who became the grand vizier at the court of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the

Magnificent. The first occupant of the newly reestablished position of Patriarch is believed to have been a relative of Mehmed Pasha. The restored Patriarchate lasted until 1766 when Ottoman authorities abolished it on the grounds that it offered support to anti-Ottoman revolutionary activity.

During most of the past three hundred years, the province of Kosovo has been inhabited primarily by Albanians. Albanians are not a Slavic people; they speak a completely different language from the other inhabitants of Yugoslavia. Most Albanians traditionally profess Islam, but during the cold war Albania was ruled by an antireligious Stalinist regime; Albanians in Kosovo were less brutally but still effectively secularized under Tito's moderate communism.[2]

After the Balkan wars at the beginning of the twentieth century, Kosovo was recaptured by Serbian patriots and made part of the modern Serb state. During the period between the two world wars, Serbia colonized Kosovo, pushing Albanians out and bringing in Serb settlers. When Tito reestablished Yugoslavia, he was concerned to avoid ethnic and religious conflict and so abandoned the Serb colonization of Kosovo. Serb nationalists complained that Serb settlers who had fled Kosovo during World War II were not allowed to return. In 1974 Tito promulgated a constitution that offered Kosovo and Vojvodina the status of autonomous provinces within Serbia. These two provinces were administratively still part of Serbia, but they were given a vote in the Yugoslav presidency equal to the constituent nations of Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Montenegro). The logic behind this arrangement was that both provinces had large populations of non-Serbs and deserved a measure of autonomy.

The new constitution enraged Serb nationalists. After World War II, the Albanian population in Kosovo had increased in proportion to the Serbian population. Kosovo was the poorest region of Yugoslavia; some Serbs migrated to better employment and living opportunities available for them elsewhere, while Albanians tended to remain in an area where their language was spoken. Impoverished Kosovo Albanians also had one of the highest birthrates in Europe, and the Serbs, already a minority in Kosovo, began to look at the large Albanian families with demographic fear.

In 1981 Albanian students demonstrated over conditions at the University of Pristina, the major university in Kosovo province. Serbs in Kosovo complained of harassment by young Albanian men and of pressure to leave the province. After Serb nationalists revoked Kosovo's autonomy in 1987, Albanians in Kosovo protested the harsh rule of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav police. Albanian protestors began to demand the status of a republic for Kosovo within the Yugoslav federation. Republic status would seal Kosovo's constitutional separation from Serbia, and Albanians were an increasing majority in the province; for many Serbs a Kosovo republic was just a step toward independence, a merger with the neighboring nation of Albania, and the formation of a "Greater Albania."

In 1986 Serb clerics and nationalists orchestrated the charge that Albanians were engaged in genocide against Serbs. Serb nationalists alleged that the high Albanian birthrate was part of the genocide, a "dirty demographic war for an ethnically pure Kosovo [italics in original]."[3] Serb women and girls, Serb nationalists contended, were targeted for rape as part of the genocidal Albanian policy. Continuous references to the birthrate differ-

ences between Albanians and Serbs contributed to a gynecological hatred against Albanians within portions of the Serb population. Serb nationalists alleged that Albanian women were "breeding machines" that would destroy Serbs, while Serb women were supposedly exposed to an ethnically based genocidal assault. Albanians were accused of a plot to eradicate Serb cultural heritage in Kosovo by destroying monasteries. The Muslim identity of most Albanians led Serb nationalists to conflate anti-Albanian and anti-Muslim stereotypes.

As the conflict intensified, Serbian intellectuals and clergy claimed an Albanian plot to "ethnically cleanse" Kosovo, unite it with Albania proper, and create a "Greater Albania" and an "ethnically pure Kosovo." [4] In January 1986, two hundred Belgrade intellectuals signed a petition to the Yugoslav and Serbian national assemblies known as the "Serbian Memorandum." [5] The guiding force behind this movement was the novelist Dobrica Cosic, a former communist who had become an ethnoreligious zealot. The Memorandum demanded a restructuring of the relationship of the autonomous province of Kosovo to Serbia. It condemned the autonomy and majority rule in Kosovo, established in the constitution of 1974, as national treason. It argued that the treason was part of an anti-Serb plot to keep Serbs disunited and separate.[6] It made reference—as if to a known fact that needed no elaboration—to the "genocide" in Kosovo. On a like note, a Serb intellectual complained of an atrocities rate in Kosovo "unprecedented in the twentieth century."[7]

What was the truth of the charges that galvanized Serbian nationalism within Yugoslavia and led to movements of secession in Slovenia and Croatia? According to police records, the incidence of rape in the Albanian region of Kosovo was at a rate be -

low that of Serbia proper. According to the same records, there was only one recorded instance of the rape of a Serb by an Albanian.[8] When proponents of the genocide charge in Kosovo were confronted with these facts, they had no answer. Instead they claimed, without evidence, a plot by the Albanian leadership to create an "ethnically clean" Kosovo.[9] Serb nationalists also charged, without evidence, that not only did Albanians side with Italy and Germany during World War II, but that a proNazi organization, the Balli Kombeter, was still playing a key role in Albanian politics. The allegation contained two elements central to the ideology of genocide. First, Serb nationalists attached generic blame to entire peoples (Albanians, Croats, Slavic Muslims) for the acts of some during World War II. Second, Serb nationalists charged, without evidence, that pro-Nazi organizations were still operating within generically defined ethnic groups.

The gap between actual incidents of vandalism and the language used to depict them is vividly illustrated in one essay, in which the undemonstrated tales of ethnically based rape and genocide are placed next to a year-by-year ledger from 1969 to 1982 of the supposed systematic effort by Albanians to annihilate Serb cultural heritage. The list shows several incidents of vandalism per year: cutting of trees on monastery property, writing of graffiti, breaking of windows—hardly the kind of systematic cultural annihilation that was to occur in Bosnia in 1992.[10] As for charges that Albanians were being given lenient treatment, Amnesty International reported that Albanians, 8 percent of the population of Yugoslavia, accounted for 75 percent of prisoners of conscience. [11]

The escalation of charges to false accusations of genocide is

especially clear in the language of the Christian Orthodox clergy. In 1969, the Holy Council of Serbian Orthodox Bishops wrote to Yugoslav President Tito to express concern about the neglect of Serb religious property by the state, the vandalism of Serb property by Albanians, and intimidation of Serbs in Kosovo. The language was specific and the concerns were grounded in factual incidents that were described without ethnic or religious vilification or generic blame against all Albanians.[12] By 1982, in a Good Friday appeal by Serb priests and monks, the language had changed. With repeated allusions to the "crucifixion" of the Serb nation, the battle of 1389, a centuries-long plot by Albanians to exterminate Serb culture, and the depravity of the Ottoman Turks, the appeal culminated in the charge of genocide: "It is no exaggeration to say that planned Genocide [emphasis in original] is being perpetrated against the Serbian people in Kosovo! What otherwise would be the meaning of 'ethnically pure Kosovo' which is being relentlessly put into effect through ceaseless and never-ending migrations ?" [13] In 1987, 60,000 Serbs signed a petition protesting the "fascist genocide" in Kosovo.[14] In 1988, Serb Orthodox bishops in New Zealand, Europe, and the Americas published a petition entitled "Declaration of the Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church Against the Genocide Inflicted by the Albanians on the Indigenous Serbian Population, Together with the Sacrilege of their Cultural Monuments in their Own Country." [ 15] None of these appeals offered any evidence for the charges that there was an Albanian plot to create an "ethnically pure" state in Kosovo, or that 250,000 Albanians had migrated to Kosovo from Albania.

The charges became more and more extreme. One writer asserted that 300,000 Albanians in Kosovo are refugees from Alba-

nia proper and should be forcibly returned. His call for ethnic expulsion was grounded in a quote from Njegos: "We [Serb and Slavic Muslims] must fight until one of us is exterminated." [16] He went on to ridicule "brotherhood and unity," an ideal that had helped keep the fragile Yugoslav federation together since the end of World War II: "Do not pretend that you [Albanians] love us, because we do not love you. We have long ago eaten up the moldy pretzel of internationalism that falsely joins us in brotherhood and falsely unites us." The writer concludes with an openended threat: "We are neither brothers nor are we united, but let us examine how we shall ... [ellipsis part of original]." [17] Such language was dominating the most prestigious publications of Serbian writers and intellectuals. By 1989, references to the crucifixion of Serbia mixed with threats of revenge. Those who engineered the "Serbian Golgotha," the writer warned, forget that executioners can become victims. [ 18]

Although the hate was directed at Albanians in Kosovo, the literature and archetypes made Slavic Muslims (rather than specifically Albanian Muslims) particularly vulnerable. It was Slavic Muslims who were associated by Njegos with the treason of Vuk Brankovic, an association renewed in the novels of Ivo Andric. It was the Slavic Muslims who were portrayed as Turkifiers and still called Turks in a national mythology that saw the Turks as the killers of the Christ-Prince. The Serb nation was again being crucified; the archetype of national myth was tied into the actual situation in Kosovo province. The relics of Lazar were paraded around the province of Kosovo as a reminder of the killing of the Christ-Prince and as a territorial claim.

From within such a perspective, there is no safety. Even the peaceful smile is the smile of the traitor. One poem, based upon

the art within the Pec monasteries, meditates on the figure of Christ while "In the neighboring nave/Judas threatens him with a knife/the eye's calm smile." The poem appeared in a volume of hate literature published in 1989 by the Serbian writers union as part of the celebration of the 600th anniversary of Kosovo.[19] When through historical circumstance such rage was diverted from the Albanians in Kosovo to Slavic Muslims in Bosnia, there was nothing the Bosnian Muslims could possibly do to convince their attackers of their peaceful intent; even their peaceful smile could be read as the smile of a Judas.

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