The bus from Budapest to Belgrade is full, and I am lucky to get a seat. We are a cosmopolitan lot. In addition to the two Americans (I am traveling with Bill Mills, or “Brat [brother] Bill” as he will come to be known), there are two Norwegian businessmen sitting across the aisle reading the Economist, a sprinkling of Hungarians and Germans, and a group of friends returning to Belgrade from a vacation in the Orient. When we successfully clear Hungarian and Yugoslav customs, the friends begin dancing and singing as if the bus were a gypsy wedding. “What’s the occasion?” I ask. “Oh, nothing,” says one of them and bursts into hysterical laughter.
Contrary to my expectation of surly Yugoslav officialdom, the Serbian immigration agents are easygoing and friendly to the Americans. In fact, the whole project so far has been remarkably easy. In Milan I received a visa after only an hour’s wait. I was even met at the Budapest airport by an embassy representative. When I tried to thank him for his attention, he told me that these days his job consists of helping journalists. He did not have to tell me that they were the very journalists who were calling for air strikes against his country.
What they expect out of me, I do not know. A dupe, perhaps, a secret sympathizer, maybe even a muddleheaded pacifist. In the old days, Yugoslavia had been the darling of American and European leftists, and the Serbs still cannot understand why they have become the enemy of the human race. No one in Europe has a good word to say for them. Over and over in the previous weeks my Italian friends had been asking me why I wanted to go to Serbia. Hadn’t I read what my government had been saying about them? Didn’t I believe what I had seen “with my own eyes” on the evening news?
I am suspicious of unanimity, especially one that is manufactured by the official press. I knew that in the limited time I had it was impossible to grasp the complexity of the conflicts, and since everyone else was reporting only the versions given by the Croats and Muslims, my small contribution would be to tell the story as the Serbs tell it and to learn to see the country through their eyes. I would be as honest and accurate as I know how, but objective? True objectivity requires the capacity to compare perspectives, and I had seen no evidence of objectivity in any of the press coverage of Yugoslavia. Some day, God willing, I might learn to appreciate the other sides of the story; for now it was enough to work my way into the skin of the Serbs.
The task is easier than it might be, since ordinary people speak their minds without hesitation. Waiting in line for the bus, I struck up a conversation with a former pilot who warned me not to believe what I was hearing from the embassy representative. “We’ll talk later,” he said, sensing the growing annoyance of the official. The pilot is anything but a Serb nationalist; in fact, he is not even a Serb but some kind of Yugoslav. With a Montenegrin father and a Croatian mother, he is married to a Croat who prefers to call herself Dalmatian. They and their children live in the same house in Belgrade with his sister and her Muslim husband. No, there is no trouble from Serbs. In fact, Belgrade is swarming with Croatian and Bosnian Muslim inhabitants, many of them refugees from war zones.
The pilot blames the politicians who now run all the new republics, including both Miloshevitch of Serbia and Tudjman of Croatia. Although they were all communists, he points out, that charge is only made against Miloshevitch (the only proper way to spell it in Latin letters without using diacritical
marks. “Milosevic” is a monstrosity created by the monoglots at the New York Times). But, in a country where all the sides have enough guilt to go around, why is the Western press singling out the Serbs for blame? “Ask my wife if she wants to move to Croatia, and she’ll tell you things to curl your hair. At least in Belgrade, there arc opposition parties and a free press. In Croatia, there is neither. My brother lives in Zagreb, and I’ve been unable to speak with him for months. I am safe in Belgrade, but I’m worried about him.” He points to the front of the bus, where a well-dressed but tragic-looking lady is sitting: “That is Neda Ukraden, the famous singer. She spent her life in Croatia, and now they have expelled her, simply because she is of a Serb background. That would not happen in Belgrade.”
Some cities show the scars of previous conflicts, but Belgrade seems like one great scar. In their sieges, assaults, and bombardments, Turks, Austrians, Germans, and Americans have done their best to obliterate all vestiges of the past. The best buildings date from the last century, and despite the dirt and neglect they convey some impression of how pleasant the Serbian capital must have been in the last days of the monarchy, but everywhere throughout Old Belgrade run the ugly weals and abscesses of socialist buildings that swelled up to replace the rubble of the Second World War.
Belgrade does not seem like a city on the brink of war. Despite the embargo, the shops are full, and the cafes and restaurants are doing a good business. The only shortage is gas, but there is a bright side to that, too. In the old days, the streets were congested with traffic and the air heavy with smog. Now, the traffic is light and you can smell the spring flowers.
The most serious shortage is medicine. I speak to a teacher whose husband is chief of pediatric surgery at a major hospital. He has little to do these days, because without antibiotics and anesthetics he is afraid to operate. I hear the same story everywhere, from doctors, from soldiers, from street vendors. Why don’t they let us get medicine? By “they,” they mean us, the United States, NATO, the United Nations. It is not as if the Serbs are preventing medical aid from reaching their enemies. On the contrary, throughout the war, much of the relief aid has been routed through Serbia.
But none of this—the Croat refugees in Serbia, the medical shortages, the political liberties in Belgrade—is being reported. It is as if Yugoslavia did not exist until last year, so profound is the ignorance of the Western press. A decade ago, American journalists interested in the Balkans could have recited the heroic saga of Serbian resistance to the Nazis and their Croat/Muslim allies. Today, however, no one seems to remember the death camps in which hundreds of thousands of Serbs and Jews were butchered like so much cattle. Perhaps the figures were inflated, the photographs doctored, the atrocity stories invented. Harder to explain away are the reports filed by German and Italian officials, horrified by their allies’ savagery. The Western press corps seems to know very little of this or, indeed, of any of the historical dimensions of the conflicts.
I begin to understand why only when I attend a press conference. The questions are bad enough—uninformed and trivial, but the answers given by the German U.N. general and the British UNI ICR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) are even less to the point. In some cases, the young translator is botching the questions and answers; more often, the officials simply duck the questions. The German is particularly amusing to the Serbs, as he repeatedly refers to the then president of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Chositch, as Mr. Sausage. Since Chositch is among the best-known Yugoslav novelists of our time, the general’s ignorance is not so much droll as tragic.
I notice that the average age of the reporters seems to be 25, and a worse set of foul balls, geeks, and nerds I have never seen. I ask a Serb journalist if it is the custom for the Western press to send only its youngest and least-talented stringers to Belgrade. He says no. There used to be a set of veterans, but once the war started, they began to be replaced by the children I had observed. Like most Slavs, he senses a plot. “Why did they replace General McKenzie as soon as he began saying that all sides were equally guilty? And, just when he is beginning to get the picture, General Morillon is being recalled.”
To begin to understand the Serbs, a journalist should leave the press center and walk down to Kalamegdan, the old citadel that is now a park. Although most of what can be seen today of the fortress is of Austro-Hungarian construction, you can find buildings or at least fragments from every period: of communism, the Serbian monarchies, the Turks. There is even a Roman wall to commemorate Singidunum, the Romano-Celtic town that lies under the modern city. Lined up around the inner walls are tanks and field pieces captured in the past hundred years of war.
Inside Kalemegdan is a remarkable museum that brings to life the national history and the national myths of the Serbs. Walking past the exhibits, the visitor sees a military procession of warriors—Celts, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, Turks, Hungarians, Germans, as well as every type of Serbian soldier—a time-lapse photography of ethnic struggles blooming into war and carnage in every generation.
For each exhibit, it seems, there is a talc of reckless courage and suicidal revenge: here is Milosh Obilitch, the Serb who assassinated Sultan Murad after (or during) the Battle of Kosovo; there is the Serb commander who held out as long as he could, until, finally letting the Turks into his fort, he fired the powder magazine, killing both armies. In revenge the Turks built their famous wall of Serbian skulls.
The violence in the Serbs’ heroic tales is neither random nor offensive. The heroes are frontiersmen who tried to hold the line against invading Islam. Even today, Serb poets sec their country as the last outpost of Christendom against the East. Blazho Perovitch’s poem “Serbijica Evropi na dushu” (“Little Serbia on the Conscience of Europe”) asks: “O clever young lady, do you know who was the first to defend Constantinople and Budapest and eternal Rome?”
The Serbian point of view has required a certain revisionism in the ease of their greatest hero, Marko Kraljevitch, who was actually a Turkish vassal. Like most Serbs, Marko Kraljevitch did not enjoy the privilege of unequivocal loyalty, defending an independent people. To an American, indeed to most Europeans, these are only stories. But if even educated and conservative Americans can no longer remember, much less resent, Pearl Harbor and the Alamo, the average Serb—blind as he may be to the realities of the modern world—has never climbed out of the swirling torrents of history to take a good objective look at himself.
Leaving Kalemegdan, I walk down Ulica Kneza Mihajla (Prince Michael Street). Everywhere there are street vendors selling souvenirs, and I stop to buy Chetnik caps for my sons. Neither my Serbian nor the vendor’s English are up to the transaction, but one of his friends who had lived in Australia tells me that the vendor is from Kosovo. “Albanian?” I ask. “Oh no, a Serb, and though he is my friend, I am afraid he is a bit of a Serbian racist.” The vendor smiles and shows me his documents written partly in Albanian. I play dumb and ask “Jeste li Shiptar?” (Are you Shiptar, i.e., Albanian?) He snorts angrily and explains that he and his family were driven out of their village by the Shiptars.
Upon our arrival in Prishtina, we are whisked away to the Grand Hotel—recently refurbished after years of neglect and misuse under the Albanian-controlled government, we are told—and then to a literary club for a late dinner, prefaced by rakija and accompanied by bottle after bottle of local wine. I am beginning to fear the recurrence of esophageal spasms. Three musicians (professional men in the daylight hours) go from table to table playing Serbian songs. The writers at my table request “Ko to kazhe Srbija je mala?” a nationalist song that asks the defiant question: “Who says Serbia is a small country?” These are literary intellectuals who, if they were Americans, would be condemning the racism of George Washington, but most Serb writers are fervent nationalists of a type that disappeared from the West over a century ago.
It is only later that I realize why we must eat in a club: Serbs are not welcome in Albanian restaurants. The next day, we must drive miles out of our way to eat in a mountain resort run by Serbs. We feasted on mountain lamb and jugs of wine given to us by a wine-maker who showed us the 14th-century casks that once had held the wine of Czar Stepan Dushan. A group of young men begin to sing patriotic songs, but my Serb friends are unimpressed. “Look at them boasting, and you can tell none of them has been at the front.” Being at the front, for a Serb intellectual, is something like killing a lion for a young Masai. “We call this sort of patriotic display ‘Serbianizing.'” There are worse vices to associate with a nationality.
Despite the fact that Serbs are an ever-dwindling minority in the region, Kosovo-Metohia—Old Serbia, as it is sometimes called—is the heartland of Serb nationalism. Everywhere there are relics and memorials of the medieval kings of the Nemanya dynasty, but no site in the world is more sacred to Serbs than the battlefield of Kosovo, where an indecisive battle with the forces of Sultan Murad spelled the downfall of the Serbian nation. According to one of the most beautiful of their folk poems, the Serb commander. Prince Lazar, was given the choice between a military and a spiritual victory: win the battle and lose the soul of the people or die and secure the kingdom of heaven.
This is more than historical revisionism, more than a convenient rationalization of defeat. It is the essence of the Serbian mind to find spiritual victory in defeat and desolation, dignity in subjugation, eternal life in death, and throughout the centuries of Turkish rule the Serbian identity was made up of loyalty to the Orthodox Church and celebration of Vidovdan, the day of St. Vitus, on which they lost their liberties at Kosovo.
In the cold light of dawn, Prishtina is almost frightfully ugly. There is an old part, but under Tito Prishtina swelled from a sleepy Middle Eastern town into a regional center for the socialist welfare system that helps to keep the Albanians idle and resentful. I am not well-acquainted with Third World countries, so the place reminds me of Mexico: hideous modern buildings falling into ruin, filth everywhere, and crowds on the street that stare at you as if you were a bugeyed Martian come to harvest their babies.
At first I am skeptical of all the anti-Albanian propaganda I hear from the Serbs. If a door handle is missing, they blame it on the Albanians; the missing grating that allows a clumsy American to fall into a 16-inch deep gutter—Albanians took it. Of course there is poverty and inefficiency all over Serbia, and hideous socialist buildings everywhere, but outside of an American housing project I have never seen such massive and stupid vandalism as in Kosovo. Anything that can be pried loose, it seems, will be stolen or broken. Some Serbs, I am told, have taken to carrying around their own door handle.
The university library is an oasis of order. On the outside, the building is among the most ludicrous I’ve ever seen. It was designed for Kuwait, someone tells me (jokingly?), but even the Kuwaitis had better sense. The mosquoid building, at first glance, seems constructed out of steel doormats and plastic trash bags, but inside all is clean and well-ordered. I was told that, until recently, most of the books written in any language but Albanian had been lying in heaps, unshelved and uncatalogued.
The transformation was accomplished by the library’s new director, Slobodan Kostitch, a poet and man-of-letters who knows how to hack his way through wrought-iron cobwebs of Yugoslav bureaucracy. His office is filled with icons and reproductions of ancient Serbian art. My first impression is of an antiquarian devoted to the national past, but when after a two-hour drive we enter the monastery of Patriarsha—headquarters of the Serbian Orthodox Church—it becomes clear that in rediscovering their cultural roots, Serbs like Mr. Kostitch are also rediscovering their faith. Like him they carry Kosovo “like a wrinkle on the forehead.”
The region of Metohia takes its name from a Greek Orthodox word for church property. It is an appropriate name, since the hills and valleys of Metohia are studded with the brilliant gems of medieval churches and monasteries. We are only able to visit three monasteries, Patriarsha, Visoki Dechani, and Grachanitsa. My interest was primarily antiquarian, not aesthetic. I had just spent three weeks in Italy—in Parma, Monza, Milan, Pisa, and Rome. What had Serbia to offer at that? I had been impressed by the pictures of what I thought were Byzantine frescoes in the Serbian churches, but books (even the superb volume put out by Jaca Books of Milan) had not prepared me for these days in Kosovo.
Patriarshia is located outside of Peteh, in a range of foothills looking up to the Prokletije Planine—the “Damned Mountains” that lead into Albania. Sheep are grazing in a green meadow that slopes down to a clear mountain brook. The place is very quiet, and the beauty of the scene is the right introduction to the church, which might have sprouted from the very stone of the mountains, and the frescoes inside are painted with the colors of the heavens, blue and gold. This is not art, as I have known art, but an epiphany of the world as seen through the eyes of Serbian Orthodox mystics, and to say much more would lead us from this painted paradise into the purgatory of art history and the hell of criticism.
High Dechani is a more classic construction, and Grachanitsa is almost dizzying in the off-centered beauty of its cupolas, but I am as impressed with the entire scene of Patriarsha as I am with anything I have ever witnessed. The prioress gives us a greeting, full of high and ancient courtesy, and we drink a glass of her plum brandy, which seems distilled out of the flowers as well as the fruit of the plum, so clean and pure a drink is it. The lady smiles, and the sun gleams off her gold teeth, radiant as the halo in an icon.
As we leave, I am shown the building that Albanians assaulted and tried to burn down ten years earlier. I have already noted the external frescoes of the church, which generations of Muslims have done their best to efface, but every church we visit has a story to tell, and some have already shipped off their most historic icons to Belgrade, in anticipation of more determined assaults. Everywhere, it is the face, particularly the eyes, that are scratched out, because the Muslims regard such depictions as blasphemous. The most famous case is the painting (in Grachanitsa) of Queen Simonida, the Byzantine princess who at the age of six became the fourth wife of King Milutin.
The gentle and learned nun who gives us a tour of Grachanitsa points out the mutilated painting and quotes the verses of Milan Rakitch, the Serbian consul to Turkish-held Prishtina who mourned the eyes that “some Albanian gouged out.” Rather than use the occasion for a sermon against Muslim atrocities, the Serb poet finds beauty in desolation, as Prince Lazar built a spiritual kingdom in his death and defeat at Kosovo:
Like stars burned out that still
send human kind their light;
and we see the splendor, the form and color,
of distant stars that are no longer there.
Brian Hall (New York Times Magazine, 9 May 1993) repeats the Albanian explanation that it was really the Serbs, believing in the curative power of the plaster, who defaced their own churches. Hall is just clever enough not to endorse such nonsense; he merely reports it in the course of a one-sided narrative that manages to leave out nearly every relevant fact of Kosovo’s history.
In the Middle Ages, Kosovo-Metohia lay at the center of Serbia, and even by the end of the 17th century the territory was no more than 5 percent Albanian, but in the 18th century, after defeating the Austrians, the Turks were able to push out a large part of the Orthodox population and to begin restocking Kosovo with Albanians. But even by the end of World War I, the Albanians amounted to no more than 60 percent.
As an underclass, first in the majority then in the minority, Kosovo Serbs enjoyed few protections. The Turks relied heavily on Albanian chieftains, whom they could scarcely control, and even reforming sultans at the end of the century were unable to restrain the Albanians in their relentless persecution of Christian “inferiors.” French, German, and Russian visitors all commented on the savagery and lawlessness of the Muslim Albanian master class that refused to consider it a crime to murder Christian Serbs, and one Serb writer has recently compared the role of the Albanians with that of the Kurds employed by the Turks as their shock troops in the Armenian genocide.
All that is ancient history, but in World War II many Albanian Muslims leaped at the chance to return to ancient ways. Some joined the 21st S.S. Scanderbeg division; others were active in the Balli Kombetar, whose goal was to purge the region of Serbs; others simply settled private scores—the Albanians are universally famous for their blood feuds.
In Kosovo, the 45-plus years of communist rule had two phases; the first, down to 1966, during which Tito’s government attempted to centralize the authority of the regime by balancing the ethnic interests of Serbs and Albanians. Some effort was made to suppress Albanian nationalist movements that received a steady stream of support from Tirana, but nationalist Serbs, entirely loyal to the Belgrade government, were subjected to the same harassment.
After 1966, the situation changed, and the entire region was handed over to the Albanian majority. Tito’s primary object appears to have been to foster the ethnic antagonisms that made his personal rule an absolute necessity. During the next 25 years, the Albanians did everything they could to persuade the Serbs to leave. The university at Prishtina was turned into an Albanians-only enclave; place names were changed—even the name of the region. The Albanians disliked “Metohia,” because it bears witness to the ancient and continued presence of the Orthodox Church; Serb villages were infiltrated by Albanians who intimidated and terrorized their Christian neighbors.
The result of this campaign was a steady exodus of Serbs, until Slobodan Miloshevitch broke with party orthodoxy and began encouraging the Serbs of Kosovo-Metohia to stay and fight. I visited a ruined church ovedooking one of the villages where the resistance began, and after spending a few moments on the streets of Fetch, I became convinced that the Serbian tales of oppression are not all propaganda. Getting out of the car, I began walking toward the bazaar, when several muscular Albanians walked up to me to make it plain I did not belong. They did not know who or what I was, except that I was not Albanian. One of them stuck his face into mine and glared. Anywhere else, I might have pushed his face in. Here, it might have meant our lives.
As a young man, I used to frequent rough places and have been in black-only bars at two o’clock in the morning and told to get my white a— out if I knew what was good for me; as an adult I have been jeered by feminists, slandered by conservatives, and mugged by blacks and gypsies: I have talked to communists and Klansmen, white racists and black racists and Jewish racists, but I never knew what real hatred was until I ran into the Albanians. 1 only wish that Senator Dole, when he visited Kosovo, instead of taking the Potemkin village tour offered by Albanian separatists, had actually gone out on the streets and experienced the two groups at first hand. But—so the Serbs claim—when they offered to meet with him, his staff refused. The senator only wanted to hear one side of the story.
The Kosovo problem can never be resolved on the principle of majority rule. Such a solution is as impractical as it is unjust—impractical, because the Serbs will never abandon the center of their ancient kingdom, their greatest churches, and the battleground and scene of the “Kosovo Oath” that gives what little cohesion there is to the Serbian national identity; unjust, because the Albanian preponderance in population is partly the result of oppression and genocide. President Clinton has considered sending troops to Macedonia, and it has been suggested that this army could be sent into Kosovo to control disturbances, in other words, to guarantee the Albanians their right to continue their campaign of cleansing the region of Serbs.
A Macedonian adventure would virtually guarantee the outbreak of a Balkans War involving Bulgaria, Albania, and even Greece, as well as Serbia. It will be very bloody, whatever some Serbs may pretend to think of the Albanians. One retired policeman told me how he and his partner had held back hundreds of rioting Albanians and concluded, “I’m not worried about those guys; they’re chicken.” Later, in private, a Serb nationalist dismissed this as boasting—mere “Serbianizing”: “Whatever else they are, the Shiptar are not cowards.” Citing a piece of proverbial lore, he explained: “They are men (i.e., tough, heroic) but they are not humane. A good Serb is supposed to be both. We are not, always, but with them humanity is not even an ideal.”
The Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina
Back in Belgrade there are gypsy bands playing on every street their wild incompetent music. Only a gypsy would attempt jazz improvisations on a battered tuba. What is this all about, I ask, some kind of feast day? A Serb friend laughs, and says it’s always like this when something is about to happen. The cops go out and roust the gypsies and tell them to play—they think it is reassuring. Miloshevitch must be selling out the Bosnians.
As bad a press as the Serbs in general have received, it is nothing compared to the treatment given to the Bosnian Serbs. I had no opportunity to investigate the atrocity stories of massacres and rape hotels. When I asked various Serbian journalists and officials about them, they admitted that terrible things had been done by all sides—Muslims, Croats, and Serbs—but, they added, the Muslims had practiced systematic rape in Bosnia more than a year before the first charges were raised against the Serbs. Why hadn’t the Western press reported the earlier stories?
I asked if there were films of the Serbian victims. There were, and they would show them to me if I wanted, but most of the women would not appear on camera, and of those who did most would not allow their names to be used and insisted upon sitting with their backs to the camera. They feel too deeply ashamed. I asked if anyone had tried to persuade them to be more forthcoming—after all, such evidence might help to prevent air strikes. “We Serbs do not exploit our women.” It is always the same answer, whether the question has to do with raped women or victims of massacres. Local villagers would not allow anyone to photograph the remains of their massacred relatives. “We do not exploit our dead.” Hill & Knowlton would have a hard time handling this account.
I make the trip with Misho Vujovitch, a Montenegrin journalist who can recite the atrocities committed by Muslims going back to the 14th century, and like most Serbs he can tell you exactly where the bodies arc buried. “For 500 years they butchered us, and then during the last war they and the Croats joined the S.S. and committed atrocities that even scared the Germans. Now, the Americans and the Germans think they can make us live under the rule of our butchers, after all that has been done and all they are doing now?”
Misho is a mystic as well as a nationalist. “We are God’s people,” he declares, and as evidence of divine judgment, he points out that the Turkish president has died; Genscher is out of office; the Austrian president is half-paralyzed. Like many Serbs, he sees his nation’s history as the unfolding of a divine plan in which events of five or six hundred years ago are fulfilling themselves only today. He quotes a poem he has written, of which I can only remember the first line: “The ghosts are coming alive in the graveyard.”
If the Serbs are God’s people, then their enemies must belong to the devil, and, in general, Misho has no high opinion of foreigners. When journalists ask him questions, he sometimes responds with a tall tale, like the one about the Muslim selling foreskins as oysters in Srebenica. Asked what paper he works for, he likes to answer Chetnik Times.
Our destination is Nevesinje, and the train takes us through Montenegro—brilliant blue water spilling out of gorges, the most beautiful trout water I have ever seen. There are even fish, and not 50 miles from the war zone I see families camped beside the river and fishermen lazily working their long and deadly poles along the banks. We arrive in Podgorica, which used to be Titograd, which used to be Podgorica, and wait for a driver. We all succeed in losing each other for over an hour, but when we finally assemble, our driver proves to be a 6’6″ Herzegovinian youth, too handsome to be in the movies.
Boro, who has seen things that make him sick inside, things that make him wonder if he can ever have a normal life, is only a kid who likes to drive too fast and play the music too loud. Wc talk him out of the Sarajevo pop he has on tape—I dare not tell him it sounds Arabic—and he switches to a sort of Chetnik Top 40, including songs of the current war, variations on the most ancient themes. “Ko to kazhe, ko to lazhe Srbija je mala?” plays over and over in our two-hour steeplechase through the dark hills of Herzegovina.
We arrive late, but Colonel Gushitch, the local commander, is still up, attending to business. He gives us a detailed and lucid briefing on the events leading up to the war in Bosnia, and although the colonel had a distinguished career in the Yugoslav army, he has harsh words for communist rule. “A spiritual genocide inflicted by leaders who were all misfits and jailbirds.” Most of the current crop of leaders in the breakaway republics he describes as misfits who ran afoul of Tito. Some were open traitors, like the (Croatian) last president of a unified Yugoslavia, who wrote a book. How 1 Destroyed Yugoslavia. This head of the Croatian parliament, he points out, became famous as a village mayor who was convicted not only of diverting funds from the restoration of an Orthodox church but even of hiring goons to beat up the iguman (prior).
Worse than the political treacheries, in the colonel’s opinion, was the betrayal of the army by its Croatian and Slovene officers. He speaks with bitterness of the great Slovene victory over the army. “The truth is, our men would not fire on the Slovenes, and as we were retreating through Croatia, the Croats attacked us.” Now he is here in his hometown, one of the few officers with his son, his only son, on active duty. His men are battle-ready, he says, not because of their equipment or training, but because “they have noble souls.” What he means is that unlike the Muslims, the Serbs have no record of genocide, no history of imperialism. “They are fighting now, as they have always fought, to keep their own.”
Though there is a certain contradiction in the Serb position—simultaneously cursing and defending the old union—it is hard not to rail against the hypocrisy of the American Republic that forced the South back into a union, with a slaughter that makes the Bosnian conflict look petty, and now complains about Serbian intransigence. “When are the English going to get out of Ireland?” a Herzegovinian soldier asks me, adding, “There will