CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Serbiarnby Momcilo SelicrnNotes From the Front,rnPartirnIn the twilight, the machine gunnerrnholds aloft the dissembled barrel of hisrnweapon, his hands oily and stained, andrngrins at me. White-toothed, red-haired,rnhe wears his beret like a bonnet. Cocky,rnnot too large, he laughs, then swears arnheavy, loaded Serbian curse, unsparingrnof the Croats.rnThe machine gunner is a Kraina Serb:rnhe and I are both part of a military companyrnwhose task is to defend the Serbs,rnand, if need be, to hurt the Croats.rnBoth of us are preparing for a night assaultrnon a Croat-occupied Serb village,rncleaning our weapons and listening tornthe sergeant. The sergeant is a sixfooter,rndark and lanky, with the highrncheekbones of an ancient Avar. He alsornis a Kraina native, a volunteer who hasrncome from Serbia to defend his father’srnhamlet.rnhi a raspy voice, the sergeant tells usrnof the Croat deserters he has seen sunkrnin concrete up to their thighs, duringrnthe 1991 war, above Dubrovnik. “Theyrnleft the poor bastards,” the sergeant says,rn”so they could perform their bodilyrnfunctions, and they fed them, until wernstarted shelling their positions. The firstrnto die were the built-in men, screamingrnfor the rest of them to think aboutrnGod.” “The hill,” says the sergeant, “isrnmined, by them as well as us. Remember:rnshort bursts, grenades, watch outrnfor the trip-wires!”rnThe machine gunner—a living,rnbreathing Rob Roy, of these mellowerrnHighlands—does not hate the Croats.rnHis family has not been touched by therntwo-year-old Serbo-Croat war, and allrnhis relatives are present and accountedrnfor. But he has lost friends to the Croats:rnsome to bullets, and some to the knife,rnfire, and the club. The 20-odd Serb victimsrnof the Mali Alan ambush of Januaryrnthis year, for instance, were all dismemberedrnby the Croat soldiers, somernwhile they were still alive.rnThe cockade the machine gunnerrnwears on his camouflage beret is the silver,rndouble-headed Serbian eagle, arnlegacy of Byzantine times. The Croats’rnmemories are as long as the Serbs’—tornthem, the Latin pillage of Constantinoplernwas not so great an evil as the persistencernof Byzantines and Serbs whornremained orthodox. Though originallyrnwelcomed to Jesus by Greek emissaries,rnCroats have become Roman Catholics,rnwhile the machine gunner, the sergeant,rnand I still cling to the religion of our ancestors.rnIn Kraina, the conflict between therntwo Slavic peoples has entered a newrnstage: in Serbian, “Kraina” means “frontier,”rnmuch like the American frontierrnof the West, or the “Ukraine” of thernRus—a region of border wars, skirmishes,rnover-the-line feuds and grudges,rnbloody all. The Croats, despite a UnitedrnNations ban on the importation of arms,rnhave acquired German Leopard tanksrnand some former East German heavyrnweaponry; they wear American, NATO,rnor German uniforms and equipment,rneat NATO rations, and use Westernrnstandard military small arms. Gone arernthe days of the Croat armed rebellionrnagainst the respected Socialist FederalrnRepublic of Yugoslavia: today, it is Croatiarnthat is a recognized state, a memberrnof the U.N., while what is left of Yugoslavia,rnthe Republic of Serb Kraina,rnand the Serb Republic of Bosnia are internationalrnpariahs, shunned by the “internationalrncommunity.” How has allrnthis come about?rnTo my red-haired, red-bearded, blueeyedrncompanion with his brand newrnYugoslav Armv PKT machine gun, itrnmakes no difference whether foreignersrnrecognize Serbia, the Kraina, or SerbrnBosnia. He is a simple peasant soldier,rnlike his forefathers. Holding his weapon,rnin the dusk before a battle, he feels himselfrnfulfilled. Once the military frontierrnof Venice against the Ottoman Turks,rnKraina has for centuries been the homernof a Serb yeomanry whose status is notrnunlike that of the Russian Cossacks.rnFarmer-soldiers, the machine gunner’srnancestors defended the West, Christendom,rnand the Serbs—in their mind, alwaysrninseparable—from the East, Islam,rnAsia, and the myriad of evils and ills asrnold as the first wars between the Europeansrnand the Turkic steppe-raiders orrnthe desert marauders of the Near andrnMiddle East. Kraina Serbs—-a mixturernof Slavs and the native Balkan Celts andrnIllyrians—lived in a changeless and satisfyingrnland, tending to tasks as immutablernas their vine-covered landscape.rnAlong crystal-clear but turbulent rivers,rnall emptying into the Adriatic Sea,rnthey—Serbian Orthodox in religion—rnrejoiced in being what God createdrnthem: a free people on free territory, recognizedrnas such first by Venice, then byrnthe Kingdom of Hungary and the Empirernof Austria.rnThat night, we did not attack our objective.rnSomeone—a politician, or arnmilitary bigshot thinking like a politicianrn—had decided that it was prudentrnnot to provoke an additional outcryrnagainst Serb “aggression.” The Croats,rnin our village, could spend that night inrnpeace—thanks to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia,rnand the Communist Republicrnof Yugoslavia.rnIn 1918, the victorious Serbian Army,rnon the winning side of World War I,rnentered the Austro-Hungarian provincernof Croatia to preserve civil peace. Westernrnallies and the spearhead that hadrnbroken through the Salonika front defeatedrnthe Bulgarians, bringing aboutrnthe capitulation of Austria-Hungaryrnand ultimately the fall of Germany.rnThe Serbs of Serbia were called in byrnthe desperate Croatian Parliament tornprevent a communist revolution-inprogress.rnThe Croatian invitation wasrnsomewhat reluctant: last among all thernAustrian Slavic subjects to declare independencern(following the Austrian militaryrndebacle), the Croats were faced byrnan angry Entente, determined to treatrnthem as a defeated nation.rnFormed ad hoc on October 29, 1918,rnthe Kingdom of Croats, Serbs, andrnSlovenes had to ward off Italian claimsrnto the whole of the Dalmatian coast, asrnagreed on in the Treaty of London ofrn1915, by which Italy had been broughtrninto the fighting on the Entente side.rnFurthermore, Croatia, like all the defeatedrnCentral Powers, had dissolved intorna chaos of rioting deserters, warringrnnationalities, and mutinous regimentsrnreturning from Serbia and the ItalianrnFront. The new “state” tried franticallyrn38/CHRONICLESrnrnrn