Under the cold, clear skies of Kosovo there is a sense that the good times are coming back. The refugees are settling safely, a fledgling democracy is emerging and the raspberry vines are growing over the mass graves. But all is not sunshine and peace in this picturesque state nestled in the bullet riddled bosom of Europe. Inside the smoky taverneskas and around the rough hewn tables of the peasant kitchenskas, the talk is increasingly anxious. The Babushka crop is failing.
This tiny, fledgling nation relies heavily on it's abundant but now diminishing crop of Babushka fruit, the gaily coloured pods that grow on the dusky green vine. Babushkas are loved by children around the world, as they peel them to find progressively smaller Babushka fruits, or "Dolls", hidden one within the other. Chinese and Russian factories can manufacture thousands of synthetic Babushka dolls each day but only here, in the battle scarred but vibrant hills of Kosovo, does the Babushka grow naturally. Whilst many a toddler has been mildly amused by a fake pod, the true aficionado will only ever accept a genuine Metohija or Priština Babushka, grown organically by the peasants of these mountainous regions. But now this lucrative trade seems to be on the verge of vanishing.
The Babushka is a hardy, even voracious, vine closely related to the artichoke. It has survived harsh northern winters, withering summer droughts and years of stifling totalitarian oppression. But now, it seems, it has finally met it's nemesis. Chewing gum. The toxic resins used to maintain the mucilaginous viscosity of the gum chewed by many of the NATO troops has leeched into vast tracts of the Kosovan soil and is slowly but surely wiping out the Babushka crop. Mikal Grencha is a Babushka farmer from the Kosmet province.
"At first we think the plants they dying from being run over by tanks, but no, nothing kills the Babooshk'. Then I noticed that the Bishkys (infant babushka plants) were wiry and thin. This is most not normal. A Bishky he grow through rock, they much hardy. Often they grow to full size without even soil. "Never eat a Babushka seed or Bishky grow from inside you" they say. Hah hah hah, but no, that only happen twice. So, but, the Bishkys, now they dying. We say Why? Scientist say to me Bishkys be poisoned. We laugh for many hours, nothing we know poison Bishkys. Not even strong acid, just make Bishky grow stronger. But Gum, that not natural for our soil. To Bishky, gum is like an alien, like a space creature, only not with the boggly eyes, you know"
The massive influx of gum chewing NATO troops on Kosovan soil is being held responsible for the impending disaster but NATO public relation director Major Suzie Mclean believes other forces are at work.
"We came in peace. We came in gun ships and tanks, but we came in peace. Now some of our boys do chew a little gum but I think we need to look at our friends over on the Danube don't you? In fact I think we could even say it's the Russians fault. No wait, we want them on our side, so lets look at, um... the Palestinians, yes, lets say them shall we?"
All the talk about blame and responsibility however is unlikely to reverse the enormous damage already done to the Kosovan Babushka crop. That means some very disappointed Kosovan farmers. But more tragically it means that, come Christmas time, a small child, any small child, anywhere in the world, will wipe a sad tear from their little angel eyes because, No Virginia, there are no more Babushka dolls.