Following the death by drowning of two Albanian children in the river Ibar, a large percentage of the Kosovar Albanian population has mobilized in a public show of grief we in the ostensibly multicultural west can learn from.
Rejoicing in the one surviving boy allegedly located by UNMIK police, indifferent to reports that the boys had originally been chased into the river by Serbian dogs, and despite UN police spokesman Derek Chappell's insistence, in Pristina on the 17th March, that ‘Serbs had nothing to do with it', a large part of the Albanian population has endevoured to share its grief, joy and gratitude with the region's tiny Serb minority. We have learned that Mr Chappell has since been moved to other duties.
Brushing aside UN and KFOR troops, who have shown themselves determined to prohibit the type of multi-ethnic functioning promoted under the Tito regime, Muslim Albanians lit candles in almost 30 Orthodox Christian churches. In Mitrovica on Wednesday, after 5 years of tragic intransigence from the international community, a crowd trying to cross a bridge to the Serbian side of the city quickly swelled as convoys of buses from Pristina began arriving with supporters. Large groups also gathered within a half-hour of each other in the western town of Pec, the eastern city of Gnjilane and towns in between, embracing their Serb neighbours.
Balkan ‘experts' have cast doubt on the likelihood of Serb involvement in the survivor's rescue, noting that the boy's village contains no ethnic minorities, and that Serb villages are situated on the other side of the treacherous river. Veton Surroi, the Albanian editor of Koha Ditore newspaper, wrote about a situation "dictated by figures almost anonymous in our institutional life". It is sad to note that, at the very time his readers are spontaneously driven by a spirit of engagement, Surroi seems to want to ascribe popular feeling to a shadowy intellectual elite. He is not alone, however, in slighting the olive branch ordinary Albanians are offering to their former oppressors. "Maybe this began spontaneously but, after the beginning, certain extremist groups had an opportunity to orchestrate," said Harri Holkeri, the UN representative who is the chief administrator of Kosova. "That is why we urgently have to work to get the perpetrators." Happily, the UN now seems to be pulling out of Kosova, and taking its divisive message elsewhere.
In unstable Serbia, small crowds of Orthodox Christians burned two mosques, police arrested arsonists, and the Belgrade regime was obliged to promise to make good any damages. A promise its 100,000 Albanian citizens, miraculously unharmed by these tragic terror attacks, shall no doubt be monitoring closely. And in a landmark war crimes trail at the District Court of Belgrade, Sasa Cvijetan was sentenced to twenty years in prison for killing 14 ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo in 1999.
On the other hand, enlightened Kosovan police, once freedom fighters against Serb domination, and no doubt mindful of Berlin 1989, wisely stood aside as their people marched towards Serb villages and towns. Serb extremists, however, are speculating that ahead of talks on Kosova's future status, Albanians are making a show of their multiculturalism, and even more bizarrely that the CIA is trying to foster a right wing regime in Serbia proper to further isolate Serbia from western trends. It was "simply unbelievable that Unmik and K-For were unable to get the situation under control"; there was a "total collapse of UN security systems", one Serbian newspaper screamed. But in the Albanian-language press, prominent activist Veton Surroi said events showed "there was no real state or political authority that could stop it."
Sadly, even though the UN is pulling out, KFOR remains. Its culturally insensitive soldiers have accounted for around 30 deaths amid the unprecedented scenes. Even so, we are forced to balance their misinterpretation of celebratory gunfire (a Balkan-wide custom), against the 1000 or so ethnic minorities killed from 1999-2004, before this week's final integration. In an ironic twist, it has come to light that the model for today's rapprochement has already been in place throughout Kosova, where state mental institutions house Serb patients and are largely Albanian run. We look forward to the time when western organizations finally leave Kosova, since they represent the only cause for tension amid Kosova's ethnic groups, which are ridden by pro-French, pro-British and pro-American factions. One KFOR officer was brave enough to say what we all know. Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Moran, a spokesman for the peacekeeping force, waiving any condition of anonymity, declared: "I don't think we will have any more problems."