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RECONSIDERING Kosovo Back to the Balkans BY RICHARD H. KRAEMER Oh, we’re back to the Balkans again, Back to the joy and the pain. What if it burns or it blows or it snows? We’re back to the Balkans again. Back where tomorrow the quick may be dead, With a hole in his heart or a ball in his head. Back where the passions are rapid and red. Oh, we’re back to the Balkans again! “Song of the Balkan Peninsula,” by Edith Durham Writing about the Balkans at any time is risky business; writing about the Balkans in 1999 is particularly perilous. Fears and hatreds are so intense, and precise information so hard to come by, that writing an account that will be accepted as unbiased and accurate is, if not impossible, at least extremely difficult akin to making love while standing in a hammock. The author does have one bias: he wishes that the Serbs would be instantly transformed into Swedes, the Croats into Swiss, and all the Muslims into Danes. Now to reality. BALKAN SNAPSHOTS Edith Durham’s “Song of the Balkan Peninsula” \(from her book was published in 1909. Except for the oblique reference to firearms, it could have been written in 1209 as well as 1609, 1809, or 1999. There is a chilling consistency to Balkan history; a few snapshots catch the unique character of the area. In 1389, Prince Lazar led a Serbian force against invading Osmanli Turks. The Serbs were defeated on The Field of Blackbirds killed. But a Serbian prisoner later broke free and killed the Turkish commander. This battle is celebrated in Serbian history as a victory, and Kosovo is sacred ground to the Serbs “Remember the Alamo” writ large. The Ottoman Empire, which had ruled much of the Balkans for 500 years, began to crumble at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The spirit of personal liberty and national independence that had arisen in Europe and the Americas spread to the South Slays as well. Russia, which had a particular relationship with Serbia based on their common religion, began to preach panslavism, and South Slays began to think in terms of unity and independence, and complete freedom from their current rulers, the Austro-Hungarians and the Ottoman Turks. The first serious Serbian revolt came in 1804. Its leader was observer, “peasant turned mercenary turned brigand turned guerrilla.” Black George was so named for his dark complexion as well as his sullen disposition and savage character. He is credited with killing more than a hundred men with his bare hands, including his father and brother. A dynamic and effective military commander, by 1807 he had driven the Turks from Serbia. They returned in 1809 and, with Russian aid, he drove them out again. But when Cliff Pearson Afterward, residents found eight men executed in the road. they returned in 1813, Black George was forced to flee. The Turks chose another peasant to rule Serbia, Milos Obrenovich, a man not unlike Black George. Two years later, the Serbs rose again, led this time by none other than Milos Obrenovich. He expelled the Turks, proclaimed himself Prince of Serbia, and then accepted Ottoman sovereignty in exchange for recognition and substantial self-rule. Black George made the mistake of returning to Serbia in 1817. He was murdered, and his head was sent to the Turks, Historians believe that Milos Obrenovich was not completely innocent in Black George’s violent and dramatic demise. In 1912 Serbia formed an alliance with the Greeks, Bulgarians, and Montenegrans to attack and defeat the Turks, forcing them to cede the remaining territory they held in Europe. In 1913, because of a quarrel over the spoils of the previous year’s war, Serbia reversed course and joined the Turks in defeating the Bulgars. These two wars included acts of pillage, rape, and genocide that are characteristic of Balkan conflicts in the 1990s. This sampler of historical snapshots gives some insight into what may be called The Balkan Mindset: 1.History is alive and well in the Balkans. Old wounds and grievances, as well as old victories, still exert a strong influence on contemporary thought and action, and more than most Europeans, the Balkan peoples tend to think collectively, rather than as individuals. 2.Although most South Slays are Christians, the New Testament teachings of love, mercy, charity, compassion seem to be reserved for immediate family, close friends, and a few trusted . allies. For outsiders, the Old Testament prevails an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. 3.Thus, violence is an accepted solution for personal, social, and See “Balkans,” page 18 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 15, 1999