April 5, 1999

Comment: #253
Discussion Thread:  #s 252


[1] Michael Dobbs, "Conflict as Old as the Century," Washington Post, April 5, 1999, Page A12.

[2] MICHAEL T. KAUFMAN, "THE HISTORY: Two Distinct Peoples With Two Divergent Memories Battle Over One Land," New York Times, April 4, 1999.

The two references provide general background information on conflict, ethnic cleansing, and the different outlooks of among inhabitants of the Balkans. Reference #1 is a general overview of the region, much of which appears to be based on the 1913 report by the Carnegie Foundation (which was recently reprinted with an excellent foreword by George Kennan and is available in book stores like Barnes and Noble or Borders). Reference #2 is a brief description of the Albanians & Serbs in an attempt to put their different views into perspective. This is a very important subject about which most people know very little, but unfortunately, Reference #2 seems to be written more from Albanian perspective, and significantly, it omits any discussion of Serb experience in WW II vis-a-vis that of the Albanians.


Reference 1:

The late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz, known as Tito, succeeded in maintaining stability in the Balkans for more than three decades before his death in 1980 through a combination of political repression and a skillful balancing act that involved playing NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact against each other. But the Titoist system could not survive the multiple shocks of the disintegration of the East-West power balance, the advent of democracy in Eastern Europe, and an economic crisis in Yugoslavia caused in large part by Tito's refusal to embrace a free-market system...

The present Balkan crisis will almost certainly not lead to a wider European war for a very simple reason: The continent is no longer divided into rival alliance systems. A single power, the United States, has replaced the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Czarist empires as the dominant outside power in the Balkans...

Why Hungary went one way and Yugoslavia the other is a much debated question here. In theory, Hungary's Communist leaders could have followed Milosevic's example and attempted to hang on to power in 1991 by whipping up nationalist passions. The raw material was here. Just as many Serbs live outside the borders of Serbia proper, so too is there a 5-million-strong Hungarian diaspora in neighboring countries.

Unlike Serbia, however, Hungary had managed to exorcise its historical ghosts. The nation has had seven decades to get used to the idea of its reduced status, and the nationalist temptation was never a serious option for Hungary's current leaders. An imperial, multi-ethnic power prior to World War I, Hungary was stripped of two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its population under the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. Hungary today is ethnically homogeneous, much as Serbia would be if it were stripped of Kosovo and the northern region of Vojvodina, home to a large minority of ethnic Hungarians.

Reference 2:

To the extent that a Serbian view takes account of Albanians at all, the Albanians are portrayed as having sided with or served the Ottoman Turks, and they are said to have taken over properties left behind when Serbs fled northward, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Serbs claim that in the years of Ottoman rule, the Turks favored the Albanians, most of whom are fellow Muslims, installing them as landlords and allowing them to exploit and humiliate Serbs.

Albanians see things differently. They claim that their ancestors, the ancient Illyrian tribes, who provided fighting legions for the Greek and Roman empires, were in Kosovo for centuries when the Serbs first arrived from what is now southern Poland. Moreover, they claim that Albanians had a long record of fighting the Turks, and that in fact Albanians had fought as allies of the Serbs at Kosovo Polje. They point out that their national hero, Scanderbeg, spent 20 years in the 15th century warring against the Ottoman Sultan.

The Albanians, who did not have their own state until 1913, stress that they are an overwhelming majority in the area and that they have attained such numerical supremacy despite longstanding efforts of governments in Belgrade to displace them, among these an attempt in 1926 to sponsor Serb settlements. The Albanians recall how in the period between the two world wars mosques were seized, land was confiscated, old deeds invalidated and some Albanians were forcibly put on trains and deported to Turkey.

End Excerpts

Chuck Spinney

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