May 23, 2000

Comment: #357

Discussion Thread:  #s 355 & 356

I received two emails today from Kosovo. The first is from an experienced man assigned to UNMIK in Pristina.

The second, which was forwarded to me, is from an young American woman working for UNMIK in the field with Albanians in Kosovo. I am told she wanted to work overseas to try her hand at making the world better for all. She provides some useful and important on the scene insights into local culture and ethnic hatred.

~~~~~~~[begin 1st email from Pristina]~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Subject: Re: #356: Kosovo SITREP II


All the IW's [indications & warnings] you are hearing concerning the Vitina assessment and the overall situation in Kosovo are fairly accurate.

The marine's officer views on the riot control situation is right on and you can sit back and wait for the shit to hit the fan in a little while. Timewise, I can't tell you, the restraint being shown from all sides is considerable. But the proverbial balloon will pop in a matter of time.

Take care,

~~~~~~~[end 1st email]~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~[begin 2nd email]~~~~~~~

Subject: Electronic E-Mail from Kosovo III, Naiveté Lost

Hey All,

I actually came here believing that some semblance of peace is possible, but now I know I was deluded.

Last weekend, a friend and I drove into the north side of the divided city of Mitrovice. North is Serbs, South is Albanians, because we were driving from the south into the north in a non-UN car, when we stopped at a restaurant to eat, our car soon attracted a crowd that was prepared to burn the car and it turned into a scene with UN CivPolice, KFOR and Serb security running over to manage the situation. The car was confiscated by the Serbs.

That same night, I went to a bar in the Serb area and got into a conversation with a Serbian man about politics. It's really scary some of the things he was spouting. "Albanians are wild animals, no culture, Serbs are like the Jews and NATO is Hitler." I've heard that this is what Serbs generally think of Albanians but I thought it was just the looney fringe, but when a live person says it and believes it, it's scary.

It's a such SCHIZOPHRENIC lifestyle. I work with Albanians, but since the area is destroyed, Serb areas offer the only nightlife. but depending on where you are, you can only use one language and not the other. On one side, I can say I'm American but on the other side I'm always Korean. I'm supposed to be neutral but when each side has only negative things to say about the other, it just brings knots to my stomach.

I'm realizing that it's not the international communities job to bring "peace" we don't know what either side's been through, it's not our fight, we can't do a damn thing.

This isn't just about bad leaders and animosity between governments. It's seething hate from inside of each person. The stories I hear from Albanians are that there was always a systematic discrimination against Albanians that was sanctioned by the government and which some Serbs took advantage of the situation by extorting money, discrimination, etc.

Albanians are extremely family oriented. Average 8 kids, they are shocked to learn that I only have one sibling. Divorce rate is nil, friendly, easy going.

Serbs, more the "classic" Serb, reserved bordering on cold.

It's sad that 1/3 of the Albanians I meet, because of my work, are illiterate, many people our age. People work in the fields and life is hard, so many people I thought were older than me are much younger, premature aging. Many people don't know their birthdays, born/live and die in the same village and have no records of their existence in government databases. The concept of identity is based on social recognition rather than on a legal one which is the case in a more impersonal, literate, mobile western societies.

Albanians are always inviting me for meals, but unfortunately, the traditional cuisine is primarily BREAD!!!! Always bring spices when you travel. All I fantasize about is spices, soy sauce, green leafy vegetables and anything that is not bread. What I would do for a burrito or sushi or kimchee or lettuce.

On a lighter note, I had dinner with some Danish KFOR soldiers last night and they told me that they are not allowed to eat the local food because of the uranium and lead content in all the water and food. They only eat food imported from Denmark. They are also under orders not to have children until one year after they've left Kosovo because of the risk for birth defects. Glad I wasn't planning on reproducing though I may be glowing when I return.

I'm working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and fantasize only about food. Now I know why in international work you can easily go without any kind of relationships, no time, no energy … first time in my life when I need to take vitamins because I'm not getting enough nutrients.

~~~~~~~~~~~[end email]~~~~~~~~~~~

Chuck Spinney

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