Archive for May, 2008

Al-Jazeera on the ‘Serb’ refugees, and the omission of Roma from discourse on Kosovo.

Posted in 1 on May 12, 2008 by Shon

Al-Jazeera English posted a decent article today on Serbs displaced from Kosovo, and a good series of short interviews showing that not all Serbs are crazed cannibalistic ‘Chetniks.’ But Al-Jazeera repeated the same omission of Roma from their story that has become standard in coverage of the area – not insignificantly, as if their figures are true, more than half of the “Serb” refugees are Roma, Ashkalije, or Egyptian! (The latter two groups are related to Roma, although Albanian-speaking.)

According to the Al-Jazeera article, 170,000 Serbs fled Kosovo after NATO drove out the Serbian forces and the returning KLA went on their own campaign of ethnic cleansing. According to an extensively researched first-hand report put together by Voice of Roma in 2002, in which pre-war and post-war populations of 267 areas with Romani populations were surveyed, Kosovo was home to 123,686 Roma, Ashkalije, and Egyptians before the 1999 war. By 2001, only 34,863 remained in Kosovo, either in their places of residence, or in IDP camps. The 88,823 thus driven from the country (not counting the large number of internally displaced) would thus make up 52.2% of the “Serb” refugee population.

Tim Judah, in his article “Serbia: The Coming Storm” (New York Times Review of Books, 53:16, Oct 19, 2006) repeats a similar figure when he casually mentions the KLA displacing Serbs “and an equal number of other minorities”, without bothering to mention who constitute this group of perhaps 100,000.

These numbers, and the distortion thereof, are of great importance for two reasons. First, the KLA cleansing is often forgiven as an “understandable revenge” for Serb military actions in 1998-99. Were the cleansing to be shown to have cleansed equally as many Roma (who have still never been shown to have systematically collaborated with the Serb forces) as Serbs, the truly dire condition of human rights in Kosovo might come to light, and might call into question the legitimacy of the new Albanian-dominated state.

In addition, Serbia has been reluctant to provide adequate aid to the Roma, as can be witnessed in downtown Belgrade, where a shantytown of perhaps 10,000 Roma refugees from Kosovo try to survive. One Rom friend, who worked for over 20 years as the head of electrical engineering in one of Kosovo’s two massive power plants, told me last weekend that he receives no pension for his years of work, since he lives (as a refugee) outside of Serbia. The Macedonian government has denied him and his family asylum in Macedonia, and would have forcibly deported them had UNHCR (the UN High Commission of Refugees) not intervened. If his position as a former highly-placed profession is currently so precarious, both politically and economically as his family struggles to find work as day-laborers in the poor Roma neighborhood of Shutka, one can imagine the disastrous conditions faced by the other 88,000 Roma refugees, and the tens of thousands of IDPs struggling to survive in refugee camps and villages within Kosovo.


On today’s Serbian elections.

Posted in 1 on May 11, 2008 by Shon

Again, readers, you’ll have to forgive me for posting so little. It’s too difficult in the middle of everything to try and have perspective enough to summarize anything for the commendably curious out there. But I feel obliged to share a few stories now that the Serbian election results seem to have come in (the first half,) since I assume a few people might be curious on people’s perspective here.

From afar, I have always been reluctant to show any preference for any of the Serbian candidates. As with most of the Balkans but perhaps to the most extreme degree, Serbia is caught with the dismal choice between nationalistic candidates who risk returning the region to full-blown war, and those that are eager to sell off all of the country’s resources to the global market for a small cut for themselves (and nothing for the population.) However, from here, my feelings have been pretty clear-cut. All around me in the Serbian enclave, new posters have gone up daily for Nikolic, the candidate for the hard-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, often also featuring the gleaming face of Vojislav Seselj, who now sits in the Hague indicted for war crimes as a paramilitary leader in Croatia, Bosnia, and here. On his campaign recently, Nikolic said, “We are ready to defend Serbia’s pride.” Were he to win, Kosovo would very likely return to war, at least around the Mitrovica area which borders green-line Serbia to the north, which the Serbs are hoping to partition in a manner similar to the Serbian Republic in Bosnia. The Serbian Radicals are throwing their lot in with Russia, which, as I’ve written about previously, may well be eager to assert itself on the world stage by backing regional allies. Such a conflict would not only endanger the various residents of Kosovo. “Of course I want Tadic [the pro-European, less-nationalist candidate] to win,” my friend here told me tonight. “If Nikolic wins, he’ll cause the Third World War.” I’m not sure he was exaggerating.

I turned on the Serbian news tonight to see if the results had come in. Tadic was giving a speech, and his seriousness made me think he had lost. I was especially confused why he kept seeming to say that it was important for Serbia to follow the “Arabski put,” the Arab path, and strengthen its ties with Arab countries, until I realized that the “Eu” dipthong of “Europski” (European) sounds more like the American English /ae/ of Arab, while the A of “Arabski” is pronounced /ah/… Damn the Great English Vowel Shift of the 13th-17th centuries. Anyway, I googled the election and let out a guilty cheer that Tadic had won (without noticing the February date – google really has to work on their news engine.) The teenage son of the family I’m staying with asked me why I was happy. I told him that the candidate that wanted war had lost, and the other one was winning. He was old enough during the events of March 2004 (which I have written about earlier on this blog) to be horribly afraid, so he beamed and gave me a big hug.

Over his shoulder, his mother looked at me sternly. We speak all the time, but I had never heard her discuss anything like elections. Usually, she is too tired from laboring to maintain her large household, besides her day job. “Why are you happy? Nikolic should win,” she said.

“But Nikolic is asking for war!” I said.

“Let him. Let there be war. Let the Albanians and the Serbs hate the Roma, let the Albanians and Serbs fight. Let there be war. Either peace, or war. This is not life. I can’t live like this anymore. No freedom of movement, no work, no hope for my children’s future, no standard of living. You know what happened to me the other day?”

Two days ago, she tried to visit her family, now refugees in Macedonia. At the border, she was turned away because her niece was with her, with a different last name. The Kosovo/Macedonia border is a key point in regional human trafficking, so adults cannot (officially) cross the border with someone else’s children. Stranded on the border unexpectedly, she caught a ride with an unofficial Albanian taxi van. He insisted on taking a route around the Kosovo border, though she protested, since as a resident she would have no trouble at the border. He also insisted on a 50 euro ($80) fee for what is usually a 10 euro ($16) ride, which she couldn’t pay. The 6-year-old niece, who has a remarkable intuition, began crying. After making them walk through wilderness around the border, he picked them up again, now with a number of Albanian passengers in the van. For the entire ride back, the passengers asked her threatening questions, whether her whole family had fought with the KLA during the war, where exactly she lived, and so on. Though also a fluent speaker of Albanian (having grown up in an Albanian village among Albanian friends before the war), she kept silent, shaking with fear for the entire long ride, as the niece continued crying. Finally, they dropped them off at the border of their Romani neighborhood inside the Serbian enclave.

I told her I knew about her ride. She looked firmly into my eyes. “I can’t live like this anymore. Let them make war.”

Hours later, the first half of the results indicated that Tadic really had won.

“Tadic won,” she told me. “No good.”