On today’s Serbian elections.

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.”

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