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Pristina: Kosovo like Namibia?


When the Yugoslav wars began in 1991, little up to date literature was available abroad. What existed was either dry and academic or simply old and irrelevant. This began to change, however, in 1992, following the publication of Mark Thompson's reportage about events of the last few years in Yugoslavia and his experience in the dying country. Today some of it seems extraordinary but other parts prophetic. In Kosovo he meets Ibrahim Rugova, the pacifist president of the Democratic League of Kosovo, (LDK) who tells him that "Serbia is determined to pretend Albanians are separatist […] It isn't true." In this extract Thompson talks with friends in Pristina, but also quotes Erwin, a friend of his from Slovenia. Remember that the book was written in 1991!

In Kosovo today, no one can predict better times. Wearing his philosopher's hat, Xhemail observed, one evening as we watched a venomous news report on television about separatist terrorists, that "verbal violence in the Balkans entails physical violence". Mufa the rock musician chipped in: "Playing with fire – that's politics in the Balkans. From the outside it looks too crazy, but the fire is real, and so is the dynamite stacked all around. "

How many years will it be until verbal solutions entail real solutions? Obsessed with what has happened to them, Xhemail and his friends cast around for a deus ex machina. Could Kosovo be a United Nations protectorate like Namibia? Might the European Community take a decisive stance for Kosovars' rights? It was painful to answer such questions honestly, and sometimes I equivocated, ashamed that Europe ignored these shipwrecked missionaries of the "modern European preference" for non-violence and dialogue, and somewhat haunted by Ervin's breezy cynicism: "This Gandhian trip of theirs is picturesque but it won't do. A few thousand dead might have secured their autonomy. Now they'll have to shoot their way out of Serbia or learn to put up with it. "

A Paper House: The Ending of Yugoslavia. Mark Thompson. 1992.
[p. 140 / Vintage]

January 2007
Tim Judah

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