My friend, [Petar], wrote a very eloquent email about what Serbia, Kosovo, and being a Serb means to him. Several have asked permission to republish it. He has graciously consented to that and I want to share with you his story, in his words. [Some personally identifying information has been omitted to protect privacy.]
Walter has asked a bit more about me so here it is.
Okay. My name is [Petar], last name not important. I am , I was born in Belgrade, SFR Yugoslavia, and since then I have changed 4 countries: SFR Yugoslavia (Tito and post Tito); FR Yugoslavia (Milosevic); Serbia & Montenegro (post-Milosevic); and now Serbia (full name Republic of Serbia). That’s 4 countries in 18 years. It was not just the name that had changed. The borders changed, and the country is now much smaller than the country I was originally born in. The street names changed. The passports changed. The ID cards changed. The license plates changed. The holidays changed. The national symbols changed. The currency changed. Everything changed. Basically, the system changed from a fully closed Communist state to a more open Socialist state, to a mixture of dying Socialism and emerging Nationalism, to what we have today – what most of the world refers to a young democracy, or a country in transition. I believe we have made a lot of progress since the fall of Milosevic. Of course, there is so much more to be done. I remain to be an optimist, that is the only thing keeping me going. I could have chosen to live in Canada or [Austria] because some of my close and distant family members live there. But, precisely because I love my country, I decided to stay and face the music, as Americans say. And I faced the music alright….
My generation was born in another era, that seems to have happened 100 years ago, in another time, another system of state and system of values. The Communist Yugoslavia, although Communist, was still the most progressive and most open Communist country – it was a success story – the Balkan America. Then came the really bad decade of the 1990s. A closed, isolated society, where nationalism grew to the extremes (just like in Croatia for example, and it was not a closed and isolated country). To survive the breakup of a country one was born in, raised in, that one loved, to see people one knows head off to war, to live through the sanctions and the world’s greatest hyper inflation of modern economic history (measured in billions of percent), to face empty stores and wait in line for basic food supplies; to buy everything at the black market; to change money in the street and not at a bank; to buy petrol from a guy holding a canister and not at a gas station; to have very dangerous paramilitary guys in all sorts of uniforms walk about the city; to witness a moral, economic and every other kind of degradation; to see how the ordinary people struggled to survive; to protest against the regime at every possible opportunity and face risks; to face being arrested or beaten by Milosevic’s police and thugs, or to face losing a job, or even being killed; to watch what you say or write; to be basically afraid of what tomorrow shall bring; to then suffer enormously under NATO’s “merciful” and “humanitarian” bombs, to see one’s country shamelessly destroyed – bridges, hospitals, schools, factories… while those Western bastards are smiling on TV, and in spite of it all, to still keep faith, to protest proudly wearing a sign TARGET, to drink slivovitz and pray before crossing a bridge, or to throw a barbecue on your balcony and yell at the enemy planes above – COME DOWN HERE COWARDS AND YOU WILL END UP JUST LIKE IN VIETNAM… that was just a glimpse of how it looked. Of course, writing about an entire decade would take so much more time and space. Believe me, my hands are shaking and my eyes are filling up with tears and anger as I recall all these things… and so many more… that none of you can ever even imagine. And what really amazes me is the width and the depth of our Slavic soul. The Russians will understand this, the Westerners never will. We did our best to try to live as normally as possible. I finished my University, how ironic it was – to study about management, successful companies, business ethics, public relations, marketing, big money – and to live in a world exactly the opposite of that. We have kept our faith and our spirit, and we have managed to survive in a short time what many countries would not survive, or would have taken centuries to experience.
My father was a diplomat while the former Yugoslavia still existed and I was [a student in an overseas school] – that is where the good English language comes in. That place had taught me about tolerance as I have met people of all races, cultures, backgrounds, religions, from all over the world. Like I said, when we came back to Yugoslavia I obtained my University degree. I think of myself as a well read, informed and educated person, much more informed than, say, many people my age in the EU and the US. My political views are moderate-conservative. I am a Monarchist, a pro-Western person who loves his country above all things (not a person who loves his country and hates the West). Of course I resent what the Western world has done to us… and by God’s law it will pay, someday, somehow… because America, NATO and the EU can not keep on bullying everyone all the time… at one point they will pay for that… I don’t know how. But, I imagine either by Al Qaeda or a great natural hazard or something like that. My views are that we must be good with the West and with the East, for practical reasons, not because we love the West. We don’t. But we do not hate the West as much as we should, considering all the things we have been through, and that the West is still doing to us (Kosovo!!!).
In the past seven years, our lives have normalized a lot, and today an average Serb lives almost as good as an average French, German, Italian. That is on the surface. But, what we carry deep in our souls are the traumas of the 1990s, the fear of being isolated, left alone, poor, the fear of war, of starvation, of madness… I do not think we would survive another repeat of the 1990s… I know I wouldn’t. Our souls are tormented and hurt, we desperately need either to be accepted, or to be left alone to lick our wounds, so to speak; but no… the West just keeps on pushing and pushing and pushing… and then they are surprised why we burned their embassies.
Enough is enough. Serbia has suffered so much. We were promised that everything would be okay once we got rid of Milosevic. We did that, and I am glad we did, and it took tremendous courage of ordinary Serbs. We undertook serious reforms – political, economic, etc. And we were praised. But, we also continue to be pressured, blackmailed, threatened, bullied.
Serbs will survive it all, as they have survived so many things in the past – always facing a great adversity, a much stronger and many times powerful enemy. We are a tough nut to crack. But, I just wish the West would go away and leave us alone, or accept us and stop doing this to us. What the West has done to us is genocide. Media genocide. Economic genocide. Cultural genocide. Political genocide. Military genocide. What the hell is their problem? How would they feel if I did that to their countries and their people? What did Yugoslavia or Serbia ever do to the US and Britain? I know we kicked the German butts twice in one century, I bet Germany is out for revenge, and I know that I will never trust German politics. But, France, Britain, the USA – they were our Allies in both world wars… and now, they are just as bad as the Germans.
I was in Belgrade the whole time of the Yugoslav crisis (1990-2000). I survived the breakup, the sanctions, the bombings, everything. For personal reasons that I do not wish to disclose, I did not take part in any war, but I donated blood, I personally with my friends delivered 50 kg of food when Krajina fell, I wrote articles, protested against Milosevic all the time, I swallowed tear gas 3 times, during the bombings I used to bring cigarettes to the soldiers near to where I live. Some of them were younger than I was, some of them were very young, barely 18… I deeply admired them. At that time, I wished I could be in that war to fight for my country. I did not wish that in any other war (Slovenia, Croatia, etc – as it was a civil war, very nasty), but when Serbia itself was attacked from the outside, I felt profoundly hurt. I believe the fight for freedom is one’s sacred duty. I am one of those rare Serbs who still believe that God, Kingdom, the King and Country are the most sacred values. I admired these soldiers. I would bring them cigarettes, they were desperate for cigarettes to calm them down, we would talk about their families, girlfriends… sometimes a nice encouraging word would mean so much to them. And then I would go to church and I would cry, cry, cry and I would pray – dear God, why? Why?
In the end, having experienced so much, I know that I love my country and that I am proud to be Serb. Not proud of everything some of my people had done… but crimes were committed by others as well – of equal if not worse proportions, and only Serbia was punished, repeatedly – I am proud because we remain to be ourselves – always sticking out, always different, always untamed by the West, and always with a strong sense of survival, no matter what. And in spite of it all, we still have the ability to smile, even share some humor at our own expense. And to be friendly to foreign tourists or business people, and show them the best of our Balkan hospitality and the warmth of our Slavic soul.
My opinion on Kosovo’s so-called independence is that I am against it and most Serbs are. However, with a note that this did not occur just now. I blame Tito, I blame Milosevic and Seselj, and I blame the West. My view is that Serbia should never recognize Kosovo (the person who would sign such a document would be a dead man), and I think Serbia needs to gain a better political and economic leverage to protect the Serbs and the churches in Kosovo – that means to play nicey-nicey with the West and Russia. We need to prevent Kosovo from getting into the UN, OSCE, and the Council of Europe, and we will. We need to slow down the recognition process as much as we can. Only 30 out of 200 UN countries have recognized Kosovo, so there is still a majority of those that didn’t. I am against the pull-out of our ambassadors because we need people who will represent our position in the West. I am against war with the Albanians because we can not win it. Albanians are not the problem, America is, and it is on their side. I am against any sanctions because that would also affect Kosovo’s Serbs. I am against any dramatic events in north Kosovo because then the Serbs in the rest of Kosovo will be at the mercy of the Albanians. So, I am not for an emotional approach, but for a slow, rational, well-thought of approach. Yes I am terribly hurt, for me Kosovo is Serbia and it will always be Serbia, but emotions are one thing, reality is another, and real-politics is yet another.
There you go. Now you’ve gotten a chance to meet me closer. I could write for many hours, but I must respect my own time as well as the time of everyone here.
Thank you all for your kind attention.