Kosovo

Snow-capped mountains–unseeing, ageless–loom above,
Clouds like the black milk of day shroud the sky
Then the crack of gunfire,
The cawing of crows break the silence.
Concrete arteries, barbed wire nerve synapses, steel barrier bones:
Mitrovica is entombed in a body of death.
Flags are the currency by which violent transactions are made–
Serbian tricolor, Albanian red, Kosovo blue.
How many bullets must leave their shells to pay the balance?
In Pristina I see children leaving school,
Parents waiting outside to take them home–normal life.
And I wonder what ghosts of war haunt them,
What memories they grapple with as their sons and daughters laugh
Do they still remember the shriek of cascading bombs?
War waged for ethnic purity, for romantic aspirations of an idealized past,
To destroy the infidel, subjugate the outsider, run rampant the infiltrator, assimilate souls back into dust.
Set fire to their churches, desecrate their mosques, pillage their shrines—hold nothing sacred but sacrilege itself.
Everything is mechanized.
A laundry list of casualties: 1,500 KLA dead. 1,500 JNA dead. 528 Yugoslavians dead. 10,000* Albanians dead. 2,238 Serbs dead.
Lives compressed into meaningless numbers.
It is March and the roads are muddy and covered in drifts of snow
A hazy fog covers the valley, pines slick with dew and I hear the tinkling bells of sheep grazing on the mountainside, the popping of logs bursting into flame in the hearth
The band of men come up the road, dull black rifles slung across their chests, olive green uniforms wrinkled and dirty, cigarettes in their mouths, death incarnated as flesh
Their eyes are as cold as the metal of their guns and when the muzzles of their rifles flash I am lying on my back:

Snow-capped mountains–unseeing, ageless–loom above,
Clouds like the black milk of day shroud the sky–

________________________________________________________________________________

* You can’t go far in Kosovo without seeing a memorial, or a plaque, or graffiti of some sort commemorating the dead or missing. As with every war, the truth is rarely black and white. I was 9 years old and have vague memories of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia on newspaper headlines and on TV–I knew something was happening in Europe and that there was a war, but that was the extent of my understanding. My schoolteachers made no mention of the events there. The conventional Western interpretation of the war was that Yugoslavia, led by the Serbian nationalist President Slobodan Milosevic, was trying to ethnically cleanse the Albanian Muslim majority from Kosovo province in southern Serbia. While this was true, mostly-Serbian militants and soldiers murdered Bosniak Muslims in greater numbers during the early to mid-90’s and the world watched but did nothing, most famously at Srebrenica. As horrifying and despicable as the atrocities in Kosovo were–you can read an excellent first-hand account of the so-called well killings for free herethere is skepticism in some quarters (mostly liberal ones) that the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was an attempt to accelerate the breakup of the anti-Western government, and that certain aspects of the bombings violated international war codes.

When in doubt, I like to keep in mind a few ideas: As my excellent 9th grade geometry teacher Mr. Minich was fond of saying, “people are stupid.” And even more importantly, people are not their governments. A Serbian is just as likely to spit at the mention of Milosevic’s name as a Kosovo Albanian–both sides lost immensely because of this senseless war.

You can check out some of the photos I took of Kosovo here on flickr.

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