GET ME OUTTA HERE! by Mark Ames
Instinct told me that moving to Kosovo last month would be as
spiritually profitable and inspiring as my first trip to Leningrad in
1991, still the most important event in my life, on par with Nixon’s
opening China to the West. The problem with that trip to Leningrad
was that it got me a-thinkin that somehow my instinct was infallible.
So I obeyed my instinct without question last month when it ordered
me to move to Kosovo, to the Serb-held north.
I have just suspended Instinct without pay, pending investigation.
Instinct is an idiot. Not just an idiot, but a dangerous idiot. As
the Russians say, nothing is more dangerous than an idiot with
initiative. Instinct, my instinct, is just that: an idiot with
It dragged me into this dipshit warzone, dropped me off on the north
side of Kosovska Mitrovica, and sped away in a cloud of dust, tin
cans tied to the space ship tail, rattling mockingly in the distance.
So here I am. Fucked.
They call Mitrovica the Berlin of the 21st century. It is divided not
so much in half as in eighths. On the south side of the filthy Ibar
River, 130,000 Albanians control a near-perfectly ethnically cleansed
area; on the North, about 18,000 Serbs, 2,000 Albanians, and another
1,000 gypsies, Turks, Gorani and Bosniaks (the latter two Slavic
Muslim people) co-exist uneasily.
Only about five or ten Serbs remainon the south Albanian side, half
of them priests holed up in a monastery, protected by barbed wire,
trip wires, tanks and troops. That’s 5-10 Serbs in a population of
130,000 Albanians. That’s all they’ll tolerate; or rather, that’s all
that KFOR can manage to protect.
South Mitrovica used to have a massive gypsy quarter, at least 7,000
of them. If you walk up to the miners’ monument on the
high hill on the north Serb side, you can look down and see what
happened to Mitrovica’s gypsies: an entire section of south
Mitrovica, along the south bank of the river, of burned-out white
houses, charred white, roofless, blackened beams like burnt ribs.
Every last gypsy who wasn’t capped or torched had to flee the
Albanian pogrom, right under NATO’s nose. Some live here in North
Mitrovica. Others live in Serb-held Zvecan, most in tents. The
remainder are scattered around Serbia.
They form part of Milosevic’s core support, along with every other
lead-brained victim of that scumbag’s cynicism. Milosevic took the
lead-brained war victim’s vote handily – including the Serb vote in
the town I live in.
It’s stories like this that not only muddy the once-simplistic moral
mathematics of Kosovo fed to us by the Western media; in fact, the
accumulation of similar tales turns peoples’ stomachs inside out,
their sympathies upside down. You may have read about how members of
the United States’ 82nd Airborne have been running amok in their
sector, brutalizing the local Albanian population. What you probably
haven’t read is the reason why: the soldiers couldn’t take the
lawlessness, and the attacks on the totally defenseless local Serbs,
and it drove them mad. Literally.
The internationals working here for the UN administration, for the
OSCE, for NGOs and news organizations, are the most demoralized,
cynical group of people this side of the Moscow Times headquarters.
Most came in hating the Serbs, and found themselves soon hating the
Albanians at least as much, and now are just trying to save their
sanity and get out of this hellhole before they’re dragged down with
“We call the Albanians ‘rats’ and ‘cockroaches,'” one top UNMIK
official told me. “If they gave guns to the internationals here,
there’d be another genocide. Much bigger than what the Serbs did.
His girlfriend, who works for the OSCE here, nodded her head and
rolled her eyes, eagerly agreeing. “All the Albanians do is complain.
They have no culture, they hate us, they have no respect for us at
all. They leave garbage everywhere, they treat women like shit.”
It’s a snotty complaint you hear over and over. The internationals
are now just as snotty and racist as the Serbs were, but they lacked
the historical basis for it. Like most of the UNMIK people here I
know, they had desperately signed up to be transferred to East Timor.
The growing tension between the internationals and Albanians isn’t
all one-sided. On the contrary, the Albanians are clearly sick and
tired of the internationals. Little of the money and reconstruction
promised has come through. The UNMIK administrators are for the most
part arrogant dropouts and half-assed middlebrows who couldn’t or
didn’t want to land respectable office jobs back home, and now find
themselves running entire municipalities, with budgets that never
materialize, restless populations, and a totally out-of-control
mafia, the KLA, running a far more powerful, parallel structure in
every village, town and city south of the Ibar river.
The KLA took power just as NATO moved in some 17 months ago. You can
take your pick as to the reason why the KLA was allowed to take over
the towns, in spite of all the evidence that they were and are a
vicious Mafia/terrorist group: either NATO had no clue what to do and
couldn’t stop them, or else NATO was returning the favor for KLA help
on the ground during the bombing last year. The fact is that NATO
would have had to go to war with the KLA to stop them, and everyone
here knows that priority #1 here is “Don’t piss off the KLA.” The
consequences would be a rapid undoing of the Western presence, a
complete collapse, and bloodshed.
That would mean pulling out of Camp Bondsteel, the largest U.S.
military base that built since 1968,complete with a Burger King.
No fucking way will we ever give up aBurger King, not on behalf of
saving some Serbs or Albanians at least. Want proof’ In July, the
second-scariest KLA thug, Ramush Hardinaj, led 40 gunmen in a hit on
his rivals, the Musaj brothers in the Italian Western sector of Kosovo.
Ramush was seriously wounded in the hit, and Italian KFOR and UN
Police quickly responded, detaining him and his men.
Almost immediately, U.S. forces arrived from their eastern sector and
said “we’re in charge here.” They cleaned up all evidence of the
shootout, medivac’d Ramush first to Bondsteel, then to a U.S. Army
hospital in Germany, patched him up, and returned him in time for the
elections. Last week, one Musaj brother was shot and killed, and
another wounded. Ramush is riding high. And Burger King is going
The KLA’s parallel power structure was formalized at the end of last
year when the UN set up its euphemistic “Joint Interim Administration
Structure.” Under the JIAS, the UN “appointed” an “advisory” council
of local political leaders to consult with and implement the running
of each municipality, alongside the UN. A disillusioned OSCE worker
showed me a list of the JIAS council running the south-western city
of Prizren: nearly all were members of the KLA’s political party, the
PDK. There was one token member from another Albanian political
party, one token Muslim Slav, and one token Turk.
No Serb bothered participating, as it would give legitimacy to the
KLA’s takeover and subsequent ethnic cleansing. Of Prizren’s pre-war
population of nearly 11,000 Serbs, only about 200 remain, protected
round-the-clock, like some endangered species.
In the few days I spent in Prizren, I met two internationals (both
women, both from English-speaking countries) who were under death
threat from KLA-tied structures. One, a middle-aged woman, is
supposed to wear a helmet and flak jacket at all times; she has a
bodyguard on constant call. The day before I arrived for a piece I
was going to write on the German occupation force (“Life Under the
New, Improved Einsatzgruppen”), the KLA had set off a carbomb in
Dragash, a Muslim Slav enclave outside of Prizren. The carbomb went
off one house away from an American working for the OSCE, and in
front of the house of an OSCE interpreter. The same day, a bomb had
gone off just a couple hundred meters away from the UNMIK police
headquarters in Prizren.
When German soldiers arrived on the scene to investigate, two more
bombs went off. It’s the oldest terrorist trap in the book, lure ’em
in and bomb ’em all, although this was clearly a warning: none of the
German soldiers suffered bodily injury, although four were
hospitalized for shock.
A few days later, the local leader of the PDK party (the KLA’s
political arm) was arrested for planting the bombs. Although he’s in
jail (along with another local PDK leader recently arrested for
possession of illegal armaments), he’s still allowed to run in this
Saturday’s municipal elections. As are all the suspected and/or
convicted KLA dons.
And this is what all the ugliness is about. There are several
insoluble issues in Kosovo which up to now have been allowed to
simmer, but are about to converge in a highly explosive mixture. The
unexpected victory of Vojislav Kostunica in Serbia, and the West’s
rush to embrace him, is the last thing this fucked up province
needed. The reason is that Kosovar Albanians saw for the first time
that the West doesn’t hold a genetic hatred towards all Serbs the way
they do, only towards the Milosevic family. This was a shock that
most Albanians are still trying to swallow. Now, the municipal
elections could be the last ingredient to a Die Hard 3-type
explosion. Here’s why.
Most polls of the Albanians show that the KLA’s political enemy,
Ibrahim Rugova’s LDK party, has about 70-plus percent of the
province’s support. Rugova, an effete intellectual with a trademark
silk scarf, and his LDK party advocate non-violence, tolerance and
negotiation. In my 6 weeks here, I have only met two Albanians who
don’t support his party. Just two. What is at stake in the municipal
elections is control over each municipality, from running the local
services to issuing permits and licenses to administering budgets.
Right now, there are two structures: the UN, which runs the budgets
and makes the formal day-to-day decisions, and the KLA, which ignores
the UN and runs things their own way, siphoning funds from the public
utility works, building wherever it wants to, and fucking with its
opponents at will.
This dual-reality, which suits both the West (since it doesn’t have
to confront the KLA) and the KLA (since it gets to run and steal
everything it wants) will, theoretically, come to an end this Saturday.
There will be no more Join Interim Administration run by the UN and
its appointees: rather, there will be a democratically elected power
structure made up of moderate, intellectual Albanians.
That, of course, is the worse-case scenario. Ideally, the PDK/KLA
will steal the elections, the OSCE will whitewash the theft, and the
current tense standoff will continue, the showdown postponed until a
later date, to be decided by other people. This isn’t entirely
impossible. One OSCE election official told me over the weekend that
KLA attacks and intimidation on the Albanian population and on the
LDK in particular have been so fierce that it looks like the
Albanians will be successfully terrorized into voting their party,
the PDK, into office. That would be a relief to most internationals,
and it’s likely that the Albanian population wouldn’t rebel against
such an outcome; they’d be too afraid to.
Nor will the OSCE likely rebel. Here I’ll quote from their own
recently released report on the upcoming Kosovo municipal election
campaign violations, including their laughable slap-on-the-wrist
punishments, which the OSCE is empowered to do, against the PDK/KLA:
“ECAC Case No. ME 2000/098 – Violence by PDK Supporters: On 21
September 2000, a group of supporters of the Democratic Party of
Kosovo (PDK) attacked the Lipjan/Lipljan offices of the Democratic
League of Kosovo (LDK) and officials who were present. The ECAC found
PDK Lipjan/Lipljan to have violated Electoral Rule 2000/1 and fines
the party branch 2,000 DEM.
The ECAC also reserved the right to recommend the removal of a
candidate if the fine was not paid. [!] On 30 September 2000, the
Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) held a party gathering in
Istog/Istok municipality. During the gathering, members of the
audience spoke out loudly against the Democratic League of Kosovo
(LDK), with one in the audience issuing threats to kill the local LDK
representative. The ECAC decided that the PDK violated regulations on
intimidation and violence by failing to actively condemn the threats.
PDK Istok/Istog was fined 500 DEM and the ECAC reserved the right to
recommend the removal of a candidate if the fine was not paid.[!]
In the matter of written death threats received by nine members of the
Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) in Kamenica/Kosovska Kamenica, the
ECAC was unable to establish that the violation that took place was
committed by a political entity or its supporters. The ECAC decided
that sufficient evidence had not been produced and dismissed the
I love that last one. Some SUV-driving Eurofag telling nine terrified
Albanians, “Nope, you didn’t get a death threat from the KLA. You’re
just imagining it.”
As the record shows, the OSCE is nervously covering its ass, while
preparing for the theft of the elections. However, if Rugova’s people
in the LDK actually do win, then all bets are off here. The
virtual/dual power structure which has allowed both the UN
bureaucracy and the KLA to thrive will have to be replaced. The KLA
would be out of power. Its self-appointed heads of local services,
utilities, and administrative structures will have to step down in
favor of LDK-appointed officials. That would essentially mean
surrendering both its military victory and its criminal empire. At
the same time, it would have to continue swallowing its bile watching
on television as Western officials, and Western aid, pour into
today’s darling, Serbia. What’s worse, UN and Western officials have
lately reiterated their insistence that Kosovo remain legally a part
of Yugoslavia, something the Albanians cannot countenance.
What all this means is that there is only one structure today which
stands in the way of an independent, KLA-run Kosovo. And that is the
international community. The UN and KFOR. The KLA could respond in
two ways: either through increasing low-level terror, driving out
elected officials from municipal power or making it impossible for
them to run things, a scenario which should theoretically force the
UN and KFOR to respond and implement the Albanians’ democratic will
with force if necessary. At the same time, they could stage a final
mass expulsion of the remaining non-Albanian minorities, something
that many people think is possible (two nights ago, KLA terrorists
fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the last remaining Serb apartment
building in the capital, Pristina; no one was injured). That leads to
the second scenario: a KLA-led uprising against the UN and KFOR. It
wouldn’t take much to throw the West out of here. A few mines, a
couple of snipers, the odd car bomb like we saw in Prizren. Or rocks.
Already, twice in the past month, Albanian boys have been throwing
rocks at U.S. soldiers.
One busted youth admitted that he’d been paid to do so, probably by
“a political entity.”
It might seem incredible to outsiders that the Albanians, still weak
militarily, would move to throw out the West. But if the KLA is that
threatened, it isn’t totally unthinkable. After all, in the beginning
of the last century, the Ottoman Turks were called in to protect
Kosovar Albanians from a Serb invasion, which they succeeded in
doing. The Albanians’ gratitude was short-lived. One year later, just
one year later, the Albanians rose up against their Turkish saviors.
And another year after that, the Serbs moved into Kosovo. With
consequences we all know.
Yeah, this is a lovely fucking place. Trash everywhere. Trash
literally everywhere, in every ravine, gully, roadside, in rivers,
streams, besides schoolyards. Albanian leaders are trying to educate
their people about the evils of trash, but they’ve got a long way to
go. The entire south side is dusty, filthy, polluted. Power cuts and
water cuts are frequent. The Serbs in North Mitrovica view
foreigners, particularly Americans and particularly American
journalists, as hostile at best, spies more likely.
I’m the only American journalist living here. Every time I cross the
Ibar River bridge, I feel like someone’s taped a sign on my back,
“Shoot Me!” I feel like the world’s biggest idiot. As for the
Albanians, their clannish culture means that you can never get too
close to them, and you cannot even think of dating their women. The
Albanians tolerate us, the Serbs are waiting for their turn.
The province is filthy, ugly, completely polluted by NATO ordinance,
run by half-wits and thugs, soaked in blood and doomed to be the
permanent asshole of Europe, a stain on the Balkans.
I can’t wait to get the fuck out.
It’s incredible to me that so much blood and so much bile could be
spilled over such a pile of shit that passes for a province. But
Europeans are like this, they’re weird, no, insane when it comes to
land. It’s so grotesque that it’s almost comical. It reminds me of
the jail scene in that Woody Allen movie Love And Death, when Woody’s
father pulls a dirt clod from out of his ragged overcoat, points at
it urgently, and rasps, “Land, my son! Land is the most important
thing. When I die, I’ll give you this land. Don’t ever sell it! It’s
ours, our land!”
Here, they’d kill you, your family, your friends, and every genetic
trace of DNA extant over that one dirt clod. By next week, we’ll know
if the UN and NATO are next in line.