Ten years since the bombs started falling

On Serbia. Or, as it was then, Yugoslavia.

The Kosovo War has been debated, God knows, enough times. Still, a couple of things. One is this interesting article from the always-worth-reading Nenad Pejic. (Favorite line: “the official speeches spend all their time remembering that Serbia was bombed but never mention why Serbia was bombed.”) This bit was particularly interesting IMO:

Mladic remains at large and Serbia remains in denial about the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica. Schoolchildren are taught about crimes committed against Serbs, but not about crimes committed by Serbs. This policy of denial has created an alarming situation among young Serbs. A 2007 poll of youths found that more than 30 percent say “there is no need” to be acquainted with ethnic Albanians. Fifty percent think the Cyrillic alphabet should be given preference to the Latin alphabet. Twenty-five percent “cannot imagine” having sex with a member of another ethnic group, and 20 percent expressed a desire to live in an ethnically pure state. It is unlikely these figures have improved since the poll was taken.

To be fair, I should say it is likely the responses would be similar among ethnic-Albanian youths in Kosovo. I shudder to think what these attitudes mean for the region when this generation takes over political power.

I’d love to disagree with this, but I can’t. In much of Eastern Europe — Romania, for example — young people, especially in towns and cities, are likely to be more cosmopolitan, more sophisticated, and more tolerant than their elders. In Serbia, unfortunately, the trend goes the other way. Fortysomething Serbs grew up under the old Yugoslav system. They’re likely to have
travelled outside Serbia, and they remember when the different groups lived together in peace if not affection. Twentysomething Serbs grew up under Slobo; their childhoods and adolescence were blighted by economic collapse, sanctions, and isolation. They’ve come of age in a country that’s much smaller and poorer than Yugoslavia, and that’s been drenched in nationalist rhetoric. So the poll results aren’t surprising. Just… kind of depressing.

The article mentions an attack on Cedomir Jovanovic, head of the small Liberal Democrat party, by “youths”. It doesn’t mention the riots this week, with Obraz — the vaguely fascist nationalist “youth group” — smashing windows and attacking symbols of internationalist oppression, i.e., McDonalds.

— Kosovo-related threads usually attract nationalists from both sides, ready to jump in and explain how it was all someone else’s fault and also that the Serbs/Albanians are utter degenerate swine. So, please keep in mind that this is a moderated forum. Thank you.

18 thoughts on “Ten years since the bombs started falling

  1. The Nazis set up a genocidal puppet regime in Croatia, Hanzar a Muslim SS division is created in Bosnia. Mussolini establishes a collaborationist regime in Kosovo and Romania and Bulgaria are part of the Axis.

    Its true, history does have a way of repeating itself…..

  2. At the risk of being canned for making a profane comment, I have to say that a poll result where 25% of the youngsters “cannot imagine having sex with a member of another ethnic group” does not have to be indicative of their actual behaviour. At least judging by my own experience from East European men and women.

    (… hm, that last sentence probably gave an impression that I’m bisexual. Doesn’t matter.)

    Anyway. If the poll question was phrased more specifically, i.e. “would you have sex with a member of ethnic group X?” instead of just “a member of another ethnic group”, then it would fit with my impressions.

    By the way, this is one of those questions where a person may answer “no” not necessarily because of some personal disgust, but because of fear. Of course, it still tells something of the dominating sentiments.

    And, since we’re in former Yugoslavia, there should be a follow-up question for men: “Not even if it’s a form of wartime humiliation against a member of ethnic group X?” Perhaps those people were in that 75%.

    But how do those 30%, 25% and 20% compare internationally? They’re still minority opinions. I’m a cynic, so I’d imagine that you could get similar poll results even in some West European regions.

    Anyway. About the youth groups, there are comparable examples from abroad, such as the Russian “Nashi” movement, which enjoyed its heyday two years ago. But these days, their membership is visibly dwindling, and the last ridiculous demonstration turned out to be an embarrassment for the movement. Also, in spite of their pro-Kremlin and pro-Putin stance, the establishment has now disassociated from them, and those nice OMON fellows have started to crack also the skulls of the “Nashi”-activists during demonstrations.

    Not sure if a similar development is likely in Serbia, though.


    J. J.

  3. @23Skidoo, I would agree that it’s not “alarming”. But it is a big change. The older generation mostly didn’t want Cyrillic to predominate; the majority opinion was that they wanted it to be equal with the Latin alphabet. (Under Yugoslavia, Cyrillic was visibly losing ground to Latin — in the 1980s, you could walk around Belgrade for an hour and hardly see a letter of Cyrillic beyond street signs.)

    @Jussi, I don’t know how the poll was worded. But, as noted, young Serbs really are different from young Romanians, Bulgarians and Hungarians. Ethnic chauvinism and xenophobia — especially against “inferior” groups like Albanians — is much higher today than it was a generation ago.

    Nashi vs. Obraz: this is a case where democracy makes things more difficult. In Russia, once the establishment has determined that Nashi is no longer useful, they can turn against them and crack skulls without worrying how it might affect the next election. In Serbia, it’s not so easy.

    Doug M.

  4. But is the xenophobia really _that much_ higher than a generation ago? As said, 25% is still a minority. So, doesn’t the poll indicate that at least 75% would be willing to consider intimate relationship with a member of another ethnic group? To me, that would seem an encouraging result.

    Although I would suspect that most of those who answered “yes” were probably thinking of, say, Hungarians, instead of Albanians or Romani.[1]

    The comparison with those former Yugoslav intermarriage rates which Carlos posted some years ago might be in order. During the 1980s, the percentage was 9% in Serbia proper, 28% in Vojvodina, and 9% in Kosovo. There was a lot more detail, but you can look it up from the archives of your own blog. Statistical exercises aren’t my forte, so I’m not quite sure how to compare these with the poll results.

    But still, keeping in mind that xenophobia against Albanians has always been a factor, is it reasonable to assuming that xenophobia and ethnic chauvinism is really _higher_? Perhaps it’s just simply more _open_, which is a different thing.


    J. J.

    [1] This is what I meant when I mentioned the wording of the poll and the possible West European comparisons. I could imagine a similar question posed in Finland: “Could you consider a member of another (non-specified) ethnic group as your partner?”, and something like 85-95% answering straight up: “Why, yes, of course”. But then we would go to the details….

    Swede? Spaniard? German? Japanese? Sure. Estonian? Russian? Latin American? Black African? Well, why not, it’s the person who matters, after all! Chinese? Turk? Algerian? Well, maybe. Thai? Mmmm… well, perhaps, you never know. Romani? Somalian? Arab? Um.

    I think that by the time of the last question, we’d also be down to that same 25%.

  5. Jussi, I think it is higher than in other countries around the region. This is a subjective judgment, sure, but it’s based on having lived in the region for five years.

    Also, while you’re correct to say that there’s a difference between /worse/ xenophobia and /more open/ xenophobia, the two are connected. When hatred and contempt can be openly expressed, it gives them air to breathe and grow. To give a Serbia-specific example, I think the legitimization of the term “Shiptar” for Albanians made a nontrivial contribution to the collapse of interethnic relations between the two groups. “Shiptar” is a fairly nasty slur, very roughly equivalent to the American “nigger”. (For a bit of dark amusement, put it alone into google.) And up until the 1980s, it wasn’t something used in polite conversation, never mind public statements. But during the Milosevic years “Shiptar” was regularly used in everything but the most formal discourse — newspapers, TV, and government figures used it regularly. It got to the point where /not/ using the term made you at best a bit of a prig, and at worst slightly suspect.

    Doug M.

  6. Well, I grew up in Serbia, and I’ll tell you… I do not remember the time when it was socially acceptable to marry Albanian. True, socialist regime enabled some of those marriages, but Serbs never looked with approval at those, and vice-versa, Albanians were not happy with that people either.

    Serbs are much more open for connections with other nations: There are numerous marriages between Serbs and Croats, Romanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians… etc. I have an instance of each of those marriages in my extended family.

    However, even my ancestors used to live in Kosovo before the war (now refugees in their own country), I do not know of any marriage between Serb and Albanian.

    So, I do not think that there is _trend_ in increase of xenophobic feelings. What others say, it may be more open and visible nowdays. Plus, Serbs, with exception towards Albanians, are quite xenophilic… They are quite open in socializing with most of nations. Now, one can play terapist and ask, how that animosity exists only towards Albanians? Do you think that there were some issues during decades of Albanian-run Kosovo? In former Yugoslavia, I was not comfortable traveling through Kosovo. See Djordje Martinovic case for example of Albanian terror:



    What I am saying that Kosovo issue has much deeper roots than many of Western people want to acknowledge (I guess you are much more in the know than typical Western reader).

    And as for remark on Cyrillic script, it is plain offensive. Why would returning to scripts of your fathers would be retrograde?

  7. …as for term “Shiptar”, it was in general usage until 1960’s when it was declared non-politically correct. I remember reading some official documents of communist party /guerrila army from WWII and immediately after that, which were using the term for those Albanians siding with partisans, so it looks like it was not offensive term then…

    Even Albanian communists from Kosovo at that time used term “Shiptar” when talkin in Serbian.

  8. Orthodox script: nobody’s saying it’s “retrograde” in the sense of “primitive” or “backwards”. But it is a reversal of the earlier trend, which was more and more towards using the Latin alphabet.

    Note that changes of script are hardly unknown in the region; Romania switched from Cyrillic to Latin in the 19th century and never looked back.

    Shiptar: I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. Also — no offense — but the fact that you can say this? Suggests that you don’t actually know any Albanians.

    If I’m wrong, I invite you to make the experiment: go up to your Albanian acquaintance and say, “Hey, Shiptar!” Let us know how it goes.

    Doug M.

    Doug M.

  9. Srdjan: actually, most people in the West realise that the Kosovo issue is extremely complex and runs very deep. It’s so complex, in fact, that they just don’t care about it.

    On “the youth” in Serbia: I’m not so sure that they’re in as much of a state of denial as either you or Pejic believe, Douglas. I agree that there’s a very strong current of nationalism still running throughout Serbian society, but I do believe that if Serbia starts to re-integrate into the European mainstream (and that’s a whole other discussion) then people will have more opportunity to escape from it. Serbs will never stop being chippy, but to be honest that’s part of their charm. Or something.

  10. @Douglas, well, people now probably feel that the Cyrillic script is threatened by globalisation and should be protected. This doesn’t have to do anything with xenophobia.

  11. @23, the initial wave of re-Cyrillicization took place in the late 1980s and 1990s. It had nothing to do with fear of globalization, and everything to do with nationalism and ethnic chauvinism. Frex, it included forcing Cyrillic on Hungarian and Albanian communities that had never used it and didn’t want it.

    The exact same thing was happening elsewhere, of course; almost the first act of the new Croat nationalist government was to ban every script but Latin.

    Doug M.

  12. “Shiptar” is not a casual slur. It is rooted in Serb society and “culture”.


    Albanians have never called each other like that as the above Serb E-troll suggests. We call ourselves ShQiptar. The problem is Slavs are not capable of pronounciating the Q so this is what’s behind it :

    >>>”I have learned English relatively late in life, and one of the little mysteries of the language for me was grasping why exactly the n-word was so offensive. Italian being my quasi-mother-tongue, I could tell that its etymology is completely innocuous: merely coming from the Latin ‘negro’ meaning ‘black’. ‘Black’ is a neutral word, much as ‘white’ is. So why the fuss?

    I could perfectly understand why ‘motherfuc*er’ or ‘asshole’ were offensive words because they mean inherently negative things, semantically, but the taboo offensiveness of the word ‘black’ in Latin (the n-word) escaped me for the longest time.

    Now I think I have slowly come to understand it: it’s the same as with ‘shiptar’. ‘Shiptar’ is merely the Slavic pronunciation of Shqiptar (the ‘q’ in Shqiptar is a bitch to pronounce) which is itself merely the adjective meaning ‘Albanian’ in the Albanian language.

    So it’s an explosive ethnic slur comparable in gravity to the n-word, to call Albanians ‘Albanian’ in Serbia!!!

    When I first heard Serbs calling me Shiptar I just thought they were saying I was Albanian, zealously pointing out this simple truism as if it were something special. I didn’t get it.

    It turns out that Serbs calling Albanians what Albanians call themselves is mighty offensive, though the semantics of the word are purely neutral and descriptive. Where does the hatred in that word stem from?

    This is the ugliest most disgusting form of racism: calling an ethnicity/race of people by their proper (and neutral) name, but using that neutral designation as a synonym with ‘inferiority’, ‘ugliness’, ‘wretchedness’, ‘parasitism’ and what have you.

    It is akin to implicitly proclaiming that all the negative dehumanizing properties assigned to a certain hated ethnic/racial group by racists are self-evidently and inherently tied to that group.

    In this case, it signifies that hatred toward and dehumanization of Albanians are so ingrained in the collective psyche of the Serbian nation, that Serbs everywhere can express their bigoted feelings toward Albanians by just calling Albanians ‘Albanian’, because the word itself implies the entire pool of disgust and hatred for Albanians implicit in Serbian culture.

    So a Serbian nationalist doesn’t need to call me a ‘terrorist, filthy, parasitic, evil, inferior, barbaric Albanian’; s/he just needs to contemptuously call me ‘Albanian!’ (Shiptar) and all these qualities are inherently implied in my very being as an Albanian, and bear not explicitly repeating.

    Same with the n-word. It wasn’t originally a slur, if you look up the history and evolution of the term. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigger

    But I can imagine bigoted rednecks whipping black slaves with a leash at a plantation somewhere, screeching at them ‘niggers!’ full of seething hatred, as if calling them merely what they were (i.e. blacks) would be the highest most universal insult. To them to be black was in itself self-evidently equivalent to all the derogatory associations now crystallized around that word.

    It’s the same with Shiptar. The language here is a testament to the degree of widespread collective dehumanization of Albanians in the Serbian public opinion. They don’t need other insults for Albanians: merely calling them Albanians will do, as if Albanian=monster.

    So it’s not even on the same scale with calling a militant hyper-nationalist Serb a Chetnik. The Kosovar woman calling a little fascist that (whether he was a self-identified Chetnik or not) does not mean that she thinks all Serbs are Chetniks (or whatever qualities that term implies). You could pretty safely call militant Serbian nationalists Chetniks, without every Serb on the face of the Earth having any reason to be offended. Chetnik is used in the Balkans as a proxy for a militant chauvinistic Serb (and there are valid historical inferences to support this analogy); therefore it makes a qualitative distinction between Serbs fitting a certain behavioral pattern, versus the average Serb minding his business. It does not dehumanize Serbs wholescale.

    Shiptar on the other hand makes no qualitative distinction, and it is a racist offense to all Albanians everywhere.

    By the way, for what it’s worth, there are no equivalent of ‘Shiptar’ to denigrate Serbs in the Albanian language. Serbs are called ‘Serb’ which is a completely neutral adjective, like ‘American’ or ‘Chinese’.”


    Sorry for the long piece, but I find her analyze fascinating

    Marriage between Albanians and Slavs is not rare, but almost always the groom is Albanian. Agim Ceku’s wife is Croatian, and several Kosovo politiacians’ and personalities are married to Serb women, some of which have given splendid fighters to the UCK hehe.

    In Albania we have had a muslim Slav from Montenegro, Ramiz Alia , become the head of state, succeeding to Enver Hoxha, also a member of the Macedonian minority become minister of Defense and even Prime Minister, that is Pandeli Majko. And we have the Greek minority politicians that have become ministers despite being less than 2% of the population and even a Torbesh like Namik Dokle easily managed to become . Also the wife of the current Prime Minister Sali Berisha is half Serbian from her mother’s side….We never see this happening in Serbia yet the Serb hater can’t stop his (desperate) propaganda that Serbs intermarry with Bosnians when all Bosnians remember very well Serbs sniping Bosnian and occasionally Serb ‘traitorous’ children from the hills of Sarajevo.

    Oh, the topic is about denial….it seems 78 days weren’t enough…

    PS : Mr Muir , when is that piece on Macedonia Vs Greece coming out? W

  13. What exactly is surprising about Serbs being indignant about the NATO bombing? Other countries have committed much worse atrocities(Turkey for example)without similar(i fact without any) actions taken against them. Not to mention that the same Ahtisaari as well as Bill Clinton had agreed that Kossovo would remain a part of Yugoslavia as a part of the Ahtisaari plan to end the bombing.
    No wonder Iran is not going to take any western assurances seriously today. Credibility is something that once you lose, you cannot get back.
    You can try to solve problems by force or by trying to find some common ground. In that case
    it had been decided to solve the issue by force. Solving issues by force however tends to leave deep scars that may or may not heal.

  14. In 1892 Karl May published a book under the title “Durch das Land der Skipetaren”. Was he a racist or was the term at that time much more accepted?

  15. Um, Wim, “Skipetaran” is not “Shiptar”.

    It’s like “negro” and “nigger”.

    Doug M.

  16. Pingback: Ten years since the bombs started falling | afoe | A Fistful of … | alba news

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