World

Who gets the blame?

A Belgrade journalist calls on Serbs to probe crimes against Albanians

Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic July 12 1999
World

Who gets the blame?

A Belgrade journalist calls on Serbs to probe crimes against Albanians

Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic July 12 1999

Who gets the blame?

A Belgrade journalist calls on Serbs to probe crimes against Albanians

Now political editor of Yugoslavia's independent newsweekly NIN, Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic has regularly reported from Kosovo over the past eight years. Last week, she returnedfrom her first visit since the war. Macleans asked her to describe how she felt about the growing evidence of Serbian war crimes.

Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic

I have never voted for Slobodan Milosevic, and as a journalist I have always been critical of his regime. I have Albanian friends. So when Maclean’s asked me for my reaction to the atrocities in Kosovo, I was of two minds. Do I have to feel guilty, just for being a Serb? Flow do Canadians, citizens of a NATO country, feel about the many innocents who died from the bombs—a three-year-old girl sitting on her potty in a bathroom in Batajnica, a 16-year-old mathematics champion from Varvarin, or my 22-yearold cousin, who just happened to be on his mandatory army service, somewhere along the border with Albania?

However, a crime is a crime. In Kosovo, Jim Landale, spokesman for the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, showed me the lists of the mass graves, the names of the victims: women, old men, children of 2 like my daughter, children of 4 like my son. Father Sava, abbot of the Decani monastery, talked to me for hours about decapitated heads left in the wells and haystacks, bodies found in the sewer pits, excrement on mosque walls, trailerloads of women and children carted to the border, the burning and looting done by the people who call themselves Serbs.

I saw a whole street, packed with Albanian shops and cafés I used to hang out in, burned to the ground. I heard stories about Serbs who burned their own houses as they moved out, so that nothing was left for the Albanians. (How immeasurable is that hate, and how easy it must have been for them to burn the Al-

banian houses if they were so willing to burn their own.)

A reserve policeman told me before he left Kosovo that he took good care not to throw hand grenades into houses if there were any children inside, apparendy trying to impress me with his humanity. A friend from Pristina told me: “There are not enough of us Serbs left here for the Albanians to get even for all the atrocities the Serbs have done.”

Most Serbs still believe that there were no crimes, because the only news they get is controlled by the Milosevic regime, notorious for its ability to hide and bend the truth. Those who do accept the fact that

the Serbs have committed terrible crimes are quick to offer counterarguments that cannot be disregarded: we were at war, the Albanians started it, the West knew what was going to happen and wanted an excuse to install the NATO forces here, the West has eyes only for the Albanian casualties, not the Serbs who are now being expelled and killed in front of KFOR soldiers, nor the Serbs who were killed by the Kosovo Liberation Army in the months before the bombing.

The dominant feeling of absence of responsibility on the Serbian side is mostly based on extremely long memory, so rarely found now in the West, and the impression that the international community is using double standards. What is 10 years of Milosevic’s rule compared with 500 years in which the Orthodox Christian Serbs suffered murder, looting and burning by Muslims, including the Albanians? Why are the Serbs not allowed to defend their country against separatists and terrorists, while Turkey and Spain are allowed to do so, sometimes even more brutally?

However, I have returned with the encouraging impression that something is changing in the minds of the Serbs living in Kosovo. These people have been fanatic followers of Milosevic and their votes have secured his rule ever since 1990 (because the elections were boycotted by the Albanians, mere tens of thousands of Serbian votes in Kosovo enabled him to take almost all of the Kosovo seats in the Serbian Assembly). Fascinated by his charisma, they truly believed in his promises that Kosovo will remain Serbian property forever. Many of them interpreted his pledges as a carte blanche—a licence to do things that normally bring punishment.

But many of them, suppressed by Milosevic’s regime because they could spoil his celebration of “victory,” are now beginning to think differently. They are starting to realize that his underlying goal was not enhancing the state and national identity, but gaining power, authority and money. Exposed to the uncontrollable revenge of the Albanian population, they realize that the crimes cannot be con-

cealed. “We are going through hell now—Serbian houses are being taken over by the Albanians, the Serbs are molested in the streets, sometimes killed,” said a journalist from state-owned television, whose reporting in previous years contributed much to Milosevic’s rise. Now, he bitterly regrets what he did in the past few years. He had not been out of his apartment in Pristina for more than 10 days. “KFOR may be inefficient, but we are in a far better position than the Albanians, who could have been molested and killed at any moment over a period of two and a half months, with no protection at all,” he said.

He recalled how German chancellor Willy Brandt had, in 1970, knelt in front of the memorial to Jews who died in the Warsaw ghetto. “In order to stop the spiral of violence,” the journalist said, “we will have to find a Willy Brandt of our own who is ready to kneel in front of all the innocent victims.”

What needs to be done now is to arrest as many individual war criminals as possible, free the media, and let local Serbian witnesses speak to the nation, with the credibility they will carry, about what they saw. At the same time, the most reputable Serbian journalists should be given access to the mass graves and data on the victims. The killing of innocents—for reasons of state, or religion, or revolution— has happened throughout history. It is not a Serbian invention, and I do not think Serbs as a people deserve to carry the burden of damnation from all over the world. It is those who committed the crimes who should be blamed, and we should find our leaders guilty by ourselves. E3