A close friend of mine studying mathematics at the Erdos Institute in Hungary for the semester, an accomplished polyglot in Romance languages, never managed to master more than the rudiments of the Finno-Urdic language of the Magyars. The first word came when my friend was sitting in a cafe. The waiter hushed patrons to listen to a radio report. "Belgrade," he said, and blew a cartoon explosion through his teeth. Over Wednesday afternoon, as the first reports of NATO attacks filtered in, the city became a menacing presence, its attitude towards the NATO action impossible to pin down. There were fears of reprisal against Americans from Serbian neighborhoods in Budapest. I received the call from Budapest that evening. My friend was leaving the country for France.
On the eve of the attacks, President Clinton promised the nation that no American ground troops would be sent into Yugoslavia, although it seems doubtful that much can be accomplished from the air. Whether Milosevic will be deterred from his grip on Kosovo remains to be seen; it seems inevitable, however, that Milosevic will never voluntarily withdraw troops from the bitterly disputed territory that, while 70 percent ethnic Albanian, is claimed as the historical and spiritual heartland of the Serb.
To many in America, the war in Kosovo seems like another chapter in the never ending litany of horrors that emerge from that corner of Europe. My first response to my friend's decision to leave Hungary was to advise her to stay another day, to wait things out, to see what happened. Things would be all right, as they always have been. "My parents are from South America," she told me. "They know what it's like to live in an unstable country." And, indeed what can I know about the situation, speaking even fewer words of Hungarian than my friend? Thousands of miles from where the events of the next months will unfold, how sound can any judgement on the Kosovars be?
The NATO action, while partly humanitarian in mission, will eventually have its darker, realpolitik side revealed. As America plays a balancing act between courting European support for a U.S.-dominated 21st century and calming Russian fears of encirclement, America's actions this week will appear to some as another move by an administration characterized by sudden action.
For others, however, if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refuses to withdraw troops and NATO, facing another credibility gap, sends in ground support, the real events will happen trench by trench. As field commanders on all sides make seemingly insignificant day to day decisions--where to move a group of civilians, which targets in a town will be hit first, which town to move to next--they will come to define the course of the war more definitely than the press releases from home.
It will be these decisions, made by hundreds of individuals, that will decide, among other things, whether Kosovo will be another Bosnia, whether Kosovo will be cleansed by default, all the offending civilians displaced from their home or dead by the time the UN returns to keep the peace in a deserted country.
NATO enters this conflict late in the game, however. The roads and fields of Kosovo have been dealing with this violence since the early 1990s. For example, the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Kosovo reports that, eleven days ago, on March 14, the following events, others, occurred in the province of Kosovo:
"Vushtrri: Since 8 a.m., Serbian forces are shelling the villages of Balinca, Liqej, Oshlan, Galica, Duboc, Lybovec, Druar, Mihaliq, Pantina, Stroc, Taraxha, Gurbardh, Zhilivoda and Beuk. The detonations were heard in Vushtrri, too. Due to the shelling, Fahri Gela, 38, was wounded in Mihaliq and Bahri Hyseni was wounded in Shallc. In Mihaliq, the Ibrahimi quarter was completely burned. Some houses in the attacked villages are on fire. The house of Hajriz Syla in Beuk was hit.
In the woods between Grejkoc and Mushtisht (Suhareka), Serbian police killed four members of the Tafaj family from Grejkoc, who had gone to the woods to take timbers. The following were killed: Xhemajl Hazir Tafaj, 42, Ismajl Hazir Tafaj, 35, Rizah Ismet Tafaj, 19, and Ibrahim Xhemajl Tafaj, 16.
Vushtrri: Serbian military and paramilitary forces went on shelling and burning the villages of Druar, Mihaliq and Shallc, as well as the villages of Qyqavica--Beuk, Stroc and Zhilivoda and the Kosumaj and Haxhaj quarters in Stanoc i Poshtm. Serbian paramilitaries of Prilluzha machine gunned the houses of Rrahman Plakolli and Ahmet Muhaxheri in Stanoc i Poshtm, whose families with 137 other families fled during the night.
Malisheva: Serbian forces opened sniper and machine gun fire towards the pupils with the "Lasgush Poradeci" Secondary School: Xhavit H. Kryeziu, Nexhmedin S. Kryeziu and Arben O. Kryeziu from Bubavec, who were on their way back home.
Gjilan: The mobilization of the armed Serbian civilians was intensified, whereas police squads and check-points are set up on the outskirts and cross-road of Gjilan."
All wars, it has been said, are civil wars. The boundaries of nations ever in flux, "are nothing to the bond of common humanity. The war in Kosovo will not depend on the guiding hand of NATO advisers, nor on the technological might its militaries have in store, nor even upon the realpolitik or game theoretic calculations of foreign policy advisors. It will be fought and decided, as war has always been fought and decided: town by town, hill by hill and house by house.
Simon J. DeDeo '00 is a Astronomy and Astrophysics concentrator in Mather House.
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