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Kosovo: Serbs Lie, People Die

[Editor's note: Earlier today, a mass anti-American and anti-Kosovar protest broke out in Belgrade. Protesters set fire to the US embassy.]

Now that Kosovo has declared independence and returned to the center of world news, it is instructive, if also astonishing, to see how the lies propagated by the fascist Milosevic regime and its Serbian imperialist predecessors have been recycled and have even become widely accepted, anew, by global media. Serbs have yet again manifested their uncanny capacity to reinvent themselves as victims where they have acted as murderous criminals. Let us examine the 10 most commonly-heard Serbian lies about Kosovo. The truth about each of these spurious claims can be easily confirmed.

  1. Lie: “Kosovar Albanians are all Muslims.” Truth: Kosovar Albanians, like Albanians in general, include a significant Catholic community. There are Catholic churches in almost every major Kosovo town. Historically, Catholics were in the forefront of Albanian resistance to Serbian aggression. Catholics were therefore among the most significant victims of Serbian terrorism in 1998-99. The single worst Serbian atrocity against Kosovar Albanians mainly took the lives of Catholics: this was the massacre at Korenica on April 27, 1999, in which 377 people were killed, including infants.
  2. Lie: “Kosovar Muslims are Islamists.” Truth: Kosovar Muslims despise radical Islam. Although Saudi Arabia maintains a relief office in Prishtina, and built a small number of mosques in Kosovo, their presence is resented. Kosovars disliked the Saudi Wahhabis, who defaced cemeteries on the argument that grave markers are idols, and who sought to replace historic Ottoman and modern Albanian mosques, which are also built in the Ottoman style, with new, Gulf-style mosques. More than a third of the mosques in the republic were completely destroyed by the Serbs.
  3. Lie: “The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was aligned with Al-Qaida.” Truth: Unlike the army of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, the KLA did not permit foreign Muslims to join its ranks. The KLA was founded on a national struggle, rather than defense of a religious-based identity. The KLA
    included Catholic commanders and many Sufis (since, as Bernard Lewis has pointed out, Sufis are peaceful but not pacifist) as well as numerous non-religious people Also, radical Muslims outside the Albanian lands may have contributed money to the relief of Kosovo, but they played no role in the struggle of the KLA. This is one of the most bizarre Serb lies because no evidence of Arab or Islamist involvement with the KLA was sustained in mainstream media during the Kosovo intervention; the lie emerged, writ large, long after the war.
  4. Lie: “Kosovar Muslims hate Orthodox Christians.” Truth: Albanians include some 20 percent believers in the Albanian Orthodox Church, which was founded as an autocephalous (religiously-autonomous) entity in the United States, against Greek Orthodox opposition. Its head was an outstanding Albanian patriot named Theofan Stilian Noli (1882-1965). Perhaps the greatest 20th century Albanian poet was Lasgush Poradeci (1899-1987), who came from an Orthodox family. Another renowned and popular poet was Millosh Gjergj Nikolla (Migjeni – 1872-1924), born of a Slav Orthodox family but author of verse in Albanian, and the first modernist writer in the language.
  5. Lie: “Kosovo is the ‘Serb heartland.’ ” Truth: The Serb heartland in the Balkans was located in Raska, north of Kosovo. Serbia today speaks a variant of the South Slavic language originating in Vojvodina, which is relatively far to the north of Kosovo, and was part of Hungary until 1918.
  6. Lie: “Serbs built the Orthodox monasteries in Kosovo.” Truth: The origin of most of the Orthodox monasteries remains unclear; they may have been established by Albanian, Byzantine, Romanian (Vlach), Macedonian, or Bulgarian Orthodox Christians. A wall fresco in the famous monastery at Peja in Kosovo portrays the Orthodox St. Sava in the company of Albanian believers, identifiable by their distinctive white felt hats, or plisat. The likeliest theory is that the monasteries were built by Bulgarians, who ruled Kosovo in the 9th and 10th centuries. The first council of Christian bishops from the west Balkan region of Dioclea, which was centered in today’s Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, met in 1199 in Antivari (Tivat), and was totally Albanian in composition, without Slav participation.
  7. Lie: “Serbs fought the Ottoman Turks for centuries.” Truth: After the Ottoman victory at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, Turkish Sultan Bayazet I married a Serbian princess, Despina, and Serbia became a Turkish ally. Serbia did not rebel against the Ottomans until 1804.
  8. Lie: “Serbs saved Jews in World War II.” Truth: Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, was officially designated “the first judenrein city in Europe” by the Serbian pro-Nazi regime of Gen. Milan Nedic. Statistics published by the
    Federation of Jewish Communities in then-Yugoslavia, in 1989, showed the highest rate of liquidation of Jews in Banat, ruled by Serb collaborationists (93 percent killed) and Serbia proper (88 percent killed). The lowest rate of genocide of Jews was in Albanian-ruled Kosovo (38 percent killed). Albania itself, which drew many Jewish refugees from Central Europe, did not turn a single Jew over to the Nazis; it was the only Axis-occupied nation to come out of the war with more Jews than lived on its soil before the conflict began. The role of Albanians as Righteous Gentiles was recently recognized by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Heroes’ and Martyrs’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. Most of the Albanians who saved Jews were Muslim. The figure for Jewish deaths in Kosovo during the Holocaust has recently been challenged. The disclosure of the original German roster of individuals deported to death camps from Kosovo, as well as other documents, preserved by Sinan Shabani, former director of the Albanian National Archives, and distributed by Claire Lavoine, a disinterested Frenchwoman of high ethics, is of exceptional importance. These sources show that no more than 40 Jews or offspring of mixed marriages were deported by the Nazis from Kosovo. That figure would render a Jewish liquidation rate of only eight percent.
  9. Lie: “Albanians became a majority by immigrating to Kosovo after World War II, and now seek a union with other Albanian-speaking territories in a Greater Albania.” Truth: The first Yugoslav census, taken in 1921, showed an overwhelming Albanian majority in Kosovo, even though they were systematically undercounted. Kosovo and Albania proper have much less in common than foreigners think. Kosovars speak the northern variant of Albanian, known as Gheg. Albanians in south and central Albania speak another variant, Tosk. Although Kosovo is still poor, thanks to the obstructionist policies of the United Nations on privatization and other issues, it has a higher standard of living than Albania. Kosovo has removed the remnants of Communism from its political life, while there has yet to be a reform of the judiciary and other institutions in Albania, aside from the holding of free elections and a proliferation of mediocre, politically-corrupt newspapers. No serious political leader in either country calls for a Greater Albania.
  10. Lie: “Kosovo is a center of Albanian drug-smuggling.” Truth: Kosovo is the most heavily-policed region in Europe. Serbs and their supporters who make this charge cannot cite indictments, trials, or sentences, much less any other serious data about alleged drug-dealing in Kosovo, aside from an occasional petty seizure of marijuana. The republic’s foreign supervisors have no incentive to ignore such activities, if they existed.

Kosovar Albanians are not stupid or crazy. They owe their freedom to U.S.-led intervention and they will not forget it. They are entrepreneurial, moral, traditional people who are anxious to take their place as a responsible European nation. The U.S. has been correct in supporting the freedom of Kosovars, who will repay American help honorably and fully.

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