Michael Totten

To the Middle East of Europe

“Once upon a time, in a faraway part of Europe, behind seven mountains and seven rivers, there was a beautiful country called Yugoslavia.” From They Would Never Hurt a Fly by Slavenka Drakulić.
I’m out of Iraq material, and it’s time to travel again. But I’m not going to Iraq this time. I haven’t worked in any other country for over a year, and the story in Iraq is fairly static right now.
This trip will be to the part of the world that got me interested in geopolitics and war in the first place — the Balkans. I took a long hard look at the violent destruction of Yugoslavia before I ever took a serious look at the Middle East, and I understood the Middle East instinctively thanks to my grasp of Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo. The Turkish (Ottoman) Empire ruled over all these lands for hundreds of years, and the tragic events that unfolded in the wake of its destruction are eerily similar.
The Balkan Peninsula is the Middle East of Europe. There’s a reason why the violent fracturing in countries like Lebanon and Iraq is sometimes referred to as Balkanization. It should surprise no one that genocidal race and religious wars were fought there so recently, and that American troops remain on the ground to this day, as they likely will for a long time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The region once known as Yugoslavia is where the West has collided violently with the East for hundreds of years. Millions of South Slavs in Bosnia were converted to Islam at sword point by imperialist Muslims from Turkey. Most Mediterranean Albanians — descendents of the ancient Greeks and Illyrians — likewise converted to Islam. The flag of Albania and Kosovo to this day is a centuries-old symbol of the Albanian Catholic anti-Turkish resistance.
Kosovo Flag.jpg
Another civilizational fault line rips through the place — the one between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Genocidal wars were waged by the Orthodox Serbs against Catholics in Kosovo and Croatia, as well as against Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo. Croatia looks toward Rome. Belgrade looks to Moscow. Bosniaks, in the middle, look to Arabia and Istanbul. Kosovars look toward Tirana, and to New York and Washington. They could not coexist. Yugoslavia was drawn and quartered.
“Only part of us is sane. Only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our 90s and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set life back to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.” — from Black Lamb and Gray Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West.
Kosovo is the world’s newest country, and its unilateral declaration of independence is more controversial than the existence of Israel. It should be only slightly surprising, then, that many Kosovars, though most are Muslims, identify to an large extent with the Israelis. “Kosovars used to identify with the Palestinians because we Albanians are Muslims and Christians and we saw Serbia and Israel both as usurpers of land,” a prominent Kosovar recent told journalist Stephen Schwartz. “Then we looked at a map and woke up. Israelis have a population of six million, their backs to the sea, and 300 million Arab enemies. Albanians have a total population of eight million, our backs to the sea, and 200 million Slav enemies. So why should we identify with the Arabs?”
Kosovo is perhaps the most pro-American country in all of Europe. It is almost undoubtedly the most pro-American country in the world of Islam. It exists thanks to NATO, but mostly thanks to the United States. And the Kosovars know it. President Bill Clinton is lionized there as a liberator just as President George W. Bush is hailed by the Kurds of Iraq. They are both indigenous people long-oppressed by empires of the East and more recently by ethnic-nationalist states. Both were saved by young American men from places like Indiana, Colorado, and Texas. Kosovars, unlike the more conservative Muslims in Bosnia, support the war in Iraq.
“In the hinterland of Dalmatia, especially in the Knin area, one can hear a kind of moaning song, a primitive archaic intonation, consisting of the well-known doleful modulations of the sounds o-oy…A few peasants, usually in a tavern, put their heads together and let their sorrowful modulations sound for hours, which constitutes a very grotesque sight for a European. And if they are asked why they sing like this, they give the answer: the lament for Kosovo!” – Vladimir Dvornikovic
The residents of Yugoslavia’s final breakaway state are under the gun from Serbia and its patron state Russia, and also from well-heeled Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia who would love to turn it into a fanatical jihad state in Southeastern Europe. All this goes on under the noses of American soldiers, and utterly beyond the eyes of the incurious media.
Bosnia and Kosovo are where the pacifism of my college years died and was buried. I have wanted, no, needed, to visit these places and write about them for more than ten years. I am not doing this on a whim.
“The whole world is a vast Kosovo, an abominable blood-logged plain.” From Black Lamb and Gray Falcon by Rebecca West.
Later this year I plan to visit Afghanistan — a country where the war is going badly from what I hear from “people I trust”:http://michaelyon-online.com/. I have seen American troops under the command of General David Petraeus pull off the impossible in Iraq. No one like Petraeus is in charge in Afghanistan. NATO is in charge in Afghanistan, and NATO is a different animal than the United States Army and Marine Corps.
NATO is also in charge of Kosovo, and Kosovo isn’t the failure Afghanistan is — at least, I don’t think so. But there are those in Russia and Saudi Arabia who would like to reverse that. These are two of the same countries that played terrible roles in the destruction of Afghanistan. Soviet Russia paid dearly for that, but the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia never have. And they are at it again. The United States isn’t the only country that mucks around in the rest of the world, and it’s no coincidence that American forces have been drawn into both Kosovo and Afghanistan. Preventing the Islamic radicalization of Kosovars isn’t why NATO went in there, but it’s part of NATO’s job now, or at least it should be.
Someone needs to take a look at what’s happening in the world’s newest country and figure out where it’s going and what it all means. No one seems to want to go there but me. So I’m going, and I’m going in by ground through Bosnia from Serbia’s capital Belgrade. I leave in two days.
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