Articles on the Kosovo Conflict




As Milosevic's empire shrinks, new resentments inflame Outer Serbia.

The New Yorker
September 20, 1999

Before the war with NATO was half over, people in Montenegro were predicting what they called the Saddam Scenario. The Western alliance would drive Slobodan Milosevic's forces from Kosovo, just as it had driven the Iraqis from Kuwait, but Washington would decline to push on to Belgrade (Baghdad), leaving the Yugoslav dictator in power.

Milosevic, of course, is no Saddam Hussein. He does not murder his domestic political opponents en masse. Indeed, the Serbian political opposition has become energized since the end of the war, mounting anti-Milosevic rallies in many towns and cities. But look closely at the photographs of those rallies and you may note, waving above the angry crowds, a disturbing number of three-fingered Serbian Orthodox salutes - the gang sign of militant Serb nationalism. Large parts of those crowds, in other words, are not unhappy with Milosevic for starting four wars in the last eight years. They are unhappy with him for losing those wars - for failing to secure a Greater Serbia. All of Milosevic's main domestic political rivals are, in fact, avid nationalists themselves. So far, none present a serious threat to his power. The Saddam Scenario has thus unfolded just as people in Montenegro feared it would.

And Montenegrins have special reason to be afraid, because the wars of the Yugoslav Succession are most likely not yet over, and little Montenegro - the only other republic left inside the rump Yugoslavia with big, incorrigibly aggressive Serbia - is now the prime candidate for Belgrade's next attempt to conquer and brutally absorb a neighbor.

A beautiful, mountainous, monastery-dotted land, Montenegro is the only part of Yugoslavia with a coastline, and, for that reason, its strategic significance greatly outweighs its small area (the size of Connecticut) and small population (six hundred and twenty thousand). Its government, moreover, has been following an eerily familiar path as it struggles to escape Belgrade's embrace. Disputes over trade, customs duties, control of the military, the treatment of ethnic minorities, and relations with the West have escalated to the point where Montenegro is threatening to hold a referendum on independence this fall. President Milosevic, meanwhile, has been quietly beefing up the forces of the Yugoslav Army inside Montenegro, and few observers expect him to allow Serbia's last "sister republic" to secede without a fight - any more than he allowed Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo to leave unmauled.

Each of those conflicts has had its own invincibly complex history, and the colliding nationalisms of the former Yugoslavia have produced many more villains than Milosevic and his ethnic cleansers. The politicians who led the other war parties in Croatia and Bosnia, and the mafias that now dominate the region's economy, also have a great deal to answer for. Still, Milosevic has been the main perpetrator of the military aggression, the political brutalization, and the sheer criminal rapacity that have led to the destruction and impoverishment of what, only a decade ago, was one of the most prosperous, liberal countries in Eastern Europe. And, despite having failed completely in his campaign to expand the Serbian state to include Serb-populated territories in Bosnia and Croatia - and now, with the effective loss of Kosovo, having failed even to maintain Serbia's prewar borders - Milosevic remains a powerful and dangerous figure.

Just as dangerous, however, and, in the long run, perhaps more urgently in need of understanding, is the political psychology of extreme Serb nationalism. Deliberately whipped up, beginning in the nineteen-eighties, with fantastic, overwhelming onslaughts of televised propaganda, the Serb nationalist movement and the failed Greater Serbian adventures it has inspired have not only produced death and destruction among Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Kosovar Albanians; they have also left vast numbers of Serbs in the lurch. More than a million have been displaced, fleeing either to neutral countries or to the increasingly cold comfort (and cratered economy) of what is sometimes called Inner Serbia.

Many other Serbs, meanwhile, still live in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, southern Hungary, and other scattered lands - relics of the intricate settlement patterns that evolved over the centuries during which the Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires owned the Balkans. They live in what we might call Outer Serbia, and the ferocious Serb nationalism that Milosevic and his allies did so much to arouse still burns hot and volatile in most of these outlying territories. After spending several weeks travelling through Outer Serbia, I was particularly struck by the plight of the Serbs in the war-ruined Bosnian statelet known as Republika Srpska.

Then there are the places where war still threatens-notably, Montenegro. It's often not clear in Montenegro exactly who considers himself a Serb and who considers himself a Montenegrin, given that the two groups share a language (Serbian), a religion (Serbian Orthodox), and a great deal of history. In fact, ethnic identity, a fluid construct at all times, is so ambiguous in Montenegro that the conflict threatening to break out there may, in the end, look less like another Milosevic Anschluss than like a truly fratricidal civil war.

Everyone in the former Yugoslavia is stuck with having to reinvent himself, with having to construct new "imagined communities" from the debris of the old Communist federation. This dilemma is especially vexed when it comes to the millions of Serbs living outside the homeland. What will they do with their xenophobia, their psychologically mangled ethnocentrism, their war culture of paranoia and denial, and their isolation, disappointment, and guilt?

"We are God's people." The Yugoslav Army lieutenant glared at me, took a sip of beer, and slowly repeated, "We are God's people."

"Nebeski narod," I murmured.

"Exactly." The lieutenant seemed pleasantly surprised that I knew the Serbian phrase he had in mind. "Put that in your story," he ordered.

My interrogation had taken a turn toward the political, which was good. I had been arrested, along with another American reporter, at a roadblock outside Herceg Novi, a town on the Montenegrin coast. The NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia was in its second month, Montenegro had been heavily hit during the previous week, and I had developed an awful idea that the soldiers rummaging through my notebooks were looking for a pattern. If I had been working in areas that were subsequently hit by NATO, then perhaps I was really a spy, calling in the coordinates of targets to the enemy. If they found such a pattern, what could I say? All in all, I preferred to be hearing about how the Serbs are God's people.

The lieutenant and I sat on either side of a large wooden table in a chilly room in an old naval barracks. There were bunk beds pushed against the whitewashed walls. A breeze off the Adriatic rustled through pine trees outside. The lieutenant swigged from his beer. He was about thirty, broad-shouldered, with jet-black hair, a deep tan, and piercing yellow eyes. He'd learned his English, he'd told me, while working as a bartender at a Club Med on an island near here before the war. He'd used it to pick up British girls.

"Eight years we've been fighting these wars," he said now. "Do you know how long eight years of war is? That's like a hundred years for you."

His experiences in Croatia and Bosnia and Kosovo, the lieutenant said, had stolen his youth and left him a hard and bitter man. He didn't seem to be saying this to frighten me. Rather, he seemed to be asking for sympathy. Earlier, he had said that I obviously interviewed only "rich people" - not ordinary Yugoslavs like him and his men.

The lieutenant wore a sidearm and a black baseball cap adorned with gold and silver braid. Apart from his fits of bravado and mysticism ("God's people"), he seemed sincere in his desire to explain his views.

"Every war we have fought was a defensive war," he said. "People don't understand that."

People who have listened to Serb politicians for the past decade do understand, and only too well, I thought, that this is the nationalist view. But I said nothing, and the lieutenant launched into a history lesson. I tried to nod agreeably at each tale of the persecution and betrayal of the Serbs.

"This war is about history," the lieutenant was saying. "All our wars are about history. You need to go back a thousand years to understand anything here. A thousand years! You think this is Slobo's war, but we don't care about Slobo or Milo or any of these politicians." Slobo was, of course, Milosevic. Milo was Milo Djukanovic, the President of Montenegro. Disgust with politicians, including Milosevic, is widespread in the Yugoslav Army, but relations between Djukanovic and the Army are, given his government's moves toward secession, especially tense.

An older officer strode into the room, and the lieutenant stiffened. The older officer's uniform bore no indication of his rank. He sat down and peered dyspeptically at me for a long, unnerving minute. The lieutenant quietly removed his baseball cap. He would serve as translator. This, apparently, would be the interrogation proper.

The older officer began to speak, his voice sharp and angry.

How many NATO planes did I think the Yugoslav Army had shot down?

I said I didn't know.

Fifty planes had been shot down, my interrogator said, and more than a hundred NATO soldiers killed. How could I not know that?

"Actually, I saw something about it on TV," I said, meaning Belgrade state TV, which was true.

My interrogator's face relaxed. He nodded grimly. And why did I think NATO was fighting this war?

I waited.

Because NATO needed a reason to exist, now that the Cold War was over. And so it attacked a small country like Yugoslavia. NATO was worse than the Nazis. CNN broadcast nothing but lies. The new world order was just another name for American imperialism.

This harangue went on. Whenever I was called upon for comment, I found I could truthfully say, "I saw that on TV." My interrogator began to seem impressed by my familiarity with the facts.

Then a strapping young soldier came in, set my laptop computer on the table, and started tapping. Though he said nothing, I found his project unsettling. What was he finding in there? Abruptly, he turned the monitor to me. "Did you write this?" he asked, in easy English. The screen showed an anti-Milosevic editorial that I had written some weeks before. I nodded sadly.

He began to scroll through the document, reading it aloud - in Serbian, doing what sounded like a fine job of instant translation - to a room that had become, I thought, exceedingly silent. At the end of each paragraph, he would pause, and my interrogator would ask, his voice raw with rage, "Did you write this?"

"Yes," I would whisper, and "Yes" again, my pride of authorship turned to gall. The piece sounded awful in Serbian.

Finally, the hateful incantation ended. There was a long, miserable silence. Everyone seemed to be studying me with extravagant disgust. My face felt hot. My mouth, I found, was extraordinarily dry. The lieutenant and his superior muttered to each other, shaking their heads. Maybe, I thought, this wasn't really so bad. Better to be seen as another snivelling propagandist than as a dangerous spy.

The lieutenant sighed, spun his cap on the table, and asked if I had any complaints about my treatment.

This was an excellent sign. "No," I said. "You have been very correct."

Within the hour, my colleague and I were free. We drove north, into Croatia, along a splendid coast still pocked with burned-out hotels from the "defensive" assault that Milosevic's forces had launched in 1991 on Dubrovnik, one of the world's most beautiful cities.

It isn't really necessary to rehearse a thousand years of Balkan history and myth in order to consider the wars of the Yugoslav Succession. It is, however, helpful to be acquainted with the antagonists' self-understanding. And so I had found the yellow-eyed lieutenant in the barracks in Herceg Novi a compelling character for reasons beyond self-concern, and I wished I could have asked him more questions. (He refused even to tell me his name.) He was evidently Montenegrin. He was obviously a Serb nationalist. He had thrown around the word "we," meaning, variously, Serbs and the Yugoslav Army and working-class Montenegrins. The righteous community of "God's people" in which he claimed membership most likely meant the Serbian Orthodox Church, but nebeski narod is by now less a religious term than a mind-numbing refrain in the patriotic pop music known as turbofolk. It was also unlikely that he was a churchgoer, since few Serbs are. He had been full of racist scorn for ethnic Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Catholic Croats, and Gypsies, and yet I had a sneaking suspicion that the lieutenant himself might actually be a closet Yugoslav. His soldier's hatred for politicians suggested that he knew just how they had botched the transition from Communism - by tearing apart a troubled but functioning country in their blood-spattered grabs for power. Indeed, remembering those halcyon Club Med days, he was probably even susceptible to bouts of what people scornfully call Yugonostalgia.

In Tito's Yugoslavia, nationalist agitation was forbidden. All was proletarian "brotherhood and unity," and the dictator-for-life did a masterly job of balancing the competing interests and sensitivities of Yugoslavia's many ethnicities. Because Serbs were the country's largest group, and their capital, Belgrade, was the country's capital, Serb domination, which had plagued prewar Yugoslavia, was a constant threat. Even so, no significant Serb nationalist movement emerged until the nineteen-eighties, when a severe economic decline hit Yugoslavia following Tito's death. Weak central leadership - a revolving Presidency had replaced Tito - meant, moreover, that no serious reform could be initiated.

And it was in this context of economic desperation and political gloom that, in 1986, a group of Serb intellectuals, including former dissidents, issued a manifesto blaming Tito for having blocked Serbia's legitimate claims and aspirations, particularly in Kosovo. This manifesto coincided with the rise of Slobodan Milosevic, an ambitious politician looking for a way to survive the approaching collapse of the Communist system. Casting his lot with the nationalists, he seized control of the Serbian Communist Party in 1987. He consolidated his rule in Serbia, ruthlessly and brilliantly playing on the fears of the rural masses and the industrial proletariat and easily winning the republic's first multiparty election. His ambitions, though, extended much farther, and most of the Yugoslav federation's five other republics soon ran screaming from what they called Serboslavia. Milosevic wanted to reestablish central state power in Belgrade, to become a new Tito, but without the Titoist constraints on Serb hegemony.

That dream failing - and that it would fall became clear almost at once, since Slovenia, the country's wealthiest republic, and the farthest geographically from Serbia, was determined to secede - Milosevic undertook to create his Greater Serbia, effectively redrawing borders by force. Thus did the momentum toward war - in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo - become unstoppable.

Montenegro is trying to escape the ogre's clutches without a war. The present rebellion against Belgrade began in 1997, when Djukanovic, a sharp young politician and Milosevic protege, recognizing the disastrous direction in which the dictator was taking the country, changed horses and defeated Milosevic's candidate for the republic's Presidency. The election was close, reflecting the divided loyalties of Montenegrins: the rural, mountainous north tends to identify with Serbia, whereas the coast and the capital, Podgorica, identify with Montenegro. (And some unknown percentage of the latter camp favors independence.) Still, since taking office early last year, the Djukanovic government has consistently resisted the pressure from Belgrade to fall into line: cultivating ties with the West, allowing a free press, and refusing to support the war in Kosovo. Since the end of the war, the government has become bolder still, proposing to introduce its own currency, to hold its high-risk referendum on independence, and even to arrest any indicted war criminals, including Milosevic himself, who set foot in Montenegro.

Rumors of a coup or a civil war have been rife for at least a year. The Army takes its orders from Belgrade, and this makes for a situation of stark dual authority. When, for instance, I was detained by soldiers and produced a press accreditation from the Montenegrin Secretariat of Information, I was told, loweringly, "We don't recognize that government." The Montenegrin government, meanwhile, has a large, militarized police force - no match for the Yugoslav Army but reportedly ready to fight.

Montenegro has a significant Albanian minority, and during the war in Kosovo the talk in the cafes about the ethnic cleansers working next door was hushed and frightened. I sometimes felt as if the whole population were holding its breath, afraid to exhale and cause a catastrophe.

Or perhaps not the whole population. There is, after all, the large core of Milosevic supporters, whose leaders are furious about Djukanovic's opposition to Belgrade, and who speak about Kosovo and NATO in fundamentalist terms. "NATO sees this government here as its puppet," Zorica Tajic-Rabrenovic, a pro-Milosevic deputy in the Montenegrin assembly, told me. "We expected from the international community a human face, not the face of Lucifer." A sharp-featured, glamorous woman with a great mane of red hair, Ms. Tajic-Rabrenovic reminded me of an angry right-wing activist from, say, South Carolina. Her speech was full of Satanist imagery, and, like other pro-Belgrade Montenegrins, she used the first-person plural when she spoke of Serbia; for example, "We are a very old country, and the heart of our culture is Kosovo."

A few days later, I sat in a cafe with Ranko Krivokapic, a parliamentarian and a member of Djukanovic's ruling coalition. For a politician of his importance, he was young (thirty-seven), and, even for a Montenegrin, who must be the world's tallest people, he was tall (over six-six). He had spent several years as an M.P. in Belgrade before joining the Djukanovic government, so for him haggling with the Milosevic regime was nothing new. "We are just trying to absorb this situation," he said. "But Mr. Milosevic, you must understand, will try to open up all the wars he can - here, in Macedonia, wherever. If he can open several crises at once, he can increase his value as a negotiator."

Many people see Milosevic in this Machiavellian light, but Krivokapic seemed, unusually, not to personalize the problem of Serb aggression. "It is the logic of nationalism," he said simply. "Milosevic cannot solve internal problems, and the economy is constantly going down, so he must show power - must fight with Albanians, or whomever. He needs enemies, and ordinary people here think in terms of archetypes - who is their enemy, who is their friend - and those archetypes are easily manipulated by whoever controls TV. Here TV is like a new religion. People believe what they hear. It's all emotion - we are good, they are bad. The same thing could happen in other places, I'm sure. Even Germany, which was a highly developed country, became vulnerable during an economic crisis."

To my surprise, Krivokapic added, "When this is all over, Serbia is going to need some kind of de-Nazification."

Krivokapic seemed strangely immune, I thought, to the rampant local strain of political paranoia. And yet it is no coincidence that his party, the Social Democratic Party, while it is influential - and, he told me proudly, is the only member from Yugoslavia of the Socialist International - is very small. His brand of rational, issue-oriented politics is just not what's selling in the tribalized Balkans these days. Indeed, the Social Democratic Party has long favored independence for Montenegro, but not for nationalist reasons. It favors independence, Krivokapic told me, simply because economic and democratic development will be too difficult while Montenegro is chained to Serbia - particularly a Serbia physically destroyed by NATO and still not "cured of its nationalism."

People may miss Tito's Yugoslavia, which at least kept the nationalist demons down, but they are also missing - in a different sense of the word - any tradition of liberal democracy. This is something that the West has been discovering the hard way in Bosnia. Often cited by President Clinton as a scene of triumph for American and European diplomacy and peacekeeping, Bosnia has in fact been strangely frozen in time - politically, economically, even emotionally since the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the fighting there, in late 1995. "Dayton ended the violence, but not the war" is how Jacques Paul Klein, the senior United Nations administrator for Bosnia, puts it.

Bosnia's was, of course, a three-way war, effectively concluded by partition and occupation. The three Bosnian "entities" still form one country, and the goal of the international supervisors is to weave them back together into a unitary state, with refugees returning to their prewar homes, and with a democratically elected central government whose legitimacy is accepted by most Bosnians. Little progress has been made toward this goal. Even Sarajevo remains a vastly less prosperous, more Muslim-chauvinist city than it was before the war.

During the NATO offensive this spring, Bosnian Muslims and Croats were, as a rule, enthusiastic about the bombing of Serbia. It wasn't that the Kosovo Albanians had been especially sympathetic to the Bosnians while the Bosnians fought the Serbs - quite the opposite - but that people were simply pleased to see Belgrade getting a dose of what its forces had been dispensing throughout the region for a decade. I even got the impression that some Bosnian Croats and Muslims wouldn't have minded seeing NATO turn its guns on some of their nominal countrymen in the Republika Srpska. Meanwhile, in Banja Luka, the capital of the Republika Srpska, Serb mobs were trashing the British and American embassy liaison offices.

The big problem with introducing democracy to the Republika Srpska has been, of all things, the will of its people. They never seem to want what the West, as represented by the United Nations, thinks they should want. In March, the United Nations' High Representative for Bosnia dismissed the country's first elected President, Nikola Poplasen, of the Serb Radical Party, for, among other things, hampering "a smooth implementation of the Dayton process." So much for democracy, many Bosnian Serbs felt, understandably. The United Nations took another big step to wrest control from the hard-liners when it took over Republika Srpska TV, which had been broadcasting a ferociously anti-NATO message.

In Banja Luka, I stopped in on Nikola Poplasen, who was easy to find, since he had refused to vacate the President's office. A coldly furious former academic in a baggy gray suit, he told me, "All the people in the Balkans - Muslims, Croats, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - are being treated as lower beings, without political consciousness. Washington is trying to explain to us with bombs and rockets where our interests lie. Some of the newly emerged countries - Croatia, Macedonia - already have puppet regimes, and they are being treated differently from the Serbs." The war in Bosnia, Poplasen said, had been "a result of foreign interference" - and he did not mean Milosevic's arming of the Serbs.

Unlike most Bosnian cities, Banja Luka was not shelled during the war. Old and leafy, vaguely Central European, it retains a veneer - an illusion, really - of its prewar prosperity. Things, however, are missing - many things, beginning with the city's sixteen mosques, including the sixteenth-century Ferhadija Mosque, which was one of the masterworks of European architecture. These holy places were all dynamited by Serb extremists in the early days of the war. And the ancient, vibrant Muslim communities that went with them have also largely vanished. Grass grows now in the empty lot where the Ferhadija stood. Offers from international organizations to fund the rebuilding of the great mosque have been rebuffed by the local authorities. "It's a zoning matter," Poplasen, the deposed President, told me icily. Banja Luka's Serbs, it is clear, don't want the mosques - let alone the Muslims - back on any terms. They prefer their ethnically purified town, around which they stroll with an air, I thought, of aggressive, selective amnesia.

"You are the notorious foreigner, and I am the traitor to the nation, rendering my services to the occupier." This was the explanation - theatrical, deft, true, self-mocking - that I got for the disapproving glances that my translator and I kept getting on the streets of Banja Luka. She was a university student, a literature major, and she asked that, if I wrote about her, I call her Tijana, after a character she liked in a Selimovic novel. She had lots of dark hair, a gymnast's build, and brilliant eyes. She confessed that she hated politics - Republika Srpska, she said, was "a joke, a fiction." She was studying for her exams in English literature, and she was much happier talking about books. She was reading Joyce, Woolf, Lawrence, Huxley, Graham Greene, and she had decided that she didn't like the modernists - "Ulysses" and "To the Lighthouse" were too experimental," she said. Her favorite English writers were the Romantics-Shelley, Keats, and, especially, Wordsworth - although, she said, "they were really perfect when I read them, when I was twenty, and it was the war, and they were a comfort, an escape, a sort of oasis. I might feel differently about them now."

For Tijana, as for most Bosnians, the war had changed everything. But I found her story unusually instructive. "When I was a kid, I didn't even know I was a Serb," she said. "And I didn't know if my friends were Muslims or Croats or what. That was Yugoslavia. My grandfather fought with the Partisans, and I was really proud of that. But nobody ever talked about being Serb. My parents weren't nationalists. They still aren't." Tijana was in high school when Yugoslavia began to break up. Nationalist madness was suddenly in the air. People were suddenly terrified that the Ustashe, the Croatian Nazi collaborators, were returning from the dead, like vampires, looking for more Serb victims. Somebody was blowing up the mosques. Her Muslim and Croat friends were leaving town. Her father and her only brother, who was eighteen at the time, were drafted into the Bosnian Serb Army. She and her mother were in shock. Her father and her brother were sent to the front. And the next three and a half years passed like some terrible nightmare from which it was impossible to wake up.

"Every day, you just had to brace yourself for the worst news of your life," she said. "My brother was in some of the worst places of the war. So many boys were killed. He was wounded once, in the head, but not badly. I didn't believe in God before, but I really think it was a miracle that we did not have a family tragedy."

In 1995, the Serbs were losing territory and the Muslim and Croat armies reached the gates of Banja Luka. The city, already jammed with Serb refugees ethnically cleansed from Croatia, was a scene of mass panic. "We packed the car," Tijana said. "We took our family photos out of the albums to save weight. It sounds silly, but we were so scared." As Bosnian war stories go, this wasn't harrowing - particularly because a timely truce obviated the evacuation of Banja Luka - but I didn't think it sounded silly, because the upshot was that Tijana became, in her own words, "a hard-liner." "Most of my friends are," she said. "My brother, his friends. It's just people from our parents' generation that aren't." From the Olympian heights of international administration and inspirational commentary on the Yugoslav tragedy, one so often hears the opposite: that it's the adults who have made a mess, left a desolate field of hatred, and that only the next generation, the young, will be free to rediscover tolerance - et cetera. Tijana had discovered intolerance, fear of a mortal enemy, the primeval comfort of the tribe. "We were really traumatized," she said simply. "My parents still have close friends who are Muslims. Most of them went overseas or whatever. But my old friends who are Muslims, who live in Sarajevo now, when I see them, it's just so awkward. We can't talk about anything serious. Every subject is too dangerous. It's quite boring, actually. And I really feel sorry for the kids of mixed marriages. They don't know who they are. They don't fit in anywhere. Mixed marriages can't succeed here anymore." Working as a translator for international organizations, as she often had since the war, had only sharpened her sense of Serb identity. "So many of the foreigners I've worked for have been real Serb-haters," she said hotly. "And they aren't at all afraid to let me see it. The things they say about Serbs are outrageous. It's so humiliating. And these are the enlightened occupiers who've come here to teach us savages about tolerance and ethnic brotherly love."

Tijana made frequent withering observations about the shallowness of American individualism and materialism. "Money isn't everything," she proclaimed. "It isn't nothing, as the Communists taught us, but being with your own people, feeling like you're all in it together - as we felt during the war - is much more important than money. Real community, real culture - these are the most important things."

Her ideas about "real culture" were elusive, though. She was a highbrow - her extraordinarily good English was only one of several languages she commanded - with a sharp ear for vulgarity. She loved "really ethno" Serb music, she said, but she loathed turbofolk. "It has no real folk elements, whereas true Serb folk music can be quite beautiful. The men who love turbofolk are what we call the Diesel type. He wears a big gold chain, drives a good, good jeep, and he always has with him a young girl wearing skimpy clothes. An upstart, actually."

Tijana's beau ideal of a man seemed to derive from her brother's old army unit. She and her mother had prepared huge parcels of food for the boys at the front, and when the unit came home on leave her brother would sometimes bring his buddies to sleep at the family's flat. "They were incredible guys," Tijana said, her voice full of unfaded admiration. "All tall, with black hair, well built. Real warriors." On another occasion, she described them as "mighty warriors, with mighty weapons." She sometimes wished, she said, that she had lived in olden times, when women weren't expected to get an education and have a career, but merely to tend to the men and children of the tribe. This sounded as if she had been looking too long at the Kosovo Girl, the eponymous subject of Serbia's most famous painting: a beautiful medieval maiden - painted in 1919, in a lushly romantic style, by Uros Predic - giving wine to a wounded Serb fighter during the much mythologized battle against the Ottoman Turks at Kosovo Polje, in 1389.

Old stone Orthodox monasteries, heroic poems, candlelit ceremonies, mighty warriors, silver crucifixes, cold steel, holy wars, noble death - Tijana the lover of Wordsworth and Shelley had fallen in love with these things, too.

I later asked her how she felt about the idea of rebuilding the Ferhadija Mosque. She was against it, she said nervously, knowing I would be shocked. "It was beautiful, but it was a symbol of five hundred years of Turkish oppression. It would be a mistake to rebuild it now. Certainly not in the center of town. Maybe somewhere more discreet."

I decided not to argue. We had already had several arguments, and Tijana had learned to end them in her favor by abruptly saying, "Well, of course, these are only the opinions of a wild, half-civilized Serb girl."

The resurgent nationalisms of ex-Yugoslavia are not finished colliding. Greater Croatian and Greater Albanian irredentism may, in the end, actually be more successful movements than their Serbian counterpart. For now, however, the raging fount of regional instability remains Serbia. Milosevic - internationally isolated, politically unpopular, with his economy flattened, his Army restive, even some of his longtime business cronies showing signs of bolting, and the opposition threatening to call a general strike if he does not resign by September 21 - is clearly in need of a new crisis, a new enemy. And his formidable ability to call upon Serbs' fears, national myths, martial traditions, and sense of righteous victimhood has been amply demonstrated over the past decade.

And yet modern Serb nationalism, for all its violence and florid romance, is probably best understood not as a matter of medieval sagas and national necrophilia but simply as an unusually tortured effort to consolidate a state among the ashes of Communist Yugoslavia. Kosovo means a lot to ordinary Serbs, but the struggle over Kosovo has been primarily over the size and nature of the Post-Yugoslav Serbian state. The same may be said of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Modern Serbian power reached its zenith near the end of 1992, when the Serbs controlled seventy per cent of Bosnia and a third of Croatia and still had a solid hold on Kosovo. The Serbian empire has been shrinking steadily ever since. Montenegro's departure will likely be the next paroxysm.

The parallels between Milosevic's Serbia and Hitler's Germany have often been overblown, but one similarity may be worth noting. Both dictators raised alarms about alleged threats to their ethnic brethren living in neighboring countries. In both cases, these threats were fictional, but they made good pretexts for starting wars of conquest. Then, when the fighting was over, those alarms became, paradoxically, justified. In postwar Eastern Europe, nobody wanted to live next to Germans, and long-established German-speaking communities were expelled, often brutally, from countries including Tito's Yugoslavia. The Serbs have been going through the same thing on a smaller scale. Many are hanging on in Outer Serbia, but nobody wants to live next to them now. Both Inner and Outer Serbia are awash with refugees. Few of these refugees are personally guilty of anything. All have been cursed with disastrous political leadership.

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