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Kosovo - Left with issues bombs could not resolve

Special Report Writer
Pristina, Kosovo

European journalist tells of asking her Kosovo Albanian interpreter if he can show her any place in his land where Albanians and Serbs live at peace with one another. The interpreter drives her 29 kilometers southwest of this capital city to the town of Stimlje. “Here,” he says, pointing at an asylum for the insane, “here Serbs and Albanians live in peace, laughing all the time.”

If the story is grim, so is the landscape. Mosques and churches that once pushed their minarets and domes heavenward now lie in ruins - towers toppled, icon screens scarred by fire, bullet holes, excrement. In Djakovica, not far from Stimlje, entire blocks of Albanian shops, houses, mosques and the marketplace have been gutted by Serbian army, police and paramilitary forces during the 78-day NATO bombing attack last spring.

Those who were able fled in terror. Almost overnight 860,000 displaced Kosovar Albanians swarmed across neighboring borders. Most of the displaced found shelter in hastily built tent cities or with families in Albania and Macedonia. Several thousand others climbed the mountain road into Montenegro by foot, mule, on tractors or in a convoy of cars and buses.

Just weeks after the Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo - in the wake of the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia - the secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army drove the remaining Serbs from Djakovica and other centers. Many Serbs had already fled, fearing reprisals for the executions of Albanians and the looting and burning of their homes, crops and businesses. Ordinary Serbs, who took no part in the terror, ran too as Albanian revenge spread like spilled gasoline and, once ignited, destroyed areas previously populated by Serbs, Gypsies, Slavs and Muslims.

One year later - after the aerial pounding, after the procession of exiles, after the carnage of Serbian ethnic cleansing and the retribution of returning Albanians, Kosovo remains a display of human horror. In a land where Serbs and Albanians have coexisted - not without tension and bloodshed - for 800 years, an army of 40,000 international “peacekeepers,” a force referred to as KFOR, now has the job of keeping the two peoples from any further killing.

This is the peace beyond understanding in Kosovo one year after the bombing by Nato forces started last March 24. Three European and one U.S. journalist recently traveled throughout the region to view the tensions and fallout from the war, the issues that bombs could not resolve.

Interviews with religious leaders, with KFOR officials, with refugees, displaced people and with representatives of the church and other nongovernmental agencies assisting them raise powerful questions: Why should anyone care about these Balkan “madmen” and “terrorists,” as they’ve been called? Are they indeed our brothers and sisters? Was the U.S.-led bombing to save them from the abuses suffered under Yugoslav Federation President Slobodan Milosevic a misguided strategy that may require a partitioned Kosovo under global management for a generation?

“We have to care,” said Alexander Belopopsky, Europe secretary of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, who helped arrange the weeklong trip. “There are 10 Kosovos waiting to happen in Europe alone,” Belopopsky said. He pointed to the war between Russia and Chechnya, to conflicts in neighboring Dagestan, unresolved ethnic claims in Armenia and Azerbaijan, internal struggles in Georgia and tensions between fundamentalist Islamic elements in many of the former southern Soviet states who want to govern these republics according to Sharia (Islamic law).

In the Balkans no one addresses the current instability without first unfolding centuries of history. The past lives on here, no matter how disturbed and violent. Southeast of Djakovica is Prizren, the 14th-century Serbian capital, a city steeped in religious history. Today it stands as witness to a deep betrayal of religious instincts and testament to the viciousness of religion when it is placed in service of hatred. Here Serbian homes have been plundered and burnt, as have those of the once-large Roma (Gypsy) community. Prizren’s Serbian Orthodox churches, many of them dating to medieval times and having withstood five centuries of Turkish rule, are today necklaced in barbed wire and guarded by KFOR troops and tanks.

German soldiers sit behind sand bunkers in front of Ss. Ciril and Methodius Theological Seminary. They guard the handful of elderly Serbs and Gypsy families and the lone monk who still inhabits the spacious dormitory and classroom building. Fr. Miron Kosach, a Serbian Orthodox monk, tells NCR, “Everyone in the house lives like Salman Rushdie.”

Tables have turned

The tables have turned in the wake of the bombing. Months earlier Miron might have said that the Serbian Orthodox church had stayed neutral, the way the minority Catholic church had tried to conduct itself during the crisis leading to NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, who was bishop in Kosovo 34 years before being called to head the church in Belgrade, had appealed for an end to violence. But in a land without a free press, Pavle’s statements were not widely known. When the patriarch appeared on television with Milosevic at a New Year’s event, many saw the Serbian Orthodox church as anything but neutral.

In a land of rumor and conspiracy theories, Miron confirms that a German Jesuit and a German Catholic bishop visited the seminary in March, assisting in the removal of its students and professors to Nis, Serbia’s second-largest city.

Miron resembles an anorexic Rasputin. His dark eyes sit deep in his sunken face. His hair is disheveled. If he wants to leave the seminary he needs a KFOR escort. Miron says he seldom ventures out because the townspeople insult him in the streets. Last June 15 - a week after Milosevic capitulated to NATO, Fr. Hariton Lukic was reported kidnapped by the KLA in Prizren. He has not been seen since. German troops say they’ve heard no insults when escorting Miron, but that people “point curiously” at the monk’s eyes.

Outside the seminary, hundreds of people - most of them under 30 - cross Prizren’s picturesque Ottoman Bridge. Everyone seems to be holding a cigarette in one hand, a portable phone in the other. Conversations, in Albanian, swirl in the air like tobacco smoke. To speak Serbian in a public place in Kosovo today is to invite death.

In October a Bulgarian national was attacked and murdered by a group of Kosovar Albanian teenagers who had asked him the time in Serbian. The multilingual Valentin Krumov was spending his first day in Pristina as a United Nations peacekeeper. Fresh from having received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., he was walking down Pristina’s main avenue - Mother Teresa Street - near the Grand Hotel where many U.N. and other international workers meet. When he answered in Serbian, the youths beat him with their fists before killing him with a single shot to his head. None of the teenagers, said to be 16- and 17-year-olds, has been captured.

The lack of a functioning legal and judicial system in Kosovo has meant few if any deterrents to those bent on wrongdoing, whether they commit crimes of ethnic hatred and vengeance or simply drive recklessly. Locals from both ethnic communities as well as foreign nationals claim that 40 percent of Europe’s drugs now flow through Kosovo. Mafia deal making, car theft and prostitution are rife.

Under the current NATO protectorate, U.S. soldiers have become the cops on the beat in Kosovo. An officer from Washington told NCR that efforts are underway to create a local force, hold trials and enforce sentencing. A Canadian KFOR press officer credits the policemen and the U.N. troops with cutting Kosovo’s murder rate from 50 per week in the months after the war to four or five per week now.

Violence continues

Recent U.S. police arrivals have been dispatched directly to the troubled city of Mitrovica, where barbed wire divides Serbs on the north side of the Ibar River from Albanians on the south side. Since February violence has erupted in the north where about 800 Albanians still reside among the Serbs. Before the war some 4,000 Albanians lived among an estimated 43,000 Serbs in the north. The entire city’s pre-war population was put at 300,000 - about 14 percent of it Serbian. The overwhelming majority of the rest of the population was Albanian.

Some two-dozen French troops, assigned to protect Mitrovica, have been injured by shrapnel from grenade attacks. Combatants on both sides have been killed. Recently it took 21 armored vehicles and 1,000 troops to return 40 Albanians to their houses on the northern side.

The shooting, stone throwing and grenade assaults involve more than ethnic conflict. They represent issues of access to economic, medical and educational facilities. Nearby and inside the northern area of Mitrovica are 42 mines, processing and production plants that form the Trepca Conglomerate. For years the lead-, zinc- and silver-producing mines figured prominently in Kosovo’s revenues.

Strikes by Albanian miners in 1988 and 1989 - in protest of Milosevic’s proposals to revoke the autonomous status of Kosovo and his dismissal of ethnic Albanians from Communist Party leadership roles - resulted in Albanian miners losing their jobs. The mines continued to be administered from Belgrade, the Serbian capital, and Serbs made up the majority of the work force. While some Kosovars report that the mines have been largely exploited, others view them as “the richest fields in Europe” and suggest that Belgrade would wage war to keep Kosovo part of Serbia, if only to retain the mines.

Albanians also want entry into the university in Mitrovica where they have not been permitted to study since 1989. The north also houses a hospital where no Albanian has been granted entrance since last August and where no Albanian doctors can work. Serbs counter that the university and medical facilities in Pristina - 55 kilometers (about 34 miles) southeast of Mitrovica - are adequate for the city’s majority Albanians.

Meanwhile no Serbian doctor can work in an Albanian hospital anywhere in Kosovo. Earlier this year Josif Vasic, a gynecologist in the multiethnic town of Gnjilane, in the east of Kosovo, was gunned down near his home by a killer in a parked car. Vasic, who had long treated Albanian women, had recently set up a makeshift clinic for Serbs near the local Orthodox church. KFOR clinics and field hospitals have now become the main health facility for Serbs and other minorities.

Mitrovica is a microcosm of Kosovo - violent, partitioned, dirty and driven by the desire of each ethnic group to have done with the other. On the surface it appears as though the rivals would rather destroy the houses of the other than rebuild their own. The grinding wheel of hatred and human enmity, of revenge and mistrust of neighbor, of frequent crime and rare punishment and of no declared war, yet no evident peace comprise the quality of life in Mitrovica and across Kosovo today.

But as generals discover, war has a way of dictating a new script, one that no amount of “smart bombs” and precision aircraft can foretell. Those in Washington, Brussels, Belgium and London who predicted that flexing military muscle toward Belgrade would help the peoples of the Balkans and would prevent the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo that had occurred in Croatia and in Bosnia- Herzegovina surely miscalculated.

They never anticipated 860,000 Albanians being expelled in addition to the 300,000 to 500,000 that had been run out or escaped during Kosovo’s undeclared civil war in 1998 and ’99. Human rights monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe documented massacres, atrocities, mass graves and some 2,500 deaths during the civil war. A further 10,000 lives were reportedly lost in the wake of the NATO aggression.

KFOR officials point out that ethnic cleansing was stopped a few weeks after the bombing halted, even if random murders continued for many more weeks. They add that no one starved or froze to death among the masses who quickly reentered Kosovo. But they found their homes empty or demolished. Most returnees had to cope with no power or frequent and sustained electricity outages. Many had to deal with land mines and poisoned wells.

In the late 1990s, Kosovo’s population was estimated at just over 2.5 million - about 2 million Albanians; 200,000 Serbs, most of them Orthodox; the rest Catholics (of both Serbian and Albanian ethnicity), Slavs, Roma and Turks. While mosques and churches dominate the landscape, religion appears more historic and symbolic than practiced in Kosovo. “I’m Muslim. Would you like a beer?” is the greeting of a displaced Albanian living in a refugee settlement in Plav, Montenegro. An Orthodox priest tells NCR he has 10,000 baptized Serbs in his area, but only 20 attend the Sunday liturgy.

Dozens who spoke with NCR said that they had been raised as atheists, communists or never heard religion mentioned. “NATO was our God,” at the outset of the war, said one Albanian, who fled to Montenegro. But when he could get no news from his parents who had stayed in Pristina, he started going into both mosques and churches to pray.

“Perhaps we haven’t suffered enough,” said Fr. Sava Janjic. “We need personal and collective repentance. Only by returning to God can we have a change.” Sava is secretary to Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije Radosavljevic of the Raska and Prizren diocese. Artemije is viewed by Washington and by some in the Balkans as one of the few moderate voices in Kosovo today.

Sava compares the tragedy of Kosovo to the tragedy of God’s son. Like Artemije, he believes that “the cross on which Kosovo was crucified has been carved in Belgrade.” In an hour-long interview at the Monastery of Gracanica, Sava blames both Slobodan Milosevic and “the radical elements in Albanian society” for the tragedy. Peace and ethnic coexistence will stand no chance, he said, until Milosevic goes, until KFOR isolates and disarms Albanian radicals and until the West seeks out and cooperates with moderates across ethnic and religious lines. Only after such changes will extremists be marginalized and their armed offshoots in the KLA disbanded. Then can Kosovars develop democracy and work toward unity with the European Community, he said.

Recently Sava and Artemije moved to the 14th-century monastery outside Pristina, finding it too dangerous to stay in Prizrin. Artemije was in Bulgaria the day NCR visited. Outside Gracanica, Swedish soldiers and a tank kept watch on the monastery.

Inside, Sava dispatched his daily e-mail updates on the situation that have earned him the nickname “cyber monk.” Without power for much of the past nine months, Sava carries his laptop from town to town, hunting for electricity. Today his computer is up and running. Nuns at the monastery are using an automatic washer to do the laundry. While it spins they bring Turkish coffee to visitors, who include an Orthodox priest in fatigues. He is Father Antonios of Rhodes, chaplain to the Greek KFOR troops.

Although Sava said he could understand that damage and desecration happen in wartime, he was shocked that so much plundering and torching occurred after KFOR’s arrival. “There’s something more than revenge going on here, more than an effort to destroy all that is Serbian. The goal is to destroy all that is not Albanian,” Sava said.

In his view communism is responsible for much of what ails Yugoslavia today and for what alienates it from the world. “Milosevic is an atheist but he tries to ‘ideologize’ religion. … In a normal and healthy society, a Milosevic could never be a political leader.”

Meeting with Albright

Extremists in both camps have knocked the bishop, who was critical of Milosevic before the war and continues to criticize him. Serb radicals call Artemije a “traitor” and “the disgraced bishop” for having met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. And Serbian radio has asked that he be defrocked, then hanged.

“That’s why we went to Washington to say that we need some improvement on the ground so that our position gains credibility and strength,” Sava said, referring to the Feb. 25 meeting he and Artemije had with Albright and Congressional leaders. Artemije and Albright endorsed Bernard Kouchner’s Agenda for Coexistence as the basis for both Serbs and Albanians to move toward democratization. Kouchner, a Frenchman, is the special representative of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in Kosovo.

Kouchner has made three seats - two for Albanians, one for a Serb - available on the Interim Administrative Council. Artemije, by virtue of his leading the Serb National Council, has claimed the place reserved for Serbs on the council.

The administrative council represents a kind of provisional government with 19 departments charged to govern Kosovo until the country is ready for national elections. No one will hazard a guess about when such elections can be held, noting that the Serbs took the passports and identity cards of thousands of Albanians when they fled Kosovo during the bombing. Local elections to town councils are slated for the autumn.

Artemije and Sava vehemently reject partition of Kosovo and want its status “frozen” as a province of Serbia to which all former Serb inhabitants can be assured a safe return. But de facto partition has happened with the sectioning of the province into five areas under U.S., French, British, German and Italian KFOR commanders. Soldiers from the 14 other NATO members, as well as Russian and other U.N. peacekeeping contingents, assist with checkpoints, patrolling, land mine removal, weapons confiscation and with nonmilitary jobs.

Sava dispenses wide praise for the role churches abroad have played during the crisis. Anglican chaplains from Britain as well as Lutherans from Norway and Sweden have helped Serbian Orthodox priests visit their communities. He also lauded the moderate position of Orthodox Bishop Anastasios of Tirana and all Albania, and the neutral stand taken by the Catholic church in Kosovo and Macedonia.

The cyber monk had special thanks for Caritas, the emergency network of the Catholic church and for ACT - Actions by Churches Together. ACT groups more than 75 U.S., European, Canadian and Asian church and humanitarian agencies together, under the leadership of the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. In December, ACT issued a $53 million appeal for the affected populations following the Kosovo crisis. To date it has raised just over 10 percent of its target, said a worried Thorkild Hoyer, the Danish human rights lawyer who is directing ACT’s Balkan efforts.

It’s hard to miss the trucks and vans that bring the church’s assistance to this beleaguered land. The International Orthodox Christian Charities delivers 30,000 to 40,000 food and hygiene parcels monthly to refugees and to the internally displaced in Montenegro. Catholic Relief Services feeds 240,000 persons monthly.

“That’s how it should be,” said Fr. Shan Zefi, vicar general to Bishop Marko Sopi of the Catholic diocese of Skopje-Prizren. Zefi, an Albanian, is ebullient. He greets this reporter with “I love Americans.” He follows this with a hug and an invitation to the Ash Wednesday Mass he will say later that day. Zefi believes that churchmen ought to be “moral leaders, not politicians.” That’s his way of saying he does not like what Artemije has been doing.

He said he regretted that Kosovo’s religious leaders have to go abroad to meet and to sign statements. He was referring to declarations made in Vienna, Amman and in February in Sarajevo and signed by Artemije, Sopi and Dr. Rexhep Boja, mufti and president of the Islamic Community of Kosovo. In their most recent “Statement of Shared Moral Commitment,” the three affirm the fundamental human rights of each person. They condemn acts of ethnic and religious hatred, desecration of holy places and objects, abuse of the media for the purpose of spreading hatred, the expulsion of people from their homes and the obstruction of their return.

‘Leave politics aside’

Zefi said he hoped that Artemije would “stop acting politically. If we want to succeed as religious leaders, we must leave politics aside.” Albanian Catholics and Muslims “don’t approve of Artemije,” the Serbian Orthodox bishop, Zefi said, and some see him “as almost synonymous with Milosevic.” Zefi and Artemije represent polar opposite approaches. They also embody the kind of persistent differences that have made peace, even among religious leaders, virtually impossible.

Zefi included thousands of years of history in his analysis of the current situation. Albanians, he said, have been in Kosovo for from 2,000 to 4,000 years. As for Catholics, they could trace their episcopal sees to the fifth century. Despite “pressures” from the Byzantine, Bulgarian and Turkish empires, the church has not been destroyed. “Five percent of our people remain faithful to Rome,” he said. Today some 100,000 Kosovars are Catholic, about 50,000 in Kosovo, 12,000 in Macedonia and the remainder in Europe and the United States.

Zefi, who was trained in Rome and turned down a faculty post to return to Kosovo, praised Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo. He suggested that Western leaders promote the Kosovar Albanian for the Nobel Peace Prize. “If any Albanian looks like Mother Teresa, it’s Rugova,” the priest said. For 10 years Rugova tried to keep Albanians within his movement for equal rights and the restoration of Kosovo’s autonomous status. But the KLA and its supporters gradually undermined his leadership, finding his non-violent approach ineffectual against Serbian repression.

Unlike Artemije and Sava, Zefi wants the international community to announce and recognize Kosovo’s independence immediately. “Kosovo is as indivisible as the Trinity. Mitrovica is the heart of Kosovo,” the priest said. Albanians “want no more than what Macedonia, Bosnia and Slovenia have,” he added. “The Serbian military has lost. They can’t come back as occupiers or police,” Zefi said, but Serbs can return as citizens.

Zefi said he couldn’t imagine a Kosovo without Serbs. Once Serbs - and preferable Artemije - ask forgiveness “for what they did to the Albanians during the war,” they can return, he said. “We’ll help them to rebuild their houses.”

Col. Alexander Bommarius is much less sure that the two ethnic groups will be able to coexist anytime soon. “I’m very pessimistic,” the German KFOR chaplain said.

“So many Albanians are possessed by this hatred.” He said that the Pristina apartment block owned by an Albanian lawyer and his two sons, who were murdered by Serb police during the war, has now become a monument for Albanians. “There are so many shrines to hate all over this land.” A further destabilizing factor is that Albanians make no distinction between Serbs and other non-Albanians, he said, noting how Romas have faired badly at the hands of Albanians even though Serb police forced the Romas to bury the murdered Albanians, the chaplain said.

Bommarius also doubts that the fall elections can be democratic. “Only candidates of the Albanian parties and their clients will be on the ballot.” He does not hold out hope for Artemije as a peace broker either. After meeting with the bishop in January, Bommarius left convinced that Aremije was only concerned about the past and about the return of the Serbs, “not about the future of Kosovo. … Milosevic is a bad guy for Artemije because he’s a communist and an atheist, not because he killed thousands,” the German Protestant cleric said.

Bommarius assists Rabbi David Zalis with the administration of some 50 KFOR chaplains; 15 of them - including Zalis - are American, many of them Catholic. The fact that Bommarius, a German, and Zalis, a Jew whose wife’s family was killed by Germans in the Holocaust, can work and live together is “incomprehensible to people here. They have another mentality,” the colonel said.

Ironically, it is the soldiers of the international force who provide a model for getting along. They try to show the local people that even though they are strangers from 37 different lands, and that many come from nations that fought each other in two world wars or were enemies during the Cold War, they “are working together day and night.”

“We recognize that there is a way to cooperate.” Although he has been in Kosovo four months, Bommarius said he still couldn’t understand the hatred he sees. He pointed to the killing on Nov. 28 of a Serb professor by Albanians at which “hundreds of Albanians stood and applauded.” Only the quick action of the “Green Jackets” - British troops who served in Northern Ireland - saved the man’s two female companions, he said.

While KFOR soldiers donate blood to the wounded, buy and deliver toys for children and even change the diapers of an elderly Serb woman too ill and too frightened to leave her home, they cannot force the two sides to put down their hatred and their history and live in peace. That job belongs to parents, teachers and children. “It will take 30 years for this hate to end,” said Sgt. Pascal Bobbe, a Dutch KFOR peacekeeper. “A whole generation must first experience nonviolence,” he said.

Bobbe doubts that KFOR can remain in Kosovo that long. The 2,000 Dutch troops will leave in May, many to be redeployed to Bosnia. The future of many other NATO contingents, including U.S. forces, seems cloudy. Funding to pay for the Kosovo project is proving far from certain in Congress, where many want Europeans to provide more support so that the United States can provide less.

Despite Milosevic’s and the Serbian press’ efforts to “manipulate tensions between the religions,” the Kosovo conflict is not a religious conflict, Islamic leaders insist. “The last thing religious leaders have to lose is our hope,” said Qemajl Morina, senior representative of Kosovo’s Islamic Community. Morina, along with Xhabir Hamiti of the Islamic Studies Faculty of Pristina University, believes strongly in the clergy statements signed in Vienna, Amman and Sarajevo.

“Nothing like this must ever happen again,” Hamiti said, noting that interreligious dialogue will be the key to conflict resolution in the 21st century. He believes such dialogue will be “more frequent and more frank,” because “we know how important religion is for civilization. Religious figures must lead by example,” he said. “We must show that it’s possible to get on with our lives.”

Morina said he hopes that Artemije would remove his political garb and instead act as a religious leader who asks forgiveness for the wrongs committed by Serbs against Albanians.

Without this gesture, “it will be too hard to shake his hand,” Morina said. “Our people will say ‘How can you work with him?’ when they destroyed 210 mosques, killed 30 Imams and theology students” and jailed an estimated 4,000 Albanians. Morina estimated the war dead at 10,000 to 15,000 Albanians with 5,000 to 7,000 missing.

Bishop Joakim Herbut, in charge of Macedonia’s Latin-rite Catholics, said that Pope John Paul’s March 12 apology for the harm Catholics had inflicted on others over the centuries could serve as a powerful example to religious leaders in the region. “If every person acted like the pope, then we would have a more peaceful Balkans,” Herbut said.

“If the churches can find a common language, then we can do many things.” The fact that a number of Catholic families and convents hosted displaced Albanians during the war is proof of both religious good will and of strong human ties in the Balkans, he said.

Transcending chaos

Despite the enmity and carnage, many people hoped that Kosovo could transcend its crisis and chaos. After centuries of turf-claiming, of forced conversions and the expropriation of each other’s land and holy places, the way out of the de facto segregation and aggression of the past decade could yet prove the greatest battle of Kosovo.

Much will depend on how committed the international community remains to the NATO-U.N. mission in Kosovo and whether conditions can be made right for economic investment in the region. But the province’s political and financial future remains unknowable under Milosevic. Until he leaves or is ousted, sanctions will remain in place. Many in Montenegro complained that the international economic blockade has hurt ordinary Serbians and Montenegrins far worse than it has punished Yugoslavia’s political leaders.

Although she would “walk back tomorrow” from her displaced persons shelter in Berane, Montenegro, to her former home in Pec, in western Kosovo, Zorka Buric, a Kosovo Serb, doubts that conditions will ever be right in her lifetime for return. At 77, she admits, “I’m too old, and the cemetery is too close.”

Despite having a debt of about a half million dollars, Binak Dabigaj and his four brothers - Nezie, Adem, Hajdar and Ilim - wish to stay in their village of Prilep in western Kosovo. They want to rebuild the homes Binak had constructed for 33 members of his Albanian family and the nearby shoe factory that gave work to his 70 employees. Binak, 51, who worked 30 years near Stuttgart, Germany, for Daimler-Benz, returned before the war to build homes and industry with his large investment in construction equipment. He showed NCR the tracks in the road leading to his house where Yugoslav tanks demolished all that he had built. Although his wife and children remain in Germany, Binak said he’s not moving. “I’m not interested in a better living standard, but in the freedom for Kosovo.”

One year after the bombing, it is spring in Kosovo. Amid rubble and ruin some flowers poke shoots heavenward. Winter wheat seed provided some months ago by Catholic Relief Services is sprouting in the fields near Prizren where grain has been harvested for two millennia. Wheat has the ability to reproduce even in the harshest soil. Those who want peace pray that it can emerge from the cracks in this broken and embittered society.

In Mitrovica hundreds of thousands have marched in the streets, demonstrating the demand of the two communities to live in peace - a fact seldom reported in the Balkan press or foreign press.

Paco Ardje, a visitor from Spain, writes in a guest book at the entrance of Gracanica Monastery a message that fills many hearts: “My best desire is to come back to a Kosovo in peace for all Serbs, Turks, Albanians, Roma, for all.”

National Catholic Reporter, April 7, 2000