What do Albanians call Serbs

Culture : Why do Serbs and Albanians hate each other, Mr Kadaré?

ISMAIL KADARÉ, born in Gjirokaster in 1936, where Albania's former dictator Enver Hodscha was born, is a candidate for the Nobel Prize with his novels "The General of the Dead Army" and "The Fortress" as well as the "Three Mourning Chants for Kosovo" The writer now lives in Paris. Jörg von Uthmann spoke to him. Photo: Isolde Ohlbaum

Nationalism in Europe is dying out. Old enemies like the Germans and the French, the Germans and the Poles have reconciled. Even in troubled Ireland an understanding between Catholics and Protestants is emerging. Only in the Balkans does chauvinism live unbroken. How can this be explained?

The temptation to see the Balkans as a unit is great. But the picture is a cliché. To lump all Balkan peoples together is immoral and unjust. Greeks, Albanians, Romanians, Bulgarians - none of these peoples have attacked their neighbors. One Only Serbia engages in aggressive, chauvinistic politics; only in Serbia is a criminal political class supported by a large part of the population.

Why did chauvinism persist in Serbia of all places?

Among the Slavic peoples, some - by no means all - want revenge for the humiliations of the past. The Serbs were also humiliated. Anyone who wants to understand the Balkans must realize that it was part of the Ottoman Empire for five centuries. The Ottoman Empire was one Cosmopolitan empire. It was governed according to the principle of "divide et impera". The Ottomans established the hierarchy, at the top of which, interestingly enough, were not the Turks, but Greeks, Albanians, Jews and Armenians. They were the viziers and the leading officials Serbs, on the other hand, were deliberately kept small and humiliated, because they were considered the governors of the archenemy: the Russians. For this they are taking revenge today. For the privileges that the Albanians enjoyed under the Ottomans, they have to atone today

But didn't the Albanians also take revenge on the Serbs when the opportunity arose - for example under the German occupation?

Serbian propaganda! Of course, the Albanians preferred the German occupation to the Serbian one - just as the Baltic, Ukrainians and the Caucasus peoples preferred German occupiers to Russian ones, but the Albanians had no way of taking revenge on the Serbs Serbs say they saved the Jews back then and compare themselves to the unjustly persecuted Jews, although the Serbian fascists were just as anti-Semitic as the Croatians.

In order to justify their claims to Kosovo, the Serbs invoke their history, a history that goes back a long way. The Albanians do the same. Don't you perceive this eternal bringing up of the past to be unhealthy?

I ask you to make a distinction! There really is no question of the symmetry between Serbs and Albanians that the media are so fond of creating. The Serbs found an idiotic battle in the Middle Ages to justify the oppression of the Albanians in Kosovo. All we do is oppose us I totally agree: let's leave history alone, but when the Serbs talk about history, we have to talk about it too. You won't find a neurotic obsession with their own history among the Albanians. About Skanderbeg, our so-called national heroes, 300 to 400 books have appeared in all languages, but only three or four in Albania.

There have often been mixed marriages between Serbs and the rest of Yugoslavia, while the Kosovar Albanians largely kept to themselves, and it is said that apart from the ice cream sellers, Belgrade residents never saw any of them.

Kosovo lived in a kind of apartheid. It was the tragedy of the Albanians that half of their land was given to a people who were hostile to them. Even educated Serbs wanted nothing to do with the Albanians.

But Albania also wanted nothing to do with Kosovo for a long time. In the epilogue to a novel by your compatriot Rexhep Oosja you speak of the "shameful silence of the motherland". Why was Albania silent?

The communist regime in Albania was not interested in national issues. Since Yugoslavia and Albania were hostile varieties in the communist world, the other half of the country on the other side of the border served as a deterrent to them, proving how bad the other system was. The real Kosovo disappeared in a propaganda fog.

What solution do you propose? A reunification of the two halves of the country?

Now is not the time to speculate. The Albanians are a European people like everyone else. They have the same right to determine their own fate. I say this very seriously and without ulterior motives. Reunification is a hypothetical question, It is better to remain undiscussed at the moment. To conclude from this that reunification is out of the question for all time would, however, be provocative and immoral. We have to postpone the answer to the question until later, until the borders in the Balkans have lost their drama .

What do you have in mind for Kosovo?

The criminal Milosevic regime must fall. Serbia must understand that it has committed serious crimes. Kosovo must be ruled by the Europeans for the time being. To let the Serbs continue to rule it is after their horrific crimes, rape and mass murder unthinkable.

The Serbs will answer you: We cannot give up Kosovo, this is where our holiest monasteries are!

What do you mean: our monasteries? Does it mean: we massacre children in the name of our monasteries? There are Roman ruins all over Europe; can Italy derive the right to claim all the countries of Europe from them? Every people has fought battles, many outside their own territory - like Austerlitz and Waterloo. Can we derive territorial claims from them? These are criminal fantasies.

Together with French intellectuals, you signed an appeal calling for the KLA to be armed, while NATO’s peace plan provides for the guerrillas to be disarmed.

When I signed the appeal, I wanted to say: if NATO doesn't want to invade because they wanted to protect the lives of their soldiers - fine, but there are others who are willing to risk their lives, if the Serbs withdraw and Kosovo comes under European control, there is no longer any reason for armed resistance.

The Kosovar Albanians currently enjoy a lot of sympathy, but in the future - as in Bosnia - some people will ask themselves whether an Islamic state in Europe is not a threat.

That they defend Christian Europe against the "unbelieving" Albanians - that too is another Serbian obsession. Yes, some Albanians are Muslim, but nobody knows exactly how many there are. Most Albanians don't even know which religious community they belong to They belong. Mixed marriages with Christians have existed for a hundred years. Almost all educated people are Christians. Skanderberg, the national hero, was Catholic. Albania has more churches than mosques. It is true that Islam is stronger in Kosovo. But there is also an Islamic state unthinkable. No, monsieur, we have nothing to do with the Arabs.

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