(* P.K. = Post Kosovo)

by Alma Hromic

March 19, 2001

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Back in the mists of time when the world was only threatening to go insane, back in 1998 - on the auspicious date of June 28, national holy day for all Serbs and the date of the erstwhile Battle of Kosovo some six centuries before, I wrote this poem:


The unbelievers throng the palaces of the world.
They hold their foreign flags over my ancestors' bones unfurled,
holding me to ransom, calling my people evil pagans who
randomly slaughter innocents and trample what is true.
My holy places mean nothing to them -
but they are taking
my Jerusalem.

The unbelievers are loud in their denouncements.
It does not matter that what they say holds no reason and no sense,
It only matters that their word is the last.
And in the meantime all the sacred truths of my past
flicker and go out. They care not
at all - they want my Camelot.

The unbelievers stand and eagerly crucify
every holy thing that made us what we are, everything that I
need to believe to make me part of my tribe.
They say the price we paid for our land was a bribe;
they dig at all that's holy in me -
they want to steal
my Gethsemane.

The unbelievers' faces are masks of rage and bile,
but we have met them with serenity, and an enigmatic smile
that makes them certain we hold arcane knowledge they don't share.
And this is so; the secret is that we hold, and we care.
The pale ancestral wraiths will all go
to take the last stand
at Kosovo.

It was a good poem, perhaps, but a bad prophecy. The wraiths stayed put; the living battled it out. The bombs started falling less than a year after I wrote that poem.

Two years have gone by, and nothing fundamental seems to have changed - although, on the surface, many things have. The West's bugbear in the Balkans, Slobodan Milosevic, is gone… through an election which was brooded over by the United States with a thinly veiled threat of refusing to countenance the possibility of Milosevic's re-election (since then, the U.S. has had its own election problems, which it is considered poor form to criticize). In the country where Vojislav Kostunica is now sitting in the hot seat, the honeymoon with the West lasted for a very brief while. My powers of prophecy were better this time around, when I said that Kostunica would be the West's "good boy" only if he went along without demurring with their wishes; as soon as he balked he would immediately be branded "just another Milosevic". The head of the Hague Tribunal for War Crimes in Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, went to see Kostunica - and failed to extract ex-president Milosevic whom she could parade in her "court" in Switzerland. She immediately turned on the new President and called him just another "nationalist". For her, the priority is still to bring the Serbs to the Inquisition; that much, indeed, has not changed. Not even in the face of the current situation in Kosovo, which has been on fire since the bombs stopped falling and is still burning. And the flames, what's more, are spreading.

Last year I wrote: The ethnic cleansing of the rest of Kosovo is pretty much complete -- the [non-Albanian] population, some quarter million or more, have been driven from Kosovo into Serbia, whose population was already almost one-tenth refugees from other Balkan wars. Eighty churches and monasteries have been looted, levelled or damaged beyond repair in Kosovo during the NATO/UN mandate; even the very traces of Serb life in Kosovo are being systematically cleared from the land. Yugoslavia's population is sitting back and watching hollowly as a new Albanian separatist movement lays claim to three towns in southern Serbia which, in the media, has somehow been metamorphosed into "Eastern Kosovo". More stories of atrocities and ethnic cleansing are paving the way for yet another land grab -- the Albanian population in this area appears not to have been harassed by anybody until it became convenient for them to start becoming the new poster-children of the refugee cult. It is remarkably similar to the events that led up to the first attack on Serbia 12 months ago.

As I write now, a year later, those three towns are under siege. Southern Serbia is in such a state that NATO has had to eat its words and allow the Yugoslav army back into the so-called "demilitarized" zone around Kosovo, and the Albanian insurgents have taken the fight into Macedonia. As I said last year, There is plenty about which mainstream media do not write, do not wish to know. This is still true. Granted, there are significantly more voices questioning the situation in the Balkans. Some of these voices are even saying "I told you so". But is it too little, too late? Has the fuse been lit once again for a Balkan conflagration - are we all sitting on a time bomb and waiting for it to blow up from underneath us?

What's left in Yugoslavia, post-Kosovo? A land where everyday expenses are soaring. A land which is never offered any outside aid other than with strings as thick as hanging ropes. A land where the children have been systematically poisoned in body and spirit - with "chemical warfare", including depleted uranium ammunition, and with a constant barrage of "you are scions of an evil people" until they start believing the lies and bury their future with it. A land where the elderly hang on to life by slender threads so easily, so easily snapped?

The outsiders destroyed, and walked away; Yugoslavia doggedly rebuilt. The new bridges in Novi Sad are not pretty, and they have no historical significance other than the fact that they are symbols of post-war defiance - but they exist.

What of the people?

There is a generation of children whose lives have been shattered forever in Yugoslavia. A young boy still plays only war games. A little girl, healthy before the war began, still has asthma induced by the petrochemical soup in which she is living. And down in the south, the battle lines are still drawn. The foreign occupiers still maintain that they are defending the country - but even they are beginning to sound bewildered about whom they are defending, and why. Another year down the road, and we are back at the beginning.

I wrote another poem just the other day:

The Second Anniversary

More blood. More war. More pain. More fear.
God remains mute when asked, "How long?"
It's the end of the second year,
And still they won't say they were wrong,

The ones whose arrogance began
This bloody and malicious dance.
Take it back? They no longer can.
They can't be seen to take that chance.

Some were accused of evil deeds
On little or no evidence.
But evil lives, and evil breeds,
In other hearts. There is no sense

In choosing friends and taking sides.
Some day, they'll go. Then God decides.

That, at least, looks like a safe prophecy to make.



       Alma Hromic, the author with R. A. Deckert of Letters from the Fire, was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. However she has lived outside her native country for much of her life: Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa, the UK and New Zealand. Trained as a microbiologist, she spent some years running a scientific journal, and later worked as an editor for an international educational publisher. Her own publishing record includes her autobiography, Houses in Africa, The Dolphin's Daughter and Other Stories, a bestselling book of three fables published by Longman UK in 1995, as well as numerous pieces of short fiction and non-fiction. Her next novel, the first volume of a fantasy series, Changer of Days: The Oracle, is due out in September 2001 with Harper Collins. Recently, Hromic won the much coveted BBC online short story competition. Her story, The Painting, was broadcast in the UK in the last week of January 2001.

[To read The Painting, go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/four_you/4you_home.shtml and click on the dot dot dot link; that will take you to a pop-up window where you can have a look at who won, why, and even download the entire story in pdf format. There's an excerpt of the audio, too.]

         Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Alma A. Hromic 2001. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Published March 19, 2001
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