Posted by: Lister | February 28, 2008

Three Cheers for Kosova!

That’s the title of Uri Avnery’s article:

A Serbian is driving down the highway in the wrong direction, listening to music on the radio. Suddenly the program is interrupted by an urgent announcement: “Warning! A crazy driver on the highway is going in the wrong direction!”

“Only one?” the Serb exclaims, “All of them!”

“Wow!” the thought crossed my mind when a Serbian friend told me this joke, “How much they resemble us!”

And indeed, much as Serbs are different from Israelis, it seems that we have a lot in common. Both peoples believe that “the whole world is against us”. Both are completely convinced that they are absolutely in the right, even when everybody else is telling them otherwise.

Like the Israelis, the Serbs are also immersed in their past. For them as for us, history is more important than the present. The future is a hostage of the past.

Many centuries ago, the Serbs lived in Kosovo. According to them, that patch of ground was the cradle of their nation. There, in June 1389, the defining event of their history took place: the great battle against the Ottoman Turks. The fact that the Serbs were decisively beaten does not diminish the memory. It also does not matter to them that afterwards a people of Albanian descent took root in the country. In their eyes, the people that has now been living in Kosovo for many centuries is “foreign”, the country is “the patrimony of our forefathers” and “belongs to us because our religion (the Eastern Orthodox) says so.” Doesn’t that sound at bit familiar?

In World War II, the feeling of solidarity between Serbs and Jews was cemented. Our heart was, of course, with the courageous partisans. The Jews who succeeded in reaching Tito’s liberated areas were saved from the Holocaust. Serbs and Jews were murdered together in the Croatian concentration camps, which were so gruesome that even SS officers shuddered when they visited them.

One place was Jasenovac:

The territory of the Independent State of Croatia included two constituent units of former Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a total population of about 6.3 million. More than half of the population, or 3.3 million, were ethnic Croats, most of them Catholic. The 1.9 million Serbs were the largest ethnic minority. Most of them were Serbian Orthodox and some were of the Uniate faith. Other minorities included approximately 700,000 Muslims, 40,000 Jews, and 30,000 Roma (Gypsies).

[…] The Ustaša authorities established numerous concentration camps in Croatia between 1941 and 1945. These camps were used to isolate and murder Serbs, Jews, Roma, Muslims, and other non-Catholic minorities, as well as Croatian political and religious opponents of the regime. The largest of these centers was the Jasenovac complex, a string of five camps on the bank of the Sava River, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Zagreb. Although further research may yield more exact figures, current estimates place the number of victims murdered by the Ustaša in Jasenovac during World War II between 56,000 and 97,000.

Tito’s Partisans was one of the groups formed to combat the Ustasha. The Allies eventually backed the right one:

Two opposition forces were born in response to the Ustasha violence: the Chetniks and the Partisans. Initially the western allies recognized the Serbian “Chetniks” as legal representatives of the exiled Yugoslav government. They fought against the Germans and retaliated against the Ustasha with atrocities of their own. Eventually, however, the Allies supported the Partisans, led by Josip Broz Tito.

The role of the Bosnian Muslims in the war was more complex, as they were caught between the Croatian Ustasha and the Serbian Chetniks, often equally disillusioned with both. As the Partisans began to increasingly differentiate themselves from the Chetniks, Muslims began to join Tito’s army.

Back to Uri Avnery:

All this explains the mixed feelings many Israelis have towards the declaration of independence of Kosova (as the Kosovars themselves call their country.)

I AM AFRAID that in this matter, too, my views diverge from those of many other Israelis. My heart was with the masses of Albanian Kosovars who rejoiced and danced this week in the streets of Pristina.

They reminded me of the masses celebrating in the streets of Tel Aviv some 60 years ago, when the UN General Assembly decide to set up a Jewish state (It also decided to set up a Palestinian-Arab state, but that has been well-nigh forgotten.)

[…] To me this seems irrelevant. When a population decides that it is a nation, behaves like a nation and fights like a nation – well, then it is a nation and has the right to its own nation-state.

(I once told this to Golda Meir in the Knesset. She had denied, as usual, the existence of a Palestinian nation, repeating her famous dictum that “there is no such thing”. Madam Prime Minister, I answered her, perhaps you are right, and the Palestinians are quite wrong when they believe that they are a nation. But when millions of people erroneously believe that they are a nation, conduct themselves like a nation and fight like a nation – well, then they are a nation.)

[…] THE MIDWIFE of the independent Republic of Kosova was the genocidal Milosevic. When he decided to carry out a murderous ethnic cleansing and to drive out millions of Kosovars from their country, he put an end to the right of Serbia to go on ruling Kosova. It proved again how right Thomas Jefferson was when he demanded, in the American Declaration of Independence, “a decent respect for the opinion of mankind”.

[…] One hundred or two hundred years ago, Corsica could not defend itself. To be secure, it had to be part of the French kingdom. The Basque homeland could not sustain an independent economy and needed to be part of a larger economic unit, like Spain. But today, when decisions are made in Brussels, why should Corsicans and Basques not have their own states and be separate members of the EU?

That is a world-wide tendency. Separate nations do not unite in new states, but on the contrary, existing states break up into national components. Anyone who believes that Israelis and Palestinians will unite tomorrow in one state does not live in the real world. The slogan “two states for two peoples” is relevant today more than ever.

So Israel, approaching its own 60th anniversary, should recognize the Republic of Kosova and wish it well.

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