Dr. Carol, long time Seraphic Secret reader and valued commenter, a Professor in an American University, traveled to Israel for the very first time in August ’08, and graced this blog with a deeply moving letter about her experiences as a faithful Christian, a proud Zionist, and an American patriot in the Jewish homeland. Now, Dr. Carol is in Kosova. With her sharp eye for history and local detail, our good friend sheds some valuable light on a land and people who are among America’s greatest allies. We are grateful for Dr. Carol’s generous contribution to Seraphic Secret.
A Bloody History
I am writing this letter from the most pro-American country in the world—the brand-spanking-new Republic of Kosovo (or, as the ethnic Albanians here prefer, “Kosova” with the emphasis on the second syllable).
Kosova as a region has a long and bloody history of conflicts. The most recent was the ethnic violence egged on by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic between 1990 and 1998. When the old Yugoslavia fell apart, Serbia attempted to deprive Kosova of its autonomy as an independent region and forced it under Serbian control. Ethnic Albanian Kosovars reacted with strikes and a daring declaration of independence, but to no avail.
Hostilities between the ruling Serbs and the Albanians escalated and more than 400,000 Albanian Kosovars left the region by 1993, exiled by Serbian repression. Those who stayed developed a parallel society; denied access to schools, hospitals, and other services, they developed their own, often in secret. Expatriates working in the U.S. and Europe sent money back to their families, the only way many Kosovars survived. Albanian language media were shut down, journalists imprisoned, and students denied access to the secondary schools and the University of Prishtina.
In 1997 the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) started military action against Serbian police installations. The Serbs retaliated, sometimes with mass executions of civilians. About 300,000 villagers fled to the mountains and forests to escape the violence. In 1998, Madeleine Albright threatened air strikes if the ethnic cleansing was not halted, and finally a US-led NATO force carried out the threat in March 1999. As a result of Serb retaliation, another 800,000 Kosovars fled to Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and the US.
My students tell me that they stood on their porches in the hills, and watched British Harriers deliver pinpoint strikes on the Serbian police headquarters in the center of Prishtina. Not one window in the surrounding buildings was even cracked, but the headquarters were destroyed. When I asked the students if they were afraid of the bombs, they said no—they were afraid of Serbian retaliation. One student and her family escaped to Montenegro, where they camped for three days outside without food or clean water. Eventually they were sent to shelters in Norway, where they stayed for six months until they could return to Kosova.
Twelve-thousand Kosovars died in the 1997-1999 conflict, and about 2,200 are still missing. The country was devastated, their economy and infrastructure virtually destroyed. Massive amounts of aid flow in from the European Union, the UN, and USAID, trying to get this fledgling country on its feet.
American troops in Kosova are viewed and treated as liberators by the Muslim population.
Despite the heavy losses they have endured and the difficulty of daily life here, Kosovars are profoundly grateful to America for liberating them from Serbian repression. American flags are everywhere in Pristina, stalls in the market place sell “Thank you, America!” t-shirts, a prominent hotel sports a Statue of Liberty on its roof, and two major streets in the capital are named for Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. There’s even a huge mural of Clinton on the side of a building.
Kosovars are quick to spot foreigners, and will eagerly start a conversation or, if their English isn’t too good, show their appreciation in other ways. I walked today through a small park studded with Roman-era carved stones. On a low wall sat two Albanian Kosovars, wearing the traditional white skullcap. They eyed me curiously as I took pictures of the stones, then one gave me a toothless grin and asked “American? You American?” When I said yes, they beamed at me and gave me two thumbs up.
My school back in the US founded this affiliated institution in 2003, and is instrumental in many efforts to help Kosovo back on its feet. My students here in Prishtina are button-busting proud of their American education. We labor to fill in the gaps caused by a decade of furtive, sporadic schooling. They are bright, happy, and amazingly entrepreneurial. They are also delighted to meet the American soldiers stationed here as part of the multinational Kosovo Force (KFOR) watching over the country as it comes out of the shadow of Serbia.
American troops bring football—real football—to Kosova.
On Mother’s Day we picnicked in the hills near Gjilan, and a patrol of US soldiers dropped by to share food and football (the REAL kind!) with us. The students crowded around, asking to hold the soldiers’ weapons, asking for rides in their Hummers, asking about America. Our Army boys ate it up—the sergeant kept turning around to me and saying “We just love talking to the people, and they seem to just love talking to us”.
Probably the most heartfelt statement I’ve heard about Kosova’s gratitude came from my student Faton. He drove me down to the plaza where the famous “NEWBORN” statue sits, and showed me where he wrote his name on it the night Kosovo declared independence. I noticed an American flag in his car, and remarked on it. “I keep it there,” he said, “to remind me. America saved us. I will always love America for saving us.”
G-d bless America. G-d bless Old Glory. Long may she wave, from sea to shining sea—and in the streets of Prishtina and the hearts of Kosovars.
Dr. Carol pays her respects at the local Jewish cemetery with her Seraphic Press tote bag. The inscription in Hebrew reads: Baruch Dayan Emet, G-d is the Righteous Judge.