Ethnic Albanians are reportedly unique in one respect: they do not run away from bombing. The small province of Kosovo has been turned into a proving ground for advanced U.S. weaponry, but the Albanian inhabitants would not think of taking the kids across the border to stay with relatives for such a trivial reason as that. Cruise missiles, laser guided bombs, cluster bombs, depleted uranium explosives, even when they land next door, leveling the post office, blocks of flats or the corner grocer's shop -- none of this frightens Albanians. The terrible noise and shock of explosions that shake houses and shatter window glass across the room in a great swoosh -- this does not disturb Albanians enough to make them pack up and leave. Civil war, and the imminent prospect its an escalation into a full-scale ground war including a NATO invasion with massive use of the latest terrifying high-tech weapons -- this does not faze them either.
No, as we have heard repeatedly from NATO spokesmen and apologists, Kosovo Albanians run away from only one thing: brutal ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbs.
This makes them nearly unique. Throughout history, civilians have fled from war zones. And today, in the rest of Serbia, people are fleeing the NATO bombing. Reliable estimates put the number of refugees who have left Belgrade to escape the bombing at 400,000. Most are women and children, as with the Kosovo Albanians. At least another 500,000 have left Serbia's other cities, notably Novi Sad and Nish, where NATO bombing has caused air pollution, cut the water supply, and struck purely civilian targets such as market squares. Altogether, according to the Italian daily "il manifesto", the NATO bombing has produced at least a million refugees in Serbia. Their first goal was the safety of the countryside, but even that has proved unsafe. The border with Croatia is blocked. It is increasingly hard for Serbs to get into Hungary. Unlike Croats, Serbs need visas for Western countries and cannot get them without special invitation. So many Serb refugees have been fleeing the bombing into the impoverished Serbian part of Bosnia, "Republika Srpska". Unlike Sarajevo, the Serbian part of Bosnia has received virtually no economic aid from the European Community, let alone from the Muslim countries that favor the Islamic government of Alija Izetbegovic. Serbian Bosnia managed to scrape along by exporting to the Serbian market. That market has been destroyed by NATO bombs. Bosnian manufacture and exports are shut down. People are out of work and hunger is looming.
Despite their apparently different reactions to bombing, Serbs and Albanians have at least one sure thing in common. In both populations, the majority are suffering, while there is one social category that is doing very well: smugglers and other criminals.
Predrag Simic, foreign policy adviser to Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, told a Paris conference last week that Kosovo was being so thoroughly devastated by NATO bombing that nobody, neither Albanians nor Serbs, would be able to go back and live there. "And there will be a third ethnic group: NATO soldiers," he observed. Simic said he did not care to defend either Serbs or Albanians from criticism, both bore responsibility for the disaster, and both peoples were paying heavily for their mistakes and would continue to pay for a long time. But he invited Europeans to consider the consequences for Europe. Already, the bombing has destroyed the livelihoods of millions of Yugoslavs. Despite current talk of reconstruction, Bosnia has already shown that hopes for some new "Marshall Plan" for the Balkans are illusory. The neighboring economies are also being hard hit. For the foreseeable future, the region will be poor and unstable, with only one major export: emigrants. People in Yugoslavia see this happening to their country. They also know that immigrants are not particularly welcome in Western Europe in these times of unemployment. For most people, about the only way to be admitted legally to a rich country is to be a refugee, and the more horrific the story of what one has run away from, the better the chances of being welcomed somewhere as a refugee. Telling people what they want to hear is an ancient folk custom, especially when they are rich and you are poor. There are plenty of stories to tell, and people have been running away from very frightening things. But NATO bombing doesn't count. It could not be expected to win sympathy in a NATO country.