National Geographic : 2009 Jul
• States and most of Europe. To many Serbs, that makes Nakalamic a traitor. After Kosovo grabbed independence, TV viewers worldwide watched radical nationalists storm through Belgrade, Serbia s capital, smash- ing windows and torching a symbol of arrogant foreign meddling---the U.S. Embassy. e Serbian government views Kosovo s independence as an illegal dismemberment of Serbia s sovereign territory. It ordered Serbs in Kosovo---many of whom receive cash assistance from Serbia---to boycott elections there, and most obeyed. With- out the requisite ballots from his district, Naka- lamic lacks a council vote and thus can t fully participate in dra ing budgets or ordinances. Yet many Serbs seem resigned to the new borders, and to the prospect of a smaller, tamer Serbia at ease with its neighbors. "People are marching and demonstrating, but no one really believes we will get Kosovo back," said Marina Alavanja, a young woman I met in Belgrade as she and her ancé, a Caribbean American from New York, had a midnight drink with friends on a stylish Belgrade street. Alavanja, a student in Florence, is the kind of liberal, internationally oriented Serb on whom Western governments pin their hopes. A er Kosovo independence and the resulting riots, Serbian voters, in the spring of 2008, surprised the world by propelling into power a pro--European Union government that vowed to track down Serbian war criminals--- evidence of a widespread belief that the coun- try s best hope for cultural and economic growth is with the West. But outsiders should never mistake resigna- tion for acceptance, says Alavanja. "It s Serbian pride," she says. "We can t say, Sure, take Kosovo. Do whatever you want to us. What kind of people would we be?" Srdja Popovic, a human rights lawyer who pursues accused Serbian war criminals, says the gulf between unrecon- structed nationalists and Western-style Demo- crats, including Serbia s president, Boris Tadic, is not as wide as outsiders may think. To Pop- ovic, all major parties to some extent cling to the ideal of uniting Serbian-inhabited lands--- a catalyst for war in the 1990s. "It s charitable to say this country is divided between demo- crats and nationalists," he says. "In reality, the nationalist ideal rules." So does an obsession with the past, which for Serbs is a narrative of national suffering and valor. "Small peoples are o en the victims of in- justice," re ects Dragoljub Micunovic, an oppo- sition figure during the Milosevic years and now a high-ranking Democrat. Micunovic cites the 1908 annexation of Bosnia (home to many Serbs) by Austria-Hungary. ough outraged, Serbia was forced to accede. But in 1914 Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip struck back, assassinating the Austrian crown prince in Sarajevo and sparking World War I. Half of Serbia s military- age male population may have died in the war, but the o ending empire was obliterated, and in today s Serbia, Princip is a hero. Ground zero for Serbian martyrdom is now Kosovo. To right-wing Serbs, politicians like the Democrats who decline to battle for it tooth and nail are Judases. e slur s religious imagery is intentional, for many Serbs regard Kosovo as their spiritual heartland. Slobodan Milosevic exploited this sentiment in the 1980s. He rose to the presidency partly on the platform of crushing Albanian power in Kosovo and died in 2006, during his marathon trial for war crimes that included violence against Kosovo Albanian civilians. It is di cult to judge whether the lingering aura of his propaganda offen- sive or authentic cultural veneration is what moves some Serbs to call Kosovo their Jerusalem, and some their Golgotha. ON THE HILL west of Velika Hoca, below an obser- vation post manned for nearly a decade by NATO peacekeepers, is a graveyard with a pan- oramic view: Along with clusters of old houses and hillside vineyards that supply the town s winery, owned by the Serbian Orthodox mon- astery, more than a dozen tiny churches pepper the valley. Some are medieval treasures adorned Chris Carroll is a sta writer for National Geographic. Christopher Anderson s book about Venezuela, Capitolio, will be out this month. FOR CENTURIES SERBS have striven with epic fervor to unite their scattered people, define their lands, preserve their unique identity.