AIM: start

SUN, 30 SEP 2001 21:48:56 GMT

"Mutual" Solidarity

AIM Pristina, September 25, 2001

His fogged up glasses helped the Ambassador - Chief of American Office in Pristina - John Menzies hide his tearful eyes while he was speaking at a memorial service honouring the victims of terrorist attacks against the USA. Standing next to the leaders of Islamic and Catholic communities in Kosovo, Ambassador Menzies said that "the USA will never be able to repay the people of Kosovo for the support it extended to the American people and Government after terrorist attacks. This helped us not to feel alone in our grief", said Ambassador Menzies to the tune of "God Save America" playing in the background.

This line resounded as a refrain throughout Kosovo these days. Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon astounded the Kosovo Albanians. In the late evening of the day of the attack hundreds of citizens of Pristina gathered in front of the American Office holding American flags and lighted candles in their hands while they expressed their sympathies with the victims of the attack and their "support to Kosovo's great friend", as Albanians like to refer to the USA. Although immediately after the news on tragedy was broadcast the American Office in Pristina decided to close its doors to the public, postponing also all diplomatic meetings and contacts with the mass media, already the day after Chief of this Office - Ambassador Menzies - called a press conference wishing to express his gratitude. "As we stood by you in the darkest days, you are now standing by us in these hard days for America", he said addressing the citizens of Kosovo not hiding his emotions rather uncommon for diplomats. That same day, streets of Pristina, as well as other towns in Kosovo were swarmed with dozens of thousands of citizens who were expressing their opposition to terrorism and solidarity with the American people and Government. Flags, flowers and candles became a common thing in each street, while posters saying: "America, we are with you" could be seen everywhere.

Representatives of the UN Mission and Peace Forces took special security measures, but denied or refuted any possibility of any terrorist threat existing in Kosovo. True, the news that Kosovo was among three Balkan countries - together with Albania and Bosnia - on the American list of countries that had to be checked for possible presence of terrorists and "envoys" of some terrorist organisations coming from Islamic countries, i.e. according to some circles, to gather information on "activities" of Islamic humanitarian organisations, in a way prompted the local public to clearly and uncompromisingly voice its condemnation of terrorism. Several incidents also occurred, for example when a small group of Albanians threw stones at the building of an Islamic humanitarian organisation and protested before of its staff because of events in America, etc.

Actually, it seems that a veritable anti-terrorist fever has broken out in Kosovo, especially its capital. Citizens of Albanian nationality, mostly of Muslim religion (one might say 100 percent of them) simply expressed at every step their solidarity with the great tragedy that hit civilians from all corners of the world. Commemorative ceremonies were organised for days, and every meeting that was held at that time started with a minute of silence. A day of mourning was declared, while some local TV channels changed their programme. In evening hours viewers could listen to classical music. "This is a strike against freedom and world democracy," said political representatives of Kosovo Albanians.

Leadership of the Kosovo Protection Corps (civil organisation that succeeded the former KLA) did not remain aloof. It launched a blood drive for the wounded in the USA and while waiting in long lines in front of the Blood Bank members of these troops said that this was all they could do for and give to the American friendly people. In the same queue one could see those who were on the President Bush's "black" list for American sanctions. Cameras of the local TV centres filmed scenes of members of the Association of War Invalids in the commune of Milesevo, a small town in central Kosovo, joining the blood drive. One of them said he would not regret giving the last drop of his blood for the American people. Commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps, Agim Ceku, made his troops available for participation in the salvage operations from under the World Trade Centre rubble.

It is no secret that the Kosovo Albanians are strongly linked to the USA. They consider the Americans their saviours - because of Washington's role in the resolution of Kosovo conflict. The American initiative for putting an end to the rule of the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has now been charged of war crimes, organisation of the Rambouillet Conference, the role of the American political leadership in the NATO air-strikes operation against Serbian military targets, as well as the deployment of NATO troops in Kosovo contributed to America becoming a symbol of freedom for the Kosovars. Their solidarity "is an expression of grief over the tragedy that their great friend has suffered", said Albanians expressing their conviction that "such a great nation is capable of getting over so great a loss". Thousands of people signed their names in the book of condolences which was opened in the centre of Pristina in "Grand" hotel, while thousands of others looked for other ways to express their support.

Although there is a large Albanian community in the States, i.e. New York, the media in Kosovo did not dedicate much space to the fate of their fellow-nationals, demonstrating that for them all victims were the same irrespective of their nationality. An Albanian intellectual stated that "today we are all Americans".

On the other hand, the American diplomats in Pristina invited the Albanians to fight against extremism in Kosovo. Ambassador Menzies stated that help for America would also be Kosovars were to give blood to Kosovo hospitals. But, also, that fight against extremism in Kosovo also represented assistance for America. It that context he called for ethnic, religious and political tolerance, provision of the freedom of movement and speech, emphasising that this was the way in which the highest values were being protected in his country.

In his public addresses the Ambassador rejected all speculations about the "clash of civilisations". "From now on life would no longer be the same because of the American tragedy" said one of the officials of international administration in Kosovo. According to him, because of international terrorism the world was now waiting in fear for possible conflicts of apocalyptic proportions to happen in the coming days. The fear of such a conflict is present in Kosovo too. In a country with an exemplary religious tolerance there is no fear of the conflict of religions, but that fear exists because of a possibility that its "great friend might easily fall into such a trap". Nevertheless, the Kosovars see themselves in the same camp with the Americans. Former Assistant State Secretary James Rubin said for the local media: "The Albanian have shown that they are pro-West so that anyone who claims the opposite is no friend of America".

However, the local public is still carefully following the developments on the world scene with its eyes fixed on the American Bondsteel camp near Urosevac, in Eastern Kosovo, which is considered as a guarantee of the American presence and support. However, this could not be also said for the majority of members of Serbian community in Kosovo. Their political leaders have recently also publicly condemned terrorism that took thousands of innocent victims in America. However, the citizens - Serbs in Kosovo were rather indifferent. They did not shrink from showing that in various ways front of TV cameras. They said that "God has punished America", that "America deserved this", that it was "pity that Clinton himself was not killed", etc. This time the international representatives were not primarily interested in the unforgiving stand of Kosovo Serbs regarding the new reality in Kosovo, nor in the heavy burden of their everyday life filled with uncertainty and insecurity. They cared more for the wholehearted support of the Kosovo Albanians, which they considered a kind of appreciation for their engagement in the Balkans.