Strays soothing soldiers in Kosovo (Nov. 22)

As a vet (in both meanings of the word) Lt. Col. David Rice has seen the effect dogs can have on soldiers.

He has watched soldiers stop to pet a stray and walk away as if, at least for the moment, they’d found some peace amid war.

Rice, a Scottsdale, Arizona veterinarian and member of the Army Reserve who’s now stationed in Kosovo, is working to let more soldiers (and more dogs) experience the therapeutic effects one species can provide each other.

He has taken in four strays so far…and makes them available for soldiers to check out at Camp Bondsteel…A soldier may check out a dog, just as he might check out a book in a library, and for a few hours take a break from a grinding overseas assignment…

Rice’s official duty is to tend to bomb-sniffing dogs. But he’s the unofficial mayor of “Dog Town,” which now has a population of four stray mutts, all of whom wandered onto the base from the nearby town of Ferizaj.

“We’ve had dogs sit in with us on staff meetings,” said Major John Brunett of Santa Fe, who frequently checks out dogs. “Everyone likes an opportunity to pet or have them on their laps. People respond well to the dogs, and of course, when they’re out, they get lots of attention.”

Dog Town was started by previous veterinarians stationed at Camp Bondsteel who were disheartened seeing the conditions that dogs in the village lived in. […]

I wonder, how does Lt. Col. Rice think this one became a stray:

Many of the strays belonged to Serbs who fled for their lives during the NATO-supervised ethnic cleansing by the folks whose bidding we’re there to do — the Albanian “Kosovars.”

These would be the same people who in 1999 demanded that the KFOR mascot be killed, because the dog “was Serbian.” And they would be the same people who make sport out of running down dogs with their cars. American values we’re defending indeed! (See speeches by Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman.) Not that there are too many strays left to soothe the soldiers (as if they need more soothing than the Serbs they’re cleansing). After all, our clients are the folks who last year, at a loss for what to do with all the strays they created by kicking out the civilized 10% of the province, went on a state-sanctioned “culling” spree (that’s a whole vowel away from “killing”), during which “agonizing howls [could] be heard across the city.”

Indeed, there are fewer dogs left in Kosovo even than Serbs. Apparently, the stray population became a threat to the terrorist population that caused the dogs to become a threat. (Though truthfully, they’re regarded more as “pests” than threats by the local population.)

The original story, which appeared in The Arizona Republic, was titled ‘Dog shelter in Kosovo helps troops cope.” So again, the troops may need canine moral support to fulfill their orders to subjugate the Christian Serbs under Albanian-Muslim rule, but who will help the Serbs cope with that dark fate imposed on them by the free world? Absolutely no one.

Here was an interesting paragraph from the original:

Amid an Army base filled with gun-toting servicemen and women trained to stand tall in the face of danger, the smaller dogs are the most popular, Rice said. It may be that even the toughest people on the planet need a snuggle, and 12-pound terriers are just about perfect for that.

Soldiers? Small dogs? Really?

I don’t know whether to bark, or barf.

But then, Kosovo is where we fight for the enemy, so it all sort of make sense. For everything is backwards in Kosovo.

In closing, let’s ponder these Kosovo strays:

A lone dog keeps watch in front of his master’s burned house, waiting for him to come home.

These refugees from Pristina are being sheltered in an elementary school gym in the Serbian enclave of Gracanica.

The once ethnically-mixed village of Obilic is littered with the ruins of Serbian homes.

The images come from Chris Deliso when he was in Kosovo on the heels of the March 2004 riots; his resulting article is excerpted below for our in-need-of-comforting soldiers’ edification:

…Eyewitness reports indicate that the Albanian mobs were armed with machine guns, AK-47’s, pistols, rifles, and hand grenades, not to mention rocks and improvised cluster bombs (Molotov cocktails filled with nails). An informed source claims that four of the Serbs killed had been shot by illegal “dum-dum” bullets that fragment within the body, causing an excruciatingly painful death. Others were knifed or burned alive by the rampaging mobs made up of Albanian men from their early teens into their 80s.

[T]he Kosovo riots were not the spontaneous outcome of the Albanians’ righteous rage and grief. Rather, they were well-planned, well-supplied terrorist attacks masquerading as popular marches, carried out with the complicity of the Albanian KPS (Kosovo Police Service) and with the blessings of top figures in the Kosovo Albanian leadership, organized by the successor organizations of the Kosovo Liberation Army and its various youth factions.

Both Macedonian and Serbian intelligence officials have detailed evidence to support this assertion. Eyewitness testimony also confirms that Albanian KPS officers actively participated in leading the riots. The range of weaponry employed, and the fact that buses, vans, and taxis were all mobilized to transport tens of thousands of Albanian rioters reveal the organized nature of the campaign.

International officials agree. “Let’s be realistic,” Tracy Becker, the UNMIK regional media officer in Mitrovica told me last week. “It’s impossible to have Kosovo-wide riots without organization.” Another UN spokesman said the same back on March 18, according to [T]he Scotsman: “…this is planned, coordinated, one-way violence from the Albanians against the Serbs… nothing happens spontaneously in Kosovo.”

Oliver Ivanovic, a member of the Kosovo Parliament Presidency, told me on Wednesday that the riots were “…very well organized. Simultaneous attacks on 15 different places can only be done if you have strong logistics and coordination. It was all in accordance with a plan.”

The plan, according to Ivanovic, was strategic:

“…first they threatened to attack North Mitrovica, which they never intended to take – too many Serbs are there. But this maneuver did succeed in pulling the international soldiers north, and leaving central Kosovo empty and undefended. The Albanians were thus able to attack those Serbian settlements much more easily.”

…Even though they are heavily armed and vastly outnumber the Serbs, the 60,000 Albanians of the south know that they cannot take [North Mitrovica], and therefore don’t try. [But we’ve accomplished that for them now, haven’t we.]

Thus, rather than concentrate their attack on the northern Serbian stronghold, the Albanian mobs chose to devastate isolated Serb settlements populated mostly by poor, elderly farmers left entirely defenseless by five years of UNMIK weapons collections. Yet the colonial administration does not dare to disarm the Albanians, for fear of provoking retaliatory violence.

Several examples from this latest wave of ethnic cleansing support the theory. South of Mitrovica, the Serbian population of the farming village of Svinjare was expelled, with 140 houses ruined. The scene was “absolutely heartbreaking,” said one international official, who added that local Albanian perpetrators had started spray-painting their names on the charred ruins to mark their new “property.”

I saw an example of this in Obilic, a village further south, near Pristina, where an Albanian man had spray-painted his name on a burned Serbian home. All around were charred ruins of houses, smashed furniture, and dead pigs, everything of value stolen. Out of the wreckage a playful dog ran up to me, yapping in front of what was once his master’s home. He was guarding it from intruders, perhaps. But there was no longer any need.

Obilic was once an ethnically mixed village; directly adjacent to these destroyed houses were the untouched homes of Albanians. I saw one Albanian boy, no older than six, looting firewood from the gutted home of his former neighbor. In the street, we were met by the long, suspicious stares of grouped men defiantly proud of their crimes and unwilling to tolerate any mention of them.

Purging central Kosovo of Serbs was important because the second-largest grouping of enclaves is located there…The area has strategic position, comprises a large area of high-quality farmland, and remains a chronic thorn in the side of Albanians striving for an ethnically pure Kosovo.

…In the capital, Pristina, the entire remaining Serbian population was completely expelled. Although before the NATO bombardment of 1999 some 40,000-50,000 Serbs lived in Pristina, by 2004 only about 150 remained. These survivors were relegated entirely to one apartment block. The mobs took care of them on March 17.

According to Ivanovic, this pattern of ethnic cleansing indicates that the Albanians’ goal was “…to push the remaining Serb settlements away from the major roads and railways, and so isolate them from the outside world. This is very easily seen when you look at exactly which villages were targeted.”

When asked whether he planned to stay and fight when the inevitable Albanian attack comes, the teen wistfully replied, “…we would like it if you could take us to America with you.” So much for that much-feared “Serbian nationalism.”

One of the main promises of the UNMIK administration is that all refugees will be returned to Kosovo as part of its “Standards Before Status” conditions for eventual independence. “Yet what’s strange,” adds Oliver Ivanovic, “is that there were 35 churches destroyed in 2 days. In the 5 years before that, 118 churches were destroyed…”

…Since a mark of any civilization is the presence of cultural monuments, the massive destruction of Serbian churches in this area shows the true intent of the Albanian militants…The wholesale destruction of Serbian churches and monasteries since 1999 and which accelerated last month betrays the desire to eliminate a whole people’s history, culture, and right to exist.

Prizren, which had featured age-old mosques next to churches and a beautiful historic town, was hardest hit. It was described to me as a “little Jerusalem” by one resident Arab, and as “the most beautiful town in the former Yugoslavia” by a Serb. In 2002, it was listed as one of the world’s 100 most endangered sites by the World Monument Fund…On March 26, Bishop of Kosovo Artemijie lamented:

“…how can people destroy a city in which they themselves are living? How can they calmly sit on benches and nonchalantly stroll in front of burning churches whose ruins stink of urine and feces left behind by the attackers? Where did such barbarity at the dawn of the 21st century come from, barbarity promoted not by some small group of extremists but by thousands of people who destroyed centuries of culture and civilization in their campaign of destruction?”

Some of the 150 Serbians expelled from Pristina on March 17 are currently being housed in an elementary school gym in Gracanica. The scene there is gloomy; cots lined up against the walls, black plastic bags of donated clothes and provisions, tinny music emanating from a little clock radio. Old people lay crouched in their beds while the few small children try to shoot baskets to entertain themselves. My local guide and I sat down to talk with one group of refugees, and instantly hospitality materialized in the form of Turkish coffee made on a plug-in burner. In Kosovo, even people who have nothing left want to give.

By 8:30, the mob had multiplied to several hundred. It was made up of armed men and boys of all ages. They were chanting the standard rallying cry of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (”UCK! UCK!”), and soon had broken the windows of all the first-floor apartments with rocks and shotgun shells. Witnesses saw taxis and vans continually bringing more and more Albanians in, some of whom they recognized from the neighborhood. According to the refugees, the rioters were enabled by four or five Albanian KPS officers, who invited them to come closer and also threw Molotov cocktails at the trapped Serbs. When someone desperately rang up the UN Police to report the emergency, the officer who answered “…just laughed and said, ‘we have a patrol in the area.’”

The situation became much more serious after the power was mysteriously cut at 9 PM. This seemed like a cue for the rioters to begin charging the building. They blocked off all the entrances, and began firebombing Serb-owned cars outside the building and then the structure itself. When the power came on again at 10 PM, the people trapped in the building turned off all lights and lay on the floor, intermittently peeking out the windows to see what was happening.

“Was it just a coincidence that the electricity was cut at the same moment they started their attack?” asks another refugee, Tanya Vudatovic. Until the riots, Vudatovic had been working in a Pristina NGO. It was difficult, and sometimes dangerous, but she felt safe enough. Not anymore.

“For five years,” she recounts, “we were locked inside a building and subjected to constant surveillance and hostile stares from our Albanian neighbors. Even if you went downstairs to a shop, they were constantly watching you. We didn’t even go out after dark. Yet even through all that, we still thought maybe we can live together. Not now.”

Despite nearly having been killed by the Albanian mob, Vudatovic and the others are this evening enjoying a laugh with an Albanian colleague working to develop multi-ethnic radio. He had happened to be visiting them on the night of the riots, when Vudatovic and 32 others huddled inside an apartment barricaded by metal bars and marked by an OSCE sign. “Hiding behind such signs has been one of our tricks for survival,” said Vudatovic. The presence of the metal bars, she is convinced, is the only reason they survived the attacks.

At around 11 PM, KFOR arrived with 2 vehicles. They passed across the front side of the apartment building and, while they remained, the crowd fell back. This detachment was soon replaced by a UN armored vehicle. The Serbs thought that they had been saved, and some made the mistake of opening their doors. But the peacekeepers inexplicably left after 15 minutes, and the mob regained strength, breaking into the building and baying for blood.

All in all, the rioters ransacked around 30 apartments and burned 4 others, according to the residents. Incredibly, no Serbs were killed, probably because they had taken shelter together in a few well-fortified apartments, placing tables, chairs, and anything heavy in front of the doors. However, had the peacekeepers not returned around 1 AM, many people would surely have died of fire and asphyxiation.

The arriving UN police soon found themselves under attack. The mob was furious at being stymied in their attack. But the police managed to break through the rioting crowd and started sweeping from the top floors down. A young mother named Vesna reveals the vital role American policemen played in the rescue:

“…one of them took my son, and the other, a female officer, tried to run with me towards the bus. She shielded me with her body, because the Albanians were shooting at us from all directions. When we got to the bus she pushed me down against the vehicle, blocked me from the bullets and saved my life.”

Meanwhile, Vudatovic and the others in the barricaded apartment below waited it out. “Even now when I lie down,” she says, “I can still hear this roaring sound in my ears… it’s very hard to explain what it was like, sitting in a corner in the dark, begging God to help you.” When I ask for her to attempt a description anyway, she recounts:

“…we could hear the mob gathering outside the door. They were calling for me and my sister, shouting, ‘Where are the two Serbian bitches?’ We were covering the mouths of the children so they wouldn’t scream. Out of the people in the apartment, only 4 were men, and all were unarmed. The Albanians would have killed all 33 people inside that room.

…then we heard someone screaming for help. After a few minutes of hearing his cries, one woman said, ‘I can’t stand it, we have to help him.’ So we removed the furniture blocking the door, went out in the hall and found a 34 year-old Serbian man covered in blood. He had been stabbed in the head. At that moment three Irish KFOR soldiers came running up the stairs. It was just a matter of seconds. They said to us, ‘We don’t have time! Go, go!’ But the entranceway was engulfed in flames, and we had to run through the fire in order to get out.”

Thirty-three people escaped certain death by hiding from the mob inside this barricaded apartment in Pristina on the night of March 17.

A few miles west of Pristina, in the little town of Kosovo Polje, Albanian rioters burned the post office, a restaurant, a hospital, and scores of houses….One refugee, a middle-aged man whose house was located behind the Post Office recounted what he saw:

“…first, they took my nephew’s car from the garage and burned it. We saw how they were throwing rocks at the Serbian houses. We all stayed indoors. But one old man who was caught outside while cleaning his house with his wife was kicked down by the mob. The Albanians let his wife go, but they lit the man on fire and burned him alive right there.”

This witness, whom I encountered in a “safe” part of the (still) ethnically-mixed town, was remarkably composed considering what he had witnessed, and considering that the perpetrators were less than a mile away. He added:

“…my elderly uncle was stabbed by Albanians as he was trying to run from a neighbor’s house into his own. Luckily we were near enough to see him, and we saved him. But the KPS Albanian police saw them attack him and did nothing.”

Eventually, the Serbs were evacuated by three of their ethnic kin who happened to work in the KPS. But these policemen could not save their homes from the Albanian mobs that moved methodically from house to house in groups of 30, looting, pillaging, and burning.

I asked the Kosovo Polje man, standing with some friends outside a little shop in the protected end of the town, what he envisions for the future. After all, he told me that he also owns an apartment in Belgrade – but has nevertheless chosen to remain in Kosovo:

“…after these five years, we thought it might be possible to live together. We had started to shop in Albanian stores, to walk more freely in the streets. Now there is no chance for that. Still, we had imagined the mob would stop at burning vehicles and big buildings – not houses or people. KFOR has taken all our weapons from us – only if they allow the Serbian police to return can we be saved.”

In the village of Obilic, as in Pristina, the entire Serbian population was expelled. I met several refugees from the village now being housed in Priluzje, a Serbian village a few miles to the north. One middle-aged woman made homeless by the riots gave her testimony:

“…at 10:30 AM on Thursday the 18th we left our house, my daughter and I. A neighbor took us in the van with them. We didn’t have time to take anything, only the clothes on our back. There were over 1,000 Albanians coming towards us, burning and shooting.”

I asked the woman whether she hoped to return to her village someday. She replied, “No, I have no wish to go back to Obilic. I will stay here if Priluzje survives, and if our Serbian army and police arrive to protect us, since KFOR does not seem able to do so.”

A very old man, bearded and with a gravelly voice, recounted how he has been expelled from Obilic 4 times since 1999, when his home was first burned by Albanians. After that, he moved into a neighbor’s house. When that was burned down, too, he was moved into a new building, and then into a camp in Pristina. He claims that since the camp was also used by KFOR for storing gasoline, “…the smoke choked us, we felt sick, and I got an infection in my veins.”

Like many other refugees, the old man declares that “What I’m wearing now is all that I have.” Nevertheless, there is some of the old Serbian obstinacy left in him:

“…I will go back to Obilic if there is safety, and if they rebuild our houses. But if they’re not capable, let us bring in our own security and police forces.”

Another elderly man, Slobodan, is temporarily housing these Obilic refugees in the home of his children and grandchildren. “I am 83 years old,” he says, “I have lived through 3 wars, and it has never been harder for the Serbian people than it is now. In the past, our enemies weren’t killing children, women, and old men, and destroying churches. How can we live if we aren’t allowed to defend ourselves, and no one else will?”

The next day, back in Gracanica, my guide and I give a lift to a Serbian man carrying a heavy box of humanitarian supplies. Turns out that he’s a refugee from Obilic too, being sheltered now within the enclave. When we describe the ruins we’d photographed in Obilic, the man recognizes one as being his former house. “Did you happen to see my dog?” he asks, hopefully, and describes the same mutt that’d been yapping around my feet the day before. “Ah! He lives still!” beamed the refugee.

Their safety can only really be guaranteed by re-introducing Serbian troops to Kosovo. However, such a decision would cause instantaneous all-out war from the Albanians. And so, since no one is willing to risk the unthinkable of war for the sake of a few straggler Serbs, their gradual elimination will forestall the need for any such decision. And so will that other unthinkable – ethnic cleansing in the heart of Europe – be quietly tolerated by the West’s would-be guarantors of civil society and human rights.

A note from Srebrenica Historical Project president Stefan Karganovic, on the ‘legit’-ness of “Ferizaj”:

But even that would-be example of an Albanian toponym with some historical roots is phony. Ferizaj definitely came after Urosevac and the reason is that Urosevac is a Serbian community with a long historical background that was named after the medieval Serbian King Uros [circa 1350s]. The orthodox cathedral in Urosevac is dedicated to St. Uros, the ruler having subsequently been canonised. Mr. Feriz was an Albanian businessman who set up an establishment in the vicinity of Urosevac in the latter part of the 19th century which by then had declined to little more than a village, and then gradually came to expand again and encompass the land owned by Mr. Feriz. The Albanians had to come up with something with historical-sounding roots suggesting their presence going “way back” so they formed a toponym based on that individual’s name.

By the way, with regard to Pec, the seat of the Serbian Patriarchy in Kosovo, there is a town by the name of Pecs [Hungarian spelling] in southern Hungary, which is Pec’s “sister city.” It was founded by Serbs who migrated to then Austrian Christian territory from Kosovo because of Turkish abuses in the 17th century. It is very doubtful that at the time of their departure from the area any of them were aware that “Peja” was the real name of the place [it is doubtful that there were any Albanians around at that time to tell them] or, I am sure, they would have nostalgically named the community they formed in southern Hungary - Peja. But that obviously did not happen.
Indeed, the Albanians are pitiful historical upstarts.