No sooner does USA Today treat us to a comparison of Serbs in the ’90s to the jihadists we flew in to slaughter them, than The Economist blog takes an opportunity to make the same kind of moral equivalence, this time about Serbs who have gone to Ukraine to defend the pro-Russian “rebel” side. Thanks to John Meinhold, via Liz:

Balkan fighters abroad (The Economist, Aug. 21, posted by T.J.)

IS LAVDRIM MUHAXHERI dead? At the end of July the leading Albanian jihadi fighting in Syria (pictured) was posting photos of himself on Facebook in which he appears to chop the head off a young man who he said was a spy. A few days ago the Balkan media were picking up reports from Kurdish television saying that the 24-year-old from Kosovo was dead. On social media however, a friend of his is denying it.

As the western world and its security agencies digest the murder of an American journalist, James Foley, apparently at the hands of a Briton, Balkan countries are getting to grips with their own versions of the problem. Hundreds of Muslim Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania are reported to have gone to pursue jihad, along with Bosniak Muslims. A recent Islamic State video showed Mr Muhaxheri brandishing his Kosovo passport, [beside] other Albanians from Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. Mr Muhaxheri waves a sword, promises to conquer Rome and Spain and then the Albanians destroy their passports.

OK, so this confirms what I couldn’t originally — that not only was the jihadi to Muhaxheri’s right also Albanian, but apparently the whole group was. (It also confirms that Muhaxheri was fighting in Syria, not also in Iraq as initially reported.) But moving on to more salient points: Never ones to just worry about the actual threat to themselves — namely jihad — these MSMers jump at the chance to feign concern about what the Slavs are up to, so as to scary-up the Orthodox Christians while diminishing the ferocity of the Islamics:

But the phenomenon is not restricted to Muslims. In the past few weeks the issue of Orthodox Serbs going to fight in Ukraine has risen to the top of the political agenda. [The top!] According to Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s prime minister, they are all mercenaries and what they were doing is “very harmful” for Serbia. [As it tries to straddle the fence between eviscerating itself for Western carrots, and not alienating Russia.]

No one knows how many Serbs have gone to fight in Ukraine. Figures quoted in the media, attributed to intelligence sources, put the numbers at between 30 and 100. Mr Vucic says they are fighting on both sides; the vast majority are likely to be on the side of pro-Russian rebels.

On August 18th Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, announced that 14 Serbs had just turned up to fight. Kosovo Front, a Russian website, gives information to Serbs on how to help the rebels and how to join the “Jovan Sevic Unit”, named after an 18th-century Serb who fought in what is now eastern Ukraine at a time when there were Serbian settlements there.

The Kosovo Front linkman in Serbia, Zeljko Djurovic, gives his phone number and e-mail out here for anyone wanting to help. Kosovo Front is headed by Aleksandr Kravchenko, who says he fought on the Serbian side during the Bosnian war. The website also says that the only way to liberate Kosovo from its mainly Muslim-Albanian people is by liberating Novorossiya, as the pro-Russian rebels call their territory.

For many of the Serbs lured to fighting in Russia [lured! — notice the jihad semantics being applied here — as if a Serb’s decision is no different from that of non-self-thinking Muslims] there is a quasi-religious, Slavic brotherhood element, which mirrors the lure of religious war for Muslims to go to Syria and Iraq. [THERE IT IS!] Both fly eerily similar black and white flags, except that one is emblazoned with words from the Koran, whereas the Orthodox Serb one has a skull and crossbones, crosses and a declaration of Christian faith. [OH NO!] Many of the Serbs also sport big bushy beards like their jihadi counterparts.

Is he observing angled Wahhabi/skinhead-type beards, or Orthodox-priest-type beards? Regardless, maybe the Slavs are trying out some intimidation tactics since that seems to curry respect from dhimmis. Sort of the way non-Muslim fighters of various stripes wear the keffiyeh scarf so as to look like bad-assess too. But let’s see if we can’t figure this beard thing out. Here’s a picture of a Serbian “Chetnik” unit that’s helping the Ukraine defenders (named for the WWII Chetnik guerrilla fighters who uniquely struggled against both Nazis and Communists):

Those look more like Orthodox beards to me. Notice the moustaches. Their jihadi ‘counterparts’ generally don’t have those.

Both Serbia and Kosovo are now preparing legislation to ban their citizens fighting in foreign wars. Bosnia passed its own in April. On August 11th the Kosovo police arrested 40 people it linked to “terrorist groups operating in Iraq and Syria”. According to the police 16 Kosovars have been killed in Syria and Iraq.

In March the authorities in Albania arrested eight people linked to recruitment for jihad in Syria. Most Albanians are strongly pro-American and this week it was revealed that Albania, which has vast stocks of communist-era arms, will send millions of rounds of ammunition, including 32,000 artillery shells, to Iraq and 10,000 Kalashnikov rifles to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the press in Kosovo have reported that an agent of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency was executed in Syria earlier this year after he had been caught as infiltrator among Albanian jihadis.

And so we end, of course, with an exonerating paragraph or three of the Yugo faction that is the U.S. client, emphasizing what legitimizing aspects can be scrounged up about its officialdom and at-large population, in order to elevate that most rotten Balkan lot above its more civilized and manageable ethnic rival that we designated oppositely.

Closing with the unsurprisingly unpublished letter I sent to USA Today in response to that August 3rd article comparing 1990s Serbs to jihadis:

Dear Editor:

Louise Branson’s bio states that your paper likes to publish diverse opinions, but Ms. Branson offers just more of the same (“Yugoslavia offers Iraq hope,” Aug. 3).

First, a reader has to get past proclamations such as “The U.S. helped end Yugoslavia’s wars.” (No, the U.S. ensured the Croatian war by jumping on the hasty-recognition bandwagon; it abetted domestic terrorism by the KLA in Kosovo; and restarted the Bosnian war by encouraging the Muslim side to renege on the Vance-Owen Plan.) The reader next encounters this embarrassing, scurrilous, low-blow comparison between Serbs and the jihadists that we and Iran flew in to slaughter Serbs: “Sunni fundamentalists have seized swaths of northern Iraq and are massacring Shiites — as Serb militants once swept into towns and villages to ‘ethnically cleanse’ non-Serbs.”

That kind of made-for-Americans version of Balkans history has been debunked by long-suppressed facts that have come to the surface in recent years: the ethnic cleansing was triple-sided, with the Serb side trying to avoid the wars that would cause it while the others insisted on wars of ethnic or religious purity. (Racial preferences were plainly written into the very constitutions of Slovenia and Croatia, and the mono-religious ambitions of Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic were openly proclaimed, while Albanian elders in Kosovo suggested Serb-rape as official policy.)

And yet the one side Ms. Branson mentions as culprit is the side that, interestingly, ended up with the most internally displaced persons. One is reminded of how so many inconvenient facts conveniently didn’t make it into reporters’ notebooks in 1990s Yugoslavia. Surprise — Ms. Branson was a correspondent in those very wars, a member of the pack journalists who built their careers and Pulitzers on uncorroborated tales of horror, half-truths, and outright inversions that helped them bring back the narrative they were assigned.

She goes on to advocate that Iraq carve out precisely the kinds of pure statelets we helped build in the Balkans, writing without an ounce of irony, “The parts of Yugoslavia that have best moved forward are the parts that are predominantly of one ‘tribe.’” It may be the solution for Iraq, though Ms. Branson might mention that the Western statesmen trying to prevent it are the same ones who rammed it through in Yugoslavia. Of Iraq’s disintegration, Ms. Branson writes, “One female journalist[‘s] husband was killed for belonging to the wrong sect…I heard identical anguish as Yugoslavia fell apart. A Serb friend didn’t want to fight for the Serb cause. He wanted to identify himself, as he always had, as a Yugoslav.”

That was the Serb cause, Ms. Branson. That’s who created multi-ethnic Yugoslavia in the first place. The Serbs were fighting back against those who were undoing it and seizing land, trapping Serbs and other minorities inside their minority-hostile slices. It’s not for nothing that retrospective comparisons have been written about Slobodan Milosevic as a less bloody Lincoln. Yet one is a villain, and the other a hero. Go figure.

******UPDATE******

I think the item below, from yesterday, refers to two Albanians that are in addition to these two.

Kosovo Albanian Jihadists Arrested in Tirana (InSerbia.info, Sept. 1)

Kosovo Albanian Mentor Zejnulahu was arrested at the airport in Tirana and was delivered to Kosovo on Friday. He is the second resident of Kosovo arrested in the last two months on suspicion of being a jihadist, Pristina-based daily Lajm reports. The police, according to Lajm, recorded his mobile phone conversations with jihadists in Syria. Zejnulahu subsequently entered Albania to reach Syria via Turkey, which caused suspicion that made controllers at the airport in Tirana act…The Kosovo authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Zejnulahu earlier.

******ADDITIONAL UPDATE******

The Economist article mentions an arrest of eight in March. Here are those news item, which I missed at the time:

7 arrested for recruiting Albanians to fight in Syria (Global Times, Xinhua, March 12, 2014)

Albania arrested seven Muslims on Tuesday on suspicion of being involved in recruitment of Albanian citizens to fight in Syria with rebel groups.

The head of Serious Crimes Prosecution Office Eugen Beci and State Police director Artan Didi reported at a news conference that the suspects are charged with recruiting people for terrorist acts, incitement, public appeal and propaganda about terrorist activities.

Beci informed that police forces found in two suspects’ house mobile phones, a series of bank account contracts, a number of religious books, camouflage backpacks,two grenades, a Kallashnikov-type machine gun, four cartridge clips, hundreds of bullets of 7.62 calibre, a knife as well as two hand-held radios.

The prosecution office stated that they are suspected of indoctrinating different people into radical ideology to later engage in fighting for extremist terrorist groups banned by the UN, and they are suspected of actions in recruitment and sending several Albanian citizens to Syria.

About two-thirds of Albania’s 3.2 million inhabitants are Muslims. Albanian government and religious leaders have appealed to believers not to join extremist terrorist groups in Syria.

Albanian arrested for alleged Syria recruitment (AP, Apr. 15, 2014)

Albanian police say they have arrested a 30-year-old man for allegedly recruiting men to enlist with Muslim rebel groups fighting in Syria…Another seven Albanian Muslims, including two imams, were arrested following a crackdown a month ago and are facing similar charges…Scores of Albanians have gone to support Syrian rebels and at least two have died.

Global Post also published the following article, which was a good piece of PR for Albania in terms of fighting terrorism. Of course, the title — “Albania has an Al Qaeda problem. And it’s starting to fight back” — is telling. Albania has had an Al Qaeda problem since the early ’90s. Very nice of it to “start” fighting back. Albania isn’t Saudi Arabia, but let’s keep in mind that the Saudis, too, arrest terrorists, when not serving as a haven or exporter of them.

Albania has an Al Qaeda problem. And it’s starting to fight back (Global Post, March 26, 2014, By Besar Likmeta)

The authorities have arrested eight people on charges of recruiting militants to fight in Syria.

Police detained most of the suspects during dawn raids on two mosques in the Albanian capital earlier this month.

The eight people arrested included two radical imams, Genci Balla and Bujar Hysi, believed to be the spiritual leaders of an extremist Islamist group.

They’re suspected of recruiting dozens of militants for Al Qaeda-affiliated groups fighting in the Syrian civil war.

The authorities also issued international arrest warrants for five more suspects believed to be fighting in Syria.

Observers say radical Islamic groups have operated here for decades, living mainly on the fringes of society, using websites and social networks such as YouTube and Facebook to spread radical propaganda.

Although the majority of Albanians are Muslims — at least nominally — Albanian society is largely secular.

Genci Balla, also known as Abdurrahim Balla, had previously attracted attention for his fiery internet sermons promoting jihad and radical militant groups fighting in Syria.

“Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State [of Iraq and al-Sham] are the only groups that are fighting to create an Islamic state where Sharia law will rule,” he said in a sermon posted on YouTube. “The Syrian Free Army … don’t want Islam to rise up.”

It came amid growing concerns about the number of ethnic Albanians from Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo reported to have joined militant groups fighting in Syria.

Some 300 Albanian fighters have joined the militant groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, or ISIS, according to the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, a think tank based in London’s King’s College.

Edval Zoto, a Tirana-based counterterrorism expert, says the deaths of Albanian citizens fighting in Syria put the security services on alert.

However, prosecuting them will be difficult, he says. “It’s difficult to collect evidence that will stand up in court.”

The government boosted its counterterrorism operations after passing a number of amendments to its criminal code earlier this year. They included sentences of up to 10 years in prison for citizens who join conflicts abroad for political, ideological or religious reasons.

Kosovo has also passed a similar law, imposing sentences of up to 15 years in prison for those caught fighting abroad.

Although he supports the changes, Zoto says more must be done.

“Radicalization occurs among individuals who are sidelined from society or belong to small groups,” he says. “Having an open public debate about the phenomenon is a real deterrent.”