In the summer of 2000, I met Scott Slaten, an America soldier who had come to Pristina, Kosovo, two-and-a-half months earlier as part of a NATO-led peace keeping force (KFOR) providing security for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). It was a little more than a year since the end of the seventy-eight-day air war that NATO launched on March 24, 1999, to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing. Slaten was sipping coffee in one of the many outdoor cafés where shopkeepers make a good living selling sodas and grilled cheese sandwiches to homesick internationals. We talked for a while in the shade of a Philip Morris umbrella. He agreed to find a jeep and take me the following morning to the village of Globare in central Kosovo. I wanted to find out how the process of building a durable peace was going in a country in which ethnic cleansing had taken such a toll. During the war, as many as ten thousand Kosovo Albanians, who account for more than 80 percent of Kosovo’s two million inhabitants, were massacred. Eight hundred thousand more fled to neighboring Macedonia.
How do victims and perpetrators live side by side in a country shattered by “ethnic cleansing”? How does such a country rebuild its civil society and political structures? And what role should an intervening power like NATO play in the rebuilding process, especially if there is every reason to believe that new violence will begin if it pulls out?
Each day NATO troops become more entangled in the job of rebuilding the country, which, as a result of UN Resolution 1244, is officially a UN, not a NATO, protectorate. Today Pristina, the capital city, is swarming with human rights workers, KFOR soldiers, and United Nations officials. In addition, a handful of entrepreneurs have arrived, their presence announced by the sudden appearance of American-style gas stations just outside Pristina.
The next morning, my translator, Virtyt Gacaferi, and I met Slaten by his Jeep, a large white SUV with KFOR stamped on the side. Gacaferi worked as a journalist for Koha Ditore, the preeminent Albanian newspaper, and the only paper that kept its presses running throughout the war. A wiry and quick-witted twenty-year-old, he had a sophisticated understanding of the region, in comparison with what I was soon to hear from Slaten, who was full of gung-ho ideals and easy answers to the complexities of war and intervention.
We drove out of town, past checkpoints and NATO tanks, and entered the open farmland of central Kosovo. Gacaferi and Slaten began debating the country’s future. Slaten was already fed up with what he described as the simple-minded, nineteenth-century nationalism of Yugoslavia’s ethnic wars. He hated the way the ethnic hatreds that he encountered daily hampered the work of reconstruction. As an example, he pointed to the new Kosovo passenger train line that was under construction. “Both sides are against it,” he said with undisguised sarcasm. “What if ...
For just $18 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $30 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our online archives.