This article was originally published in The eXile on October 26, 2000, issue 102.
NORTH MITROVICA, KOSOVO -- They call Mitrovica the Berlin of the 21st century. It is divided not so much in half as in eighths. On the south side of the filthy Ibar River, 130,000 Albanians control a near-perfectly ethnically cleansed area; on the North, about 18,000 Serbs, 2,000 Albanians, and another 1,000 gypsies, Turks, Gorani and Bosniaks (the latter two Slavic Muslim people) co-exist uneasily. Only about five or ten Serbs remain on the south Albanian side, half of them priests holed up in a monastery, protected by barbed wire, trip wires, tanks and troops. That's 5-10 Serbs in a population of 130,000 Albanians. That's all they'll tolerate; or rather, that's all that KFOR can manage to protect. South Mitrovica used to have a massive gypsy quarter, at least 7,000 of them. If you walk up to the miners' monument on the high hill on the north Serb side, you can look down and see what happened to Mitrovica's gypsies: an entire section of south Mitrovica, along the south bank of the river, of burned-out white houses, charred white, roofless, blackened beams like burnt ribs. Every last gypsy who wasn't capped or torched had to flee the Albanian pogrom, right under NATO's nose. Some live here in North Mitrovica. Others live in Serb-held Zvecan, most in tents. The remainder are scattered around Serbia.
They form part of Milosevic's core support, along with every other lead-brained victim of that scumbag's cynicism. Milosevic took the lead-brained war victim's vote handily-including the Serb vote in the town I live in.
It's stories like this that not only muddy the once-simplistic moral mathematics of Kosovo fed to us by the Western media; in fact, the accumulation of similar tales turns peoples' stomachs inside out, their sympathies upside down. You may have read about how members of the United States' 82nd Airborne have been running amok in their sector, brutalizing the local Albanian population. What you probably haven't read is the reason why: the soldiers couldn't take the lawlessness, and the attacks on the totally defenseless local Serbs, and it drove them mad. Literally.
The internationals working here for the UN administration, for the OSCE, for NGOs and news organizations, are the most demoralized, cynical group of people this side of the Moscow Times headquarters. Most came in hating the Serbs, and found themselves soon hating the Albanians at least as much, and now are just trying to save their sanity and get out of this hellhole before they're dragged down with it.
"We call the Albanians 'rats' and 'cockroaches,'" one top UNMIK official told me. "If they gave guns to the internationals here, there'd be another genocide. Much bigger than what the Serbs did. Much worse."
His girlfriend, who works for the OSCE here, nodded her head and rolled her eyes, eagerly agreeing. "All the Albanians do is complain. They have no culture, they hate us, they have no respect for us at all. They leave garbage everywhere, they treat women like shit."
It's a snotty complaint you hear over and over. The internationals are now just as snotty and racist as the Serbs were, but they lacked the historical basis for it. Like most of the UNMIK people here I know, they had desperately signed up to be transferred to East Timor.
The growing tension between the internationals and Albanians isn't all one-sided. On the contrary, the Albanians are clearly sick and tired of the internationals. Little of the money and reconstruction promised has come through. The UNMIK administrators are for the most part arrogant dropouts and half-assed middlebrows who couldn't or didn't want to land respectable office jobs back home, and now find themselves running entire municipalities, with budgets that never materialize, restless populations, and a totally out-of-control mafia, the KLA, running a far more powerful, parallel structure in every village, town and city south of the Ibar river.