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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
Drinking in Kosovo's contradiction
The war in Kosovo ended three years ago and since then the beleagured province has all but disappeared from the world's news agenda.
In recent times Jerusalem and Kabul have captured most of the front pages.
Yet Kosovo remains a highly significant element in international politics not least because it is the only place on earth where the UN is in government.
I was in a cafe-bar with Chaslav Bojovic when it started.
Thinking about contradictions. I was smoking at the time. I gave them up at home decades ago but the Balkans make the nerves jangle and send you fumbling for the fags.
Anyway, we were in Kursumlija, which is in Serbia, about half an hour's drive from the Kosovo border.
Chaslav is a refugee stuck there.
He's one of the 250,000 Serbs from Kosovo who did a runner after the war and he can't go back.
The first contradiction is that Chaslav is really only a refugee to you and me.
To the United Nations he's an IDP - an internally displaced person - because although he's left Kosovo for Serbia he hasn't crossed an international border, because Kosovo is still part of federal Yugoslavia.
On it's mother's side, as they'd say in a Glasgow bar.
Then the next contradiction is that Chaslav Bojovic is of the very stuff needed to build the new Kosovo.
He's caring, intelligent, and before the war he used to be an assistant headmaster at a high school in his town of Podujevo.
But he's been ethnically cleansed, and even if he wanted to go back he couldn't because there's a Kosovar Albanian family living in his house.
His old neighbours have told Chaslav he'll need to pay the family concerned 10,000 Euros if he wants them to leave.
He has to pay them to leave his house.
It's some catch that Catch 22 as Yossarian noted in Joseph Heller's book.
Chaslav went off to do something more important than talking to me through an interpreter.
So that left me with the fags, the Serbian red - which wasn't on the Sunday Times Wine club list - and bigger contradictions.
At the time we went to war in Kosovo we were told it was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
I think those were the words used by George Robertson, then British Minister of Defence, now Lord Robertson of NATO.
His counterpart in the US - Defence Secretary William Cohen - went further.
He said that 100,000 men of military age in Kosovo were missing and could have been killed.
Banner headlines. Two years later, when the International War Crimes Tribunal announced that the body count in mass graves in Kosovo amounted to less than 3,000, most of the world's journalists had moved on and the contradiction never made it to the front pages.
Human rights has become the battle cry of all those seeking to justify international military intervention these days.
That was the anthem for Kosovo even though the bombing flouted international law.
The same one's been used to justify the march onwards from Kosovo to Kabul.
Marching behind the banner, the high Christian Mr Blair has dropped more bombs as PM than the previous right wing Tories managed in 18 years.
Oliver Ivanovic came to mind then.
He's a Serb political leader in Kosovo so he has an axe to grind.
But on the subject of human rights he reminded me that Nato troops assisted in the repatriation of 750,000 Kosovar Albanians in weeks then stood by as 250,000 Serbs were expelled by methods not far removed from those of Slobodan the Impaler.
"Who's human rights?", he asked.
Then what about the poor old Kosovar Albanians.
Another contradiction, I thought, as the wine wasn't tasting so bad after all.
They took a stand, and quite right too, for self determination in the face of terrible oppression.
And after the fight for freedom what has their beloved Kosovo become - three whole years after the war? An armed camp.
There are still 40,000 Nato troops in Kosovo along with 6,000 UN police officers - that's one soldier or policeman for every 40 people in Kosovo.
And the UN is running the show top to bottom and will be for years to come.
Some self determination, and that after the UN alone has spent more than $1.5bn on a province a fraction of the size of Scotland.
Chaslav returned and we went inside the cafe for a meal.
The Serbs do a fine mixed grill - pork and steak - done on the barbecue.
It was accompanied by a delicious series of salads and white bread, the way we've forgot to make it.
Of course, at the end there was the inevitable slivers of steak stuck between the teeth.
I went to work with a wooden toothpick.
The steak was removed bit by bit but on the last morsel the toothpick broke and left me with a uncomfortable wedge of wood between the two back molars.
What a contradiction I thought... I'm left with a bigger problem then when I started.
24 May 02 | Scotland
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