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First 5,000 words

 

Sunsets Over Kosovo

 

Brian G. Angevine

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents

either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used

fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead,

business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

 

Copyright ©2004 by Brian G. Angevine

 

All rights reserved.  This book, or parts thereof, may not

be reproduced in any form without permission.

 



Text Box: Fyrom (Macedonia) Text Box: o 
   Nis Text Box: Serbia

Text Box: Macedonia Text Box: 0 Kosovska
      Mitrovica Text Box: Serbica Text Box: Klina


 

Text Box: “I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
--Frost, Mountain Interval (1916)
‘Road Not Taken’
 


 Chapter 1 (Sarah)

 

                  The setting sun blazed its corals and turquoise across the partly cloudy sky, radiating out among the fissures in the clouds. Turquoise gradually darkened to cobalt as the light faded and the sun slipped away ending the show. Sarah always enjoyed watching the sunsets and all the other wonders of nature, and sometimes the rest of her family got a little vexed when she excitedly pointed out a beautiful sunset, or a meteroite streaking across the sky. But her enthusiasm for nature’s beauty rubbed off on everyone to some extent. Sarah’s radiant smile did not dim with the setting sun.  After all there were stars to see and fresh air to breathe. Life was beautiful!

                  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, someone said. That allows for many different esthetic interpretations which makes the world a richer place to live in. Sarah Krasikova was no real beauty by American standards, but she had her own brand of charm mainly based on being a little “goofy” and being able to laugh at herself. She was always conscious of style in her dress and enjoyed being able to dress reasonably well on a budget. Perhaps her greatest gift was her capacity to love and her generous spirit. She was not afraid of helping others, especially the old, and maintained small town values. As a result most people who got to know her really liked her and found her refreshingly genuine.

                  She was raised in a small town in north central Kansas by loving parents who really did not know how to show their love. Dad always thought the way to express his caring was to give Sarah $20 when she drove out from the big city to visit the farm. It was always a twenty. No matter what the price of gas, or the time it took to drive, or the time she spent away from her new husband--twenty dollars. She found it kind of ironic that she began to expect and count on the twenty, and if Dad forgot it until she got in the car to go home, she wondered if he still loved her.

                  Sarah’s father was frugal to the extreme most of the time. He had never borrowed a penny in his life, and looked with disdain and without pity on those farmers who went bankrupt while plowing a field with a huge, air-conditioned tractor. He was a great farmer, but a little careless sometimes when driving. On one of Sarah’s visits he had driven his combine through a hidden ditch in the field and had broken off the rear wheels. Brad, Sarah’s husband, offered to help with harvest and instead wound up fixing the combine with the help of Sarah’s uncle.

                  Dad took the two men out to the field with some tools to remove the wheel assembly. Instead of helping with the work, he just dropped them off and took off in the pickup. Brad and the uncle crawled under the combine teetering menacingly above them held up by a stack of  railroad ties. They worked all day removing the damage and preparing the wheels for reassembly. Brad kept wondering what would happen if the rig fell on them. Who would be around to rescue them or hear their cries for help?  The next day Brad helped retrieve some used parts from old combines in town and then put the wheels back together. His reward for two hard days of work?  You guessed it, twenty dollars. Brad fully intended to do the work for free just to help out, so the $20 seemed like a slap in the face.

                  Sarah developed a love for older people through her close-knit family. Sure her dad was frugal, but that was exactly what made him a good farmer. He relied on old machinery and continued to repair it, using duct tape and anything else available to keep it going for another season. His parents had come from the Old Country during troubled times. They sold everything they had and moved to America to make a new life for themselves. Settling in the center of the country, they found fertile farmland that reminded them of home. A new life was started while attempting to retain the flavor and memories of the homeland. After a few years things seemed settled again in the home country, so they packed up and moved back. It soon became apparent that peace was an illusion, so again they headed for America.

                  The pluck and determination of Sarah’s grandparents made her proud of them. Her grandmother never really learned to speak English, but Sarah loved to visit her and dreamed of someday owning the old homestead they had carved out in the Kansas wilderness. That was probably what made her so fond of old women and their struggles to create a tolerable existence in the midst of hardship. It seemed that sometimes the menfolk just did not understand what it took to build a family and a home. They worked hard, no doubt about it. But they seemed to ignore the needs of others if it conflicted with their own needs and desires.

                  Sarah’s dad always wanted her to go back and visit the homeland. She was interested in travel, but really had other places she wanted to go. Dad kept asking her, “Why do you want to visit Russia?  What’s wrong with Czech?  You need to see the old people!”

                  Sarah, though, felt a strange kinship to the Russian people. When questioned by Brad about her motivation for visiting Russia, she told him, “I feel like I am home there. I honestly believe I was a Russian in a former life. I love the people and the places I visit.”

                  Brad treated that statement with a certain amount of skepticism until he accompanied her on one of her trips. He was amazed at the way her face lit up and the new confidence he saw in her. At home she always seemed to rely on other people for guidance and inspiration. But when traveling in Russia she seemed to be at peace, approaching everything with enthusiasm and energy. If he hadn’t seen it for himself he never would have believed it. Sarah definitely seemed more radiant and glowing when she was in the old countries.

                  But this trip was unusual. On this trip Sarah was in Serbia, or Yugoslavia, depending on which map one viewed. She had mixed feelings about the Slavs who made up the Serbian population. Their fellow Slavs, the Russians, were attempting to help them fight their war against the invaders--at least what they termed invaders--the Turks, the Albanians, the Croatians, and, most of all, the Americans.  The battleground this time was in Kosovo.  Kosovo wanted independence, at least some of the residents did. While the larger Serb population of Yugoslavia, at least the leaders, wanted to oust what they termed foreigners and keep the rich farmland for themselves.

                  But Sarah could see more than one side of the issue. Kosovo was supposed to be the religious homeland of the Serbs, which seemed like a kind of joke in some ways. Most of the Serbs she knew had little to do with religion of any kind, let alone their brand of Orthodoxy. Of course, the old grandmothers clung to their religion like a fragile shawl that would sustain them through the coldest night. But the fighters--bah!  They were more interested in raping and killing than in any semblance of religion. Humiliation and plunder were their religion. Sarah was interested in the key issues in Kosovo which seemed to be obscured by all sides in the conflict.  She wanted to see for herself the way the people lived and worked together in this conflicted region.

                  The world had already seen the wrath of the Serbs in Bosnia. There the targets were Turks who had lived in the region for centuries, albeit the offspring of ancient invaders. But three cultures--Serbs, Turks, Croats--had lived side-by-side for many years in apparent harmony, even to the point of hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics for the world. Shortly after that effort, though, the fragile coalition disintegrated. Neighbor betrayed neighbor resulting in attempted ethnic cleansing, aimed mostly at the ethnic Turks. The ensuing siege of Sarajevo resulted in a bloodbath that defied easy settlement.

                  Sarah had been particularly disgusted by the siege of Sarajevo. Although she had no affinity for the Turks, she generally sided with the downtrodden in the world who had little control over their destinies. Now things seemed to be spiraling out of control in Kosovo. Yet she still wanted to visit Kosovo. But now. . . .

 

Chapter 1 (Vomar)

 

                  Vomar Karadzik was young and handsome by Kosovar standards. His large nose and heavy five-o-clock shadow made him look menacing at times, but a closer look revealed soft brown eyes filled with understanding and compassion. He was adjusting, to a certain extent, to life in the big city after being raised on a family farm in Kosovo. A college education seemed important to Vomar and his mother, but his father was less understanding. Farming had been a good life for the elder Karadzik but modern times demanded different things of a person.  

                  Karadzik had been trained by his father to be a farmer and he enjoyed the work as a break from the intellectualism demanded by a university education. But most of the time he felt that the things he was learning in school were setting him up for a different life than that of a farmer. His father was trying to turn more and more of the daily operation of the farm at home over to Vomar, enabling the older man to work more in the fields farther from home. But this was possible only during the breaks in Vomar’s schedule at the university in Belgrade.

                  Vomar’s mother, Ludmilla, was traditional in the fact that she only worked at home and spent most of her time trying to make life more comfortable for her men. But in other ways she was more progressive than her counterparts. She felt free to discuss politics with her family and others, and did not feel at all ill-at-ease making her opinions known. Vomar was used to his mother’s outspokenness finding it not unusual at all. But many of the townspeople, and even the women, questioned her right to her opinions. Vomar was struck by the differences in female attitudes around his hometown and in Belgrade. It was not at all unusual to hear young women planning their careers and talking openly to men in Belgrade. That, however, was still viewed as scandalous behavior in the small towns to the south. Vomar thought his mother would fit in rather well in a sophisticated city like Belgrade. But he was equally sure she enjoyed the bucolic pace of country life as well. She didn’t have to do quite as much physical labor as some of her female peers, mainly because Vomar and Bumphet (her husband) took on most of those chores, and Bumphet was adept at creating work saving devices. So Ludmilla had retained most of her beauty and still had an admirable figure for a woman her age.

                  Vomar’s father was well-liked partly because he was so hard working, but mainly because he was always willing to help someone in need. Sometimes that paid off when someone helped him with a difficult task when Vomar was not around. But more often than not he wound up having to do tasks alone. Because of that he was good at problem solving and inventing solutions to difficult situations. He was well versed in using the simple tool of a lever to move large objects or to help lift something. People who happened to see him creating one of his mechanical solutions were often amazed at the simplicity of the devices and how much they saved physical labor. The solutions were so simple it seemed as if everyone should be able to do the same things. But in a modern mechanical age, most men opted to spend precious money on machinery instead of using the simple, time-honored tools invented centuries before.

                  Farmland in Kosovo was precious, not only to the farmers, but to the rest of Yugoslavia. A mountainous country provides little viable farmland so the high plains and fertile fields of Kosovo provided vital resources to the rest of the country.

                  Albania had some similar problems. Many farmers had been drawn to the Kosovo region in the past and felt as though they belonged in the area. After all hadn’t they lived there for centuries?  And hadn’t their forefathers helped carve the life sustaining crop fields out of the wilderness?

                  Homeland is a difficult concept to break. A person might be displaced from a familiar region, and might make a new life in a new place. But there is always a yearning for the familiar, for home. Even when home becomes a dangerous place there is still a feeling that something is missing from one’s life if he or she is displaced.

                  How many generations does it take to make a new place a home?  Most immigrant families retain the native language, mores and even the familiar dress. Attitudes are slow to change in any circumstance, but when one feels displaced from home, those old attitudes cling like a favorite  coat and help ward off feelings of alienation from the new environs and people.

                  The second generation of immigrant families usually want to embrace the land and culture that is home to them--this new place to their parents. So they reject the native language and traditions, even in the face of their traditionalist fathers’ wrath. Sometimes it takes a third generation to realize some of the values of the old and embrace those aspects that are appealing. Then the old and new become blended into a different culture.

                  Albanians, Serbs and Kosovars had achieved that blended state. They had lived in harmony, side-by-side for years. Why shouldn’t that harmony continue?

                  Vomar found himself listening to all kinds of arguments about his homeland while in the big city. He generally stayed out of the arguments since they often made no sense to him. He saw no particular difference between himself and his neighbors. The differences were more pronounced here in the city, however. The color of one’s skin, the style of dress, and even the way people walked on the street set them apart. It was very easy to notice the differences between the Serbs and the Albanians and the Turks and all the other ethnic groups. There seemed to be no common bond between the races like there was in Kosovo. At home there was a common purpose to get the crops in the ground, nurture their development, and then harvest them to feed the masses. In the big city the main goal seemed to be pursuit of money and pleasure. Those who deemed themselves superior in that regard saw the Albanians as dragging them down in status and opportunity.

                  Vomar listened to the arguments raging among his friends and even among others at nearby tables in public places. Gradually he was forming his opinions and preparing to defend them. A quiet man by nature he found it difficult to compete with the noisy conversations carried on at parties and public gatherings. He preferred to state his opinions in a quiet way and get on with life rather than competing for time and attention by raising his voice.

                  The sun was setting over the city square where Vomar and his friends sat.  Vomar watched the changing sky and missed the wonderful, open vista to the west at home where he could really enjoy the sunsets. Around Vomar and his friends the arguments were growing more tense on a daily basis. Many men were openly advocating violence against the Albanians. Vomar realized that emotions were getting out of hand and cooler heads needed to prevail. Even Vomar’s own family had some mixed blood but had never found it to be a problem. But now. . . .

 

 

Text Box: “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow,
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.”
--Theodore Roethke, The Waking (1953)
 


Chapter 2 (Sarah)

                  Sarah had finally won her Fulbright-Hays grant to study in Kosovo. This was her first individual grant although she had been involved in a group trip earlier to Poland and the Czech Republic. That trip had proved mind-opening and she was eager to conduct more thorough research in Kosovo. The region was a hotbed of controversy and pending violence, but she hoped things would not escalate too rapidly into military action. But now that she was here it was painfully obvious that the situation was very tense indeed.

                  Travel to Kosovo had been a little difficult. The United States had been warning American travelers to stay out of the region but had not yet shut down travel. Sarah had flown a somewhat circuitous route to arrive in Belgrade and would have to travel by bus to finally get to Kosovo. Many of the arrangements she had made prior to starting the trip seemed to be falling through now. In Belgrade the universities and their professors were still available, but one of the hotels had refused to let her stay there. The haughty clerk took one look at her passport and shoved it back across the counter saying, “There is no room for you!”

                  “But I reserved it months ago,” she protested.

                  “There is no record and no room!” the clerk reiterated, turning his back on her. It was clear that further argument would be wasted with this idiot, so Sarah lugged her luggage out of the lobby and into the local bar a few doors down.  Perhaps she could find a different place.

                  Sarah found a bed and breakfast by perusing the handmade notices on a bulletin board at the bar. The owners, a couple in their early fifties, had been very helpful and nice, almost to the point of being apologetic. They emphasized that most Yugoslavians were pleased with the Americans who visited, and it was only the leaders and thugs who seemed to want to kill the goose who lay the golden eggs.

                  Arranging for travel within the country was not too difficult, but Sarah found she often had to hide her American identity to a certain extent. But with a little perseverance, charm and small gifts, she was able to travel relatively freely.

                  The first order of business was to interview officials and academics in Belgrade. She found a mixed bag of people to talk to whose stories about the history of Kosovo varied widely. It was easy to see through the nationalistic fervor and outright hatred of the government officials, all of whom were Serbs. But the academics, for the most part, were open and fair in their analysis of the plight of the Kosovars.

                  “We did not invite the Albanians and Turks to invade our country,” said one. “But neither did we do much to discourage it. Our defense was weak for many centuries, and really is not much better now,” he continued. “The mountains severely disrupt normal travel and make it easy for others to infiltrate our porous borders. This has always been a problem in this area of the world, and continues to be so.”

                  Sarah loved the mountains but had to admit they made travel a little difficult. She could imagine how hard it must have been to walk, ride horseback, and especially to try to move goods by wagon across those rugged crests. These mountains were not particularly lofty, like those in Colorado, but they  certainly were rugged and difficult to negotiate. Tiny communities existed throughout the country, but all the bigger cities were in valleys along the edges of the mountains.

                  Given the surrounding countries with their varied ethnic makeup, it was no wonder that wars had raged back and forth across the Balkan mountains for centuries. Those wars and the transitions they forced were causing the festering boil that was again coming to a head now. Sarah was not sure what she could do about any of the problems, but she intended to spend a lot of time with the common people no matter what their ethnic makeup, and to write about her findings in great detail. She hoped that clearing the record and reporting without prejudice would serve the future of both her nation and this poor, fragmented country that was sliding quickly toward civil unrest. Her interviews and research revealed that the Balkans had always been in a state of flux. Because of the mountainous character of the region, it had always been impossible for any ethnic and/or religious group to keep and defend the territory as their own. But the current president chose to rally the Serbian people against the so-called invaders of Kosovo by recalling his version of the Battle of Kosovo.

                  Sarah found that the First Battle of Kosovo (on the “Field of Blackbirds”) serves as an important metaphor for Serbian nationalists, but the reality is that the armies in the original battle were coalitions of Serbs, Hungarians, Albanians and Turks. In fact, Serbs probably fought on both sides depending on which leader they were loyal to, and what they might get in return for fighting. Both sides  had  enormous losses and all of the leaders died. There is some doubt as to who actually won the battle, although the Turks controlled the field at the end.  Besides, there were other battles which were more decisive in determining Turkish rule. Those facts made the Serbian claim of Kosovo as the birthplace of their brand of religion more than a little sketchy to anyone with an open mind, and without the emotional baggage the ethnic groups retained.

                  Another important battle known as the second battle of Kosovo in 1448 between the Ottoman Turks and the Hungarians confirmed the Sultan’s control of the Balkans. The Serbian empire had already fallen apart before the first battle of Kosovo. In Sarah’s mind that made  the famous battle revered by the Serbs as a condition of their campaign of revenge against all Muslims, more a matter of convenience. It appeared that the Albanian warrior chief, George Kastrioti, was able to repulse more than a dozen Turkish invasions. So maybe the Albanians were more successful in defending Kosovo than were the Serbs. The real divide of the Balkans came when Constantinople fell in 1453. That’s when the Ottoman empire took the place of the Byzantine empire.

                  Croats, Slovenes, and Transylvanian Romanians lived under the influence of Vienna and Budapest. Most of the ancestors, Romanians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Serbs, and some Albanians hung on to their Eastern (Serb) Orthodox faith. In fact the religion helped define national goals. But most Albanians and even some Slavs, converted to Islam. As always, the peasants stayed poor no matter what their religion or who was ruling them because all the farm produce was shipped elsewhere. Kosovo was kept by all the politicians as merely a farm area to be exploited, and the people were little more than serfs to the ruling class at any particular time. And the Turks poisoned the political culture by keeping tribes and clans constantly fighting against one another.

                  As she talked to people in the bars and shops of Belgrade Sarah found that most of them were very sophisticated, spoke English very well, and had no feelings of hatred toward Americans. But they also expressed a certain amount of prejudice toward people they felt did not belong to their nation. There was a certain amount of Serbian nationalistic pride but also a cosmopolitan world view that seemed capable of encompassing more compassion. Most spoke with a certain amount of disdain toward their leader Milosevic, but many looked over their shoulder and spoke more quietly when they did so.

                  “It feels not so safe anymore to be openly critical of the government,” said one young woman, stylishly dressed in soft woolens from a major clothier. “I believe we should leave things alone. We have a wonderful life right now and we live in a beautiful part of the world. There are more and more tourists all the time wanting to see the great old buildings and the beautiful country. Now is not the time to jeopardize that,” she continued.

                  A group of college students at the next table began to argue somewhat vehemently as Sarah listened. Three young men were in the group. One of them seemed to be watching the proceedings with a critical eye. It was apparent to Sarah that he was in favor of the Serbian nationalist argument and almost seemed to be taking mental notes on what the first young man said. A dangerous man, Sarah thought.

                  A darkly handsome man was presenting a balanced argument for preserving peace and promoting prosperity in Kosovo. Sarah felt drawn to him for some reason. Perhaps it was his eyes. They were so dark yet clear and intelligent. There was both tenderness and toughness there. As the men argued those eyes focused on the other person with a palpable intensity. When he made brief eye contact with Sarah she felt a definite stirring in her body. She felt guilty at that feeling, she was older and married, and should have ignored it, but she couldn’t.

                  His arguments were fascinating and obviously based on something other than emotion. Aleksander, she had heard his name in the conversation, the firebrand Serb, was sticking to the party line. The third man, slender with  red hair in a buzz cut, seemed torn between the other two. He sat silent most of the time, with his head turning from one to the other speaker as if watching a table tennis match. He could be swayed either direction, thought Sarah.

                  As the group broke up in hostility Sarah noticed that the confused young man looked to the handsome one with a question in his eyes. Getting no response he finally scraped back his chair on the cobblestones and walked dejectedly away following Aleksander. Sarah heard him turn and call quietly, “Vomar?”  Receiving no response he turned again and scuffed away with rounded shoulders.

                  Sarah sat and thought about the three men all the while watching the darkly handsome one massage his temples. His lustrous, dark hair curled around his fingers as they worked. She thought, he needs a haircut. Then, on the other hand I would love to run my hands through that thick mass.  Again she started guiltily at her thoughts. She sat musing and idly winding a lock of her own hair around a forefinger, curling it, then straightening it, over and over. She wondered if he would talk to her if she approached him. Most people had been relatively open to the American in their presence, but a few gave her the hard stare and that peculiar askance look that said in no uncertain terms, “I will not talk to Amerikanski!  You have no business here in my country.”

 

Chapter 2 (Vomar)

                 

                  Vomar liked the feeling of being his own man and the fact that his father trusted him to get necessary work done when he was home. But he also found it difficult to do all of his chores and still have time for school work. So, in partial compensation most of the time he spent working with cattle and doing other menial chores he was in deep reverie pondering philosophical questions. Because of this his thought processes were far beyond his years and definitely different from those of his young adult friends.

                  Recent political events in a country almost constantly pushed one way and pulled another by political events, had forced him to begin to make choices about his friends. There was a strong upwelling of sentiment against one ethnic group or another, depending on which group his various friends claimed in their heritage. Vomar was a native of Kosovo and considered both the Serbs and the Albanians as interlopers. He had no particular hatred for either ethnic group, but neither did he have any great affection for them. All his life he had lived in close contact with people of many cultures, and still managed to be his own man, relatively independent in his lifestyle. But one young man, Aleksander, in particular, had embraced the Serbian movement against the Albanians. His behavior in school was aggressive bordering on violence toward his Albanian classmates, few though they were.

                  Vomar had distanced himself from Aleksander but could see that some of his young friends were fascinated by the thug’s style. Vomar was particularly worried about Stefan, his best friend. Stefan seemed particularly vulnerable and Vomar had begun to spend some time trying to convince Stefan that Aleksander was just a troublemaker.

                  Vomar knew that the main issue seemed to be one of religion--or at least that was how the current president painted his prose. The Yugoslavian President, a Serb, railed against the “occupation of the religious seat of Serbia, Kosovo, by foreigners.” 

                  His love of his homeland was important to Vomar, but he was part of the group of people who lived the history of the 400 years after the second battle of Kosovo. During that time the history of the Balkans was one of rivalry between the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires. As a result all political, cultural, and economic evolution was oppressed by the Turkish sultan for all those under his control.

            On this evening Vomar found himself in the company of Aleksander and Stefan sitting at a table on the square, along

 

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