Journey to the End of Kosovo

There are places where a miracle takes place and the chain of vendettas is broken. Even in the Balkans. Even in Kosovo, land of inextinguishable hatreds, where, beginning in 1998, Serbs and Albanians massacred each other in the most brutal fashion, in the final agony of Yugoslavia. You sometimes find places like this beyond the brothels, the armed bands, the misery, the trafficking, the armored vehicles, at the bottom of labyrinths of dark streets, beyond the stench of burnt tires, the coal dust and the din of generators. It happens in Gjakova, for example, known to all as the Balkan capital for trafficking in prostitutes from the East – slaves destined for the Italian, German, French “market” that is completely run by the Albanian-speaking mafia. (…)

Nine confraternities in Gjakova alone. It is unbelievable. The man across from me has a gaze of disarming sweetness. His disciples close their eyes as if in a trance. The chant, sung in half notes, speaks of separation. The city is still sleeping when, before allowing myself to say goodbye, he brings me the Islamic holiday dessert: wheat boiled in honey, with raisins, figs and walnuts. In Çarshia and Madhe, the heart of the Ottoman village of Gjakova, which was destroyed by the Serbs and by Nato “friendly fire,” I recognize paths, glances, intrigues. There are the Bektashi, who arrived centuries ago from Khorasan – breeding ground of wandering Sufi masters who scoured the trails between Samarkand and Bagdad. “We are all brothers and our home is the world,” their grandma tells me. I rediscover the Aleve of Anatolia, who rotate around the sacred pole like butterflies around a flame, an army of thirteen million souls, who the Turks call a “minority.” I recognize the Afghan Nakshbandi, monks as learned as Benedictines, except they marry, and then the Libyan Qadiriyya in the ecstasy of the dance, the crying Egyptian Rifai who pierce their bodies. I rediscover stories of virgins and thaumaturgic saints, ancient hospitality, a sense of humor and beauty so alien to the world that opens up outside these nine gateways.
For in Kosovo today, there is also a war on esthetics. Bazookas fired on monastery frescoes, concrete versus rough brick walls, exposed landfills versus flowering gardens. The unreal beauty of heavily guarded monasteries, and monuments to the cars of KLA commanders; Mother Teresa in granite, condemned to watch over a trafficker with an assault rifle on a pedestal; a White House in miniature and an Oval Office in the workplace of a mayor in Klina; the bridge over the Ibar in Kosovo Mitrovica, where, amid reinforced concrete enclosures and sandbags, Albanese and Serbian children pass by on separate riverbanks, wielding flags, egging each other on with flags, gypsy bugles, Molotov cocktails and stones.(…)
translation by Marguerite Shore.