Friday, January 06, 2006

Kosovo PM toasts Christmas in rare visit to Serbs

By Matthew Robinson

PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - Kosovo's ethnic Albanian prime minister handed out sweets and sipped the local firewater with Serbs on Friday in a rare visit to the dwindling Serb community on Orthodox Christmas Eve.

Pursued by jostling reporters, Bajram Kosumi and his black-suited entourage squeezed into the Raskovic home in a gray apartment block housing Pristina's six remaining Serb families.

"I came here to see how you're doing, how you live, and to wish you a Happy New Year and Merry Christmas," Kosumi said as aides carried in bags of sweets and chocolate for the children.

"I came to hear about the problems you're facing."

Serbs celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Saturday, January 7.

Kosovo's leaders are under intense pressure to offer the Serb minority a viable future in Serbia's disputed province, where the 90-percent mainly Muslim Albanian majority is pushing for independence from Belgrade in negotiations this year.

Perched on the living room sofa, Kosumi said his government was considering setting up a classroom in the estate for Serb children, who otherwise go to school in a nearby Serb enclave.

His host, Mirko Raskovic, said he planned to stay on the estate, which was attacked in March 2004 by Albanian mobs in a two-day orgy of rioting across Kosovo. "We have friends here and we all get along," he said.

His wife poured a glass of rakija, a type of brandy, for the prime minister as the couple's three daughters hid in the kitchen.

Kosumi spoke in Albanian for the cameras but briefly shared a joke in Serbian with his host.

Kosovo, a Serbian province of 2 million people, has been run by the United Nations since NATO bombing in 1999 drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities against Albanian civilians in a two-year war with separatist guerrillas.

Marginalized and targeted for revenge after the war, 100,000 Serbs remained when as many fled for Serbia proper. Tens of thousands moved out of Pristina alone, fearing an Albanian population bitter at years of repression.

Signs of reconciliation are rare and Kosovo's Western backers look kindly on any effort to preserve what's left of the province's multi-ethnicity as they weigh up Albanian demands for independence and Serbia's insistence they respect its sovereignty.

"It's harder than it used to be," said Dragana Savic, one of the Raskovic's Serb neighbors. Asked if the prime minister's visit meant something to them, she replied: "Honestly, not much."

(Additional reporting by Shaban Buza)


Anonymous said...

21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian)

An Albanian SS man captured by Serbian Partisans.
The 21st SS Division Skanderberg was a Waffen SS division set up by Heinrich Himmler in March 1944, officially under the title of the 21st Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Skanderbeg (albanische Nr. 1). The names of 11,398 recuirts were submitted to Berlin by the government of Albanian Kosovo and of Bosnia. Of these, 9,275 were deemed suitable for drafting, and 6,491 were actually drafted into the Waffen SS. The final division was formed up by these recruits, three hundred ethnic Albanians transferred from the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar and some German veterans from Austria and Volksdeutsche officers, NCOs and enlisted men. The final total strength of the division was at 8,5000 to 9,000 men, consisting of two infantry regiments, a single artillery regiment, a reconnaissance battalion, a mountaing combat engineer battalion, a signals battalion and an anti-tank battalion. It was originally designed to combat partisans in Yugoslavia, but it was used early on to massacre Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo, forcing over ten thousand families to fleet north, and allowing ethnic Albanian farmers to settle in their stead. The task of the division was to establish Albanian nationalism in the region of modern Macedonia and Kosovo, creating an ethnically pure Albanian race in the area, free of Serbs, Jews and gypsies. The division was placed under the command of SS-Standartenfuhrer August Schmidhuber, later promoted to SS-Oberfuhrer.
In October 1944 Skanderbeg occupied Skopje, Macedonia, although a month later the German withdrawl from the area began and several holding actions were fought with the Red Army. Since then the division's men became notorious for desertion, and by the end of November, 3,500 would have deserted from its ranks. Whatever remained from the division was reorganized into the 21st SS Mountain Skanderbeg Division, concentrated at Skopje, leading to its defense, alongside the Prinz Eugen Division, of the Vardar River valley in Macedonia, allowing German General Alexander Lohr's Army Group E to retreat from Greece. By January 1945, the remainders of the Skanderbeg Division retreated to Kosovka Mitrovica in Kosovo and then to Brcko in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They finally reached Austry in May, 1945, and fought until Germany's surrender. The division surrendered to Western Allied personnel.
The 21st Waffen SS Mountain Division was the only fully ethnic Albanian division to be recruited during the Second World War. Albania was incorporated into Germany and successfully occupied in September 1943, after the Italian surrender to the Allies. Rebels and guerillas fled to the hills in the face of organized Germanic occupation, but continued to be a thorn in the side of the occupation, especially during the weeks which saw the looming Red Army advance closer and closer towards Albania. Originally, Himmler recruited the 13th Waffen Mountain Division der SS Handschar, and many Albanians were incorporated into that, being an all Muslim division. However, the troops mutinied during training, but fought nonetheless against partisans. Himmler persisted in his attempts to build an all Muslim division, however, and planned for two Albanian Waffen-SS divisions. In the end, only one was formed, that being the 21st Waffen Mountain Division. Most of the division's members were Bektashi and Sunni Muslims, but there were several hundred Catholics as well.
The division arm patch consisted of a black double-headed eagle on a red background, and the division was named after George Kastrioti Skanderbeg (1405 - 1468), who was renamed Iskander Bey after fighting for the Turks, who captured him earlier. He later led the unsuccessful attempt at Albanian independence against the Ottomans. Albanian recruits wore a white fez-style cap, and later the SS issued grey headgear in the same style, with the Totenkopf sewn on the front.
The division would be notorious in Albanian history as murderers and it would be an example on the oppression caused on Serbian citizens which would later be brought out by Slobodan Milošević in his ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims.

Dardania 2006 said...

So it hurt you so much that the Kosovar Prime Minister wished the Serbs a Merry Christmas that you had to go to Wikipedia and write this fiction?

Merry Christmas!

Norma said...

I came here from a link to the Orthodox Christmas. Could you add a link to your archives and supply some hot links for your article sources?