In addition to my writing, I am an avid talk radio fan. The long hours spent in my delivery truck each day allow me plenty of time to listen, but little opportunity to respond. With all the public discussion about the crisis in Kosovo, I realized I could contribute in a substantial way.

I lived in Skopje, Macedonia during the Spring of 1991, and travelled to Pristina twice. As I always try to do, I stayed with local people, and did my best to "blend in."

Jim Eason, a long-time talk show host, was with KSFO (San Francisco's only conservative talk radio station) for a couple of years. He's Internet-savvy, and got a lot of his information from emails and the Web. He's a good amateur historian in his own right, and often dug up background stories and new angles that most other sources missed completely.

I had exchanged one brief round of emails with him before, on a non-serious subject, but this time I really poured my heart into it. I wrote and sent him this email in one late-night session, and he read it over the air the following day, at the opening of his show. At least 100,000 people heard it. As a writer, it's not quite the same as getting published, but I would venture to say it's the next best thing.

I am including only the "relevant" parts of my email here, that is, the sections that Jim actually read over the air. [Mr. Eason has since retired.]

Dear Jim,

I have been to Kosovo a couple of times, so I might be able to give you some new perspectives on the situation over there. This was in 1991, when I was living in Skopje, Macedonia. Yugoslavia was just on the verge of breaking up; there was a police patrol at the Kosovo border but we sailed right through.
[Yesterday] on the air, you asked, "when the Serbs break into a house, how can they tell that the occupants are 'ethnic Albanians' or not?" It isn't all that difficult. That country, as do many, requires everyone to carry a National ID card, and if I'm not mistaken these often list "ethnicity."
Also, the Albanians (generally speaking) are of different stock than the Slavic Serbs, and they have a lot of Turkish ancestry. They tend to have darker skin*, and their hair and eyes are almost universally brown. Oddly enough, so is their customary clothing.
The languages are quite distinct. Shqip (Albanian) is very old, and even the many Kosovars who are fluent in Serbski (Serbian) speak it with a strong accent.
[T]hey have to, because the Serbs would conduct business in no other language.
It took me about an hour to learn to say "hi!" in Albanian. (It's "merdita.") I wanted to; when I travel I always try to "go native." But my Serb and Macedonian friends did NOT know how to say even that much!!! Talk about your "ethnic separation."
This even applies to fellow Slavs. The common morning-time greeting in Serbia is "dober dan." In Macedonia it's "dober den." One time in Skopje I was addressing an old man, and I slipped and said "dober dan." He proceed to lecture me: "This is Macedonia! Speak properly when you are here!"
Actually they are very polite and soft-spoken people. There may be many Muslims there, but it is hardly the Middle East. One evening I was downtown at an outdoor cafe, with a Macedonian friend. I got excited about something, and my voice went up and up in volume. Heads turned, and my friend was quite embarrassed. I hardly heard a shout the entire time I was there! I guess they tick off slowly--but very thoroughly . . .
Many commentators speak of this conflict as "going back 600 years," to the defeat of the Serbian Prince by Ottoman Turkish forces. Actually, it goes back much longer! Near Skopje are some Roman ruins; a town they built on their main overland road, dating to about 400 AD. It is called Scupi. And what is the Albanian word for the city of Scopje? Skupi!
The Albanians, long before they achieved nationhood, occupied that entire area. On ancient maps it's just a blank; even Alexander the Great left it alone, preferring to conquer Empires thousands of miles away. The Romans finally came through and pacified the area, and the Albanians have wanted it back ever since.
Then there is the resentment between the Greeks and Macedonians, over "who's hero" Alexander the Great really is. That ones dates back 2,300 years.
The news keeps making a distinction between the "Serbian police" and the "Serbian military." My Kosovar guides told me that they are, in practice, one and the same. The "police" patrols carry heavy stuff: Kalishnikovs and submachine guns. And the only difference between the police and army tanks is what color they happen to be painted.

Sincerely, Paul Carlson

(Note: Shqip is pronounced "shh-keep.")


* Readers have since pointed out that I may have mistaken some dark-skinned members of the Gypsy ("Rom") population as being Albanians. Because of Slavic prejudice, the two groups were (and remain) largely confined to the same poorer neighborhoods and villages. I am assured that, personal styles aside, a typical crowd of Albanians could easily be mistaken for Swedes.

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