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'Cox News Service'
12 October 1999
"Former University of Georgia graduate student murdered in Kosovo"
by Plott Brice reporting from Athens, GA
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Those who knew him say Valentin Krumov was focused on life. Living it.

Like many eastern Europeans, he smoked cigarettes, lots of them. But he didn't worry about his health.

Like many people, he was overweight. But he never worried about dieting.

He was described as a man who could walk into any group of people in the world and make conversation. It certainly helped that he spoke several languages - English, Russian, French, his native Bulgarian and some Italian. Tuesday, however, international police officials in Kosovo said that gift for language may have gotten the former University of Georgia student killed. Krumov was mobbed, beaten and then shot in the head after enraging a group of ethnic Albanian teens by speaking Serbian.

That he was murdered on his first day on the job doing what he seemed born for - working with the United Nations civilian mission in the troubled Serbian province - came as a shock to friends and colleagues in Athens. In May, after almost 10 years of off-and-on work at the Athens campus, Krumov had received his doctorate from UGA.

To his major professor, Gary Bertsch, Krumov's death was the epitome of irony.

"This guy was a real professional. He knew what that region was all about," Bertsch said. "But he was a peacemaker. He was one of the most friendly, gregarious guys that you would ever run into.

"If I were ever caught on a street with a mob, I would like to have Valentin with me. Because he was both smart and bright and friendly and would talk his way out of something like that. But apparently this was one of those senseless tragedies that happen."

Bertsch, who wrote his own dissertation on ethnic relations in Yugoslavia, said the killing was only "explicable because of the terrible and ugly consequences of excessive nationalism in this part of the Balkans. Still it was a shock . . . to hear it was Valentin."

Krumov, 38, who received his undergraduate and master's degrees in his native Bulgaria, was killed Monday on one of the busiest streets in Kosovo's capital, Pristina. According to reports from that city, Krumov had just finished dinner and was walking with two colleagues on Mother Teresa Street near the Grand Hotel, the base for many employees of international organizations in Kosovo.

Speaking Serbian, Albanian youths apparently asked him for the time. Krumov, who could have answered in any of several languages, is believed to have replied in Serbian, unaware that he was apparently being put to a kind of ethnic identification test. The Serbian language is hated by the ethnic Albanian majority in today's Kosovo, and the mistake apparently cost Krumov his life.

A mob set upon him.

"One individual proceeded to hit him with his fist, and others kicked him," said U.N. Police Inspector Gilles Moreau. "A large crowd gathered around the altercation. All of a sudden, a shot was heard, the crowd dispersed and the body . . . was on the ground, lifeless."

Moreau said the assailants were believed to be about 16 or 17 years old.

Bertsch said because the Slavic languages are so similar, Krumov could have answered in Bulgarian, but the youths mistook it for Serbian.

Krumov was single. His parents are professionals and his mother reportedly was working in Russia at the time on an engineering project.

He applied to UGA for doctoral work about 10 years ago. Bertsch had just founded UGA's Center for International Trade and Security - a research and teaching center - and he was after this Bulgarian, Krumov.

"I recruited him. We were interested in international students like Valentin. I think he was the first graduate assistant we hired," Bertsch said.

But Krumov, though a scholar, was intent on being in the working world. He would come and go from Athens and occasionally worked with the United Nations in New York.

"I think some of us knew him very casually," said Mike Beck, who himself recently received his doctorate at UGA.

"I can't say any of us really got to know him because he was constantly on the move, coming and going. But he was very friendly with a great sense of humor. He liked to have a good time. I know every time I was around him it gave me a chance to practice my Russian."

Franco Becchi supervised Krumov's work in New York at the United Nations Office for Project Services, which helps developing countries achieve peace, stability and economic growth.

"We have been very close for a couple of years," said Becchi, a senior project manager. "He was a very nice person, very enthusiastic, very professional."

Krumov also worked for the U.N. between the end of 1996 and the middle of 1997 in Bratislava, Slovakia.

He was dedicated to the ideals of the United Nation and presumably wanted a long career with the organization, Becchi said.

Becchi last saw Krumov on Friday evening, when he dropped by the office to say goodbye before leaving for Kosovo.

"He came after his medical clearance from the U.N., and he came in to see me to share with me the joy of his new assignment," said Becchi, who was shocked to learn that the U.N. peacekeeper who was killed was his friend.

Chris Allen, who served on Krumov's dissertation committee said he was "very much a scholar, but very much a human being. Great with people. He was a dedicated student, but less interested in academic scholarship. He wanted to serve in the policy area."

In his first stint in Athens, Krumov lived with the Bertsch family until he found an apartment. He worked toward his doctorate over the years. The money as a graduate assistant helped him pay his fees.

"He took his time doing his Ph.D. because he worked for the U.N. part of the time. And after finishing all his Ph.D. work, he decided to go work full time for the U.N.," said Bertsch.

Still, Bertsch wouldn't give up on his prize pupil. He felt Krumov deserved to have that doctorate.

"We talked several times. I always told him that he deserved to have that Ph.D.. Finally, he came back," Bertsch said. Krumov defended his dissertation and got his doctorate.

"He got his Ph.D. in political science. But we employed him in the research/teaching center where students like Valentin work on problems of international relations and promoting peace and development. That was his job with the U.N.

"I mean this is a guy who came from Bulgaria to the American dream to come and study at the University of Georgia and earn his Ph.D. And then to get his dream job with the U.N. and really apply what he was ideally suited for: That is working with people from all pats of the world. He had a deep interest in people. He was an extroverted person."

When there was social life around the political science department, Valentin was the center of attention.

"He could walk into any room and strike up a conversation with anybody. He was the life of the party. Whenever we had parties people congregated around him. He was telling stories and singing," Bertsch said.

Bertsch said Krumov liked to date and have fun, but he was still serious and focused on his goal of working with the United Nations.

"He always had his hand in many different things. A conference here. A conference there. Then back here for a quarter. He was always busy," Bertsch said. "He smoked cigarettes like crazy, which is typical of eastern Europeans. . . . I have to admit some Americans didn't like to get close to him because he sometimes smelled like a cigarette butt. Some people treated him rudely because he looked like a 'Bulgarian.' He was a large man, overweight_ maybe 40 or 50 pounds. Swarthy. But he was a good man who loved life."

Krumov didn't worry about diets or health. And, Bertsch said, he probably didn't worry about himself while he was walking down the streets in Pristina.

"He was probably walking down the street thinking about life and other people," Bertsch said. "And suddenly found himself being attacked."

Plott Brice writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta, Ga. Don Melvin contributed to this report.

(c) Cox 1999 Reposted For Fair Use Only

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