[Note from

One of the difficulties people in the US have thinking about the Balkans is a lack of historical understanding of the players. If someone said he saw Black Southerners applauding at a KKK rally, everyone in the US would know he was making it up. But with the Balkans Americans don't know the map, which allows the media to tell stories which are largely fictional, stories in which black becomes white.

One of the best political "indicators" in the Balkans is the Roma, or as most people know them, the "Gypsies." (The term "Gypsy" has racist overtones; Roma is the proper name for these folks.) In the following article Paul Kneisel examines how the Roma view the conflict between the Serbian government and Albanian secessionists (backed by NATO) in Kosovo.

Feel free to distribute this far and wide but in full, including this note. Thanks.]

How Roma View Serbia and the Serbs, and what it means
by Paul Kneisel

Yugoslavia was a land of many minorities and remains so despite an
almost total focus on Kosovo by the NATO press.

Hitlerism did not commit genocide only against the Jews; the Nazis endeavored to physically eliminate many peoples and ethnic groups. Watching CNN on Kosovo, it is easy to conclude that the constant references to Serbian "ethnic cleansing" there mark the Serbian government as fascist. What, though, do we see when we examine other minorities in Yugoslavia?

One thing we see are reports by minorities of oppression from the KLA. I'm very interested in what the Roma ("Gypsies")say about the Balkan situation. The group knows what fascism is all about for the Nazis killed them in the death camps. Roma ("Gypsy") groups have published criticisms of all sides in the Balkans, charged all governments with harboring people who engaged in anti-Roma crimes. I am attracted to these reports precisely because of their all-round criticism.

I am particularly impressed by the Roma support for the Serbian
government in diplomatic disputes. "In Kosovo, representatives of the Romani community took the side of the Serbian authorities. Roma and other small Kosovar minorities like Turks, Gorani and 'Egyptians' were involved in peace negotiations on the initiative of the Serbian government. The Temporary Executive Council for Kosovo and Metohija, founded by the Serbian government on October 3 with the aim of normalizing life in the region, included a Romani Secretary for Information - Mr. Bajram Haljiti, editor of the Roma program in Radio Television Pristina. Another instance of the political use of Roma by Serb authorities was the Draft of the Framework for Political Self-governance in Kosovo. This document was instantly rejected by the main ethnic Albanian political parties, whilst supported by minor parties and national associations of various ethnic groups from Kosovo, in a declaration signed on November 25 in Pristina; one of the
signatories was Mr. Ljuan Koka, representative of the National Community of Roma in Kosovo."[1]

I find this statement sweeping in the material it presents, particularly given the source and how it impacts on the notion of Serbian "fascism." First, they supported the Serbian government. Can one imagine the German Jews doing such a thing? The report also states that other minorities in Kosovo negotiated at Serb initiative. Can one imagine the Nazis setting up a diplomatic initiative for the Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, disabled, and other victims of the death camps? Finally, at least one Roma was on the Serbian negotiating team and another handled the draft document. This is almost incomprehensible if it was coming from a group of "fascists."

Where do the Serbian Muslims fit? Accurate information is also difficult to come by. But one source was an interview with Hamdiha Effendi Jusefspahic, the Mufti of Serbia. It was conducted by Robert Fisk and printed in the Independent newspaper.[2] The Mufti appears critical of the NATO bombing and as someone opposed to earlier U.S. efforts to create a base among Balkan Albanians. He also speaks of a Serbian tolerance for the Islamic minority, marked by "good relations" but also "neglect." he Mufti's wife Nabila is also critical of certain anti-Islamic elements in Serbia but maintains that the Serbian government itself is hostile to these forces. She concludes by saying that "We believe Serbia will help us and protect us."

We also see a different picture of Serbian actions toward the Albanians in Kosovo. "Mr. Milosevic and senior Serbian officials have met with the ethnic Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, who has long advocated a nonviolent path to real political autonomy and, ultimately,independence. Mr. Rugova was regarded by Washington as the most important Kosovar leader until the emergence of the KLA as a military and political player a year ago."-- Steven Erlanger, "Milosevic's New Version of Reality Will beHarder for NATO to Dismiss," NY Times, 8 Apr 99

Where is the reality? Is it a Serbia utterly hostile to the entire Albanian community? Or is it a Serbia understandably hostile to the KLA that the Western press has portrayed as the representative of the Albanian people? The Times report indicates the latter is more likely true.

The Times' Erlanger also noted that "In a resolution of the Serbian Parliament just before the bombing, when that body rejected NATO troops in Kosovo, it also supported the idea of United Nations forces to monitor a political settlement there."

What picture is painted by these different sources? None change the view of the Balkans as troublespot nor of Yugoslavia having deep difficulties with national, religious, and ethnic minorities.

But is also a picture of a country negotiating the solution to these differences in a peaceful fashion. It is a picture where the Serbian diplomacy is supported by the Roma and other ethnic/national groups and with considerable support from the Yugoslavian followers of Islam. It is the picture of a Serbia negotiating with Albanians until the drug dealers of the KLA got NATO support.

What then is the likely reason for the NATO bombing? It could not be a Serbian push to eliminate minorities within Greater Serbia. Nor could it be to bring the Serbs to the negotiating table. It couldn't even be to create a non-Serbian international peacekeeping force in Kosovo since the Serbian Parliament agreed to a UN force. But the UN and the U.S.-led military forces are different organizations, reflecting different values, and ultimately different interests. The UN may have created peace in Kosovo but it would not have produced the same level of profit and influence as a NATO victory.

The Balkans remain an enormously troubled area, with a high likelihood that individuals from all nationalities have committed crimes against humanity. But the current anti-Serb juggernaut in the Western press does not adequately describe this complex reality.

Nor will NATO bombs solve the problems.


[1] European Roma Rights Center (news report), "Roma from Kosovo victimized in the Serb-Albanian ethnic conflict," Dec 98, in The Internet Anti-Fascist (INAF)#251.

[2] Robert Fisk, (Independent [London]), "God will not forgive the
Americans for this," 4 Apr 99, in TINAF #248.

Paul Kneisel's article on the Roma first appeared in the newsletter which he sends out by email, the Internet Anti-Fascist. If you'd like to read an issue or subscribe, write to

For more on the Roma, check out these two web sites: and

For an article on how the Roma have been treated since KFOR (that is, NATO) and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) took over Kosovo, see 'A Slaughter of Roma' at

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