|Introduction...Reading the papers you get the
impression that Serbs are religious bigots who committed
atrocities on an organized basis in Kosovo. But the US
government is at war with Serbia (economic war, covert
attempt to overthrow government, forced occupation of
southern Serbia and threat of renewed bombing) and in war
the media may slant the news, so a little skepticism can
be helpful. For instance, if the Serbian people and their
government are anti-Muslim bigots and therefore committed
widespread atrocities in Kosovo, why are many Kosovo
Muslims fleeing north, of all places, to Belgrade?
Further into Serbia? When Jews fled Hitler, did they go
to Berlin? Check out the following article:
Muslims seek a haven from hatred - in Belgrade
By David Millward
ETHNIC Albanians are eager to move to Belgrade from Kosovo, despite the presence of Nato troops in the province.
A noticeboard at the Yugoslav capital's only mosque is crammed with slips of paper from Kosovars offering two or, in one case, three flats in Pristina for one in Belgrade. There are an estimated 200,000 Muslims in the Yugoslav capital which has been a haven from the bloody inter-communal strife that has beset first Bosnia and then Kosovo, with little more than a handful of incidents since the start of the Nato bombardment.
Most are employed in blue collar jobs. Many have lived in Belgrade for decades and are located throughout the city. There is not a Kosovar or Muslim "ghetto".
Imer Mehmet, 50, left Pristina 32 years ago and is now one of about 50,000 Kosovars living in Belgrade. He said: "Everything here has been fine; I haven't had any problems. I have friends who are Serbs, my children go to school with Serbian children. I really could not go anywhere else."
Another Kosovar, Farzi Zeneli, 53, who has lived in Belgrade or more than 40 years, also doubted the wisdom of the bombing which, he said, had soured relations with the Serbs. He said: "I didn't have any problems, but I know some people who did and it has made things worse for some of us in Belgrade."
The two men were among about 1,000 Muslims who packed into weekly prayers in the mosque in Dorcol, the oldest part of Belgrade. The ease with which the Muslims live in Belgrade is one of the paradoxes of a country that has been ripped apart over the past decade by ethnic conflict.
But even under Tito the Yugoslav capital was a law unto itself. Renowned for its tolerance, Belgrade was a cosmopolitan city where cafe society flourished; and the tradition has continued.
Even if many Serbs in the city regard the KLA in Kosovo as the devil incarnate and tacitly condone ethnic cleansing, the idea of turning on their near neighbors is regarded as anathema. Belgrade once had 274 mosques and the only surviving one is not big enough for the Muslim community's needs, according to Imam Mustafa Jusufspahic, 29.
He said: "Yes, we have problems, but they go back to the time of Tito rather than Milosevic." The war was difficult, however. "The Kosovars are our brothers in religion, but the Serbs are our brothers in blood."
The mosque itself did not escape unscathed. Mr Jusufspahic recalled: "There were difficulties with hooligans and skinheads. They threw stones at the building, which was perhaps understandable at the time."
There was also a grenade attack at 3am. The explosion shattered glass, and the white walls of the mosque annex are still pock-marked from the shrapnel. But these incidents were isolated. Mr Jusufspahic said: "My view is that the religious leaders in Belgrade did their job well and behaved responsibly."
Once the Nato bombardment started, the Muslims in Belgrade found themselves as vulnerable as their Serb neighbors. Mr Jusufspahic said: "The bombardment did not make a distinction between the different religious groups. Nato was acting as if it was still the 19th century rather than approaching the beginning of the 21st."
But he believes the bombardment may have brought the two communities in Belgrade together. "We were in the same boat," he said.