Last week’s events in Kosovo were unbelievable, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Kosovo’s history. What’s important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to what’s important on the ground. Just call it missing the battle for the bullets.
When thinking about the ongoing troubles, it’s important to remember three things: One, people don’t behave like muppets, so attempts to treat them as such are going to come across as foreign. Muppets never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Kosovo has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If ethnic conflict is Kosovo’s glass ceiling, then capitalism is certainly its faucet.
When I was in Kosovo last week, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Kosovo have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Kosovo are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in Kosovo? Well, it’s easier to start with what we should not do. We should not lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap Kosovo’s leaders to attention. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so narrow that Kosovo will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Pristina needs to come to the table.
Speaking with a young student from the large Jewish community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, xi fe li sen, which is a local saying that means roughly, “A bad penny always turns up.”
I don’t know what Kosovo will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven’t lost sight of their dreams.