In war, a certain madness falls on people. Fear, violence, and hatred seem to rule the day. Unimaginable things happen—neighbors turn on neighbors, some people do unspeakable things to survive, and grief drenches the land in a never-ending flood. By the same token, some people display extraordinary acts of courage and self-sacrifice, willing to lay down their own well-being for the sake of another—even if the “other” has been forced into the categorization of “enemy” by virtue of political forces.
E.’s body, disciplined and fit as a body-builder, now trembled uncontrollably as he faced down the bearded soldiers that stood glaring at him outside his door.
“What are you going to do, you Albanian brat?” one soldier’s piercing blue eyes would remain vivid in his memory for years to come. “Where is your America now?”
The soldiers raised their guns and blew to pieces his small, faithful dog standing by his side. “Don’t worry,” he said as E. stood there in shock, covered by his dog’s blood. “Albanians don’t deserve to die from bullets—first we will take out your eyes.”
“I really don’t know why I did not flee when my brother told me to,” E., spoke softly and carefully about these painful memories, sometimes pausing as if he was re-watching some internal video. “He told me that soldiers had started killing in the city—men that we knew. But although I knew that the situation was not stable, I told him I had never done anything to anyone.”
Most of the city had emptied out already—long columns of Albanians moving toward Montenegro and Macedonia. At his brother’s urging, he had sent ahead his wife and young daughters, but had insisted on remaining in the city. But during 12 days of watching his city burn and listening to bullets and grenades from his sleepless perch up on the hill, fear and horror finally staunched his stubborn optimism. He had, he realized, made a grave miscalculation.
“I was very much a people person while I was training as a body builder. I traveled everywhere in Yugoslavia so I knew a lot of Serbians. And although I had heard a lot of terrible things about what had happened in Croatia and Bosnia, I said, ‘But I know a lot of Serbians, it is impossible they would do something like that.’ I didn’t believe people could change like that. I’m not just talking about Serbians—but anyone can change because of propaganda and politics. I was so scared and so small; I thought it was the end. It was horrible—this is the most horrible thing to happen to a man.”
E. stood, terrified and weak, his former pride and confidence in his body image, fame, wealth, and success melting into nothingness in the face of impending death. Just then, his neighbor, a Serbian woman came running over, begging for the soldiers to spare E.’s life.
“He is an honest and just man…please do not kill him!” she begged. The soldiers were incensed that she would defend an Albanian and forced her out of the area, threatening to kill her as well.
“At that time, you were paying Serbians to defend you and so the soldiers were confused as to why she would defend me if I was not paying her,” E. told me.
“Why is she defending you? Are you a good man?” the blue-eyed soldier demanded.
“I don’t know,” E. said fearfully.
For some reason, the soldiers did not kill him, but burned his cars, beat him up and drove him away from the luxurious house of which he had been so proud. In the still-wintery March day, he began the long, snowy trek over the mountains to Montenegro, barefoot and with only seven dollars in his pocket.
Meanwhile, as NATO began the three month bombing campaign on March 24th, Pastor S. remained in the town—his own story unfolding in a different way during the horrors of war…