Russians Endure Albanians' Hatred
DANIEL J. WAKIN
Jul. 26, 1999
MALISEVO, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Ethnic Albanians glare at the three Russian soldiers, one smoking a cigarette, as they walk quickly Monday through the dusty main street of war-ruined Malisevo. No greetings, no smiles, no handshakes.
In the mainly Serb Kosovo town of Polje, about 20 miles away, Russian soldiers drink and carouse with local Serbs, flashing the three-fingered Serb salute despised by ethnic Albanians, British troops, aid workers and locals say.
It has been nearly six weeks since Russia's first troops moved into Kosovo from Bosnia, creating a confrontation with NATO later resolved by incorporating the contingent into the peace force.
Now, the troops are encountering mistrust and hatred from Kosovo Albanians, gratitude from the dwindling Serb population and raised eyebrows from some fellow peacekeepers who question their military discipline.
The Russian presence is a delicate issue for the Western nations that intervened in the Yugoslav province. The mainly Muslim ethnic Albanians equate the Serbs and Russians, both Orthodox Christians, as common enemies.
``We despise them,'' said Jusuf Mazreku, 33, who owns a cafe in Malisevo, a stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army for much of its struggle against the Serbs. ``The Germans greeted everybody, but the Russians just give us nasty looks. I don't like their attitude.''
Russians had been patrolling and manning checkpoints here in tandem with German forces until last week, when they went solo. The Russians will begin patrolling their second sector, Kamenica in the American zone east of Pristina, on Wednesday.
Their main logistics base in the province is opposite a milk factory in the cradle of Serb nationalism, Kosovo Polje, where a Serb defeat against the Turks in a 600-year-old battle became glorified into a touchstone of Serb identity. About 700 Russians lodge at a barracks at the nearby airport, which they have partial responsibility for running. About 1,400 Russians are in the province, a spokesman for the NATO peacekeepers said. The total is expected to reach 3,600.
The Russians have occupied a vineyard in Banje, three miles west of Malisevo, as their base. The vineyard used to employ 860 people, said village leader Ragip Limaj.
``They took over the place which gave us our jobs,'' he said. ``They took the chairs and tables of our school.
At the entrance to Malisevo, a half-dozen Russians checked the identity documents of drivers. Coils of razor wire blocked the road, moved aside by a soldier to let cars pass. Both practices are unusual elsewhere.
At a crossroads, a young man selling flour said he bought about 10 gallons of diesel fuel from a Russian on an armored personnel carrier.
Izet Hoti, 35, selling fuel in mineral water bottles across the way, complained, ``They are taking my business away!''
Few of the Russian troops will talk to reporters. One, at the Banje barracks who identified himself only as a platoon leader, spoke of the difficulty his men have residing in a sea of ethnic Albanian hostility.
``The reason there is not a good relationship is because of their leaders, who tell them not to have contact with us,'' he said.
German troops, who operate in the Malisevo area, have sympathy for the Russians, a notoriously underpaid and ill-equipped army.
``They are doing a good job,'' said German brigade spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Michalski. ``We hope in the next weeks ... it will get better,'' he said of their relationship with the locals.
Others are less charitable.
Capt. Adam Fairbrother of Britain's Irish Guards, who control the Kosovo Polje area, said the Russians ``drink vodka at the (base) gates and sing songs loudly'' with Serbs who gather there, and sit in cafes in town. The Russians frequently pass through to do food shopping.
``They are less disciplined than the British or American forces in the area,'' he said.
Out near the airport, British military police say the Russians lack bottled water, and depend on them for handouts.
But in Kosovo Polje, the Russians are welcomed. They have set up a field hospital next to a Serb-run clinic. A Russian doctor, who declined to give his name, said he treats 20-30 people a day, including a few Albanians. Serbs, local officials say, are too scared to make the 15-minute drive to Pristina's ethnic Albanian-run hospital.
In a grimy cafe, 30-year-old Zenen Dubovic, said he welcomed the Russians. Dubovic is a Roma, or Gypsy, another group hostile to the ethnic Albanians.
``We trust them, because we are the same religion,'' he said.