Atlantic Abroad November 2000

Among the Ruins: Montenegro

In postwar Kolasin, loyalties are divided between the Montenegrin crest and the Serbian cross

We crossed the square to another, shorter row of wooden cafés. "The first two are ours," said the fireman. But not the third, the one with the empty porch and the sign that says "Café Slobo."

The fireman led me around the back of Café Slobo and down a narrow path to a muddy lot and an old shed. He drew a breath, then slid open a corrugated metal door and beamed at the truck built in 1976. The red paint was faded. The giant grill covering the engine looked a bit loose.

"The town should build a monument to this truck," the fireman said.

Before the election that brought down Slobodan, people thought this could be the kind of town, with its two fire trucks and its divided people, where Slobodan's next war would start. Special police forces loyal to Montenegro trained behind a fence at the end of a street in the center of town. Army soldiers loyal to Belgrade filled barracks nearby. The dispute was political, not ethnic. But people thought that would be enough for Slobodan to sacrifice his people to protect his power.

I left the fireman and cut back across the square to a side street where the people liked Slobodan. The director had told me that these people were not so happy since their leader fell. I stopped in front of a bar, where two men were leaning against a window. Then, as a mountain storm moved in, they began to talk.

"Slobodan will be back," said the first man, whom I call soldier one. Soldier one had a face that looked like it could take a punch.

"If he was a dictator, he wouldn't have allowed this to happen," said soldier two. "With this, he proves he's not a dictator."

They stopped to introduce a third man, whom I call soldier three, because, like his friends, he volunteered to leave the cafés and travel over the mountains to fight the war in Kosovo that the old man never saw. The soldiers told me that they are waiting for jobs to replace those they lost when the local aluminum factory couldn't pay them anymore.

Rain was falling steadily, and soldier three suggested we move inside to have a drink. We sat at a round table, and I ordered a beer. I thought of the philosopher and how, maybe, there is hope in what he said. I thought of Sladjana and the young students who led so many protests that helped bring down Slobodan. But then I listened to soldiers one and two and three talk about their war, and I knew that they, too, are the young people. And I was doubtful.

Soldier one: "Slobodan is right when he says that in ten years we will be living like Kurds. The only mistake Slobodan made was not finishing the war in one day."

Soldier two: "We'll go again, if needed. For Yugoslavia, we're giving our lives. We, and our children, are giving our lives."

Soldier three: "We don't know who Slobodan is, what he is. For him, personally, we would not have moved an inch."

Presented by

Tom Haines is a journalist and an assistant professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.

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