- "The Third War":1912–13 Albanian Campaign in the Writings of the Serbian Left
Introduction: The Forgotten War
In the Serbian national imagination the Balkan Wars are remembered by the 1912 combats with the Turks and the 1913 battles against the Bulgarians, and Ovče polje and Bregalnica are remembered as the sites that symbolize the greatest battles of the time. It is a lesser known fact that the veterans of the time spoke of three wars, the third being "the Albanian war," or more precisely the campaign of the Serbian army, which took it from Kosovo and Metohija across the mountains to the Adriatic coast in 1912, and their efforts in crushing the Albanian rebellion and securing the newly established border around Prizren and Đakovica the following year.1
This article focuses on the writings of three Serbian writers who took part in these campaigns in Albania from 1912 to 1920—Dimitrije Tucović's 1913 Albanska pisma (The Albanian Letters), Kosta Novaković's war diary Četiri meseca u srednjoj Albaniji (Four Months in Central Albania), published in part in January 1913 and in a complete form in 1914, and Dragiša Vasić's Dva meseca u jugoslovenskom Sibiru (Two Months in the Yugoslav Siberia), which appeared in 1921. In contrast to Serbian officials and the mainstream press of the time, or their patriotically loyal compatriots who praised the Balkan Wars and their achievements, these three writers strongly criticized the Serbian government for its waste of human lives, accused the army of corruption and negligence, and stigmatized what they saw as Serbian imperialism and its devastating consequences on Serbian-Albanian relations. But, perhaps more [End Page 25] importantly, the stark contrast between the patriotic zealots who welcomed the war in 1912 and the actual testimonies or memories of participants, haunted by the apocalyptic pictures of pillage, atrocities, diseases, hunger, and death, make us acutely aware of the realities of war. This distinction will be exemplified by offering first a glimpse into the atmosphere in Belgrade and Serbia on the eve of the war, spread by dignitaries and the mainstream press, and then offering the picture from the Albanian front as described by Tucović, Novaković, and Vasić.
The Prelude to War: Symbolic Conquest of Kosovo and the Albanians
Before depicting the mainstream media reporting and public feelings about the Balkan war, it is instructive to remind ourselves briefly of the broader ideological framework surrounding this war. Actually, it was not until the late 19th century that Serbs and Albanians started seeing each other in negative and hostile ways. Serbian sources prior to that period offer nothing but positive impressions of the Albanians—for instance, the first Serbian writer to provide his impressions of the Albanians was Dositej Obradović, who in the mid-18th century had nothing but the best to say about them. Similarly, early Montenegrin histories praise the Albanians as great heroes and allies against the Turks. In the oral tradition, that is, in epic songs, which were basically what mostly illiterate common people cared about, we also find admiration and respect for the Albanians as great heroes, just as in Albanian epic songs we find respect for Serbian heroes. Finally, early ethnographers and travelers emphasize the shared customs of the Serbo-Montenegrins and Albanians, such as great hospitality, pobratimstvo, kumstvo,2 and a code of ethics called čojstvo, rz, or besa among them, all of which served to regulate the relations among the members of different, even hostile communities. In short, prior to the 1870s Serbian perceptions of Albanians mostly belonged to what I would label the heroic discourse—the Albanians were seen as fierce, brave highlanders very close or related to Montenegrins, and as their usual allies against the Turks.3 [End Page 26]
Moreover, Kosovo, Northern Albania, and other territories with significant Albanian populations had not actually been part of the territorial claims and expansion plans advanced by the Serbian nationalists for a long time. It suffices to mention here the often quoted and today heavily misused seminal documents of Serbian nationalism, Vuk Karadžić's 1849 Srbi svi i svuda or Ilija Garašanin's Načertanije of 1844, to see how these mid...