Kosovo: Stuck In The Middle (cont.)
Brod is particularly depressed. Most of the surviving citizens subsist from money sent by family members living in nearby cities and countries. The harsh climate and need for fuel has led to the drastic deforestation of the surrounding lands. With timber resources nearly extinct, it is not uncommon for villagers to stoke their stoves with hardened livestock dung; however, the swollen banks of the river signal warmer months ahead and buoy the merry mood.
Anxious that he is missing out on the fun, my host ushers me outside. Part of the crowd has now formed a large circle and has broken into song. I have yet to identify the would-be betrothed, but I am beginning to get a feel for the likely groomsmen. Men in their mid to late twenties embrace the musicians and stuff money in their hats. One puffs a large cigar. To the outsider the scene looks haphazard, but there seems to be an underlying order—difficult to decipher, but perceptible nonetheless.
Some hours later, I find myself in another makeshift pub sharing drinks with a younger crowd. None live in Brod, but all are Gorani. Like their nomadic predecessors, they have traveled abroad to find work. I ask them about the upcoming Serbian elections that pit reformist Boris Tadić against Nationalist Tomislav Nikolić. The result will dictate the direction of Serbia's future and, in some ways, serve as a referendum on Kosovo's secession.
The group seems uninterested. The Gorani had suffered the negative effects of not only Serbian nationalism, but the Albanian resistance as well. Reports of violence committed against the Gorani by the Kosovo Liberation Army were widespread. It seems that generations of persecution and Diaspora have imbued them with a sense of resignation and an instinctive distrust for identity politics.
We talk about American movies instead. One man balances a beer bottle on his head. I ponder the potential matrimonial symbolism of this ritual. "What is he doing?" I inquire of an off duty police officer hailing from Skopje, Macedonia. "Him? We don't know. He always does that when he's drunk." So much for discovering an esoteric Balkan custom; Franz Boaz I am not. They jokingly suggest I am with the CIA. I quash their suspicions with another round of Slovenian beer.
By 3 am the party is reaching its climax. Everyone is outside again. The women have rejoined the party, and the street is even more crowded than before. The girls of marriageable age parade with interlocked arms up and down the main street. Everyone else lines the side. I scan the inebriated male onlookers searching for beads, but this is no Mardi Gras parade. It’s less exhibition than custom, and the men treat it with deference.
The spectacle winds down and the crowd thins. Since hitch-hiking in earlier that afternoon, I had received more than half a dozen invitations to crash on local couches. Sadly for me, I had already arranged to pay for a home stay. With a wicked “Zurle riff” still ringing in my ear, I wandered back to my apartment, happy to have stumbled upon this small, resilient people.
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