Fight the good fight
With the Western Balkans at peace, some go abroad to look for war
FROM the Sea of Azov to Aleppo, fighters from the western Balkans are at war. So worried are their governments that laws have been passed to make fighting abroad illegal, and their security services co-operate with foreign ones to monitor them. The numbers are small, but the Balkans looms relatively large on foreign battlefields.
Orthodox Christian Serbs are joining pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine while Catholic Croats fight on Ukraine's side. Muslim Albanians, Bosniaks and Muslims from Sandzak, the area straddling Serbia and Montenegro, have gone to fight inIraq and Syria. All spread their messages online and send greetings to one another. Last month two gloating Croats speaking on YouTube said “Hope to see you soon!” to their Serb “friends”. For Serbs and Croats, this war is a replay of their own conflict in the 1990s as much as an adventure or crusade.
Recently Serbs in eastern Ukraine have been more taken up with their internal conflicts. The highest-profile Serb in eastern Ukraine is Radomir Pocuca, once a spokesman for Serbia's interior ministry. Last month he was captured by other Serb fighters. He was humiliated by pictures on Facebook of him bound and blindfolded, wearing a shirt emblazoned with a Serbian flag and the motto “Serbian Honour”.
然而，乌克兰东部的塞尔维亚人可能更关注的是他们的内部冲突。这些人当中名声最大的当属Radomir Pocuca，他曾担任塞尔维亚内务部的发言人。3月份，一些同胞战士将其逮捕，他们在Facebook上发布了Radomir Pocuca的照片，照片中他被捆绑着，蒙住眼睛，身穿印有塞尔维亚国旗图案和“塞尔维亚人的荣耀”字样的T恤，以此来羞辱他。
Many Serbs are affiliated to small ultranationalist groups. They loathe their government, hate the European Union and are against joining NATO. They believe they are fighting a Christian fight. In this they are like the Croats who have joined Ukraine's Azov Battalion, a unit notorious for its neo-Nazi symbol that has attracted volunteers from the far right across Europe.
Although they get much attention, says Kacper Rekawek, a Polish researcher, there are relatively few foreigners in Ukraine, other than Russians. He reckons about 300 fighters have passed through on each side. But with up to 100 Serbs having fought for the rebels, they have been among the biggest group of foreigners. Croats, with 25-odd fighters, have been the third-largest foreign contingent on Ukraine's side.
In Syria and Iraqthe numbers are a lot bigger. Shpend Kursani, author of a report on Kosovars fighting there, says he has identified 232. There have been 330 Bosnians, 90 Albanians, 70 Serbians and 12 Macedonians. The leader of the Albanian contingent in Islamic State is Lavdrim Muhaxheri who, one returned member told Mr Kursani, is obsessed with his ratings on social media. Mr Muhaxheri has made one video in which he beheads an Iraqi captive. Mr Kursani finds that, when jihadists are counted as a percentage of countries' populations, Kosovo is top of a list of 22 countries,Bosnia second and Albania fourth. As a percentage of Muslims in each country, though, Kosovo comes 14th, between Germany and Spain. Bosniais 11th and Albania 20th. The top nine countries are west European.
而在叙利亚和伊拉克参战的人数相比甚多。科索沃作战报告的作者Shpend Kursani表示已确定232人的身份，其中波斯尼亚人330名，阿尔巴尼亚人90名，塞尔维亚人70名，马其顿人12名。一名回国战士向他透露，位于伊斯兰国的阿尔巴尼亚人战队领导人是Lavdrim Muhaxheri，他痴迷于增加自己在社会媒体中的人气。这位领导人亲手砍下一名伊拉克俘虏的人头，并录下视频。Kursani学者发现，如果以整个国家的人口作为基数，科索沃的圣战主义者在22个国家当中所占比例最大，波斯尼亚第二，阿尔巴尼亚第四。然而，如果以每个国家的穆斯林人口作为基数，那么科索沃的圣战主义者所占比例居于十四位，位于德国和西班牙之间。波斯尼亚位居十一位，阿尔巴尼亚二十位。位居前九名的国家均来自于西欧。
According to Mr Kursani, most Kosovars in Syria are from rural areas and poorly educated. Nearly two-fifths have criminal records. Some 34 are known to have been killed. Contrary to popular belief, which blames Saudi influence, Mr Kursani finds that the fighters have been motivated by the Takfiri ideology, which has been spreading recently into Kosovo through Albanian imams living in Macedonia, who first embraced it in Egypt.
Most fighters face arrest when they return (though not in Croatia, where fighting in foreign wars is not outlawed). This may be why fewer are going now. Balkan governments want neither extreme nationalists nor violent Islamists causing trouble. What is striking is the degree to which, apart from their religions, most Balkan fighters are so broadly united: against liberalism and the West.