Beyond the Mountains of the Damned

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Matthew McAllester, a young Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for Newsday, hurried from his Near Eastern assignment in 1999 to cover the war in Kosovo. From Montenegro he made his way across the mountains to interview Kosovars fleeing Serbian massacres, then went to see for himself the situation in the Kosovar city of Pec, and finally interviewed individuals who had lived through the occupation.

McAllester uses two neighbors to illuminate the complicated situation in a city that Serbs considered their spiritual center but which was in fact almost an entirely Albanian community. Nebojsa Minic, a Serbian punk without much future even as a criminal, had learned to enjoy rape and murder in Bosnia; a minor figure in Arkan’s paramilitary organization, his reign of terror in his own neighborhood was too insignificant to attract the attention of war crimes lawyers. Isa Bala, an Albanian butcher, relied on Serbian friends and neighbors and favors given to the police, to protect him and his business; he should have fled with everyone else, since in the end Minic murdered most of his family.

The atrocities became worse during the air war; often robbery and rape were more significant motives than ethnic hatred. Many shootings occurred at the end, just before the arrival of NATO troops, to eliminate witnesses or suspected spies and collaborators. The lesson for us is less about the effects of racial or religious conflict than about what happens when anti-social thugs are given weapons and turned loose on a defenseless population.