A Serb’s comment on French policy in history – Jovan Pjescic

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Sometimes it’s hard to understand the big powers – case of France

During the recent commemoration of the end of WWI in Paris, in the Notre-Dam Cathedral, among other flags, there was the flag of Kosovo*¹. When you take a look at the pictures of the world leaders taking part in the commemoration, you can see the president of the so-called Kosovo* Hashim Tachi², sitting in the second row, right behind Putin (who is next to the first lady of France).

First, a few presumptions can be made:

  • the French call all the states they want to the ceremony, regardless of their role in WWI. This is a call for peace, or as often stated ‘’so that it never happens again’’, and a reflection of the EU strength, essentially based on the german-french reconciliation, understanding and cooperation;
  • the French have recognized Kosovo as a sovereign nation, and they treat it like that, regardless of what the Russians, Chinese, Spaniards or at last and the least Serbs, think of it;
  • the host sovereignly decides on the protocol – who of the leaders sits where, whose flag is to be displayed where, etc.

Now some facts:

  • during the whole WWI Serbia was a faithful ally to the Entente Powers (especially to the French). This alliance was manifested in countless ways, just three of which were:
  • after winning at the Battle of Cer and before the Battle of Kolubara , the Serbian headquarters, upon explicite allied request, forced the Drina river (incursion in Bosnia) and Sava river (incursion in Srem). The incursions ended in strategically pointless hard battles with many killed, wounded and captured soldiers;
  • as women were not seen fit for the western front, many of the ones who wanted to join the war, went to Serbia (e.g. Scottish women hospitals in which one of the many interesting life stories was the one of Canadian Josephine Jo Whitehead) and made tremendous efforts in treating the wounded and sick soldiers and civilians. These, and other relief missions, helped cure the epidemic of Typhus in 1915. The epidemic, after killing somewhere between 60000-150000 Serbian inhabitants, was suppressed by the help of English doctor Willian Hunter and his mission, which was a good example how the international community can work together effectively, in dealing with a devastating epidemic;
  • after the second Austro-hungarian/German offensive began in October 2015 and the attack was joined by Bulgaria (who at that moment joined the Central Powers), the defense collapsed, the army retreated over the Albanian mountains during winter (with terrible losses) and onto the Adriatic shore, where it was transported by allied ships to different locations (mostly to the Greek island of Corfu, some to Bizerte in Tunisia, and smaller groups of civilians to France or Great Britain). After reorganizing, the army continued fighting with the allies to the end of the war.
  • in spite of modern revisionists theories, nobody wanted a war with the mighty Austro-hungarian empire (the ultimatum presented by the Austro-hungarians was accepted), the First and succeeding Second Balkan war just finished, and more than anything peace was necessary. The balance of the war also shows it – in WWI Serbia lost more than a third of it’s population and the economy was devastated;
  • the Albanian tribes, forming an Albanian kingdom in 1914, took no part in WWI, except attacking, killing and looting of civilians and soldiers during the 1915 withdrawal over the Albanian mountains.

History apart, wise men have stated that there are no eternal allies and enemies, only interests. And much time has passed since 1918 as well as many events were staged in the meantime (e.g. the Kosovo war in 1999). Every participant has it’s own viewpoint regarding the past events, which is natural.

But when commemorating a specific and tremendous event like the end of WWI, maybe raw geopolitics and political correctness are not always best suited for the situation. Substance gets lost somewhere on the way, and bitterness is there to stay.

That’s where I didn’t quite manage to understand the great nation of France.

¹ From the Serbian point of view, Kosovo and Metohija are a Serbian province occupied by the Albanians. They are the heart of the Serbian medieval kingdom, as well as core element of past and current identity, with many beautiful monasteries. In 2008. the Albanians declared a unilateral declaration od independence, which less than 100 countries have recognized (US, France, Great Britain, Italy, etc), and the rest of the world has not (Russia, China, Spain, etc.). Today Serbs hold part of the north od Kosovo and Metohija, and as well as small getos mostly near the old monasteries. Everything else is in Albanian hands, and the Albanians try to intimidate and force the remaining Serbs to leave, at the same time trying to unite with Albania. It’s a game that will most probably last for some time to come.

² For more on Hashim Thaci read https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/14/kosovo-prime-minister-llike-mafia-boss 

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