Songplaces

Kosovo

No Bravery by James Blunt

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Brothers lie in shallow graves
Fathers lost without a trace
A nation blind to their disgrace
Ruins near Moina in the White Drin Valley at the border between Albania and Kosovo, c 2001
(thanks, Tilman Piesk)
Chances are, if you entered high school in the 21st century, you have no idea that Yugoslavia was a country in southeastern Europe for hundreds of years. In the 1990s, war broke out and the nation dissolved. Out of the ashes new countries arose, yet the fighting still continued. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia declared their independence in '91-'92; however, all was not well in the region.

From February 1998 until June 1999, the Kosovo Liberation Army - backed by NATO - launched attacks against the former Yugoslavian government in an effort to win their own independence. The conflict left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands without homes. These refugees suffered through harsh wartime conditions.

The war eventually ended with the Kumanovo Treaty and nine years later, in 2008, they finally became an independent state, though Serbia still fails to recognize them as a separate entity and still considers them a U.N.-governed territory within their own borders. Regardless of whether or not Kosovo is truly independent, the conflict brought strife to hundreds of thousands of people and damaged much of the countryside.
Terzijski Bridge on Erenik River near Dakovica, Kosovo
(thanks, Julian Nitzsche)
During the conflict, NATO dropped "peace-keepers" on the ground to help the KLA secure their position. One of these peace-keepers was a man named James Blunt from the United Kingdom. The son of a colonel in the British Army Air Corps, Blunt's enlistment in the military was a given, even without the standard U.K. four-year minimum. He served as an armored reconnaissance officer, assigned to the Macedonia-Yugoslavia border, eventually reaching the rank of Captain. He and his unit worked ahead of the front lines, directing forces and targeting positions for NATO air strikes.

Blunt was not without his guitar, and while living in the strange land far from home, he composed music and played to entertain both himself and his comrades. It was during this time that he wrote "No Bravery," a song full of vivid imagery depicting the horror he found in the faces of the refugee children. "There are children standing here, arms outstretched and to the sky." It is difficult to hear without bringing tears to your eyes.

The music video followed in the tune's footsteps, featuring Blunt strolling through a Kosovo war zone, reflecting and recalling his days of military service there. In spite of the Kosovo War being reported on multi-national news outlets, it would be an overstatement to suggest people in North America might remember any details of the war. At least Blunt's fans will never forget the trauma left in the conflict's wake.

As the poorest area in the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo experienced a post-war economic boom, due to the reconstruction. And while that boom didn't sustain for most of the following decade, the nation has been able to reach some semblance of equilibrium. They are regionally famous for their manufacturing and wine, but not all is sunshine and flowers in the fledgling nation.
City of Prizreni in Kosovo c 2012
(thanks, Berat Hoxha)
Because of its location, Kosovo is extremely susceptible to organized crime and money laundering between Middle Eastern nations, Russia, and other European powers. Additionally, there is a major problem of human trafficking. All the while, thousands of unexploded land-mines dot the hills and fields surrounding the few major cities. It is recommended when traveling through Kosovo to avoid remote areas entirely.

The two major languages are Serbian and Albanian, though English and a handful of others are also widely used. Both Islamic mosques and Greek Orthodox Christianity cathedrals can be found within the country's borders - sometimes as close as next door. Their currency is the Euro, and Kosovo is a member of the E.U.

In 2007, Blunt returned to the nation to film a documentary about the aftermath of the war, which interlaces filmed footage with personal videos from the war as well as new footage. Three interpreters joined Blunt to seek out families with whom he'd interacted during his tour of duty eight years earlier, but instead only discovered abandoned and destroyed homes where those families used to live. The crew also sought out a mass grave that Blunt's unit indentified, only to find it converted into a traditional cemetery, complete with tombstones, statues, and mausoleums.

The film premiered at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, in spring 2007, and later that year Blunt screened the film at another festival in Kosovo where it was received with welcome applause and warm hearts.
~ Justin Novelli

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