But there was a hollowness behind the bravado. These were young conscripts from the VJ, the Yugoslav Army, a beaten army forced by the terms of its capitulation to Nato to retreat to Serbia.
They were at the Grand in Pristina, the biggest hotel in the Kosovo capital and until now a symbol of Serbian supremacy.All that has changed of course, and the young soldiers sat huddled around a table surrounded by diplomats and British army officers.
Keeping a beady eye on the conscripts, were three unsmiling military policemen, older, tougher, and very tense.They only relaxed after midnight, when the restaurant had virtually emptied.
"Our job is to make sure that these boys don't get killed," said Sergeant Dusan Stefanovic, "They are brave boys, they are boys. There are Nato patrols, Nato tanks out there. We don't want them to go out now in the streets in this mood. We are going to see them safely home to their mothers and fathers - they don't deserve to have their boys killed."
There are, of course, thousands of Kosovar Albanians whose sons and daughters did not deserve to die, or to be tortured and imprisoned.
A couple of conscripts joined our table. No, the soldiers agreed, they could not beat Nato in the air. But yes, they could have fought them to a standstill if it came to a ground war. "It is the politicians back home who stopped us. We were ready," said Corporal Stimac.
One of the young conscripts banged the table, spilling a glass of wine. "Why did they stop us? Nato would have gone back in coffins. They are all bastards, you are all bastards. We shall still fight. You will see."
A quick glance from the Sergeant calmed the situation. Corporal Stimac pulled out a bottle of Slivovitz plumb brandy. Toasts were drunk, but the talk turned to the news that earlier that day there had been the news of the discovery of what appeared to be a mass grave at Kacanik near the Macedonian border.
"No, no," said the corporal. "If people were killed in these places, they were killed in action. Do you think we have the time to dig little graves for every single one? We just have time to dig a big grave and put everyone in. Now this is being used as propaganda by the Albanians and Nato. It is all lies."
Corporal Stimac leant forward: "Listen to me, my friend. The Albanians are liars and criminals. The West will regret this. These people are Muslim fanatics - this is a holy war for them. They will breed more than anyone else and next they will want to take over Macedonia, Montenegro... Don't you see that?" He threw up his arms in exasperation.
Sergeant Stefanovic said: "Maybe we made mistakes. We talked about the U.S. and the mistake they made in Vietnam. Of course this is not like Vietnam - that was an imperialist war but maybe we should have tried to understand the Albanians more, to get them away from the KLA."
He pulled out a crumpled photo from his wallet of a smiling, dark-haired woman and a serious young boy of about three with a shock of fair hair.
"That's all I care about now. When I go back to Belgrade I'll go back to my normal life. War changes everyone; bad things happened." He looked very tired. It was time to say our goodbyes.Reuse content