WAR IN THE BALKANS: The Balkan Question

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The Independent Online
Why have the Chinese turned against their former Albanian comrades?

The stoning of the Albanian embassy in Peking by Chinese protesters would have astonished Albania's former leader Enver Hoxha. Furious with Kruschev's liberalising policies in the Soviet Union, and with his attacks on Stalin, Albania's former Communist dictator for four decades made Tirana a lonely Maoist outpost in the Russian-dominated Communist bloc.

Ironically the KLA guerrillas fighting Serb troops in Kosovo are often still using the atrociously poor quality guns that Chairman Mao supplied to his Albanian ally.

But nothing remains of the strange Chinese-Albanian alliance. After Mao's death, and China's tentative moves towards liberalisation, Albania was left alone to carry the banner for Stalinist orthodoxy. And after Hoxha died in 1985 and the Communist system collapsed in 1990, Albania turned to the West.

China, meanwhile, has also radically changed its Balkan priorities. While Tito lived, it despised his brand of Communism as a heresy. But today it cherishes Yugoslavia as an ally against America. In the wars that have pitted Belgrade against secessionists in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, Peking staunchly supported the central government against breakaway forces. Now Peking is furious with Albania for encouraging the West to intervene militarily in Yugoslavia.

Do Albanians look like Serbs?

No. Of course the differences are only approximate but it is often very easy to tell a Serb from an Albanian in Kosovo long before he or she opens his mouth.

The Serbs often have black or dark brown hair and are generally darker and more heavily built than Albanians. Their appearance is fairly typical of southern Slavs. By contrast, the Kosovars look Celtic to a British eye. They have curly hair, which is often blonde or rust coloured, and their skin tends to be very pale and covered in freckles. Their eyes are often green or blue and their build is much more slender than that of the Serbs. They have longer heads. It is not surprising that they look so different as they belong to different races that have very rarely intermarried.

Marcus Tanner