The Day the Music Died: Toshe Proeski, 1981-2007

SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA – Early in the morning on October 16, word came through news bulletins and blogs from a stretch of highway north of the Sava river, in Croatia. A terrible car crash claimed the life of Macedonian music superstar Toshe Proeski, who had been popular in all of the former Yugoslavia for his golden voice, charity and kindness. TV networks all over the region, from Macedonia to Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, pre-empted their regular programming and played Toshe’s music videos with messages of condolences. Thousands gathered in town squares, first in Macedonia and then in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia as well, lighting candles and making impromptu memorials. For a moment, Yugoslavia existed once more – united in grief over a man whose voice had brought them together.

Proeski was 26.

“I don’t believe in god any more. How could he let this happen?” growled a man from Skopje on Tuesday night; “God takes the best from us,” said a fellow musician from Croatia. “He was a wonderful man, good and kind, who loved all. I am crushed,” said another Macedonian fan.

Accounts of the accident seem to underscore the cruelty of fate. Proeski was traveling from Skopje to Zagreb by car; having driven all night through Serbia and Bosnia, driver was tired. The thick fog that blanketed the Sava river valley in the early morning made for low visibility as they merged onto the highway leading to Zagreb. It was hard to notice a stopped trailer-truck until it was too late. The Volkswagen SUV ricocheted off the truck and slammed into the guardrail. Proeski had been asleep. He died instantly. The driver survived.

Born in Krusevo, Macedonia, Proeski made a name for himself by singing both traditional tunes and pop melodies. In a fragmented music scene, often influenced by ethnic chauvinism, Proeski was equally welcome in Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo or Skopje – something no other artist managed. In a region haunted by hatred and war, he offered hope. Somehow, with his songs, joy became more joyous and sorrow was easier to bear. His fans didn’t care that he wasn’t Croat, or Serb, or Muslim, or Albanian. He was Toshe.

It is said that as he took off from Skopje on Monday night, Proeski told someone that he was “going up.” He meant Zagreb. He went to heaven instead.

Don’t you dare call it terrorism!

A Bosnian Muslim man was apprehended Monday as he tried to enter the U.S. embassy in Vienna, Austria with an explosive-laden backpack. Another Bosnian was arrested later Monday, suspected of being an accomplice.

It is nothing short of a miracle that the suspects were actually identified as “Bosnians” as opposed to “former Yugoslavs” or some such rubbish (as was the case with ethnic Albanians charged in the plot to attack Fort Dix earlier this year). Satisfied with this nod to the obvious, however, neither the Austrian government nor the media covering the event are willing to go any further. So the Austrians publicly state they “can’t say anything at the moment about a possible motive.” Indeed, Austria’s top cop (“general manager for public security”) Eric Buxbaum said “It is too early to speak of an Islamist background,” while Doris Edelbacher, identified by the AP as chief spokeswoman for Austria’s federal counterterrorism office, is said to have “played down speculation… that the thwarted attack may have been motivated by radical Islamic ideology.”

Because, you see, the wannabe-bomber and his handler were Bosnian Muslims, and that just can’t happen. The two suspects are Muslims? Check. There’s a jihadist imam in Graz, preaching jihad and murder of infidels? Check. The backpack bomb is the kind of device routinely used to blow up Israelis? Check. A Muslim prayer book is found in the backpack? Check. They are from where? Well, then, they can’t possibly be jihadists. Call off the search, boys, motive unknown.

What on earth could possibly be a motive for a jihad-style attack by a Muslim on a U.S. embassy? Jihad? Of course not! Out of the question! Never! Must be because… they didn’t process his visa request fast enough! That’s it! Perhaps he should sue the American government for causing him undue hardship; he wouldn’t be the first.

Already the mainstream press is saying that the main suspect has “sought psychiatric help” in the past, trying to suggest he was just a nutcase. Maybe there is something to it; but on the other hand, the fact that he panicked, threw the bomb away and tried to run, instead of blowing himself up, suggest that “Asim C.” is not mentally ill. I’m not so sure about those trying to spin his inept attempt at martyrdom as anything but.

Joys of Monoculturalism

“Women in burqas and men with long beards have become a common sight in the Bosnian capital in recent years,” says Reuters. So the employees of a Sarajevo bank didn’t think it unusual when two figures in full niqab (which covers the face as well, leaving only the eyes uncovered) showed up. That is, of course, until they “trained guns on customers…”

The two “women” made off with $40,000, and the police have no clue how to track them down.

Illegals, not refugees

After two days of misleading the public about the identity of four Albanians arrested on charges of plotting an attack on Ft. Dix, the mainstream media finally found their roots – but only to try and pull another Sulejman-Talovic-style turnabout and make the Duka brothers “poor victims” of… well, something. Maybe evil Serbs again, even though the Dukas had no contact with Serbia whatsoever. Then again, neither had Talovic.

It turns out the Dukas came from Debar, a small town in western Macedonia, and are actually not Kosovo Albanians. AP reporter Garentina Kraja – who got her start covering (for) the KLA – pulled together statements from Kosovo “prime minister” Agim Ceku and Dukas’ relatives to make sure the point gets across: Albanians worship America, therefore they could not have possibly been involved in a plot to mean it harm.

Whether they worshiped America or not, the Duka brothers were not Kosovo Albanian refugees, had not been involved with the KLA (except perhaps to give mandatory “donations” to its financiers in the 1990s), and had not passed through Ft. Dix in 1999. Agron Abdullahu has – which means that there are plenty of valid questions about the man who made jokes about his “Uncle Benny” despite Uncle Sam’s support for his cause in the Balkans.

Much like Florin Krasniqi, another famous Albanian “roofer” (as well as weapons smuggler and fundraiser), the Dukas came to the U.S. illegally in “1986 or 1987,” according to their relatives. How is it possible that they have managed to live and work in New Jersey for twenty years without being caught?

No doubt, many who come into this country on the sly wish only to live a life even slightly better than the crushing poverty of their homelands; that doesn’t somehow excuse them from having to obey the law. But how many of those who sneak into the United States under the cover of darkness mean this country ill?

According to their relatives, the Duka brothers “had grown long beards and had become more devoted to Islam.” And these are ethnic Albanians, mind you, who are supposed to be the most pro-American people in the Balkans. If that is not a terrifying thought, I don’t know what is.

Terrorists from where, again?

Scott may be on to something when he points out the “Fort Dix Six” were caught in an FBI entrapment scheme. But I have an easier time believing the government line (yeah, I know, I said it) considering that four of them are ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. I hear at least one is a KLA veteran, though I still need confirmation on that.

It is interesting how the mainstream Imperial media has called them anything but “Kosovars.” They were even called “Yugoslavs” – a category the U.S. Department of State refused to recognize even when FR Yugoslavia (a.k.a. Serbia -Montenegro) was still in existence.

There is a pattern here. A couple years back, when a Bosnian Muslim was caught plotting terrorist attacks in Sarajevo (along with a Turkish partner), he was described as “Swedish citizen of Serbian origin.” When they are supposed to be innocent victims and designated targets of sympathy, these people are “Kosovars” and “Bosnians.” When they commit crimes or are suspected of terrorism, they become “Serbian citizens” or “Yugoslavs” or some such.

I predict a wave of insistence that these four Kosovo Albanians are an aberration, that “Kosovars” really love America, and should be given independence forthwith. Because if not, why, they could turn to terrorism! Once the illusion has been created, no such pesky thing as facts can be allowed to interfere.

Maybe the “Fort Dix Six” are innocent, victims of a FBI frame-up. They should certainly get a fair trial, rather than be arraigned before secret tribunals or dragged off to Gitmo. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether the press will continue to call them “Yugoslav” or “Serbian” nationals as they do get railroaded. Can’t spoil the Myth of the Innocent, America-loving “Kosovars,” after all.

Beyond the Balkans

Last week’s “Balkan Express” was the 278th installment I wrote for over the past seven years. I’m proud of them all, and don’t regret anything I’ve written. But as I said myself, on several occasions, this is not 1999 any more.

Not that anything has changed dramatically between last week and today: Bosnia is still a moribund artificial construct mired in ethnic hatreds and corruption; part of Serbia is still under imperial occupation, and Washington insists on making it an “independent” state. Old conflicts simmer in other places still, and new ones may spring forth at any time. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of this corner of Europe, their lives won’t be boring for a long while yet, and I will still write about that a lot.

There are, however, other issues and events I’d like to address, taking place beyond the Balkans – and therefore not being within the declared scope of “Balkan Express”: the recent death of Russia’s first president, for example, or the upcoming elections in France, or the proposed EU legislation to ban certain forms of speech. It isn’t as if I haven’t touched on some aspects of EU and American politics – that would be impossible, as conflict in the Balkans has touched upon both since its inception.

Beginning this week, I will continue covering the Balkans, but will also comment on events in Europe – both “old” and “new” – in what should be much the same column, with a different name. “Balkan Express” is now retired. Please welcome its successor, “Moments of Transition.”