Every once in a while, you come across a picture that makes you wonder about the imagined fleets of Albanian guerrilla commanders.
On a very early morning in July 2007, I was fiddling with my camera gear in front of a boutique hotel in the Italian resort town of Rimini, waiting for a van to pick me up and drive me to Misano World Circuit, a nearby motorcycle racetrack. Waiting with me was a laconic Serbian cameraman, who told me about his days in Belgrade in the spring of 1999, as NATO planes were bombing the city during Operation Noble Anvil (you’ve got to love that name):
“I woke up during the middle of the night to realize I was flying across my apartment. A rocket had hit a nearby house and the shockwave had knocked me out of my bed. I hit the far wall and escaped without major injuries.”
Sturdy Serbians! He decided to bet against lightning striking twice and didn’t move out of his place—and was proved wrong: another rocket hit his block soon afterwards. He survived yet again.
The NATO planes were flying in support of Kosovo, a breakaway Albanian province of Yugoslavia where the Serb-dominated Yugoslav military had had a campaign of ethnic cleansing in operation. The Kosovar resistance was led by the Kosovo Liberation Army, a guerrilla group which later became a civilian emergency services organisation.
And just who is Ramush Haradinaj, you may ask. He was one of the commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army. He went on to become prime minister after Kosovo’s independence. He was later charged for war crimes by the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and acquitted of them last spring. As you would expect from a man who had commanded soldiers in the Balkans and survived not only to tell the tale but to serve as a politican later on, he is a bad motherfucker. This is clearly evident in William Langewiesche’s profile of Haradinaj in the December 2008 issue of Vanity Fair:
After a one-year stint in the Yugoslav Army, he joined the diaspora in Switzerland and France, where he worked as a manual laborer and nightclub bouncer. During that time he trained for war, competing in marathons, developing contacts, and learning martial arts. He claims to have swum once for 27 hours in the open sea just to prove that he could. Upon his return to the Balkans, around 1995, he began systematically to run guns across the mountains from Albania into Kosovo. After the war started in earnest, he earned the name Rambo for his stubbornness in battle against the Serbs. Picture a blood-drenched fighter holding his ground with a machine gun in each hand. He was wounded many times. He killed a lot of people.
I do not know whether Haradinaj maintains a residence or an automobile in London. But this black-on-black Audi A4 photographed in the UK capital would probably serve him well. It is fast, it is discreet and it’s a world removed from thuggish A8’s. Perfect for a soldier who’s won his war.
Photo Credit: Máté Petrány, Ermal Meta/AFP/Getty Images, Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images