Of all the various abusive responses I’ve been getting over our recent Kosovo report, the only one that actually hurt was the piece by Jason Miko I referenced earlier in the week.
But what really annoys me is Miko’s accusation that I don’t know how the people of the Balkans feel and think. Like him, I have been involved with the region for just over eight years. I lived in Banja Luka for 16 months, and in Croatia for eight, and I’ve been back and forth between here and the region as often as I can since moving to Brussels six years ago. I never miss an opportunity to meet with officials from all sides in the Balkans (Miko, on the other hand, refuses to meet with the political leader of the Albanians in Macedonia). I spend over an hour every day reading the lastest news headlines from Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia. I am totally caught up in the magic of the place.
But there is a huge difference between sympathy and empathy. I’ve always felt this, but it was first really formulated for me when I read Feeling Good by David Burns a few years back. Sympathy is what Miko displays: the ability to imagine how your friend must feel and become outraged on his or her behalf, to judge other people according to the amount of upset that they cause you and your friends. That’s all very well, but sometimes to be a useful friend to someone you have to display empathy as well – that means considering both points of view; that means trying to understand motivations on both sides; that means realising that sometimes clinging to their dreams doesn’t really help people.
My colleague in Belgrade put it rather well on a TV programme the other day. Serbia and Kosovo are, essentially, dealing with the catastrophic breakdown of their relationship. In such circumstances, which is it better to do? Tell the Serbs, as Jason Miko would, that they shouldn’t worry because Kosovo will be made to come back to them? Or say, as we do, that to formalise the divorce there will be a certain price for both sides to pay? Sometimes a good friend is someone who tells you not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.