Twenty-five kilometers of suffering and heroism

Beograd_240311_Podkast_Muharem Bazdulj
Source: Kosovo Online

Written by: Muharem Bazdulj

For some reason, the best English-language bookstore in Sofia is called "Slon" ("Elephant").

A few years ago, I bought an anthology of travel writings titled "Through Another Europe" there, which gathers excerpts from travelogues by Anglo-Saxon authors about Balkan countries from 1600 to 2005. The book was edited by Andrew Hammond, a professor of English literature at the University of Brighton, specializing in Cold War themes, dystopian genres, and the connections between English literature and the Balkans.

The book contains around fifty travelogues divided into three sections. While the sections are equal in the number of travelogues and pages, they noticeably differ in terms of the "covered epochs." The first section includes travelogues published between 1600 and 1914, spanning over three centuries. The second covers the period between 1914 and 1939, roughly two and a half decades, while the third focuses on the time between 1939 and 2005, approximately sixty-six years of the past and present century.

Of course, this book doesn't have to be a measure of anything, but this "division" is not uninteresting. From a global, especially Anglo-Saxon, perspective, the key year influencing the Balkans on world history, particularly in the last half-millennium, is 1914. When one reads how English and American authors wrote about Serbia during and immediately after the First World War, they become aware once again of the intensity of revisionist intentions, which culminated around 2014. Everything that was viewed through the lens of freedom a hundred years ago suddenly became something entirely different.

Some of these authors who wrote books about Serbia in the early decades of the twentieth century are, I would say, much more present in the collective consciousness of our people than others, and it's not always clear why one remained in the shadows.

Reading an excerpt from Paul Fortier Jones's book "With Serbia in Exile" in this anthology, I wonder why his name isn't more present in Serbian cultural memory. Truth be told, Novi Sad's Prometej, in collaboration with RTS, published a translation of his book as part of a valuable series commemorating a century since the First World War. However, the book, I would say, didn't attract the attention it deserves.

Here's a brief biography of the author: Paul Fortier Jones was born in April 1893 in Salado, Texas, the United States, to Dr. Samuel J. Jones and Charlotte, as the fourth of five children. He was educated in Texas, where he became a journalist. Later, he worked in diplomacy as an advisor to the U.S. ambassador in Russia. During the First World War, he served in the aviation corps. He died on November 24, 1940, in a car accident in New York City, while serving as the administrative secretary at the U.S. Department of State. King Alexander decorated him with the Order of St. Sava.

In this book originally published in 1916, Fortier Jones writes, among other things: "To American readers, the toponym 'Kosovo' undoubtedly doesn't mean much. However, to every Serb, the word Kosovo invokes a time of ancient glory when today's dreams of every Serbian heart were reality. A powerful Slavic state existed until about five hundred years ago when the Turks won victory on the central plateau of Kosovo, ending the existence of an ancient empire there. (...) For me personally, the word Kosovo evokes some of the most terrifying scenes I've seen in life and will ever see. (...) From Mitrovica to Pristina, there's barely twenty-five kilometers, and I'm sure that never before in human history has there been more suffering, heroism, and patriotism in such a small space." Later, the author poignantly and suggestively describes some examples of suffering, heroism, and patriotism.

Borges has a thesis that every life, no matter how long, summarizes its essence in a shorter or longer period. It seems that the essence of Fortier Jones's life condensed into those days and weeks he spent with the Serbian army and people. A little investigation into his life reveals that shortly after the war, in October 1921, he married Miss Cornelia Wallace, an artist by profession, a talented sculptor, from Cameron, Texas. After their marriage, the couple lived in New York and Paris.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Fortier Jones, as we said, died in a traffic accident. His widow outlived him by as much as thirty-five years. They had no children. In the last seven years of her life, Cornelia Wallace Jones lived in her hometown of Cameron. There, after a brief illness, she passed away on December 29, 1975.

In times when historical figures that can symbolize the closeness between Serbia and the United States are often emphasized, it's worth remembering the rather forgotten Paul Fortier Jones.