Kosovo: A Divided Land (Or What is going to happen up north come “UDI” day?)

Here’s another entry to the age-old question: can Serbs and Albanians live together? According to a report by Catherine Philip in the Times, “Kosovo: a divided land where hatred is passed down the generations,” the answer is a resounding no. I’d like to think that she is mistaken. But my experiences in Kosovo, the news that has been reported, and the events that have transpired in the last several years, lead me to believe that Philip’s main observation is correct. Of course, not every place in Kosovo is like “North” and “South” Mitrovica — there are Serbians and Albanians that work and live together in other parts of Kosovo . . . peacefully.

But there is an undercurrent in Kosovo that boils over every now and then (see e.g. March 2004 riots) that shows just how little the Serbs and Albanians trust and respect each other. And it’s not a “misunderstanding” that stemmed just from the NATO conflict. Go back several hundred years with the Battle of Kosovo and start there. There’s a lot of things to “unlearn.” Perhaps too much.

One can spend volumes on the psyche of Serbs and Albanians towards each other. I’m not going to start another volume in this post. But you have to wonder how this psyche will be put to the test come the day of UDI (unilateral declaration of independence).

Can Serbs be protected by the rule of law in Kosovo once there is independence? Or will ethnicity and “clan” thought trump everything, at the expense of the rule of law, good governance, and democracy? Whether it is “autonomous province” or “independence,” will things change or will the relationship between Serbs and Albanians be the same, but with just a different name? And by sanctioning independence for Kosovars, is the international community throwing their hands up in the air by sanctioning Balkanization?

It is nine years since Hafiz Mustafa last spoke to a Serb. He made that vow the day his son Muhamet was shot dead by Serbian paramilitary fighters in a ditch outside the village of Racak. Muhamet was marched up to the hillside on the day that he turned 21; he died only hours into manhood. Mr Mustafa found his son’s body the next day, among the corpses of 44 other Albanian villagers slain with him.

Now there is another Muhamet, Hafiz’s grandson, named after his dead uncle. At 4 years old, he has never so much as seen a Serb, but he has learnt plenty about them. “We’re going to see the uncle!” little Muhamet cries as he races up the path to the hillside cemetery where red-painted tombstones mark the graves of the massacre victims.

“He asks to come here every other day,” Mr Mustafa says, limping behind. “He knows exactly who killed his uncle.”

It is eight years since Danilo Vujadin last spoke to an Albanian. He and his family fled Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, after his uncle was ambushed and killed by Albanian refugees returning home after the war.

Mr Vujadin and his family came to north Mitrovica, the Serbian side of the segregated city divided by the Ibar River. Sometimes on Sundays he takes his four-year-old son to the bridge across the Ibar. “He asks me why we don’t go over there to the south,” Mr Vujadin says. “I tell him that over there are the Albanians and that Albanians killed my uncle.”

To visit Serb Mitrovica, we drive into the Albanian side of the city and stop at the bridge. There our car — Kosovo plates, Albanian driver — drops us and we walk across the bridge to meet our Serbian translator on the other side.

Albanian roman script gives way to Serbian cyrillic, Kosovo plates to Yugoslav ones. Over hot chocolate in the Café Incognito, the change for our euros — the currency of choice in the rest of Kosovo — comes in dinars. Serbian secret police are soon seated at the next table, glancing over to register whom we are speaking to.

That he cannot visit the Serb holy sites in the south for fear of his safety enrages him, but he admits that he would rather live among only Serbs than in a mixed city as he did before. “I can teach my children to be proud Serbs,” he said. “It is better that they do not have to go to school with Albanians as I did.”

His bitterness against his former neighbours is compounded by the murder of his uncle. “I know the name of the person who killed him, but he gets to walk free,” he mutters. “Why is that allowed to happen?”

There is no such fighting talk in Gorazdevac, a tiny Serb enclave ringed by Nato peacekeepers that nestles beneath the mountains south of the city of Pec. To Daya Petrovic it is a concentration camp from which the villagers cannot move, other than under escort to Serb Mitrovica two hours away. If independence comes, however, they will leave for good. Mr Petrovic has already moved once since the war, fleeing to his ancestral village when returning Albanian refugees burnt down Serb houses in Obilic, where he lived.

Last time we visited Gorazdevac, in February, the villagers were gloomy about their future; now, on the brink of an independence announcement, they are gloomier still. A few families have left since then, seeking their fortunes elsewhere in Europe.

In Racak, the Albanian villagers have no Serb neighbours left any more — they fled the postwar violence in 1999. Mr Mustafa is dismissive of Serb concerns, which he sees as an aggravating impediment slowing down independence. Any Serb who is innocent of crimes against Albanians has nothing to fear, he insists. “But,” he adds ominously, “can you find any Serb who did not commit crimes?”

Read the rest of the article here.


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