Ideas, debates, analysis et al.

Part III: South of Ibar river

J. Ignacio Torreblanca

March  3, 2010

Today, Wednesday, we have a second chance to talk to the Serb minority in Kosovo and find out how they feel, what their views are, what sort of problems they face. Contrary to the area of North Mitrovica, where the Serbs are the majority and feel relatively safe because their territory is contiguous with Serbia proper, we are now talking with Serbs in Serbs enclaves surrounded by Albanian kosovars. These Serbs see things from the perspective of an isolated minority. They feel squeezed between Pristina and Belgrade, none of them, they feel, really cares about their practical needs.

First, we meet with Goran Avramovic, a Serb journalist running an independent radio for the Serbs in an enclave close to Pristina. He says life here is miserable for Serbs, most of them are just selling their places to Albanians and leaving to Serbia because they cannot make for a decent living. He himself has his family in Serbia, because having a small child down here, he says, is impossible: there is no way to live a normal life when even electricity is not taken for granted. He complains of Serbs having no future: he says Milosevic’s oppression has now been replaced by Pristina oppression. Very few people take their rights seriously: on paper, with the Athisaari plan, they are entitled to many things, but the reality is far away. A simple example: “if this is a multi-ethnic country”, he asks, “how is it that road signs are only in one language?” Asked about the European Union and the role that the European Union could have, he takes us by surprise very aggressively arguing that he does not believe in the EU. “How can we believe in the EU’s role in the region when they can’t even get to agree on whether to recognize Kosovo or not”, he says. He does not care about the European perspective: what he needs, he says, is European standards. The bitterness in his words is evident: he feels like a victim, a loser, and he has to live with a very uncomfortable reality which may well end up defeating him.

Next we have a fascinating meeting with the major of Gracanica, a Serb municipality close to Pristina. This is where one of the most famous Orthodox monasteries is, protected by KFOR troops. To our surprise, the Major complains about Belgrade even more than about Pristina. He says his situation is unique: he lives in between two virtual administrations. On the one hand, the Serbian “parallel administration”, made of those civil servants and public employees who for the most have fled to Serbia but still get their salaries paid for (theoretically) administering Serb enclaves. On the other hand, the Pristina government, which has not even defined the borders of his municipality, transferred a budget or assigns a building for him to run his municipal businesses from. Guess what happens when electricity supply is interrupted: nobody is responsible. He is ironic about status, recognition, and the geopolitics of all this. He says he needs to deliver practical solutions to the problems of the inhabitants of its municipality; that is why he decided to participate in the elections organized by the government in Pristina.
Once again, the practical problems for ordinary citizens are at the top of the agenda. Serbia is using Kosovo for its own purposes and Pristina does not have a clear vision of how to deal with the problem. Can’t geopolitics be put aside for one moment?

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