Thursday, September 25, 2008

Harassment, departures and defiance in Gracanica

Below the translation from an article in a Dutch newspaper with the title "Pas op, fout nummerbord" about Gracanica.

Take care! Wrong number plate

By: Mitra Nazar
Date: tuesday 16 september 2008 22:12

Inhabitants of the Serb enclave Gracanica try to find their place in the new, independent Kosovo. That is not easy.

If it wasn't so serious you would almost maugh. Ethnic violence in Kosovo, between Albanians and Serbs, doesn't happen often anymore. But the populations are still involved in a number plate war. "Driving with a wrong number plate can cost you your life" tells the Serb Viktor from Gracanica.

In 2006 a British couple who had rented a car in Belgrade drove alongside an Albanian wedding in Kosovo. The celebrators recognized the BG on the number plate and started to shoot. The Brits escaped unharmed. But because of this danger nearly all Serbs in Kosovo have a second number plate in their trunk. A KS sign guarantees a safe journey. Victor however refuses: "I don't recognize the independence so I don't drive with a Kosovar license". His license starts with NP: "Novi Pazar is a city in Southern Serbia were both Albanians and Serbs live. So nobody knows my real parentage."

More than a half year ago Kosovo became independent from Serbia. Unilateral independent, because Belgrade opposed it. The few Serbs who still live in Kosovo still don't resign. The new constitution makes the Albanians stronger than ever before. "They have everything, we have nothing. Now they want to Kosovise us, but we don't want forced integration". Victor is quiet, but in his heart a patriot. "I will tell my children later where the real borders of Serbia are. This is Serb territory."

Greetings from Serbia

Gracanica, where Viktor lives, isclose to the capital Pristina. The Serb village counts about 13.000 inhabitants. Billboards With decayed election posters and the blue-white Serbian flag dominate the scenery. The cyrillic characters on the billboards are clear enough too: Gracanica ís Serbia. Exchange offices change eu'ro's into dinars and the Serbian provider Telenor makes good business. With a Kosovar provider the signal is weak.

A small shop sells Serbian memorabilia. But there is not much demand for coffee mugs with "greetings from Serbia" and T-shirts of famous Serb basketball players, tells the owners. "KFOR-soldiers are our only customers." These NATO troops try already since 1999 to maintain peace in Kosovo.

Gracanica is almost dead. Many Serbs had already left after the 1999 war when the Albanian refugees returned. Since the independence declaration in 17 februari again a large exodus of Serbs has started. It has been forcasted that within ten years not a single Serb will be left in the enclave. For young people there is no future. They go en masse to North Kosovo or Serbia for education and work.

No power

Igor Popovic is founder of a local Serb NGO. The battle he wages for the recognition of the Serb community in Kosovo becomes increasingly difficult. "We can't count on the protection of the police anymore". After 17 februari the Serb policemen resigned en mass in protest against the independence. The KPS (Kosovo Police Service) in Gracanica is nowmostly composed by Albanian cops. "They arrest Serbs without reason, just to provocate", tells Igor. He isn't very happy with the international presence either: "We didn't notice anything of NATO protection. UNMIK too never cared about us."

Specially power is a big problem. Allthough it is a problem for the whole of Kosovo, in the enclave it is even more so.

In the Sportska Kafé it is rather dark, on the toilet there is a lonely candle. The coffee machine doesn't work and the beer is warm. "Since februari is has become worse and worse" tells owner Uros. "Today I am already five hours without power". According to the entrepreneur the Serb power plant just outside Gracanica has been under construction for months. "The Kosovo government wants the Serbs to pay six years arrears of electicity bills."

Uros however stays where he is. "I was born here and I will enter here my grave. This is my country. I won't flee." Recently the pub owner was arrested by the police. "They took the number plate from my car and threw it away", he tells angrily. "They told me to take a Kosovar license".

For other reports from the enclaves see here, here, here or this 6 part BBC series. Here is a report about Velika Hoca near Prizren.

1 comment: said...

I am one of Mitra's fans, so I like it a lot that you made her writing available for the whole English-speaking world. Well done! :D