11 February 2008 – Kosovo and its UN mission are concerned about possible incidents between Orahovac´s Serbs and its Albanians.
Wedged in a tiny Serb enclave, the Grkovic family has endured war and reprisals but is determined to stay on if it can despite Kosovo’s plan to declare independence.
In Orahovac, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of the provincial capital Pristina, there are 450 Serbs in the upper reaches of the town, and around 15,000 Albanians below them.
In the streets of the Serbian sector, elderly men ready to die in their homes and children without prospects make up 70 percent of the population. Between the two are civil servants paid by Belgrade and a large number of unemployed.
The rest of the ethnic group, who numbered 4,000 in Orahovac 10 years ago, fled back to Serbia proper during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo and during attacks on their community in March 2004 riots.
Eight years after the end of the conflict between Serbs and independence-seeking Albanians in the southern province, the Serbs in Orahovac remain cut off from the rest of the world.
Their community consists of a school, college, small grocery store, medical centre and 60 tombs in the church yard.
Their only link to the outside is provided by convoys that navigate their way through Albanian zones for access to hospitals and markets in northern Mitrovica and Gracanica, Serb-populated areas of northern and central Kosovo.
Kosovo and its UN mission are concerned about possible incidents between Orahovac’s Serbs and its Albanians after Pristina’s proclamation of independence, expected this coming Sunday.
Last week, it was reported that an uninhabited house was burnt down. But the Serbs of Orahovac have become used to such incidents.
“We are accustomed to violence. At the beginning, the idea was to leave in the event of independence. But if the other Serbs remain, I will too,” said Miroslava Filijovic, a 50-year-old grandmother who said her brother was kidnapped during the war and her home attacked by arsonists.
“I don’t have anywhere to go. It’s true, life is complicated and one feels imprisoned, but I will never leave this place. My husband is buried here, I am attached to my land,” she says.
As in the rest of Kosovo, the message of Serb leaders is to remain after independence.
“I told them that we survived the embargo, the bombardments, violence of 2004, and we would therefore survive this, and Serbia would support them even more,” says the community’s Belgrade-designated representative, Deja Baljovic.
“The population is very afraid of provocation but I think that we will remain at least at the beginning to see what happens,” he says.
People are fearful of being forced to leave their homes after independence, although actual violence is rare. Scores of people were kidnapped in the aftermath of the war, but the last one was in 2002, according to Baljovic.
A street of burned-out houses, a vestige of the conflict representing the “demarcation line” between Serb and Albanian parts, is rarely crossed. Those who dare venture out are astonished not to have been attacked.
Dusica Grkovic, 28, was admitted twice to the Albanian hospital of Orahovac, with birth complications, but the mother-of-three is still wary of letting her children out of the community.
“But I remain. I have my house, a job, an elderly mother, children,” she says. “We will leave in the event of an alarm, if the Albanians attack our house and we are trapped.”
Her husband, Slavisa, a 39-year-old security guard at the school who sometimes receives visits from former Albanian colleagues, tries to maintain a sense of optimism.
“If there is no danger, if Serbia continues to help us, if my children are not obliged to learn Albanian, that will be enough,” he says.
The Kosovan Albanians “will fulfill their dream, I hope they leave us alone.”