Andrew Osborn








Terror stalks Serbs in a land ruled by hatred.

The Guardian, 15th July 2000 17:07

By Andrew Osborn in Gornje Dobrevo, Kosovo.

It was barely midday but the funeral wake was already under way. Behind a ramshackle red brick house in this dusty little village, several generations of the Filipovic family had gathered to pay their respects to one of their own.

Burko Filipovic, a young man in his twenties, was killed when he drove over a landmine. Nobody knows exactly who buried the mine, but it is clear that it was meant for someone like Burko. It was left on a road used by Serbs and Serbs are not welcome in postwar Kosovo.

It is more than a year since the war ended, but the horrors of ethnic cleansing are still fresh to many Kosovo Albanians. The Serbs have not been forgiven and for the 100,000 of them who remain in Kosovo, living alongside nearly 2m Albanians, the threat to their lives is very real. Ironically they look to Nato, seen by many Serbs as an army of occupation, to keep revenge-minded Albanians in check.

The sobbing began when Slobodan Filipovic held up the blackened and shredded remains of his dead son's jeans. The women, clad in black, began to wail and the men twitched as they gazed gloomily into their cognacs.

`This is not a life, this is survival. The only difference between us and the Jews before the second world war is that we don't have to wear yellow stars,' Zorica Filipovic said after the tears had finally stopped.

Slavisa Filipovic says he knows who is to blame but will not name any names. `This is a terrible crime and it was done by my neighbours They did this to their closest neighbours. I used to ask them if they needed anything.' Now, he claims, they phone him only to issue death threats.

Major Norking of the Swedish battalion, whose job it is to protect the village, points to the crater in the dusty road where the mine was concealed. The local Serbs are, he explains, under siege and cannot go anywhere.

At least three people, including Burko, have been blown up in the last two weeks and there is, he adds, little doubt that the mines were laid recently with the express intention of killing Serbs.

Serb children are escorted to the local school, while the adults dare not venture into the fields to harvest their crops because they are convinced that they too will step on a mine. But the Serbs are determined not to be driven out of Kosovo.

`We don't intend to move and many more of us will probably be killed but we won't leave Kosovo. This is our country,' the village's steely head man Jorgic Zikica vows.

`The Serbs have been living here for centuries and we're living on our land and we want to live here,' Sinisa Vasic, a villager, adds.

He admits, however, that the current situation is unbearable. `There are no jobs and our area of movement is get ting smaller and smaller. They are kidnapping and killing us so how can we be optimistic?'

Salvation, in the eyes of many Serbs, lies in the unlikely return of the Yugoslav army and police who are hated by the Albanians and were bombed out of Kosovo by Nato. `They are the police and part of our country They are able to provide law and order,' Slavisa Filipovic, the family's self-appointed spokesman, declares, adding that Nato's K-For taskforce has so far been unable to guarantee the Serbs' security.

Slavisa has not dared enter Pristina, Kosovo's administrative capital, for over a year. He claims that more than a thousand Serbs have been murdered in the past year, while a further thousand have been kidnapped.

Some 40,000 Serb homes have also been burned to the ground. `Nobody has been put on trial for all these crimes. Is murder not murder because it is revenge?'

In the Serb enclave of Gracanica, Father Sava Janjic, an Orthodox priest who acts as a spokesman for moderate Serbs, tells a similar story. The Serbs are, he says, being systematically persecuted and their culture deliberately destroyed.

`One year after the war in Kosovo we have one repression and one discrimination supplanted by another. Only the roles have changed. The level of intolerance and hatred is so great that if I walked in the streets of Pristina I would be killed in several minutes.'

Constantly escorted by two K-For Norwegian soldiers, Father Sava holds court in a room plastered with photographs of the 80 Serb churches and monasteries destroyed by Albanian extremists since the end of the war. In immaculate English, learned while studying to be an English professor at Belgrade University, he claims that many in the Albanian community are determined to empty Kosovo of Serbs.

`Their logic is that the fewer Serbs in Kosovo the sooner they'll get independence because when there are no Serbs in Kosovo there will be no reasons for the Serbs to keep any claim to Kosovo.'

Nato and the aid agencies, whose jeeps clog the streets of Pristina, are acutely aware that their mission will only be judged a success if the 150,000 Serbs who have fled Kosovo in the last year return. And for that to happen the killing must stop.

Paula Ghedini, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Pristina, admits that there is a long way to go. `Most ethnic minorities in Kosovo today are prisoners in their own homes. They are being attacked and harassed on a daily basis.'

Her boss, UNHCR head of mission Dennis McNamara, is convinced that a proper judicial system and an even-handed police force are the only way forward.

`The political necessity for the return of the Serbs is very real. Kids can't be allowed to stone old ladies when they go to market with impunity. That has to be stopped.'

Kosovo Albanian politicians will denounce attacks on the Serbs but that is as far as they will go. Behind-the-scenes pressure from the US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, and from Nato has so far fallen on deaf ears.

The attitude of Hashim Thaci, the former political leader of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, is typical. Flanked by two burly bodyguards, his rhetoric is impressive but short on detail.

`Minorities from a Kosovar perspective means honour and glory and we will respect those values,' he says, when asked if the Serb minority has a place in Kosovo. `I'm in the service of tolerance and oppose violence. My wish is not to have Serbian victims at all.'

But with local elections due in October and few signs of Serb participation, the international community knows that it has to do something quickly.

The UN's Bill Nash believes that displaced Serbs must be encouraged to return. `The Serb returns issue is one of the major ones the international community should deal with. If you break that logjam you can solve a lot of issues.'

Thousands of new homes are to be built by the EU and various charities and some of these could be made available to returning Serbs.

Yet, even in this most divided of towns, there are signs of hope. The Serbs have, after much soul searching, agreed to set up a joint cement factory with the Albanian community.