„Howdy, neighbor“ series – Bosniaks and Serbs in Leposavic as an example of good relations

Twenty kilometers from Leposavic, in the local community of Vracevo, lie several villages in which Serbs and Bosniaks alike have lived together for centuries. Good neighborly cooperation is visible at every step, and so far, no inter-ethnic conflict has been recorded. They share both the good and the bad. They help each other. And for decades their children have been going to the same school together.

The residents of the villages of Rvatska, Kaljin, Vrba, and Vracevo lead a hard peasant lifestyle, with cattle breeding being, until recently, the primary occupation in the area. A newly built mosque can be found in the village of Rvatska, and only a few kilometers away lies the Vracevo monastery. Members of both communities boast a tradition of good cooperation

Mirsad Huskovic says that their community could serve as a good example of longstanding multiethnic cooperation.

“There were wars, all kinds of things happened, but we have had good cooperation, communication, and this continues today. We visit each other all the time, including during Eid, St. Patron’s Day, and festivities. We share those moments with each other, and we help each other as much as possible. We have good cooperation and a good relationship,” Huskovic added.

The village of Kaljin is home to dozens of residents and is a true example of multi-ethnicity and coexistence, which is the best legacy for generations to come. Serbs in the area are close to their Bosniak neighbors and they never kept themselves separate from others who do not share their faith.

“This is an ethnically diverse place. Muslims and Serbs alike get along well, we come and see each other. They visit us and we visit them during times of joy and times of sorrow. Where there is joy there must be sorrow as well. We visit each other regularly, during St. Patron’s Day, Eid. The reason we do that less now lies on the menace that has befallen the world – corona,” Stanislav Colovic says.

“It’s good, it’s not bad. We have good relations with our neighbors, with everyone, I have nothing bad to say. So far so good. The youth used to attend dances, there was a market day in Lesak at that time, on Sundays, during fairs…” Angelina Colovic testifies.

One of the last shepherds in this area is Grandpa Mahmut, who says that he has not left his flock for seven decades. On this spring day, we found him tending to his cattle on a charming stretch of land, where he spoke very enthusiastically about his neighbors, the Serbs.

“Both Muslims and Serbs got along very well. There were no quarrels, but we all herded cattle together in the woods, and we lived well,” Mahmut Salkovic states.

Veiled women who have been wearing their veils since youth still live in this area. They are also the best witnesses of the past times when fairs, dances, and spinning circles were the only form of entertainment and socializing.

“We never had any trouble with them. They visit us on St. Patron’s Day, and everything. My Desko hung out with them, they came to our St. Patron’s Day, or they would spend time together in front of the store, all of them together,” Jevrosima Radosavljevic says.
Jovanka Radosavljevic adds that they always had good relations.

We have good relations with them up there. We were never on bad terms. We also worked for each other, earning daily wages

“It used to be the case, but now it’s something that’s just talked about. It used to be very nice, the festivals and March 8th, we would gather at the school in Vracevo, and no one took care whether I was a Muslim, whether he was a Serb, who is of what religion, we socialized, sang, danced…” Rabija Uskovic reminisces, noting that such gatherings are few and between now due to lack of people.

But the elderly are not the only ones who remember the incredible life led in poverty, as shown by middle-aged Besim Djerlek, who emotionally reminisces about his childhood, but also the beauty of his homeland, which especially attracts him today. He fondly remembers many events, confirming that he often comes for a visit from Novi Pazar, where he now lives.

“I was born here. I spent my most beautiful childhood moments here. I lived in such a mixed environment, and I spent more time with the Orthodox Christians than with my own. I went to school in Vracevo, I completed elementary school, and I attended high school in Leposavic. When it comes to Bosniaks and Orthodox Christians, I never had any tensions with them, never in my whole life.”

Djerlek says that they used to gather on the football field, however, whenever he visits now he feels “as if he entered a tunnel.”

“I never had anything to complain about. We always lived well. We went to weddings, funerals, celebrations, and birthdays together. In that regard, I’m quite content. We used to gather there, we had a football field up there, we would all meet in the evenings. We met there, we socialized. We went to dances, celebrations, we visited each other. Today, whenever I visit, it’s as if I entered a tunnel, that’s how I feel.”

The locals refuse to stress the narrative of good cooperation between the villagers in the Vracevo area, believing that this is implied and that the long tradition of coexistence confirms good manners and honest attitude towards neighbors. They note that they still have coffee together, as they did before, and that they are a real example of how people can live well with diversity.

“Truth be told, I would rather not talk about that topic, I think it’s a problem that should not be addressed. It has been proven many times that there’s no need to debate about it as far as Bosniaks and Serbs are concerned. It’s at a great level, I don’t know how precisely to describe it, it’s at a high level and I would like every environment to have relations such as ours,” Zaim Muminovic says.

“What can I tell you, there are a few people left. My brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, we get together. We go to Tomovici, down to Postenje near Tanaskovic, we hang out and visit each other. We go to Lesak, Leposavic, to Radovanovici in Kaljin. We’re all the same, we’re all like one. We live very well, it would be wrong to claim otherwise,” Nurija Salkovic notes.
Kaljina resident, Predrag Colovic, reveals that they regularly visit each other.

“We are a mixed environment, as a village, Kaljin belongs to Leposavic, but since the olden times, we have always lived, including our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, our parents, with them, it was like one home – and it’s like that even today. We visit each other all the time, corona being the exception. All the houses are on one side, we’re like one family. We value and respect each other more than anyone.”

A mosque was built in the village of Rvatska, where believers of the Muslim faith usually gather once a week, and even more often on major holidays. It was built thanks to the unity of the locals, but also with the help of their Orthodox neighbors. For the members of the younger population, whose numbers keep decreasing, this religious facility holds a great significance.

“It means a lot to us because there were no religious buildings here, we had to travel to Novi Pazar or Mitrovica, and now we started organizing some activities there, on Fridays an effendi from Novi Pazar comes and we hold the Friday prayer in the mosque,” Edin Muminovic testifies.

Mahmut Salkovic, however, says that due to their advanced age, they only go to the mosque occasionally.

By God, I have grown old, sometimes I go, sometimes I don’t. Those who can – go

Haris Salkovic states that they gained a lot from the construction of the mosque as they used to gather in private homes.

“Like every nation, and every community, so we have the need for spirituality, the exercise of religion, and we gained a lot from the construction of this mosque. We used to gather in private homes, it was quite difficult, now it’s easier. We gather in the mosque during Sunday prayers and Friday prayers. During the month of Ramadan, an Imam from Novi Pazar comes, who stays here for a month. We hold Iftars, there are joint Iftars and gatherings. It’s nice,” Salkovic adds.

Both sides, however, share a big, common problem. Departure. The number of youth in the villages is decreasing, with Bosniaks mostly moving to Novi Pazar, while Serbs are transferring to Raska, Kraljevo, Kragujevac, and other Serbian towns. The lack of people affects them both equally, and they talk about it with great sadness.

“Here’s how it used to be. For example, I have four brothers, but there were no jobs available here, there was no road, there was no electricity, by God, we used lanterns. They had to leave. Two of us remained there. Thank God, I have a son and a daughter, and we stayed. The elderly did urge us to stay and that’s how we decided to stay,” Stanislav Colovic says.

“Our people are leaving for Pazar. Our Serb neighbors are departing to Raska, Kraljevo. They leave in search of a better life,” Latif Ejupovic adds.

Nurija i Mahmut Salkovic reveal that young people are leaving in search of a better life.
“They’re gone, everyone left in search of a better life. Nobody has a job, a lot of people have hard lives, those who work – work, those who don’t – make do,” Nurije Salkovic argued.

Nazim Islamovic attends the local markets as an agricultural producer and emphasizes that he regularly cooperates with Albanians and Serbs. He underscores that the problem in relations between different ethnic groups exists among politicians – not ordinary citizens. He believes that the economic situation will make life in this area, globally, take a different shape.

“Absolutely, it has never been a problem here. I believe that in the entire Balkans about 85% of people are ethnically pure. I go to the markets, I sell seedlings – Kosovska Mitrovica, Leposavic, Lesak, Novi Pazar and Tutin. If the people at the farmer’s market in the northern part of Mitrovica can attend and smile at each other, an Albanian to a Serb, to a Bosniak, and vice versa, and function normally, what’s wrong with that? We should not scrutinize the neighbor across the street, but think about what our own yards are like. Who I am and what I’m like. Find company, make better choices. So, I believe it is necessary, it is inevitable, for us to come to our senses, from the lowest man to the presidents in the whole Balkans. Enough is enough,” Islamovic says.

All the older locals in this area say that a good neighbor is worth his weight in gold, that he is often dearer than one’s closest relative, and that good neighborly relations are built for decades but can be destroyed in a day. It is for this reason that they all respect the tradition inherited from their ancestors – to guard one’s neighbor like the apple of one’s eye.

This is the sixth episode in the “Howdy, neighbor” series.

The first episode in the series centered on the lives of Serbs in Cernica, a multiethnic village near Gnjilane. Currently, about 3,000 Albanians and 120 Serbs live there. Read more.

The second episode dealt with the lives of Serbs in the villages of Suvo Grlo, Banje, and Crkolez in the Metohija foothills. Read more.

The third episode examined the lives of Serbs in Babin Most, a multiethnic village in the Obilic municipality. Read more.

The fourth episode highlighted the lives of the Roma in the Roma Settlement in South Mitrovica. Read more..

The fifth episode centered on the lives of the Gorani people in Gora and their tradition of celebrating St.George’s Day. Read more.

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