„Howdy, neighbor“ series – The lives of Albanians in Zvecan municipality

In the north of Kosovo, in the municipality of Zvecan, lie three Albanian-populated villages – Lipa, Boljetin, and Zaz. Its inhabitants, approximately 600 of them, are mainly involved in livestock farming. The locals claim that they used to have infrastructural problems and that now that the roads have been fixed, they serve for one thing – the departure of young people because of the lack of jobs.

The village of Lipa was named after the many linden trees, which were planted along the road leading to the village and in the village itself. After 1999, Kosovan institutions changed its name to Kelmend. Locals say that they decided to do so because it was settled by families bearing that surname.

The village streets, which seem deserted, are tidy, and the houses are relatively new. A somewhat larger number of people can be seen during prayer, in front of the mosque located in the center of the village.

“There are approximately 30 to 40 houses in our village. We have around 100, 200 to 300 inhabitants. As far as the way of life is concerned, we are engaged in agriculture to a certain degree because the land is not that arable. The majority of young people work in private businesses, or construction, as waiters, and few are employed in the public sector,” Mirsad Kelmendi says.

The problems of Lipa residents are not much different from the problems found in other villages throughout Kosovo.

Mirsad Kelmendi says that the road infrastructure is well regulated, the power supply is fine, the water supply is good, sometimes there are water supply shortages. He adds that the locals have no security issues, adding that one part of the village faces the problem of the lack of a sewage system.

It is evident that the number of students attending the school in Lipa is declining.

“As for school, yes, the school bears the name Isa Boletini. If I’m not mistaken, I can’t give the exact number, but there are about 90 students. Their number, unfortunately, is decreasing, because the residents, as I said… the youth are leaving the place. Young couples now don’t have many children, one or two, so we have a drop in the number of school students…” Mirsad concludes.

Eighty-five-year-old Shefqet Kelmendi was born and grew old in Lipa. He is one of the few residents of Lipa who agreed to speak to us. He says that he has not spoken Serbian for a long time, but that he really wants to communicate in Serbian. “You are worth how many languages you speak,” he adds with a smile.

We have always lived well. We had good neighbors here. We also have Serbs here and we lived… as one family. Things with our neighbors here are the same as they’ve been before. We suffered no harm from them, nor did they from us, and this war, that was – that is something else

Shefqet and his brother used to cultivate 20 hectares of land. Now, young people have moved to towns in search of work, while those who want to engage in agriculture are rare.

Shefqet is satisfied that he at least has his own garden. In the greenhouse, which was given to him by the Ministry of Communities and Returns, he produces vegetables, mainly for the needs of his family.

“I worked in a concrete plant. I’m retired now, I receive a pension. We cultivated the land, but the land is not fertile anymore, what can we do?” Shefqet argues.

When asked whether it is possible to make a living from the greenhouse, Shefqet replied that he was given the greenhouse just this year.

We were given the greenhouse this year. They didn’t give it to us earlier. Now they’ve given it to us. At last, we got something from them

Lipa residents have good cooperation with the employees of the municipality of Zvečan, but they say there is always room for improvement.

“As for the cooperation of the municipality with our residents here, in our village Kelemend there is an Office for Communities and Returns, we present our problems to that office and they then forward it to the municipality of Zvecan. As for cooperation, I can’t say that it is bad, but there is room for improvement. Some kind of direct line must be established so that residents can communicate with municipal officials in Zvecan municipality,” Mirsad Kelmendi said.

Shefqet Kelmendi says that he goes to Zvecan often.

What is especially important for Albanians in the north of Kosovo is that their rights are respected by the local self-government, especially the Law on the Use of Languages. Mirsad, who works in the municipality, claims that the documentation is regularly published in Albanian.

“Yes, as far as I know, considering that I work in the municipality of Zvečan, there are some deficiencies in the translation of documents, but they are still being translated. I can’t claim they aren’t. The residents send their requests in Albanian, then they are translated, afterward, the answer of the mayor or the relevant institutions is translated into Albanian and provided to the party who filed the complaint/request,” Mirsad notes.

Only a few kilometers from Lipa, after Boljetina, lies the village of Zaz. It has about 35 residences. The village is slowly disappearing, locals say, due to numerous problems.

“We have hard lives. We have a road, but the traffic is slow. A van comes twice a day. It’s very difficult to travel. Children have problems going to school, there’s no state bus, there is nothing, neither private nor state. It’s very difficult, especially in winter. We’re forced to pay ten euros a month for children’s transportation to and from school. These conditions are not very good. They are awful compared to other towns or other villages, as the commute to school is long. There are stray dogs, there is rain and snow. Not good at all. As for the village, we have water, but sometimes there are shortages. Sometimes we have water, sometimes we don’t. There is no sewage, there is a small stream and everyone throws waste in it. Cattle passes through, animals pass through, cattle can get sick, and people can get sick. As you can see, the dumpsters stay like that, no one has emptied them for a year. I don’t know how we function like this. It’s like we’re in Africa,” Ferid Peci testifies.

The eight-member Peci family is barely getting by.

“I live with my mother, wife, and five children. We live from agriculture, from our work and the old-age pension that my mother receives… We work a little with cattle… with calves, and we have a small patch of forest, a little bit of land. We do that as much as the conditions allow. Because we depend on our conditions and the atmospheric conditions,” Ferid explains.

The residents of Zaz shared their problems with the ministries in Pristina and the municipality of Zvecan, but Ferid claims that both the central and the local authorities remain tone-deaf to their problems.

It’s not good at all. You get rejected regardless of what you ask for – any urban plan or something – you get rejected. I don’t know the reason, but they reject you. I know that because I tried, they always reject us

Muji Peci no longer lives in his hometown. He moved to Mitrovica due to the lack of basic living conditions in the village. He spends weekends with his family, but he says that every time he comes, things are becoming worse and worse.

“I work a little, but the conditions are not exactly as they should be, there is no sewage or cleanliness. Garbage collectors rarely come, they come for some. It’s not right because people throw garbage on the road, in the meadow… We haven’t had water for a week, not a week – a month, there is no water pressure. They are working on something, I don’t know which company, they are looking for something and they seem to be using water, so we must wait until the tank is full. And during the day maybe people, those who are lower, use a bit more. Previously, last year, the pressure was good, there were never any problems, but for a month and a half now, it has not been quite right, I don’t know what it’s all about,” Muji Peci says.

Zaz has one store, in addition to the outpatient clinic and the four-year primary school. A sports field has also been built. However, that is not enough for the modern life of young people and children, the locals say.

“There is nothing, there is no Culture Center, there are some sports fields but there is no House of Culture, there is no place for them to socialize. We have sports fields, but there is nothing to do, we have no theater, as far as I know, there is none. We have nothing,” Ferid Peci emphasized.

Despite all the problems, however, Muji Peci remembers the days when things in the village were even worse.

Before 1999, life was not bad, but there was no road, later, after the war, they built a road. Don’t even ask how we lived here. But such is life, a man must struggle and fight wherever he may be

Only a few kilometers from three Albanian-populated villages in the municipality of Zvecan, lies the Sokolica monastery, which the locals, according to Ferid, protected back in 2004.

“All the monasteries were burned, but no one touched the monasteries here. We preserved this, and we will keep it safe. They are kind and we are kind to them. We have no problems with them,” Ferid Peci says.

Cooperation and socializing with local Serbs, the majority population in northern Kosovo, is not as strong as it used to be, but the most important thing is that there are no inter-ethnic tensions.

“I meet with them, we work together sometimes, we socialize sometimes. We even collect mushrooms together sometimes… and there is no mention that they are afraid of us or that we are afraid of them,” Ferid adds.

When asked whether they communicate with their Serb neighbors, Muji Peci says that communication really declined after the war.

After the war – not really, I can’t say it’s wrong, but it’s neither bad nor good

The problem of the whole of Kosovo, youth migration, has not bypassed Zaz, Boljetin, and Lipa. Young people mostly move to Mitrovica and Pristina, but abroad as well.

“Unfortunately, like most young people, we have the same problem here; a small number of young people remained here. Bearing in mind that the salary is a bit low and the majority, not to say the majority, but most of them choose seasonal work. As for what they do in their spare time, they do sports, some take up running, basketball and so on. It’s a recreation for young people, they come here and drive. There’s a charge. One of our fellow citizens who lives in Mitrovica opened it. He opened it last year, this is his second year. It is only open seasonally, from May to September. It is a good activity for young people, they come from the city, from Mitrovica… they come to have fun.

The residents of Zaz and Lipa are disappointed in the central institutions. They claim they have been forgotten by them. The municipality of Zvecan, they add, is trying, but it could do more.

If both the municipal and central governments work for the benefit of their citizens, maybe they should start by providing school transportation for children from Zaz who finished the fourth grade – it is the deepest wish of Ferid Peci.

It is hard to trek a couple of kilometers with a backpack on your back, especially when it’s hot when it rains or snows, and there is not enough money to pay for transportation, says Ferid.

 

This is the eighth 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.

The sixth episode testified to the good neighborly relations between Serbs and Bosniaks in Leposavic. Read more.

The seventh episode shared the story of the lives of Serbs in Orahovac. Read more.

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