„Howdy, neighbor“ series – The lives of Serbs in Suvo Grlo and Banje

The villages of Suvo Grlo and Banje can be found at the foot of Mokra Gora in the Metohija foothills. The villages are part of the municipality of Srbica. The village of Crkolez is situated close by, however, it falls under the municipality of Istok. During troubled times and war conflicts, unlike in many other villages, not a single house here was destroyed. Today, they share everyday life, worries, and problems.

On a street in the village of Banje, we find Simo Simic, a retired professor.

Simic says that cooperation with their Albanian neighbors is “absolutely normal,” and that they never had problems with them.

This Banje resident, however, adds that “there is occasionally some uncertainty and uneasiness.”

“If something happens somewhere, we worry if it will happen here as well. I believe that they want the same thing I want – for us to live together, to survive in this area. We have always lived and we will always live that way,” Simic described the Albanian-Serb coexistence in the village of Banje.

The former professor says that more dialogue and cooperation are needed between all communities in order for people to lead normal lives once again.

“Cooperation, not only with Albanians but also with Serbs. There are few of us and the fact that those who remained… it’s normal and this situation leads to that. When you are lonely, then it is normal to be neglected by everyone – both by your own people and others. The cooperation between us, people usually say that it’s the same. It’s not the same. I am 79 years old, which is not a small number. I worked in education for forty years. For twenty-five years, I actually lived in Srbica among Albanians. I haven’t sold my apartment there yet. But the situation there is not as it used to be.“

A number of mills used to grace the village of Banje. Serbs and Albanians alike brought wheat to this village blessed with plenty of water. Today, Momcilo Kovacevic grinds grain in the only remaining mill.

In the street that stretches next to the village stream, two Albanian families live next to the Serb households.

Momcilo’s wife Leposava says that the war left consequences, but that their respect for each other never went away.

While expressing hope that things will remain the same – and that “peace will continue to reign,” Leposava also highlighted the problems that both Albanian and Serb residents of the village are facing – lack of jobs and exodus of young people.

“We lack work, nothing else. Employment is our biggest problem. Everyone is moving to Europe. People from both sides. The biggest problem for young people is lack of work. Some forty-something year old people are unemployed and have no income, that is the biggest problem. Young people are leaving because of a lack of jobs. And that is the biggest problem. If something is not done to prevent this… They should be given jobs so that people return. We are losing the young generation,“ Leposava Kovacevic warns.

Unlike Leposava, Momcilo Kovacevic says that there were problems in the past, but that there are fewer today.

„The biggest pressure we face is because they are cutting down our forest, stealing our cattle and machines. It doesn’t happen so often now, but it used to be very common,” Momcilo stressed.

In addition to the lack of jobs and the exodus of young people, Momcilo also spoke about other things that afflict the locals:

“We lack a lot of things. The road is bad, one cannot pass through it; cars break down. Infrastructure. A hall should be built, there is one in every village except for ours, in case, God forbid, someone dies, or for holding celebrations.“

Sima Simic, who worked as a professor before retiring, shares Momcilo and Leposava’s opinion.

“Young people have no perspective here. I worked at the school until three years ago, I taught many generations, but none of those young people found employment here. None of them stayed here to live, work, to start a family. That is the biggest problem. We have to make sure and our state must see to creating conditions for those young people to start a family here, to stay and live, otherwise, there is no survival,” Simic says.

The inhabitants of Suvo Grlo mostly live from agriculture. Sinisa Tomasevic is one of the largest agricultural producers in the area. He says that agriculture is a branch that requires cooperation and mutual support.

It seems, however, that all Metohija foothill locals share the same problem.

“The biggest problems of the inhabitants of this village are that young people are unemployed. We have a lot of young people who graduated from colleges and high schools, that is the biggest problem as far as both we and our Albanian neighbors are concerned. Many of their people moved abroad. Many of their houses are empty, just as ours will be if this continues at this pace. I don’t know if our state thinks about our young people. The day before yesterday, a neighbor, a farmer, told me that he is moving to Germany. He says there is no survival here,“ Tomasevic says.

Tomasevic specified that Serbs and Albanians of Suvo Grlo have good relations, that they cannot live without one another, and that they often help each other.

He reveals that he is sad to see people go.

“It’s the same for me, an Albanian is the same as a Serb, everything is the same, it’s important that we are neighborly and that we socialize and have someone to go out with. Ethnicity is not important, you just have to be human, not inhuman,” Sinisa Tomasevic states.

Although disappointed, he has no plans to leave his birthplace.

Commenting on his children, Tomasevic says he is unsure as to whether they see their future in Suvo Grlo. “I don’t know what will happen to them,” he says.

Despite the many problems visible at every step, the residents of Suvo Grlo, Banje, and Crkolez believe that living together is possible. With economic investments and incentives for young people, the conditions for it will be much improved.

„Howdy, neighbor“ series – The lives of Serbs in Cernica

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