Life in Gorazdevac: We’ve survived the worst, but we are slowly disappearing

We are hostages of a system that is slowly eating away at us from the inside. Nobody is focusing on the essence of the problem, but on their posts and positions that are supposed to bring political profit to certain currents – the editor of Radio Gorazdevac, Darko Dimitrijevic said. According to Dimitrijevic, the return to Kosovo has nosedived, while one of the biggest failures is not preventing the sale of Serb-owned property. Nevertheless, the survival of Kosovo Serbs should be the priority issue – he underlined.

Dimitrijevic talked about the living conditions of the remaining Serbs in Metohija villages and returnees and what marked the end of the year.

With just over 1,000 inhabitants, Gorazdevac and Osojane are the largest communities in the Pec/ Peja area inhabited by Serbs, along with several smaller returnee villages and hamlets. But that number is in constant decline, the editor of Radio Gorazdevac told KoSSev.

„Like in all other places in Kosovo, there is a trend of young people leaving. This is what hurts us the most. We survived the worst 15 – 20 years ago – the death of children in Bistrica in 2003, March riots in 2004, but as things stand, we are slowly disappearing. There are several returnee villages in the municipality of Pec/ Peja, Istok, Klina, but the problem is of a different nature. There are no young people there, mostly just returnee households with older people, which are slowly dying out and most of these villages are slowly emptying and remaining empty precisely because of this reason,” Dimitrijevic warned.

Although the Gorazdevac residents stayed after the war – they are leaving today. This can be supported by the data on schoolchildren. Only some ten years ago, the secondary school in Gorazdevac had some 80 students, today – only 13.

„I have had the opportunity of seeing people thumping their chests and saying – ‘we will return Kosovo.’ Hold on, in spite of all the hardships we have in political terms, we – as Serbs – have also sold Kosovo. When you sell your property, you can’t get it back unless you buy it again.“

The major problem is that while people are selling their properties and fleeing from Gorazdevac and Osojane, only a handful of them actually return.

„I think the return process is completely misplaced. Since we no longer have a collective return, I think we have completely stopped with this process” assessed Dimitrijevic.

Speaking of those who returned, Dimitrijevic claimed they are unsafe, with a poor quality of reconstructed houses.

It is unfinished business, cheap in the field, and done to ‘cover’ the problem with positive data, is how Dimitrijevic described the situation in the field.

In addition to the grave circumstances, Dimitrijevic claimed that a change of the original site’s ethnic background tends to discourage more people to stay. One such example is Brestovi village  – where there were initially about 70 Serb returnee families. The Kosovo Ministry of Return and Communities, in cooperation with the municipality of Pec, in the meantime decided to return about 50 families, including those from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities. The number of Serb returnees in Brestovik halved in the meantime, with the current amounting to 20 to 30 of them, Dimitrijevic claimed. He adds that this number could decline even further, as the sale of Serb-owned properties is a daily occurrence – he added.

„The ethnic image of purely Serb communities is consciously being changed. Even though these people probably had their own places where they lived, why don’t they go back there? Does this mean that this local community is opposed to returning these people to where they lived, and that it was decided that the easiest way would be to place them in Brestovik? With all due respect to all communities in Kosovo, I just want to emphasize how unnaturally and artificially things are being made.“

Thefts

Thefts in central Kosovo are an everyday occurrence. Frequent thefts of furniture, agricultural machinery, livestock, vehicles, as well as illegal logging, have been over the years “rather a rule but an individual incident” south of Ibar River. When asked who is thieving and what the police are doing about it, Dimitrijevic replied that the essence of the issue is that there is no multi-ethnic police force in the Pec/ Peja region, which makes cooperation with the local community difficult.

“In the Pec region, we do not have a multi-ethnic police force (…) We do not have police officers from a community that people trust. Someone from Gorazdevac who was the target of some robbery will be more willing to tell something to his neighbor who is a police officer, than to someone who comes from Drenica or from Decani. This citizen may not trust what the police officer not originating in the local community is doing,“ Dimitrijevic said.

Such a situation is in spite of a great interest in acquiring a job in the police force that the young Serbs have shown, claimed Dimitrijevic. He told KoSSev that local Serbs failed to obtain a job in the police despite their attempts to apply. Recently some 60 young Serbian males from Gorazdevac and the surrounding villages applied twice to join the police, but “in vain”.

„It is impossible for no one to pass the general knowledge test. In my view, this is a clear form of discrimination against the Serb community in this region.“

The Serb applicants were told, among other things, that „there are enough Serb police officers in the North, and that the quota of multi-ethnicity was thus met.“

„It didn’t matter that we have two or three Serb police officers throughout the territory of Metohija,“ he added.

Has such a situation been always like this?

„There are two Serb police officers, but this does not reflect the mixed composition of the police. We have a station in Gorazdevac, where there were about 9 Serb police officers, about 7 Albanians, some Bosniaks, or Roma. It was really multi-ethnic. In the meantime, senior Serbian police officers have retired and the regional police did not accept any member of the Serb community, despite a strong interest in the competition,“ Dimitrijevic emphasized.

Ecology threat

The long-standing exploitation of sand from the riverbed, attempts to store chemical waste from the SWISS factory from Pec in the middle of the road between Gorazdevac and Pocesce, are also current problems in the area.

According to Dimitrijevic, „deep-rooted corruption“ is to be blamed for these issues.

Although Serbs and Albanians jointly protested this year – and for the first time in 20 years – in an effort to prevent their villages from being polluted by chemical waste, it was not enough to solve the problem. Even though the relocation of barrels containing chemical waste was temporarily halted, the ultimate goal is to erect buildings and apartments for sale at the site of the former leather and shoe factory.

The massive construction of buildings entails the extraction of sand from the Bistrica. Gorazdevac is now surrounded by three extraction sites, where the most fertile soil from the area is excavated, which also has its own irrigation system, while at the same time the groundwater level is drastically dropping.

„Gorazdevac used to lie on springs of clean drinking water, there were fish. Now there is nothing there. These springs have dried up and this is not only a problem for Gorazdevac, it is a problem throughout the river Bistrica all the way to Klina, to the mouth of the Drim River. Albanians have a problem too, but no one in institutions has the strength to initiate it and to ban such a destructive thing.“

Finally, who cares about the people?

„We are left to ourselves, but there are a few notable exceptions. There are very few people trying to do something for the community and move things from a standstill,” Dimitrijevic complained against efficiency of institutions.

„So we have various Pera, Mika, and Zika people who are informants, for example, for Milan Radoicic, or for other people who are here and if Darko tries to do something, some political centers of power are immediately notified about it, so they assess whether something is good, whether or not something needs to be done. This is also the case in municipalities, health care and education systems.“

There is no perception that citizens have to criticize the government in order for it to do better, out of the best of intents, nothing malicious, to point out problems in order to encourage that government to do better – he estimated.

„The perception of our people is wrong – throughout Kosovo they believe the following – if I am a representative of the government, I symbolize the state. Our citizens do not have the capacity to separate government and state. The state is one thing and the government is elected by the citizens and that the government should take care of the citizens and not the other way around as things stand now. They see the state through some government, and even if that government does something horribly wrong, they say, it’s the state, the state can’t go wrong.“

Positive examples

But there are exceptions. Dimitrijevic singled out the Eparchy of Raska-Prizren as the most vivid example of those who are committed to helping the community.

„I have to point to the Visoki Decani Monastery, which has established itself as a protector of people, especially those in the returnee villages,“ he added.

„Dozens of wells were dug, tractors, agricultural machinery – various types of incentives were allocated for the people to stay and produce. Monasteries often buy these agricultural products to encourage people to produce. It would be beneficial if that kind of concern existed in the Kosovo Office, as well as in the Kosovo institutions and our elected representatives there,“ Dimitrijevic noted.

Another positive example is the mayor of Pec/ Peja, Gazmend Muhaxheri.

„He simply opened the door to the Serb community,“ Dimitrijevic told us, adding that Muhaxheri has been organizing public debates on the municipal budget for the last five years, where he discusses this matter with the ethnic Serb locals.

„He comes to Gorazdevac and asks people – we have this amount of money for the Serbian community, what do you want to use it for. And the people witnessed it and recognized it as an act of respect towards them and I think that he enjoys the trust of our citizens.“

„You can see him on a slava in the Pec Patriarchate, Gorazdevac, simply, he does not have the problem of talking to Serbs. And he sees all citizens as citizens of Pec and not as Serbs and Albanians, at least that is what he says when he comes for a visit.”

He also underscored the cooperation between the Pec/Peja and Sabac municipalities through examples of good practice in agriculture and education – even though this cooperation has been the subject of criticism of certain officials.

In 2020, Dimitrijevic sees survival as a major theme for Serbs in Metohija.

„Each year will increasingly continue to impose survival as a theme. Survival should be the number one issue and something we need to fight for,“ Dimitrijevic concluded.

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