Impressions from the north: „Terribly scared and disappointed people, who talk about leaving, but they are also an opportunity in and of themselves“

„It seems as if someone deliberately wants to make people’s lives meaningless,“ the well-known Serbian journalist Danica Vučenić shared the impression she got during her stay in North Mitrovica in an interview for KoSSev. „I feel that all sides want to erect walls between one and the other, to prove to everyone, even the most doubting Thomas, that there is no common life and that there is no perspective,“ says journalist Milivoje Mihajlović on the other hand. „But people are a chance, you just have to persevere,“ he added. “If ‘your side’ – your protectors – make your idea of survival meaningless, you must have your own ideas“.

The author of the show „Iza vesti“ on N1 TV and a Pristina-born journalist, now a resident of Belgrade – Milivoje Mihajlović, spent the past few days in Mitrovica. They were KoSSev’s guests at the award ceremony of the first annual „ČasTnica“ award for professionalism and integrity. The award, which Vučenić came up with, was presented to Mihajlović.

Read more:

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They spent part of their time talking with the local citizens.

Pavlovian response

„What the people here told me is that they are all scared, that the people from the North are disappointed in the Serbian state, that they are under incredible pressure from the Kosovo authorities, that they have terrible dilemmas about these crucial dilemmas whether to stay or leave, they are indecisive and have nothing to hold on to“ – Mihajlović disclosed what the people of Mitrovica told him in the past few days.

He notes, on the other hand, that in the areas south of the Ibar, the picture is more stable, because the Serbs living in these areas are already used to such a relationship with Serbia, which was based solely on payments and the expectation that they stay.

In contrast to them, he says, „expectations were constantly raised“ for the Serbs in the north.

„I won’t give Gazivode, I won’t give license plates, I won’t give dinars, this and that, and it all goes away slowly… I think this is too harsh to say, but I think that a kind of reflex similar to a Pavlovian one has been created among Serbs from the north: The more I encourage you, the more I will take you down. That is Serbia’s attitude. And that’s why people from the north often describe Serbia’s attitude in the last few years with the word betrayal. Because they take it as a betrayal. When you raise someone’s expectations and then lower them and make them expect a stronger vocabulary, they expect a higher level of surrender, whatever you want to call it.“

No room to breathe

Danica Vučenić emphasized that this attitude of the Serbian government towards the Serbs in Kosovo has been the stance of the current but also „all previous governments“.

„We constantly dragged the Serbs from Kosovo into highly political topics in the late 1990s and early 2000s,“ she says.

„Our life does not consist of high politics, but I see a problem in the fact that the authorities in Serbia, not only this one, but also the previous ones, constantly involve Kosovo Serbs in high politics, and it seems to me that we do not allow you to breathe, to live your individual ordinary lives.“

She raised the question as to what kind of life the Serbian government imagines for Serbs from Kosovo.

Danica Vučenić novinarka N1
Atrophy of society

This journalist testifies that the deepest impression she had during her stay in North Mitrovica was an image of a lack of perspective.

„Unfortunately, I have a feeling of discomfort over the fact that everyone we met is talking about leaving. That’s how people once talked about leaving the areas in Croatia, Bosnia… Croats from Vojvodina who were also expelled from Vojvodina in the nineties – from Srem, when I spoke to them, they said the same thing – ‘we’ll have to leave’. Now I’m hearing it here – ‘we’ll have to leave, we’re moving. There is no future here.'“

She revealed that she cannot understand how a „huge number“ of Serbs in the north have been unemployed for a year and are putting up with such a life.

Reminding that these are people who instead of doing concrete work, earn their income exclusively through lists, she wondered: What will they do?

„Maybe they don’t have a choice, but the bottom line is that they put up with a life in which they receive salaries and pensions from Serbia – and that’s okay because they have to live on something. However, these are young people and they don’t do anything,“ she said.

Specifying that not everyone is in such a situation, she goes on to describe:

„A young man from here, in his 30s and 40s, gets up in the morning and does nothing. It’s fine that he has a salary and a pension he can live on, but there is a whole generation, that is dozens of judges who were retired from institutions, the police, and the prosecutor’s office. What are they doing?! What is going on with them? What is their motivation?! I don’t understand that and I wonder if the society in Kosovska Mitrovica, I mean both highly and not so highly educated people – is the society atrophying if the majority in that society does nothing?!”

„It’s great that they have something to live on, but is that society intellectually, spiritually, energetically, politically atrophying? And what is the future of that society in which people in that community do nothing? What is happening with those people?“

Danica Vučenić emphasized that she does not see the future of a community if people do not contribute to it.

Raise your voice, you have the resources

Mihajlović says that the Kosovo Serbs should raise their voices, because „everyone is managing their own affairs“.

„No one from Kosovo can expect that someone in Belgrade, and no one from Belgrade can expect that someone in Moscow or Washington will take care of other people’s concerns. Everyone is managing their own affairs,“ he stressed.

He added that Kosovo, due to the war in Ukraine and Gaza, is not even a topic of discussion.

„We saw that show at the UN Security Council where everyone told their little story, went home and what happened?! Nothing.“

„I think that the Serbian community has a serious chance, regardless of how utopian it seems at the moment,“ added the well-known Serbian journalist.

„I did see terrible disappointment, terrible fear in people. But you have a serious chance the moment you take your destiny into your own hands. There is as much potential, and I’m not talking about personnel policy.“

When asked where he sees this potential, Mihajlović replied: “In the people.”

I think that people should organize themselves and have concrete demands because they know their needs best

As a positive example, he mentioned those Serbs in Kosovo who have opened their own businesses.

„I think that the moment when people direct all their efforts towards doing what they do to the best of their ability, at that moment we will go out on the asphalt, as the Albanians say,“ he said, adding: „We just have to persevere.“

novinar i analitičar Milivoje Mihajlović
A disingenuous concern

The Western part of the international community is worried only to the extent that they have a leader in Pristina who will not always listen to them, Mihajlović stated.

These are countries that recognized Kosovo, that is, participated in its creation as an independent state, and are pressuring Belgrade to give way when it comes to Kosovo, he reminded.

„The government in Pristina will not have any consequences due to their concern. It’s just the subsidence of the ground after a mini-earthquake, which was brought about by the CBK’s decision,“ he stated as an example of the latest situation where Serbian citizens in Kosovo are unable to receive their income in dinars.

Despite the public expression of concern from several parties for the well-being of vulnerable categories of society in the latest situation, Vučenić also emphasizes that nothing seems sincere to her.

„Neither concern nor why that decision had to be made suddenly without notice. Secondly, what I see is the consequences for people. Because none of the three sides, even though they verbally advocate for the well-being of the citizens, is essentially doing something to help them,“ she alerted.

„It is not normal that in the 21st century, you have a community where a large number of people, young people, do nothing to earn money. It is not normal that two authorities that care about the ‘welfare’ of that minority community, make life difficult for people. In the 21st century, you have to get into a car, drive it through the administrative crossing, the border, go across that ‘border to another country’, withdraw your money from the ATM, and come back. Is that normal?!“

Reflex project of staying in power

According to Mihajlović, there is „synchronization“ between Belgrade, Pristina, and Western countries to solve the Kosovo problem completely to the detriment of the Serbs from Kosovo.

„The detriment concerns the loss of identity as a people, to remain as citizens, but without any support of the mother state.“

He believes that it is a „reflex project“ because that is the best way to protect the government.

What does the Belgrade government get: They get to stay in power because that’s all they care about. I fence my yard, I hate my neighbor, I argue with everyone

Danica Vučenić novinarka N1 Milivoje Mihajlović novinar analitičar
It’s a nosedive, we have to do everything from the beginning

This is not the time of stabilocracy, this is the time of kleptocracy, Mihajlović points out.

„Europe supports stabilocracy, frowns a little on kleptocracy, but all the leaders in the region have promised in some way – we will do what you ask of us, just give us some time„, he states, while Vučenić added:

„We have now come to a situation in Serbia where, due to the nurturing of populists, under the so-called stabilocracy, we’ve lost stability and democracy“.

Everything has completely collapsed, Vučenić said, explaining that the logical sequence of the collapse of the rule of law, freedom of speech, human rights, and the judiciary is to reach „unfree and stolen elections“, which is what Serbia is currently facing.

Vučenić emphasizes that the free elections were „the only undisputed achievement of October 5“, and that the current president came to power in 2012 precisely in free and democratic elections.

„We have now reached the point that the issue of elections has become internationalized like in the mid-nineties and that a mission should come to resolve that issue and the issue of election theft. And the question is whether the EU is late because everything has collapsed so much.“

Is recovery possible? Vučenić underlines that “we have to start from the beginning.”

From the beginning, you have to create constitutionality, legality, and everything else

When asked about the value system, this well-known Serbian journalist says: „The answer to the value system is what happened on May 3 and May 4 and the way the government reacted to all of that is the answer.“

Milivoje Mihajlović adds: „It’s a nosedive of the Serbian society.“

He noted that a similar trend is observed in the Albanian community in Kosovo: „It will not be good for them either in this kind of absolutism implemented by the current government.“

Comparing the way of governance of Aleksandar Vučić and Albin Kurti, Mihajlović predicts a different future trend, although he still notes the visible pluralism of the Kosovo media scene.

„The technology of the rule of these two individuals is almost identical, and the freedom that can now be seen in the Kosovo media space in the Albanian-speaking area is slowly being suffocated. It is more pluralistic, but it is slowly sliding towards this.“

„Both leaders are continuously in the election campaign. On the day when the counting of votes (in the case of Serbia ‘stolen’ votes) is finished, the campaign starts from that moment.“

Back to the nineties

Both KoSSev’s interlocutors draw parallels with the nineties.

Mihajlović did this through portraits of current regional political leaders:

„From Milanović, Vučić, Kurti, we have people who have a vocabulary that was much stronger than it was in the nineties. We have a project, I feel that all sides want to erect walls between one and the other, to prove to everyone, including the most doubting Thomas, that there is no common life and that there is no prospect for a common life“.

He also indicated that no one in the region has faced up to their crimes, because the leaders are guided by nurturing the narrative of hatred towards the other as a modus operandi of staying in power, thereby deceiving their citizens.

„If you mention to officials in Croatia that the Storm was ethnic cleansing, they will gouge your eyes out. If you mention the tombs in Batajnica, the government will suffocate you, they won’t let you talk about it. If you mention in Bosnia who killed whom, why Sarajevo is empty, or in Kosovo why there are no Serbs in Prizren,“ explains Mihajlović.

He states that the way to healing is to „clean up“ things and to start talking about the crime of one’s community.

„We constantly say – ‘why are we going to talk about crimes all the time, while Croats, Albanians, Muslims are silent’. Not! Start talking! It’s in your favor! Condemn the criminals. Today, people who have been killing people for 25-30 years are walking around Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Pristina. What kind of democracy are we talking about?! Today, they make fun of the death of a renowned journalist 25 years after the murder! The government and the judicial system are mocking us. This is not specific to Belgrade alone. In Croatia, you know how much it costs to get a year off your prison sentence, and in Bosnia, everywhere. This is the stabilocracy: ‘Let it go in the Balkans – just so that rivers of blood don’t start. Let them steal, let them do whatever they want!’ – that’s what both the East and the West are doing.”

Vučenić explains that society in Serbia constantly stands at the same point and spins „around its axis“, which can also be seen via the same leaders who have been in power since the infamous nineties.

„And you constantly collide with the same circle of unanswered questions, about identity, language. We have the same players. The Serbian government is made up of the same people who were in power when the bombing took place. New generations have come, and we have not answered the old questions. We did not agree on who won World War II, let alone on some other topics. We didn’t face anything. Our media write about the crimes of other parties, but no media, let alone a few politicians from the opposition, mention the pit with bodies in the neighborhood of Belgrade, on the slopes of Belgrade.“

Danica Vučenić novinarka N1
The entire career – one interview

While Milivoje Mihajlović describes the last decades as years that were eaten by locusts, and that his whole life was in a state of emergency, Danica Vučenić shares her impression: „I’ve been doing the same interview for my entire career.“

„When I look back, I keep asking the same questions, dealing with the same topics,“ she adds.

While describing this as tragic, she underscored:

„But I can’t stand on a window ledge and throw myself off it. We can’t live like that. I see the meaning in doing my work freely, as well as in the fact that I work in a newsroom where I have no pressure, and where I work the way I think I should; where I have young colleagues with whom I work well. And in that, I think that you should also find meaning, regardless of the significantly more difficult living conditions here in North Mitrovica than in Belgrade.“

An investment in peace?

Observing that the tension that has been maintained for years scares Albanians equally, Milivoje Mihajlović also points out that the level of fear is maintained among both sides.
He raised the question as to why the powerful countries of the world did not direct their resources in the Balkan saga to persuade the parties to peaceful solutions, instead of investing in war, like the „78 days of bombing“.

„Why was it not invested in peace but in war?“

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