Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth,
And of Serb blood and heritage,
And comes not to fight at Kosovo,
May he never have progeny born from love,
Neither son nor daughter!
May nothing grow that his hand sows,
Neither young wine nor white wheat!
And may his progeny be feeble until any left!
Kosovo curse, by Prince Lazar Hrebljanović, 1389
Sanela I also met in a community of people like me. She took me to a coffee, beer, showed me around. We laughed like crazy, as we know each other for years. She found me an accommodation. At Žare's place, an elderly, huge man. I payed 5 euros, left the bag and went for a walk with Sanela. It was quiet evening, somewhat gloomy, creepy. Few more beers, some food and finally a nap. I was totally exhausted.
Accommodation was at the very least, awful, messy and dirty. However, nothing better than a good nap and a shower, finally, I was grateful. Sanela arrived and took me to the south, to the southern Mitrovica. We crossed the border on the street, on the middle of the road. Suddenly, Albanian flags – the sign, the border.
We walk. Silence, people stare at us. I'm not allowed to take photos, I'm not allowed to speak Serbian, I shouldn't attract attention. At her request, we came back crossing the other, smaller, inconspicuous bridge. She told me about the life there, about the past, war divisions. It's a hard life, it is hard for everyone. We also had a war in Bosnia and went through a lot, but somehow it seems to me that it was much harder for them. In Bosnia there's 3 nations which are almost one nation, speaking same language, sharing similar culture, history and traditions. Here is struggle. Serbs and Albanians have almost nothing in common.
We started talking about nicer topics, about our pets. I told her about Jadranko, my mushroom and how I missed him. She told me about eyes. During life, only your eyes stay the same size, they do not grow. They remain the same size as the first day of your life.
She has big and beautiful eyes. She must have been an ugly baby, I concluded. With those huge eyes. Certainly I would not have liked her at all. She said it's not important now and we should let the past behind us. What's done is done, we need to look to the future. She's right.
However, I was a pretty baby.
There's a lot of dogs in Mitrovica. We were wondering what were they thinking about. They certainly go normally to the south. For them there is no border. They seem to be much smarter than us, humans. Or maybe not. Perhaps this our dog is nostalgic and would give his all just to go once more to the south and drink water near the mosque. We were wondering how could you call an Albanian dog. Cuko, DŽreki, Pujto!? Certainly you should not say Cuko south of the Ibar. You'd have problems. The dog probably does not understand Serbian. Or maybe he does, but can not react, he will get in the trouble if they figure he is a Serbian dog. And then what!? She asked me to check when I go to the south. I promised her I would.
Talking about dogs we arrived to some memorial of the former Yugoslavia, and to archaeological remains of an old church. There were some burnt Albanian houses near the road. Perfect sunny November day. We climbed up to Mali Zvečan. It's getting hotter. The fortress and the view from there was amazing. The policeman last night even told me you can see the whole Kosovo from this spot on a sunny day. The enormous Serbian flag waving. Sanela told me how sometimes Albanians overnight come there and take down the flag. Then our guys need to climb up, burn an Albanian flag and put ours, even greater. It is certainly annoying and exhausting. You need to be in a good shape to climb up there.
Sanela has a fantastic sense of humor and is able to make with her own hands anything; genuine buckets of leaves, jewelry made of wire and stones. She weaves, sews and creates clothes. All of this looks great. She promised to find me a famous Kosovo peony to plant at home. It's important to me.
I told her how things are much better in my town. The town is bigger, ethnically relatively clean though, but it's fine. We do not have these problems. We almost do not have any problems at all. People still have some chance. There are some jobs, people are laughing, it's much cleaner, safer. The bars are full. In Mitrovica, I have not seen a laughing person. We laughed. The two of us. People were staring.
Later I felt sorry because I was saying that. It hit her. This story of my city. The fact that there is much better world, even in one Bosnia, probably the most complicated and corrupted country in whole Europe. The fact she lives in even worse place.
She is a Muslim, Bosniak woman. In all this chaos, nobody asks how is it for those people there. They went through everything, very sad and bad things. They belong to no one. Neither Serbs like them very much, nor Albanians. Sometimes later, when i was returning from the south, I saw a dog lying in the middle of the bridge. Neither here nor there. I was sure it's a Muslim dog.
We drank a coffee by the bridge and I stared at it. About fifty yards away is the south. Fifty meters away is unwise to speak Serbian and and stay longer. Crossing that bridge is like a passing beneath a rainbow. Another world.
We said goodbye and I headed south. Alone. Hoxha teaches, it's getting dark slowly, I'm scared a little bit, but crazily excited. A kind girl lead me to the van that goes to Priština. I sat there surrounded by Albanians, in the heart of the Albanian world. Totally exposed. You could say on my face that I'm not an Albanian – so probably a Serb. Indeed, they look different. Ticket price was ridiculous. 2-3 euros.
In the van I timidly began to speak to people in English – Serbian language (!?). Antigona helped me a lot, showing me where, what, how. I'm waiting for Vladimir to appear at the roundabout. I'm a little nervous, standing there, waiting. I wonder how all this will go. Finally Vladimir arrives. Total shock. Man walks, laughs and shouts in Serbian.
We hug each other. What's up brother, how are you. The guy is laughing. I'm nervous, afraid, panicked, and he arrives laughing and shouting on Serbian language. What a guy! I was shocked. Before I arrived I've heard stories that you can not just come to Priština and talk Serbian. Of course, that applies for southern Mitrovica. But not here. He talks Serbian like he is in the middle of Belgrade. Priština is a big town, much bigger than Mitrovica. And it is not divided. And there are no Serbs here. So, there are no problems.
We walk proudly, talking our language. In the middle of Priština. I ask million of questions, while drinking beer and smoking. I'm relieved. Don't have to be scared anymore.
Albanian girls look at us, flirt with us. They give me a lighter. Beautiful girls. They look fantastic. They have style, they dress nice. The boys also. The city is full of foreigners, they build highways. Pristina is already linked to Tirana. If we were wiser we would also build highways and connect to Mitrovica in every possible way. I connected.
Smoking is prohibited in enclosed areas, prices are a bit higher than in Banja Luka. The Internet is ubiquitous. Kosovo* is known as the youngest state. I realized why. Huge number of young and beautiful people.
I wrote Vladimir 6 months earlier. Occasionally we have communicated since then. Man is the embodiment of hope. Pure hope. A Serb who should be an example to all the other Serbs. 29 years. He graduated from the perspective college in Niš and was able to choose where to work, but returned there. In Gračanica, near Pristina.
Gračanica is a Serb enclave, a ghetto. The group of villages and settlements with Serbian majority concentrated around the Gračanica monastery (1321 A.D.). Vladimir is doing a Phd in Niš, but he lives here, in Gracanica, 100% present. Does not provoke anyone, doesn't highlights its identity where he should not, but clearly knows who is he and where he belongs to. He respects Albanian right to be there, their culture, tradition, but keeps his.
Vladimir founded the non-governmental organization helping the community, educating Serbs, helping them to return, to find themselves. He laughs constantly. It will be better, he says. They fight and struggle all the time, but he is positive. He says it's our people's fault, too. They even do not want to leave their ghetto, emancipate, although it is safe enough now. They fear Albanians, do not like them, they suffer from that terrible past. But that's the way it is now. Vladimir and his friends have no problem with fitting into new environment.
I ask him how he is not afraid to speak our language. He says he does not give a fuck. It's his city and he has a right to speak his own language. He laughs.
We need to fight, to accept certain things. Pristina is not in Serbia anymore, there's almost no Serbs there anymore. It is a center of Albanian life and culture. They kicked us out. Cemeteries and churches are burnt, people are expelled.
But Serbs need to fight for their position and rights, link with Serbia as much as possible. With Belgrade, Banja Luka. We should build roads and infrastructure, connect people, culture, go down to visit those places and sanctities. We need to get used to each other. They should get used to us, to the fact that we are there and we have no plan to leave, it was our Holy land, our heart. We need to be wise at last. All of us. It's time to be wise.
His family was offered a lot of money by an Albanian for a piece of their land. That thing was happening for centuries (Albanians with a lot of money come and put a pressure on Serbs to sell their land. Of course, a lot of them already wanted to sell it and to move to the north. To sell the Holy land.) They did not want to sell, even though they live quite modestly. Finally, the state took the land to make the highway, gave them some money, much less than Albanian guy offered. But it does not matter dude, we didn't sell. There is a highway, they build it much faster than in Bosnia. I wonder if it was deliberately invented and built, only to legally confiscate Serbian land.
He has eight brothers and sisters. Just like Jugovići, a heroic family from Kosovo battle in 1389. And they will not leave. They will stay there. His family is there, as far as he knows, for some 250-300 years. They will never leave. He told me that some Serb neighbor sold his house to an Albanian and left with the money. Crazy Serbs from village organized and followed him. Intercepted him on the way and made him come back, give the money back to Albanian guy and annul the sale. Victory.
I also heard stories from people that Albanians are putting pressure on each other not to invest money in real estate in Bosnia and surrounding countries, but to invest in Kosovo. Now it is time to invest in Kosovo. To buy Kosovo.
On the way home I asked Vladimir whether he has an Internet at home, I should write to my worried mother. Sure, dude, I have a very fast Internet, you can contact your mother, only if i have electricity and water. And yes, there was no water. State turns them water and electricity off. New, modern way of pressuring Serbs and trying to make them leave. I didn't take a shower. For a while. For too long.
God and yourself
I woke up in Ugljare, in the house of my hosts, Jugovići. We went to the center of Gračanica, the center of life of the Serbs, south of the Ibar. In the center stands a monument of Milos Obilic, a Serb hero who killed Sultan Murat in Kosovo battle on 1389. The Serbs hid monument somewhere during NATO and KLA aggression and put it here few years ago. In the center of the center, for 694 years now, stands beautiful and amazing Gračanica monastery, a member of the UNESCO World Heritage List .
Whether believer or not, religious or not, you must admit the enormous significance of those monasteries. They kept our culture, religion, history, alphabet and all other parts of our identity over centuries, even though through the dark ages of 500 years of Ottoman rule. The monasteries were the center of life. They had schools there, there were only literate and educated people there, through monasteries we survived. All these towns and villages evolved around the monastery. Gračanica, Dečani… Vladimir brought me into the yard and went to do something in the center.
The shinny, November morning. The birds in the yard sings, perfectly mowed grass smells. Silence. And the church. It gives me the creeps. Infinitely old and beautiful. King Milutin built it. Our king.
A nun came to me. She presented herself as Evrosinija. She arrived here only a few days ago. A pleasant woman. She asked me where I'm from and how I got here. With a pleasant voice she told me that's the best way to travel. Alone. God and yourself, child. We talked a little bit. I asked her how she was, if she was afraid, I asked her about safety. I wish I had been killed for the faith, my child. But the Lord would not take me, a sinner.
I did not understand that. I did not understand her dissatisfaction with the arrival of two German women in the church neither. They apparently do not understand it, have no idea in what the sanctuary they are. I told her it did not matter and it's nice that they arrived. Let them see what we have, how beautiful culture and tradition we have. Let them see and let them spread the word. They left quickly.
There was no one in the church. She told me that there are relics of 9 saints, including St. Stephen, the saint who is celebrated by my family for centuries. She told me to come in, that she will let me pray to God and worship the king. That she would close the door and leave me alone inside the church. The church full of holy relics. I was touched by the trust she showed me.
Infinite silence. King Milutin and me. God and yourself, my child, God and yourself.
She gave me the whole Gračanica.
Vladimir returned and we stayed there together for some time. He told me how the columns within Gracanica church are full of secret chambers and passages. And why frescoes of King Milutin and his wife Simonida are missing their eyes. Apparently the Turks was so scared of King Milutin staring from the wall so they took his eyes out. He told me that Novak Djokovic, the famous Serbian tennis player, bought the land around the monastery and donated it to the monastery. An Albanian wanted to buy the land for himself, and the nuns wrote Novak and asked for help. He helped them. A lot.
I met the locals. Those people went through all sorts of things here. They remember the war, the Pogrom. They told me how they were attacked by Albanians in the villages. At the end, our people kick their asses. – What our people? The police? – Nah fuck the police, our people, the people. Fuck dude, what can you do. They come to the village with guns and kill your people randomly, fuck it, you have to defend the house. They told me how they were fighting Albanians in front of their houses with their bare hands, defending the house and the kids, literally. With bare hands.
Horde of Albanians approaching. Serbs several times outnumbered. And Serbs stand there on the street. Silently stand and wait for them. What to do? Nowhere to go, nowhere to run away. No turning back. Even kids go out and wait for Albanians who want to make them leave Kosovo once and for all. Come out and fight, defend your house. KFOR soldiers stand between, terrified. They threw a grenade to a man's house. House burning, while he and his two sons with rifles standing in front of the house and randomly shot at them, defending his home. Dear God!
It has nothing to do with statehood, politics, history, country anymore.. It is the last line of defense. The fight for survival. For women and children. And for the Truth. Serbian world, the whole Europe, the all mankind should understand and support those people out there. People who defend the Truth. We'll need that Truth.
We walk further. Vladimir shows me elementary school King Milutin and the great mosaic of the Queen Simonida on it's wall. He says the school has 45 classes with 25-30 pupils. Serbs. Multiply 8 times, of course. The Hope. A big Hope.
Elementary School King Milutin, Gračanica, Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, Republic of Serbia
He showed me a Cultural Center, in front of which is the monument of missing persons from Gračanica. MISSING, a counterpart to the one in Priština, NEWBORN monument to a newborn state of Kosovo *. Sometime ago they decorated NEWBORN monument with the lights, and the lower half of the letter B lights broke, so at night it said NEWPORN. A little joy and laughter to our small existing population there.
I saw the Little Gračanica, a small chapel in the park, a copy of the Gračanica monastery church, a monument to Dimitrije, a Serb boy who was killed by Albanians 15 meters away, while eating a pie at the sandwich shop. He was 17 years old. His uncle begged the parents that instead of vengeance, they build a monument, Little Gračanica. A Dignity!
We went by taxi to Gazimestan, the place where the Kosovo battle was held, more than 600 years ago. The cab driver was Goran. From the little pocket south of Prizren. There's a Gora, there are Gorans. At least they were. Not anymore.
After consultation with Vlado, I figured it's the best to leave immediately today, around 16h (already dark around 16:30) to Dečani, so I could early in the morning go to see the Patriarchate in Peć and Prizren, and return in the evening to Priština. Ambitious, I thought, but I'll try. I must see Dečani, whatever happens.
Gazimestan is guarded by the Kosovo police. Mixed. They're nice to people, very kind. Most often paired Albanian-Serb. The area around the monument was fenced. I was glad that the monument is intact and would remain so. They keep it safe.
We climbed up to the tower. At every landing there is a stone plaque with written verses of the songs about the Battle of Kosovo and of course, a Kosovo curse. The sun was far in the west. The view was fantastic. At the top of the tower is a relief on the metal plate. The relief of the battle. The position of Serbian and Turkish army, the withdrawal routes, locations of Murat and Lazar. It felt amazing to be there, mind blowing. From there I could clearly identify the elevation at which stood Serbian army and exaltation in which we stood, on which was a Turkish army. I could clearly identify the displayed river.
Unbelievable. That all happened right here, right in front of us. The Battle of Kosovo, the center of Serbian identity. It's here. 626 years ago. Shadows were high, the sun was far to the west. Vladimir and I stood and remained silent. He and his family from Kosovo, me and my roots from Bosnia. The same culture, the same people, nation, the same pain and the Hope. What all happened in these 626 years. And here we are, we are still here, standing proudly on a Gazimestan tower. On 2641 year some another Vladimir and Srdjan will stand in this same place and think and feel the same. I know it.
We will survive.
We need to be wise. Albanians are scared too. Some of them are convinced that the Serbs are the threat. All what they did during the Pogroms on 2004 is the result of ignorance, lack of education and knowledge, and fear. Nothing else.
After Gazimestan we visited Tomb of Sultan Murat, where his son left his remains after the battle. Tomb is located in the place called Obilić. Albanians renamed the place after the war to Kastriot, but then they remembered Obilić was an Albanian, so they retained the name. Son Bayezid left parts of the body there, and transferred bones to Bursa, near Istanbul. The young man who kept the tomb spoke Serbian. He told us about the history, some his version, of course.
We went with our taxi driver to the bus station, drank coffee, waited for the bus to Dečani. I did not bring anything. Neither bag, nor toothbrush, food .. I'm going to Dečani. Vladimir told me that it's quite OK, they would accept me, and that I should contact the Abbot who, though a monk, a man of the twenty-first century, uses technology and is known for his appeals on social networks and media to preserve the monasteries and people in Kosovo. I hugged my friend and entered the bus to Dečani. I'm going to Dečani. I should be there in an hour and a half. The excitement was huge. There was no fear. Night had fallen. There was no fear. So far…