Alarm clock goes off – 6:30 AM, time to get up. Another day at work. I gaze through the window – there’s snow outside. I’m thinking wtf. It was almost 30°C yesterday; it’s the end of April. I grab a hat and storm out of the flat. A big, beautiful hat. Sanela made it for me. Sanela from Kosovo. I haven’t seen that hat in months.
I take advantage of countless pauses I make while waiting at the traffic lights to text her. A great reason to wish her a good morning. She replies after a while. Says she’s studying intensively for her exams. Studying as hard as she can so that she can run away from there as soon as possible. She’s happy to tell me that she finally became a person – she got her ID card. Right, that woman didn’t even exist back when we met. She didn’t own a passport or an ID. And now she’s happy for finally becoming a person. I am happy for her. I ask her who’s ID did she get. Serbian or Kosovo!? Kosovo, she replies. Still not much of a person anyways, but hey.
Kosovo – a flower
This reminds me of something I had completely forgotten.
A few months back, after I had finally obtained the Republic of Serbia’s passport and by that the possibility to visit Kosovo legally and undisturbed, I went on a hitchhiking trip all the way to that holly land. I wrote a story about that trip, my very first story. I wrote and spoke a lot about it. That trip has changed me in a way. Nothing unusual. Anyone travelling in that same or similar way and living those same or similar things would change. Among many impressions and events I had transmitted by writing and telling stories, one detail snuck out and got away somehow. A very crucial detail, perhaps the most important one. So crucial that karma intervened to make me forget to tell about it.
I talked about peony with Vladimir. We were sitting in a Serbian restaurant in Gračanica, a Serbian ghetto in Kosovo, close to the monastery Gračanica, waiting for breakfast. I was curious to find out what he knows about that flower and what his opinion on it was. He took me outside and indicated a large and vast field to me. It was November and to me, as a foreigner, it was impossible to see anything but grimness. What Vladimir saw was a field full of peonies and he pointed his hand in its direction. I pictured springtime and that same grim field covered in peonies, bright red, like blood itself. I pictured it just as Vladimir was describing it. His description and my thoughts became so powerful and real that the whole field got covered in a festive red mantle just for me.
Peony has no meaning whatsoever to the Albanians, for them it’s just another flower. For Serbs, however, that flower represents the battle, the losses, the victories, the bloodshed, the heroism, both happiness and sorrow. Whoever identifies himself as a Serb knows exactly what I’m talking about. Serbs have written poems, stories, myths and legends about the peony… A flower that grows abundantly only in Kosovo. Serbs believe that it was due to all the Serbian suffering and sacrifice that its seeds have been planted so deep in the core of that holy land. Planted and then soaked in blood. That’s the kind of a seed that gave birth to the peony. There is no force in the world that could eradicate it. Nor the Truth I had written about. That is one of the couple of facts that gave me peace and hope, for I have returned with hope. I received hope thanks to Vladimir and that small population back there, thanks to that flower and to a certain stone. Modest, yet significant hope.
History is being systematically falsified and distorted. Serbian tombstones in Kosovo are being desecrated and destroyed. Not so much because of hatred, but due to practical reasons, for a tombstone is an important piece of evidence, a witness of a sort. Serbian culture, history, tradition and architecture, an entire identity, are being attributed to someone else. A lie told often enough becomes the truth. It is a disturbing fact to me as it is to any civilized man, regardless of his affiliations. Actually, it used to be a disturbing fact, until I went to Kosovo, met Vladimir and saw that grim field filled with red peonies and a stone.
Both the stone and the flower happened on the same day. After breakfast, Vladimir took me to the gardens of the Gračanica monastery and left me there while he went on to take care of something. I stayed outside of the monastery talking to nun Evrosinija. At some point, this lady allowed me to enter the church and showed her infinite trust by leaving me all alone inside that incredibly valuable sanctity. She closed the door behind her pronouncing these words that still echo in my mind – God and yourself, my child, God and yourself!
I tiptoed among frescoes, filled with awe, towards the king. The king of my people. A powerful monarch, father, son, man. I was breathing it in and admiring Gračanica with all of my senses. I was listening to its Silence. The interior was illuminated by the light of the burning candles and sparse rays of November sun that found their way in through the small openings on the walls and dome. Just enough light to appreciate all the details. I wandered around the old church among the relics of nine saints, admiring the altar and the frescoes. I observed the fresco of queen Simonida and king Milutin, their eyes had been escavated.
At some point I found myself in one of the chambers where I saw a massive stone. A stone block. A stone in very wall of Gračanica, built within it about 700 years ago. To a layman like me, the peculiar writing engraved in it seemed like a mixture of Cyrillic and Glagolitic. Some sort of muniment.
I don't recall the details or the words, but the essence of it remains carved deep into my memory. As deep as the roots of peonies are planted into the soil of Kosovo, as deep as that very stone is built within the wall of Gračanica. Just as that stone is merged with the wall of Gračanica, so is that essence merged with me; it became integrated in my personal mosaic as its inseparable part. Among the words engraved in the stone, some were easily comprehensible: Serbian king, Serbian endowment, Milutin, Serbs, Nemanjici, Serbia…
Check – mate! So much about the efficacy of falsifying history.
From that moment on I became serene on the matter. That is the reason this trip was so important. They can rewrite and alter history for years, centuries. Destroy tombstones and burn the churches. They can persuade the entire western civilization of some different version of history. Eastern as well. They can even persuade Serbs themselves in their own distorted version of facts. They can persuade and manipulate the entire world. People have been manipulated for ages. People are idiots.
But that stone cannot be falsified. It’s built within Gračanica. Peonies cannot be ripped out – their roots are too deep in the ground. They’ve been connecting to that soil for centuries, growing their roots deeper and deeper into the ground. The Truth from Ugljare is too profound to be distorted.
People are easily manipulated. People only believe what everyone around them believes and what is being proposed by the surroundings. A blind man guiding a blind man. This is why it doesn’t matter what people think. People come and go. What matters is the essence, the Truth, a flower and a stone.
The most solid stone in the world exists in Gračanica. A stone that resist all the attempts. The guardian of the Truth, firmer and stronger than any written or spoken word can be. Stronger that man himself.
In Gračanica. Within the wall.