Policies of inat and sevap
by Miroslav Filipovic, Kosovska Mitrovica
When a citizen who lives in the northern part of Kosovo Mitrovica wants to call the police and dials 92, he will get the police station in Kraljevo, a town 150 kilometres to the north from which, you may be quite certain, no policeman will ever again come to the aid of anyone living in Kosovo. The fact is that the Kosovo Mitrovica police station - which behaves if nothing has happened - was relocated to Kraljevo after the Kumanovo Agreement [ending the NATO intervention]. This is just as meaningful and rational as retention of the Prishtina Corps (I do not understand why they have bothered to abolish the Zagreb and Ljubljana Corps) within the Yugoslav Army; but it does represent a paradigm of the Serbian approach to solving problems. For even if KFOR were to allow the policemen temporarily located in Kraljevo to enter Kosovo, the great distance and the state of the Ibar valley highway would undoubtedly preclude any such undertaking.
All this irresistibly recalls the Serbian state’s interventions in other ‘Serb lands’, especially those across the Drina. Nationalist Belgrade everywhere first encouraged local Serbs to revolt, then distributed arms to them and sent them army and police officers and volunteers. The rebellion, of course, did last for a while, but the epilogue is known in all its disaster: wherever the Belgrade nationalists intervened, there are no longer any Serbs. If this madness continues in the case of Kosovo Mitrovica, few of them will remain there either.
I have written on a number of occasions about the ‘sleepers’ who remained in Kosovo after the withdrawal of the Serbian security forces, to be re-activated at a prescribed time. I learned about them from my journalistic research and, during my time in the Niš military prison, I even met some of them. These people remained on active service in Kosovo, receiving their wages and orders at one of the border garrison command posts or at police stations in Serbia. They, of course, acted as ‘sleepers’ only during the Milošević period. They occasionally created incidents in Kosovo, but their greatest achievement was the escalation of the conflict at the start of February 2000, and the hot reception they gave to Koštunica in Kosovo Mitrovica in advance of the September elections of that year. They have now awakened, call themselves the bridge watchers and cause considerable problems to everyone - in the long run mainly to themselves and the few Serbs remaining in Kosovo. The UN mission, which has sharply condemned their conduct, now also calls them the ‘bridge gangs’. One of its secret reports, which are not all that secret, states: ‘Led by people directly linked to Belgrade, they seem to have complete control in this part of Kosovo, extorting money from their co-nationals in order to finance their activities, organize and set up road blocks, beat people up, loot and if necessary even resort to murder. The group consists of several hundred men whose task is not to allow any Albanian to cross into the northern part of the city. Their demonstrations, which are organized mainly in response to the arrest of one of their members, normally begin with Chetnik songs such as ‘On guard, on guard, Chetniks!’, and end with stoning the international police posts or a direct confrontation with the police itself. A number of their leaders, some of whom are even medical doctors by profession, do not recognize the Kosovo institutions, do not cooperate with UNMIK, and in recent days have openly asked for a territorial partition of the town, which remains divided three years after the end of the war and it seems has lost any last contact with the rest of Kosovo.’
The basic question that needs to be posed, of course, is this:’Who benefits from the bridge watchers, and is what they are doing good for the few remaining Serbs in Kosovo and the rest of the Serb people? The aid and support they get from the Serb nationalists in Belgrade irresistibly recalls the aid and support that Belgrade used to extend to the Serbs on the other side of the Drina. Up until Operation Storm. Sources from Brussels show that NATO’s patience is running thin, and that the day will soon come when the ‘bridge watchers’ will be militarily crushed and arrested. Those who manage to get away will, of course, take the road north, first to Kraljevo and then to Belgrade. One does not have to be an expert to realize what the final outcome of this ‘brilliant plan’ born of inat and sevap will be.1
The Serbian South
Another area where the irrational and damaging policy of the Belgrade nationalists is on show is southern Serbia, where for the first time in history the majority Albanian population has won political power in elections. The Serbs’ optimistic forecast that despite the Albanian electoral predominance they would keep municipal power after the re-run elections proved to be what Serb political forecasts commonly are: pretty poor. Not only did the Serb bloc lose the post of mayor in the municipality of Bujanovac, but they also lost control of the municipal assembly. What happened in the elections looks more like the end, or the beginning of the end, of the story of a wrong policy. We are talking, of course, about the viewpoint of Serb nationalists in southern Serbia and in Belgrade. For other, normal people nothing extraordinary has happened: just elections. In Preševo the 95% Albanians won, and in Medveđa the equal percentage of Serbs. The crunch came in Bujanovac. Under Milošević its 35% Serbs ‘held’ two thirds of the municipal seats, while peace was ‘held’ by several thousand policemen, of whom several dozen came to grief while ‘holding’ what passed as peace. The first skirmishes occurred over the census, when the Serbs for a long while stubbornly refused to accept the fact that the Albanians were in a majority. In some government offices the functionaries, as in Nušić’s A Suspect Character [Sumnjivo lice], tried to add a bit more weight on ‘our side of the scale’. The result of this to the Serbs unacceptable fact that the Albanians were in a majority was that the results of the census were never published. They came out only after the elections, but even then not officially. Thus, after the Albanians had won, high government officials admitted that the census had shown an Albanian majority. If by chance the Serbs had won, it is perfectly possible - indeed I would bet on it - that the census results would show a Serb majority!
Independent observers say that the Serbs did indeed have a chance to win the elections. Since out of 37,059 registered voters only 60.4% actually voted, it was merely necessary for the Serbs to mobilize - but they did not. They remained at home, they say, in defiance of Ćović, who allegedly prevented the candidature of their leader Stojanče Arsić. They left their houses only on the following day to protest against ‘betrayal’ and the sell-out of the Bujanovci, ‘Serbdom’, and so on. Posters and shouts - ‘The elections have been falsified!’, ‘Treachery, treachery!’, ‘We have been sold out!’, ‘Down with Ćović!’, ‘Ćović traitor!’, ‘Out with the Americans!’ - were just part of the atmosphere. The local leaders simply encouraged them.
‘The elections proved what we have always been saying, that they were to legalize the surrender of Bujanovac, as agreed between Nebojša Ćović and Sean Sullivan. This is obvious to all who followed the elections.’ This is what Slobodan Jovanović, head of the electoral committee of the Serb Survival Coalition (SRO and SPO), told his men after the election results were announced. The head of the electoral committee of the Coalition for Bujanovac, also president of the municipal committee of the Democratic Party and one of the candidates, agreed: ‘It is evident that the decision was that we had to lose these elections come what may, probably as part of a certain agreement. When I tried to explain to Mr Montelli that voting is regulated by our law, he literally told me that some people were above the law, namely Nebojša Ćović and Stefano Sannino.’
The story proceeded in the well-known direction. Instead of trying to work together with their Albanian neighbours, as encouraged by the new president of Bujanovac Nagip Arifi, they have instead resorted, as they did in Preševo a decade earlier, to emigrating. A letter has recently been directed from Bujanovac to Belgrade, stamped with an official seal, claiming that the Albanians have now entered a final phase that consists of buying Serb houses irrespective of price and without waiting for the contracts to be lawfully verified. The letter insists, indeed, that the Serbs have sold at least fifty houses to Albanians - in Vranje!
Today there are hardly any Serbs left in Preševo. They told me that there are only a few hundred of them in the town itself, and around one thousand in the municipality as a whole. There are many more in Bujanovac. All of them, in both Preševo and Bujanovac, appear demoralized and keep their gaze fixed northwards in the direction of Belgrade. Only those who could not leave remain. I know this since I have lived with them for the past year. Those from Bujanovac are also moving to the north. The state neither could, nor knew how to, offer a better or different guarantee of free and peaceful existence - other than in the form of a tank stationed at the end of the street where ‘Albania’ begins and where Professor Mira Marković not so long ago ceremonially opened a petrol station. More than a year has passed since the tank has gone north, and is now being followed by the Serbs. As in Preševo so also in Bujanovac, the Albanians - or, as the state would have it, ‘Serbian citizens of Albanian nationality’ - remain. They too are our people. I know that since I have lived with them for the past year.
As for the Serb nationalists, they are ever closer to realizing their aim of all Serbs living in one state.
1. These terms of Turkish origin which form part of the traditional Serbian self-image mean, respectively, 'defiance, capricious obstinacy' and 'noble gesture' (as in 'gesture politics')
This article has been translated from Republika (Belgrade), 1-30 September 2002.