08/17/2006versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend



In one village, almost all Serbs whose homes were repaired after the March 2004 riots have departed
By Bukurie Bajraliu*
 
Muffled with a pink blanket, Ljubica Vukadinovic rests in an old chair in her backyard. The 65-year-old Serbian woman lives alone in the village of Svinjare/Frashėr , 30 kilometres north of the capital Pristina. Until 1999, Svinjare/Frashėr was inhabited by members of both Kosovo's principal ethnic communities, Serbs and Albanians. But after the NATO bombing raids of 1999, the 90 or so Serbian families decreased to around 40. Now there are only four.

Conditions in the village are grim. Only a few yards from Vukadinovic's chair, electricity cables that have fallen from the pole lie on the ground. The breakage has left the old-age pensioner without electricity for three days.
It is a relatively small crisis compared to the problems she has faced over the past few years.
Vukadinovic's house was among around 900 Serbian homes and religious sites that were destroyed in several days of frenzied Albanian rioting in March 2004. Nineteen people on both sides died.
Violence erupted after the drowning of three Albanian children in the tense and divided town of Mitrovica. The tragedy sparked wild rumours of Serb complicity in the deaths, sending crowds of enraged Albanians surging into Kosovo's Serbian villages.
Faced with international condemnation of what looked like a pogrom, the Kosovo government allocated an emergency budget of 12 million euro to rebuild Serb property in villages such as Svinjare/Frashėr, where about 120 homes were burned.
Behxhet Brajshori, who was placed in charge of the reconstruction project, offered all the affected families a 2,000 euro cash bonus on top of the reconstruction.
But government aid has not tempted the Serbs back to Svinjare/Frashėr. Today, only four of the 40 families who lived there before the March riots remain.

Vukadinovic is one of them. Her house is one of the few Serb-owned homes that does not have a "FOR SALE" sign outside.
Instead, a sign on her home bears the logo of the Kosovo Provisional Institutions for Self-Government, PISG, indicating they sponsors the repairs to the house.
Most other Serbs in the village used the reconstruction aid to repair their houses and then sell them. They mostly left for the northern, Serbian, part of Mitrovica.
Vukadonovic's newest neighbour is Zeqir Rushiti, an Albanian in his fifties. He recently moved into a house that used to belong to Serbs.
He and five brothers sold their assets in northern Mitrovica and bought six houses from Serbs in Svinjare/Frashėr.
Government officials are well aware that a process of large scale "swapping" of homes is going on between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, and that it is changing the ethnic map of Kosovo for ever.
"Our ministry doesn't have any exact information," Nazmi Fejza, deputy minister for refugee returns, told Balkan Insight. "But it is true that Serbs are selling the houses that were rebuilt with government aid and Albanians are buying them on a massive scale."
Members of both ethnic groups say their main motive is security fears.
"We were forced to sell homes in the north because we weren't safe," said Rushiti. "For over seven years we couldn't move about freely and nobody cared."
Adem Mripa, who lives in Mitrovica's so-called Bosniak quarter, which lies uncomfortably between the town's opposing Serb and Albanian communities, says he well understands why home owners want to swap properties.
"People are tired of this situation and most have had to rent homes for years now, as their property lay on the 'other' side of the river," he said. "Most Serbs do not dare go to the southern part of Kosovo, while most Albanians do not dare to go to northern Mitrovica."
Vukadinovic is something of an exception. After she returned to her house following the March riots, she experienced no problems with her new Albanian neighbours.
"Conditions here are not good, for we don't have a doctor, public transportation, or a school," she said. "But my life is not in danger. There have been no [ethnic] incidents here since March 2004."
Vojislav Jovic is one of the other four Serbs still living in Svinjare/Frashėr, along with his wife.
He dismisses claims that the Serbs are selling up solely on account of fears for their security.
"Serbs are not running away because of pressure to find safety," said Jovic. "They are selling their properties because they see a good opportunity for a big profit."

While some hardline Albanians and Serbs may welcome the idea of total separation of the communities, deputy minister Fejza says the process is harming Kosovo.
"Taxpayers' money has been spent on this project," he recalled. "We are just draining donors' money, which could have been invested in capital projects for the sustainable return of Serbs."
Fejza blames the UN development programme, UNDP, which manages reconstruction funds, for part of the waste.
"When they signed contracts for the renovation of the destroyed homes, they did not want to think about whether these renovated houses would just be sold, or not," he said. "The focus was all on rebuilding an exact number of burned houses, not on looking at other elements that might attract Serbs back after the riots."
UNDP officials reject the criticisms. One pointed out that before the reconstruction process started, all the stakeholders concerned, including UNDP, the UN authority in Kosovo, UNMIK, the government and the citizens involved, signed agreements forbidding people to sell rebuilt houses for a certain period of time.
On the ground, both Serbs and Albanians have ignored the provisions.
Rrahman Hasani, head of the village in Svinjare/Frashėr, says much of his time is now spent on meeting the Albanian newcomers who are swiftly buying up almost all the 120 or so repaired homes.
"The Kosovo government invested over millions of euro in rebuilding these houses, which are being sold uncontrollably," said Hasani.
Local politicians say it is hard to stand in the way of such basic rights as the freedom to buy and sell real estate and to live where you want.
"Trade in property is something we can't stop," said Ulpiana Lama, spokesperson for Agim Ceku, Kosovo's prime minister. "It's the citizens' will."
But Arben Gashi, a local government expert, is worried. "These rights are allowing for the creation of ethnic enclaves and creating ethnic borders within Kosovo," he said.
In the meantime, Vukadinovic, wakes up almost daily to find new Albanian neighbours.
People bother her every day with offers to buy her house. "I receive many offers and good prices, but this place is important to me so I won't sell it," she said.
"I have no reason to sell my house. As long as I live, I can live here just fine."