Toronto Sun
Now Kosovo's Serbs live in fear

By MATTHEW FISHER

January 30, 2000


PRISTINA, Kosovo -- It was midnight, snowing like crazy and about -15C, when I emerged from a house in a narrow side street perhaps 10 minutes by foot from the centre of town.

As they had been when I had arrived at the house a couple of hours earlier, three soldiers from the Royal Green Jackets stood silent watch in a tiny log guardhouse in the side street. Stopping to say hello, I asked the young lads from England what they were doing in such a dark, obscure, frozen corner of Kosovo's capital. Pointing toward a house across from the one I had been visiting, one of the Green Jackets said they and others in their regiment were posted here 24 hours a day to prevent Albanians from killing an elderly Serbian woman who lived there.

Pointing to the house I had just come out of, I told the soldiers, to their evident surprise, that there was an elderly Serbian woman cowering in fear there, too, and that her husband had been shot dead by three Albanian teenagers last July.

NATO guesses there are about 2,000 Serbs trapped in Pristina. Most are elderly and were born in Kosovo. With nowhere else to go, they live in seclusion in ones and twos all over the city.

Serbia has made it clear Kosovar Serbs are unwelcome there. Thanks to communism, four wars and a grotesquely corrupt and inefficient economy, Serbia's resources are stretched far too thin as it is. Anyway, to openly welcome Serbs from Kosovo would undermine Serbia's increasingly shaky claim on the renegade province and would be a reminder of its humiliating surrender to NATO last June.

Although it doesn't want them, as many as 200,000 Kosovar Serbs have moved to Serbia since British, Canadian and German troops entered Kosovo from Macedonia and Albania on the morning of June 12. There were still thousands of Serbian policemen and soldiers in Pristina on that day. They weren't up to much except looking nasty and doing some last-minute looting and burning of Albanian shops, mosques and apartments.

Once there were many

It was still easy to meet Serbs living in Pristina in the first few days after NATO forces arrived. A group of Serbian men running a cafe (which, I later learned, had been stolen from Albanians when they were forced into exile in Macedonia) told me they would never leave the cradle of Serbian civilization and it would be Serbian forever. A middle-aged woman selling cheese sandwiches with her daughter from a kiosk was equally defiant. Her family was staying put.

The next morning the cafe was shuttered and the kiosk had vanished.

A young Serbian man told me later that day he intended to stay in Kosovo, as it was his home and he had done nothing wrong. His Albanian neighbours readily confirmed he was a good guy who had helped everyone as much as he dared during Milosevic's reign of terror. They promised to stick with him now.

When I returned to the courtyard 24 hours later the Serb was frantically throwing his furniture into an old van with the help of his neighbours. Whether he had been threatened or just felt threatened, I don't know. He said he was in too much of a hurry to talk.

To be Serbian in Pristina today is to face a death sentence. Only a few weeks ago three Serbs were hauled out of their car in the capital and killed on the spot.

Afraid to speak

The Serbian woman I visited was being helped by Albanian friends and ventured outside a little from time to time when the weather was a little more agreeable. But she never spoke in the streets because her Albanian was accented and to speak Serbian would put her life in even greater danger. No longer able to get Serbian television, she made do with Serbian radio when the electricity worked. She had no idea whether any of her Serbian friends were still in Pristina. She was too afraid to try and find out.

The problem for those few Serbs still living in Pristina is that KFOR, as the still largely NATO force in Kosovo is now called, cannot possibly continue to guard every Serbian home around the clock. Yet every foreign soldier, every UN official, every Albanian and every Serbian in town knows that the moment KFOR lets its guards down some Albanian will seize the chance to murder his Serbian neighbour.

What goes around has always come around in the Balkans. A lot of what went around last winter and spring in Pristina is coming around this winter. The old Serbian woman I spoke with is contemplating immigrating to Canada, where her daughter is married to an Albanian.




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