Kosovo House Sales Cement Ethnic Divide

Property prices are shooting up on Kosovo's border with Serbia and speculators moving in as ethnic Albanians from Serbia proper move south to purchase the homes of departing Serbs.

Kosovo House Sales Cement Ethnic Divide

Property prices are shooting up on Kosovo's border with Serbia and speculators moving in as ethnic Albanians from Serbia proper move south to purchase the homes of departing Serbs.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

The village of Kokaj is on one side of Kosovo's border with Serbia, the village of Ranatoc on the other in the district of Presevo. The population of both is ethnic Albanian, but those in Serbia are looking to move to Kosovo where they feel safer.


Kokaj has changed in the past decade as its population dwindled from 600 to fewer than 200 at the beginning of 1999. Most moved to Switzerland to find work after Kosovo was stripped of its autonomy. Today only some 30 villagers still live in Kokaj. The rest moved to the nearby town of Gjilan during the war for safety after six were killed by Serb paramilitaries in April.


"Fear is the main reason why others have moved away," says Vaxhit, one of the last villagers. Pointing to the graveyard a few meters away in Serbia he explains ironically that "Our dead have become foreigners."


The road to Serbia is busy with tractors and lorries. "It's not a secret. We sell cigarettes in Serbia", explains a lorry driver, adding that he also brings back goods from Serbia to sell in Kosovo, evading tax on both sides. The village of Bilnica is nine kilometers away. It is ethnically mixed with three houses belonging to Serbs who, according to a local farmer, "have not been convinced that they should move to Serbia".


These Serbs were not compromised during the war and even journeyed with their Albanian neighbours to Gjilan to protest to the local police when Serb paramilitaries moved in - to no avail. Now, though innocent, they may be forced out by Albanians from Serbia wanting property in Kosovo.


Agron, an Albanian from Presevo has come to Gjilan to buy a house on instructions from his two brothers in Switzerland and know is following their instructions to buy a house in Kosovo. He visits an orthodox church where Serbs and Albanians gather to buy and sell property.


The improvised market is quite efficient. Owners who have moved to Serbia can be contacted by a Serb 'courier' who speaks a good Albanian. He takes off his car number plates and drives to towns in Serbia to trace the owners charging 30 German marks for the round trip to Vranje and 50 German marks to Nis.


Local Albanians have mixed views about buying Serb properties, but will not miss their Serb neighbours. Some think that Serbs should simply go, leaving their homes as compensation. Others welcome the sales as an efficient way of getting rid of the Serbs.


Serb sellers try to explain to Albanian buyers in the market that not all of them are responsible for what took place in Kosovo, but the Albanians are not interested.


Albanians do, however, complain about rising house prices and the appearance of speculators, buying properties cheaply from Serbs and selling them on at inflated prices to Albanians. In one instance, a house was bought for 600,000 German marks and sold for a milliion.


Agron found a flat he wanted to buy and contacted the Serb owner via 'courier' in Vranje. She wanted 60,000 German marks, but dropped the price to 40,000 a few days later.


Daut Dauti is an IWPR correspondent in Pristina.


Serbia, Kosovo
Support our journalists