Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kosovo Serbs 'Imprisoned' in Their Enclaves

In the ethnically divided town of Orahovac, Albanians are unwilling to forgive the Serb minority for its conduct during the Kosovo conflict.
By Petar Jeknic

They say they fear for their lives, survive on humanitarian aid and are virtual prisoners in their own homes.


Serbs living in a small enclave in the centre of the predominantly Albanian town of Orahovac (Rahoveci) say their lives could not get much worse.


Despite the presence of KFOR troops in the enclave, some of its 1,500 inhabitants are targeted by Albanians bent on avenging crimes committed by Serbs in the town during the Kosovo conflict.


The Serbs, it seems, can count on little protection from the international community, which has been accused by the Belgrade-based human rights activist, Natasha Kandic, of turning a blind eye to the attacks.


Three Serbs were killed and nine were wounded last December. The Director of the town's high school, Blazo Radic, was the victim of a grenade attack a month later.


"I don't understand why they're doing this," said Radic, who was unhurt in the attack. "I used to help all of them when we worked together. If they want to expel me from here, I'm telling them I'm not going anywhere, even if I end up getting killed."


But Radic's determination to stay is not shared by other Serbs. "There are fewer and fewer students. They are leaving because conditions here are so difficult," said Miroslav Grkovic, director of the Vuk Karadzic primary school.


Much of the pre-war Serb population has fled to Serbia proper, while many of those who remain are waiting for the next convoy to leave the town. (Before the war, some 4,000 Serbs lived in the town.)


Their Albanian neighbours make it difficult for the enclave's inhabitants to trade, forcing them to rely on food handouts from international relief agencies.


"There are no goods in the shops because lorries cannot pass through Albanian territory," said fifteen-year-old Danijel Lamovic. "We live on humanitarian aid, which arrives once a month."


Yet there are still those in the enclave who think there might be a future for Serbs in the town, if the international community helps to improve the local economy.


"With the help of KFOR we hope to open two factories, employing about a hundred workers," said local Serb leader Slavisa Kosina. "We are also hoping for international financial grants for 239 households. It would mean that one member from each family would have a source of income. Together with humanitarian aid I think we could survive."


But even if they manage to eke out a living, few of the town's 20,000 Albanian population are likely to forgive the Serbs for their conduct during the war.


"When we lived with Serbs before, we lived well. But not anymore," said 65-year-old Selim Kornjiqi. "We used to respect them and had no idea they would become our enemies."


Natasha Kandic, director of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre, recently published the names of more than two dozen Orahovac Serbs who committed war crimes in the town.


"The Serbs make no secret of the fact that Serb forces committed crimes against Albanians. They do not hide their shame for the humiliation the Albanians were subjected to during NATO's bombing," her report said.


Serbs and Albanians in the town hardly communicate with each other. "As a member of the commission for co-operation with the Albanians I've attended three meetings - nothing has improved, on the contrary, I think things have deteriorated," said the primary school director Grkovic.


International officials governing Kosovo say it is now up to Albanian leaders to try and improve community relations in the town.


"If we manage to improve the status of Serbs and Roma, whose freedom of movement is very limited, then there is a future for them," said the head of the OSCE mission in Orahovac, Walter Feltz. "Only the Albanians can guarantee this by accepting and respecting the rights of minorities."


Petar Jeknic is an independent journalist from Belgrade. For further information on Orahovac, click to IWPR's Special Reports section for the recent investigation by the Humanitarian Law Centre.