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

Minority At Risk

Most of Pristina's remaining Serbs are elderly women. Yet they are still targets for "revenge" attacks.
By Laura Rozen

My neighbour in Pristina is an elderly Serb widow named Miljka. Increasingly I see less of her. She lives in terror, barricaded behind her door with her wooden shutters closed, even in the stifling heat.


Miljka is one of an estimated 2,000 Serbs who have remained in Pristina, out of a pre-war population of about 27,000. Like Miljka, most of those remaining are elderly women. Yet they are being targeted for murder.


The UN refugee agency reports nine murders and seven serious assaults against Serbs in Pristina in the past week alone. Two weeks ago in a Pristina suburb, an 80-year-old Serb woman was drowned in a bath tub.


Murders like these have prompted British troops in Pristina to launch what they call a "granny patrol".


British troops now patrol the street several times a day on foot. KFOR tanks and jeeps from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) rattle by. Helicopters circle loudly overhead a few times at night. But it appears that all of this is not enough to prevent someone from breaking into an apartment and killing an old lady.


Though our building is two minutes' walk from the Pristina headquarters of KFOR, the OSCE, the UN, and the UN police, I have never seen anyone check on Miljka. Meanwhile, the UN is now reporting that Albanians are increasingly forcing Serbs to hand over their property rights.


Displaced Albanians broke into our ethnically mixed apartment building in broad daylight a few weeks ago. When confronted, the head of household, an aggressive, sweating man obviously scouting out the building with a screw driver, said: "What am I supposed to do? Our house in Djakovica is destroyed. We have nothing."


He then marched a dozen family members, men, women, children, up the stairs, slipped the screw driver between the door and the wall, and moved in. "Call the police, call the police," Miljka whispered. But no one came. The UN deployed its first 30 international police to patrol Pristina only this week and says it will soon be setting up 24-hour stations in a few areas they have identified as hot spots.


But more than two months after the end of the war, and following the exodus of more than 90 per cent of Pristina's Serbs, its seems more than a bit late for the UN to be coming up with ideas for how to quell revenge attacks.


For the first weeks of peace, Miljka invited guests for coffee, proudly showed photos of her children, grandchildren and late husband, and even brought over the odd piece of cake. She also made a point of leaving her apartment to lock the building's front door.


Now, she appears to have given up, too afraid even to venture out to buy bread. When she appears, she talks only in a whisper, one hand held to the side of her mouth, to block the sound of her speaking Serbian. Her remaining dream is that one of her two adult children will come back from Serbia and take her home with them.


Laura Rozen is journalist specialising in the Balkans.