Vecernje Novosti, Belgrade, Yugoslavia

September 13, 2002

Prisoners of their village

By Dragana Zecevic

Drajcici, a village on the slopes of Mt. Sara. In the Prizren valley, on the other side of the mountain peaks lies Macedonia. The village consists of some 50 Serb and Muslim households. High gates hide the houses, built primarily of stone. And also the suffering and misfortune of the people inside. Dead silence embraces the village, broken only by the occasional fearful braying of mules grazing the grass. As if they too were afraid of the dense forests and sharp mountain peaks. The residents of the village are also afraid - of the Albanians. Imprisoned in their houses they say that for them time stopped long ago.

"We live prisoners' lives. We spend days, as long as years, mainly in our houses. When we leave the house, we go at our own risk," says Tomislav Tomic (72), retired teacher and village representative, as he unlocks the wooden gate for us upon our arrival. Of approximately 30 households in the village, 17 remain, mostly consisting of elderly people. The other 20-odd households are Muslim.

Once upon a time they lived nicely together. Harmoniously, like a big family. Now they avoid contact. Especially with the "Albanicized" ones. They, too, are afraid of the Albanians and under pressure accept everything they order them to do.

"The worst thing is that we have been left to fend for ourselves because in the village there is no permanent security. Occasionally we are visited by military and UNMIK police patrols. We are afraid, but we have nowhere else to go. Everyone who had somewhere to go has already left," says Tomislav.

He adds that in addition to this fear, they are oppressed by poverty. Families with two members older than 65 years receive 47 euros in aid. Those that do not meet the criteria get nothing.

"We are short of everything, most of all, unfortunately, of coffins. Recently, when Milan Markovic (74) died we almost buried him in an inappropropriate manner. With the help of a Muslim from Gornje Ljubinje we managed to make an improvised coffin. As a result I wrote a letter to the Association of Natives of Prizren in Belgrade, which then sent us two coffins. We have an extra one for now," sighs Tomislav, adding bitterly that this is all they have gotten from the capital.

Painful silence breaks off the story. The same kind of silence that has hung over this village for several years already.

Svetislava Markovic (67) and Zvezda Aleksic (72) also sit in silence in front of their houses. They live alone now. Their children are scattered throughout Serbia and their mother's hearts long for them. They call them in their thoughts and hope for conditions permitting for the return of the expelled. They say their children will return then, too.

Radivoj Niksic (66) could not bear to live far from his centuries-old home. He returned recently from Kraljevo with his wife Nadezda (42). He used to work as a tailor in Suva Reka. Serbs are forbidden to go there now. He wants to live in the house where he was born but he is not sure how. Their house, at least, is undamaged. Some Muslim neighbors watched it for them. As a token of gratitude he allowed them to open a store in it, although under somewhat improvised conditions.

There is not a single Serb child in the village, however. There were about 20 students until the arrival of KFOR. Now an Albanian flag flutters over the former Serb school.

Radovan Ristic (22) is the youngest Serb resident of the village. He returned last year from Belgrade with his mother Nada (50). They could not survive there without any source of income. Even here they are barely able tomake ends meet.

Zlatibor Cvetkovic (45) also returned from Mladenovac. The living conditions here are miserable, he says, but for a refugee they are even worse.

Opressed by fear, poverty and loneliness, the residents of Drajcici wait for help and for some news of the return of the expelled Serbs, not only from their own village but also from surrounding ones. Several hundred of them once lived in neighboring Srecka. Now that village is ruled by wind and silence.

GOOD NEIGHBORS

Since Prizren has been off limits to us for some time, we are now escorted either to Strpce or to Gornje Ljubinje, a neighboring Muslim village. Even though we take a risk by going, mainly to use the phone, because we have had no phone service was interrupted by the bombing, our cooperation with the Muslims of Ljubinje is excellent. If it was not for them, I am certain we would not have survived," says Borko Ugrinovic (27).

THERE ARE SOLUTIONS

The locals of Drajcici see the only solution for their survival in the formation of a Serb enclave which they would connect with Brezovica, some 30 kilometers distant. They are angry at state representatives for forgetting them.

Translated by S. Lazovic (19 September 2002)