TEARS OF JOY ON THE ASHES OF BICHA VILLAGE

First 14 Serb returnees arrive in the village of Bicha near Klina
Spanish KFOR providing security for the returnees

Liturgy in Bicha - At parent's grave

Bicha, 30 July 2002

After three long and difficult years as refugees, the local residents of the Metohija village of Bicha, located approximately 15 kilometers from Klina, returned to their razed homes. In addition to the village of Osojane, located approximately 10 kilometers away, this is the second Serb village in the Klina region where Serbs have returned to restore their homes destroyed in the whirlwind of war and post-war events in Kosovo and Metohija.

Before the war the village of Bicha was home to about 100 Serb households and some 10 Roma families. The district of the village of Bicha encompassed tens of hectares of fertile land, most of which has now been usurped by the Albanians. In addition to land under cultivation, the village owned quite a lot of forest land on the surrounding rolling hills.

Immediately after the end of the war and the massive exodus of the Serb population before the terror of the KLA, only three Serbs remained in the village: two old women in their sixties, Milena Doncic and Cveta Djordjevic, and Cveta’s son Miodrag, who was born in 1964. The Roma families stayed, too. After the Serb properties were looted, local Albanians, Muslims and Roman Catholics, forced the Roma to set fire to and destroy the Serb houses, only to expel the Roma themselves and tear down their houses, too, in the end. Most of the Roma of Bicha found sanctuary in Montenegro. Nothing is known of the fate of Milena, Cveta and Miodrag. Rumor has it that they were taken away by the Albanians and killed. During those days of violence, Roma Imer Bajraj also disappeared.

In the meanwhile, the Albanians systematically demolished the majority of the Serb houses, even pulling the electrical outlets from the walls. Most of the walls were torn down and used as construction material so that today all that can be seen are skeletons of former houses. The remaining walls are scribbled with crude drawings and derisive graffiti. As the post-war years passed, the Albanians gradually cut down almost all the forests belonging to the village, especially at the location of the old Orthodox Christian cemetery where several ancient trees grew, some dating back to Turkish times. Nevertheless, the orchards remained untouched until a few days ago. When the Albanians learned that the Serbs were returning, they cut down all the fruit trees at night and the residents of Bicha found nothing except weeds and wild vegetation.

Skeletons of houses - Returnees’ first tents

The returnees arrived in Bicha on 29 July, a total of 14 souls. A total of 16 headed towards their homes but two were detained in Zubin Potok and prevented from returning to their native village for unknown reasons. The residents of Bicha were welcomed by the sisters of the Pec Patriarchate and representatives of KFOR. Italian General La Vale visited Bicha for the second day in a row to encourage the returnees and assured them that KFOR would do everything to make them feel safe. It is true that security was carefully organized. The village is guarded by a unit of Spanish soldiers and the locals are satisfied with their new protectors, who are helping them to get accustomed and organize their lives. The Italian government has approved funds for the renewal of a limited number of homes in the village, and the German organization THW (Technische Hilfswerk) will provide technical support so the locals can begin to restore their torn down homes with the help of other Kosovo-Metohija Serbs. For now UNHCR has provided five large tents with beds. It is true that they ran out of food on the very first day because UNHCR distributed only two sacks of break and 15 containers of water but the residents of Bicha, who have waited for this moment for three years, were not swayed. Today the sisters of the Pec Patriarchate arrived with an Italian escort and lunch, while the brotherhood of Decani served Holy Liturgy. The liturgy was held on the old church site where a church had existed in Turkish times which was subsequently destroyed by the Turks. The only part of the ancient church remaining is the foundation of the holy shrine where people came for centuries to light candles and pray to God. After the liturgy Fr. Stefan cut the feast day bread in honor of the Holy Great Martyr Marina, whom the local residents unanimously adopted as their new village patron saint.

Thus began the restoration of another completely destroyed Serb village in Kosovo and Metohija, with prayer and celebration of the feast day and an occasional tear of joy. Even though there is almost nothing in the devastated village to offer encouragement and hope, the resident of Bicha are happy that they are finally home. Some of them have already begun to clear the ash from their property, while others first visited the desecrated graves of their family members and removed the branches thrown on them by the Albanians. The first Serb returnees to Bicha, like those who returned to Osojane a year ago, hope that this is only the beginning of a wider campaign of return by all expelled Serbs to their centuries-old homes.


House of Remishtar family