Banja Luka, Republika Srpska
Issue 148, February 20, 2001
St. Sava's church
in Mitrovica. A Greek soldier guarding the Serbian church situated
in an Albanian quarter of the city
too, is Serbia (15):
in the southern part of Kosovska Mitrovica
yardful of Serbs
[orig. title: Svi Srbi u jednoj porti]
three of them, which have always connected shores and people, are
synonym for division here. The Ibar has literally become the physical
which separates this city into southern, Albanian and northern, Serbian
the northern, Serbian part of the city, in addition to approximately
30,000 Serbs, live more than five thousand Albanians stationed, for
part, in three parts of the town: the Micro Settlement, Bosnjacka
the Three Highrises.
twenty-odd Serbs who live in the southern part of the city are
imprisoned in the yard of the church of St. Sava, in Father
enclave, surrounded on all sides by Albanian houses, stores
checkpoints. It is estimated that at least 120,000 Albanians live
part of the city. The church is protected by five Greek KFOR soldiers.
rarely venture to the southern part of town. The trip is risky,
especially after recent events in Mitrovica in which two Albanians
their lives and many were seriously injured in clashes with KFOR troops.
they cant get across the bridge and into the northern part of
theyll destroy the church, says Father Svetislav Nojic,
the head priest of
the church of St. Sava in the southern part of Mitrovica and the church
St. George [Sv. Djordje] in Zvecan. The message we got from
corresponds with the information we received from KFOR.
Sveta [short form of Svetislav], as he is called in Mitrovica,
crosses from the southern part of Mitrovica into the northern part
a daily basis. He also holds services in the monastery of Sokolica,
from Zvecan, as well as in the Mitrovica prison where Serbs accused
crimes during the Kosovo tragedy are kept.
travels from the church to the northern part of Mitrovica by tank
armored transporter. Departure times of his bus are at
7 a.m., 10 a.m., 12
p.m., 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Delays are generally rare unless the caterpillar
treads snap. Then the trip is cancelled. It is also cancelled in the
of increasingly frequent demonstrations by the Albanians who have
successful in blocking the tanks and transporters on several occasions.
from the northern part to the southern part of the city isnt
exactly a Sunday drive. Father Svetislav Nojic offers guarantees for
safety. As much safety as he himself enjoys, anyway. You place your
God and make your choice.
Reporter team chose the bus at noon.
enormous steel leviathan arrives. Inside it is dark and cold even
the steel door slams shut.
first neither faces nor clothes are discernable, only contours. In
addition to an escort team consisting of three Greek soldiers in the
leviathan, a driver and another soldier with a machine gun controlling
surroundings through an opening in the roof, the other passengers
are Father Bora and little Sasa Kuzmanovic, a five year-old boy who
with his grandmother and sister right next to the churchyard in south
irregular roar of the motor and the sound of the treads tearing up
asphalt cannot drown out the sound of the rapid beating of my own
which seems to me to be louder than both noises.
road to the church, except in one spot where there is a small rise,
relatively level. Not that you can really tell from inside the tank.
a word Father Bora hands a banana to little Sasa, who makes this trip
least several times each day. The boy gives him a look of gratitude.
is no talking because the soldier in touch with his base by radio
what they are saying over the noise of the leviathan.
a ten minute or so ride, the motor stops roaring. One of the soldiers
accidentally bangs his rifle against steel and the sound reverberates
painfully. The Greek soldier with the headphones says something into
microphone. A few seconds of silence where nothing moves; then the
door opens with the help of a hydraulic pump.
are in the yard of the church of St. Sava. The yard is huge. A structure
resembling a fence partially obstructs the view of the street in front
the church, the row of stores with their crowded displays, the people
about their business without looking this way.
two-story house stands to the left of the church which dominates the
On the right side is the old church residence hall and a tent occupied
around the clock by the Greek soldiers who protect the church. Before
Greeks came, the church was protected by French and Italian troops.
is also an old cemetery here where Mitrovica Serbs were buried before
1918. It is neglected and, located right next to the street fence,
a little like a garden.
Serbs live in the churchyard. These are the priests Svetislav Nojic,
Borislav Kevkic and Velimir Stojanovic and their families. Little
his two relatives and the widow Ivanka Belovic Lola live right next
in Trepca near Berane [Montenegro]. When I married, I came here. I
no children. My husband died 14 years ago and now I am all alone,
almost weeping. If I did not have these here, I dont know
what I would
do, she motions with her hand toward the Nojices.
are guests of the family of Father Sveta Nojic. He lives in his home
the churchyard with his wife, Slobodanka, and their two daughters,
and Slavica. Snezana works in the Serbian Fund for Social Health Insurance.
Slavica works in a school for special children. Both work in northern
Mitrovica, of course. They take the taxi tank to work.
At least three
times a week.
least we have free transportation, says Snezana with a laugh.
true that we are denied the right to live but we have transportation!
congenial family atmosphere in the Nojic home. Raisins, apples and
crackers are served on the table... We drink wormwood liqueur and
black coffee. They laugh while they talk but, nevertheless, their
sad. Laughter helps them stay sane.
get excited but the Shiptars are in the yard. Only two weeks
Slavica told her sister this by telephone without panic.
today, as she narrates what happened, Slavica maintains a neutral
expression the whole time.
was during the last days of January during what were perhaps the most
intense Albanian demonstrations in the southern part of the city.
unsuccessful attempts to force their way into the northern part of
the Albanians remembered the church again. Father Sveta and Snezana
the northern part of the city at the time; Slavica and Slobodanka
the southern part, in the yard of the church of St. Sava.
around three oclock, Slavica and Slobodanka noticed through
window of their living room that the Albanians were attacking the
placed at the entrance to the yard by the Greek soldiers. The five
were resisting the attacks of several hundred Albanians. At one point
several Albanians came within several meters of the windows of the
reinforcements arrived and began shooting rubber bullets. Who knows
how things would have ended if the Greeks had not begun firing live
ammunition into the air.
was no time for panic. More than anything I was afraid for Dad and
Snezana because we heard they were trapped in a transporter in the
part of the city. They announced that we would be evacuated but KFORs
were blocked, too. I told Mom: Quit your panicking or Im going
that yard no matter what, says Slavica.
evacuation took place four hours later with assurances that the church,
too, would be protected.
sits next to Father Sveta and wrings her hands.
starts to say something, then changes her mind. Then changes it once
it was like staring Death in the face. We only prayed to God, for
ourselves and to save the church. I thought, we are beyond help. And
took this cross - she takes the relic from the cabinet - I
came here to
the window and I prayed to God.
she begins to weep.
months they have lived under concentration camp-like conditions. A
meters beyond the fence which separates the yard from the street there
stores. None of them can remember the last time they could buy anything
them. They do their shopping- in the northern part of Mitrovica.
there were, you know, some days when it was too dangerous to make
trip and we just ate what we could find. If we could find something.
happened several times, a few days at a time, adds Slobodanka,
tears and looking out the window toward the gate and the street from
the Albanians forced their way into the yard.
general, all of them glanced at the street quite often.
they returned, after five days spend in a barracks, to the church
to their home, the memory of the break in into the yard vanished in
instant. Like a nightmare. Only the four of them know very well it
nightmare. It is the specter which has haunted them for more than
a year and
will probably continue to haunt them to the end. Perhaps for the rest
am closer to the end of my days than I am to the beginning but what
happen to my children and my church, Father Sveta leans forward
hands move on the table but he speaks in a calm, soft voice almost
holding a sermon.
is 63 years old. From Stimlje by birth and his entire family are
see that no one likes refugees. How long can we keep running away.
leave, the church will be destroyed. Everyone has turned their back
The world, Belgrade, the people from northern Mitrovica. They just
care. I have already transferred some of the more valuable church
Zvecan. The Gospel, the hagiography, the church records. We still
taken down the icons from the iconostasis, says Father Sveta
as his gaze
rests outside the window.
continues speaking softly. For a moment I wonder if it is because
three bypasses. Then I wonder if he is saving his voice for holy liturgy.
Which he continues to perform regularly even when he is the only person
slightly more than one year, only one christening has taken place
Church visits by believers are exceedingly rare. No one wants to take
risk and more and more people attend services at the church in Zvecan.
tailored a difficult fate for us. The Serbs here are poor folk
whose voice no one hears. And this, too, will pass when the great
reach an agreement. Thats how it is... Father Sveta rises
and dons his
priests mantle as we head to the church.
church is one of the most beautiful in Kosovo and its construction
17 years to complete. The foundations were consecrated in 1896 and
liturgy was served here in 1913.
church is built solely of hewn stone, without a gram of iron in the
structure. It has floor heating. A beautiful choir gallery. An iconostasis
which leaves one breathless.
A Serb priest from
Mitrovica enters an armoured vehicle to go from the Serbian part of
Mitrovica to his house near the St. Sava's church in the Albanian
there are no believers.
are six other Serb souls in this part of the city in addition to those
who live in the churchyard or right next to it.
will sell my house if I can. What else can I do, I have no choice,
old Ivanka Belovic. When they evacuated us I flew like an arrow
but I just
cant do that any more; I cant.
is my house, my church and my country and I want to be able to live
here normally. I am not asking this of either KFOR or the Albanians;
asking this of our government. Whether those of us in the yard are
fools is our private business, says Snezana upon parting. And
Sasa, who is helping a Greek soldier carry coal to the tent in the
yard, also smiles as he waves to us.
we depart, the priests wife also says goodbye to us with a smile.
then looks out the window. Her shoulders drop and as she kisses me
times on the cheeks [a traditional Serb greeting], she quietly whispers.
by again, children, in the name of God!"
is as if their smiles are the key to survival in the yard which is
to the forgotten Serbs.
tank roars in preparation for the return. Same procedure. And a stone
the pit of my stomach. And then, just before we start out, we hear
ringing from the bell tower of the church of St. Sava.
a ten minute drive we are back at our station of origin.
man, this went well, I mutter to myself as I jump from the steel
platform to the asphalt below, barely able to contain myself from
little Montenegrin folk dance or Indian dance of sorts on the spot.
I stretch casually. And observe the muddy street crowded with dogs,
and tanks. At that moment northern Mitrovica looked like the most
city in the world to me.
the opening of the prison in the northern part of Mitrovica, where
mostly Serb prisoners are detained, Father Svetislav Nojic has been
official prison priest. Once a week, on Thursday or Friday, he conducts
services in the prison.
first the service was two hours long but now it has been reduced to
first he was not searched when entering the prison but now a search
first the prisoners did not trust him but now they all have full
confidence in him.
the most part, he consoles them and gives them confession. What they
tell him remains between them and God. Some repent.
is no sin which transcends the mercy of God, says Father Svetislav.
prison priest christened Albanian prisoner Ljuljzim Ademi, his wife
two daughters in the prison. Ljuljzim was accused of collaborating
Serbs and that was the reason he chose to be christened. Though some
suggested he take the name Draza Mihajlovic [after Draza Mihailovic,
leader of Chetniks, the Monarchist Serb resistance fighters in WWII,
caught and executed by victorious Communist partisans in 1945], his
godfather, a Serb, chose the name Radoslav Ademovic.
days after the christening, Ljuljzim, that is, Radoslav, escaped from
others from the priests flock have also flown the coop.
another occasion, several prisoners escaped together, again after
by the priest.
next time he visited the prison, the priest held the following sermon:
I am going to Banja for a little rest. When I come back, I dont
to see any of you here. Amen.
by S. Lazovic (Feb. 22, 2001)
the barbed wire