Danas, Belgrade

23 July 2002

On the eve of the one year anniversary of the return of the first Serbs to Osojane
Between the international community’s projects and reality


Holy Service in front of the heavily damaged church of St. Archangel Gabriel, Osojane

by Jelena Tasic

Osojane - Osojane is a Serb village in a valley of the same name. It is located near Klina, where there are no more Serbs. It belongs to the municipality of Istok. It was completely abandoned and destroyed following the arrival of KFOR in the summer of 1999 before an onslaught of Albanian extremists. It differs from other similar villages in Kosovo and Metohija in that it is the only one where the first expelled Serbs have returned during the three years of international administration in the southern Serbian province. Of the pre-war population of 2,000, between 200 and 250 well protected returnees are living in Osojane today.

After several unsuccessful attempts, the first group of 54 Serbs returned to Osojane the night of August 12 last year under the unprecedented escort and protection of Spanish and Italian KFOR troops. Their return was organized by UNHCR, UNMIK and KFOR but a good part of the work was carried out by the Pec Patriarchate and the monks of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral.

During the past year 72 houses have been built in Osojane. More than 50 of them are now inhabited and in a few days all of them will be fully completed and ready to move in. The majority of the returnees are still living in accommodations which cannot be described as a tent or as a cabin or temporary shelter. Because of the nylon which covers them, it appears that the one room “house tents” guarantee only protection from the rain. The village has its own municipal office, a primary school, a health care center, a store, a coffee shop and, of course, its own KFOR base housing the Spaniards who protect them.

“They are professional. We cannot complain even though they are foreigners. They help us. Right now there are more children in the village than usual because of the summer break. They are curious and frequently bother them but they are patient with the children, too,” say the locals.


Wounds on the Orthodox church at Osojane

SPANIARDS CHECK UP ON UNMIK POLICE

Everyone who came to Osojane on Sunday 21 July 2002 for the holiday liturgy, a part of the campaign of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren, “Let us rejuvenate our desecrated shrines with prayer” which began one week earlier at the Monastery of Zociste, had an opportunity to see how thorough the Spaniards were in their work. The column of nine vehicles accompanied by UNMIK police which headed from the Monastery of Gracanica to the church service in Osojane on Sunday morning was met by Spanish sentries at the control point at the entrance to the Osojane Valley. Apparently the presence of the UNMIK police was not enough for the conscientious Spaniards and a discussion ensued which was resolved with a single phone call to the commander of the base where we were forced to report, just in case.

Holy archierchal liturgy was served by the Bishop Artemije (Radosavljevic) of Raska and Prizren and the monks of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren in the churchyard of the destroyed Church of the Holy Archangel Gabriel. Church services are almost the only opportunity to bring Serbs together in Kosovo and Metohija because it is easier for them to obtain escorts; consequently, in Osojane that morning one could find monks from the Monastery of Visoki Decani, nuns from the Monastery of Devic with their guests from Kosovska Mitrovica; Sister Irina from Gracanica with the monastery mobile health unit; Return Coalition representatives Rada Trajkovic and Randjel Nojkic; and Dragan Velic, head of the Kosovo District.


Church services are the only opportunity to bring Serbs together: Liturgy in Osojane

SEVEN TEACHERS FOR 14 PUPILS

“One train is nothing without a railroad... The next election will give you a direction” is the message we read on the UNMIK pre-election poster we find the primary school where the locals gathered to talk with the bishop and guests. The people of Osojane are hospitable and happy to receive visitors. The children of Osojane, all 54 of them, received 100 euros each from Bishop Artemije from a humanitarian fund collected in a campaign by the Serb emigrant community in Canada during this year’s celebration of Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day).

The primary in school in Osojane, which looks like a building on which preliminary construction has just been completed due to its destruction by the Albanians, had 14 pupils during the last school year. In addition to a school director, the school also employs seven teachers.

The village health care center has one general practice physician from Istok and five nurses. On Sunday morning the mobile health unit from the Monastery of Gracanica visited the village a second time with five specialist physicians. This is a collaborative campaign by the Church, Simonida Medical Center from Gracanica and Kralj Milutin Medical Center from Laplje Selo and all physicians of good will who visit the Serb enclaves and treat patients.

Sister Irina explains that in Osojane older people primarily suffer from high blood pressure, a consequence of a stressful life. There are also diabetics, kidney patients, primarily due to the impure water and the unresolved problem of a water supply for the village and most recently many people are complaining of eye diseases. In the majority cases the illnesses are psychosomatic, say the physicians.

Despite the difficult living conditions, what the Serbs who returned to Osojane fear most is that the return process will stop. They are also troubled by the problems of unemployment, and education and the quality of life of the young. News from the outside world, to which they are only connected by mobile telephone, is sparse. There is no radio or television. The only newspaper they receive is the Belgrade daily “Danas”.

They are connected to the other Serb enclaves by regular escorted convoys twice a week. The local authorities are considering the possibility of opening a secondary school in the village and the OESC is working on opening a library but for now, as the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija say, only projects.

“Despite everything life is slowly becoming more normal but the most difficult thing for us is that we have no freedom of movement,” say the residents of Osojane, who will celebrate the one year anniversary of their return to their destroyed homes on August 13.


Although in ruins our holy sites are still holy to us
Elderly Serb women at Osojane church


Related article:

First Serb Returnees Come Back to Osojane, Aug 13, 2001