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

Ilustrovana Politika, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
August 17, 2002

Enclaves of Kosovo and Metohija:

Osojane: Creating a life among the ruins

By Miso Vujovic

With the first rays of sun we head out from the Pec Patriarchate with an Italian KFOR escort in the direction of Klina and Djurakovac as far as Osojane, a Serb village where, after two years of life as refugees, a small flame of life flickers on the ruins and ashes, under the tents and tent-huts of UNHCR. Pec is a beehive. Luxurious automobiles, tractors, horse-drawn wagons, stray dogs and confused pedestrians contribute to the unique street bustle. A parade of skull caps, berets, baseball caps, Muslim women’s veils and pantaloons, necks decorated with heavy chains. An occasional miniskirt, tights or more revealing décolleté makes an appearance… East and West interweave in front of overflowing garbage containers, they roam the dirty streets, rattling aluminum cans, cartons, plastic bags… Music with an oriental rhythm from a grill collides with dance music from a café. On every corner the stores overflowing with goods are displayed on the sidewalk right up to the roadway. The Italian soldier nervously honks his horn. The escort commander, a young officer with a buzz cut accompanies his commentary with temperamental gesticulations. The Italians have been protecting the Pec Patriarchate for years now. With enthusiasm and dedication. They plot every route according to strictly enforced regulations. Burned down Serb houses, land overgrown with weeds, desecrated cemeteries pass by the roadside. Exquisite, multistory buildings are cropping up across the street, decorated with the Albanian and United States flags. Roadside monuments to the fallen veterans of the KLA decorated with flowers and red flags on poles, copying the model for World War II veterans. An occasional passerby upon spying the nuns and priests makes a threatening finger motion.

At the entrance to Osojane a road ramp like in a detention camp. After consultation by telephone the Spanish soldier lifts the striped bar and salutes. The few residents of Osojane are getting ready to celebrate their first village patron saint’s day, Holy Maccabees, and the first anniversary of their return to their destroyed centuries-old homes. A year ago about forty of the most courageous families, primarily older Serbs, returned to their homes in this pleasant village in the heart of Metohija. Life in the ghetto and the rather stepmotherly treatment of their homeland has failed to dissuade these proud people from remaining on this fertile Kosovo and Metohija soil. After KFOR’s deployment not a single house remained intact. Traces of endemic hatred are visible at every step.

The destructive typhoon of former neighbors left behind a wasteland. The Church of the Holy Archangel Gabriel in Osojane was not spared the fate of the majority of Kosovo shrines. Built of stone and brick with plenty of steel reinforcements it managed to somehow survive Shiptar fury packaged in the form of explosives and planted at each corner of this large but harmonious church. Velicko Ostojic, a builder who says his hands lifted every stone of the church no less than six times, circles around the church and points out the missing sections of wall which the detonations scattered across the field.

“We built this church over several years with difficulty and voluntary contributions and just when we were ready to add the iconostasis, we were forced to flee after the army and the police. We knew we could not survive here; armed gangs were killing everything in their path. Two old people, Sreten and Vukana Ostojic, did not want to leave their home even though it was burned down and looted; every trace of them disappeared in June 1999, as with so many others in Kosovo,” says Velicko Ostojic, pointing out a house newly built on the ashes in the clearing.

Many returnees still live in containers“They set the house on fire after looting it. They took everything: the furniture, the combine, the tractor, farming machines and tools. Now I have nothing, although I was promised everything both by our country and by the international community. Our biggest problem is that only older people are returning. The young have no prospects here. My two grandsons are going to school in Kraljevo because there are not enough students to open a secondary school here. They’re here now but soon they will have to go,” says Velicko, asking himself if any on this has a meaning without young people in the village. During the past year seven former residents returned to the village and live under constant protection. Only one child was born, Andjela Repanovic, a little girl.

“I think that everyone would come back in the state provided funds for building. Now there are close to 300 of us here but when school starts in a few days some will have to leave again because of the children,” says Vukota Dzolic, adding that it would have been very difficult to survive on state assistance without the help of the church.

Gojko Djuric, the head of the Serb community and one of the first returnees, says that the Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija gives 5,000 dinars per month to each family which is not enough even for bare necessities.

“The most difficult thing of all is the lack of freedom of movement. Whenever we need something we are escorted by the Spaniards, who are very nice, to Kosovska Mitrovica. We are fortunate that the villages of Banja, Suvo Grlo, Crkolez and Gorazdevac were not abandoned, as well as the monasteries of the Pec Patriarchate and Decani. We are going back to the time of the Ottoman Empire when the people flocked around the church. When we returned, a year ago today, to this wasteland, we were welcomed by our monks and by Bishop Amfilohije, whose homily and saintly calm gave us the strength to endure. Today he is here with us again, as well as Fr. Petar from the Monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi, a monk and a builder, who worked with us to clear the weeds and to build,” says Gojko Djuric, adding that the road has now been cleared for the arrival of others.

Life in Osojane is surrounded by barbed wire, fear, spite and hope in a better tomorrow. In the past year about 70 homes were restored and built. New returnees are arriving every day and now there are close to 300 people living in Osojane out of a total of 700 who lived here before the deployment of international peacekeepers. In the center of the village next to the partially repaired school there are about 20 metal containers which house returnees until their destroyed homes are restored. What causes them the most pain are the empty promises of the state.

“Two years ago we were promised 90 prefabricated houses upon our return,” says Vukota Djolic, “but nothing came of it. 50,000 residences were built for the Albanians and 70 were built for the Serbs. UNMIK blames the Government of Serbia; the Government puts the ball back in UNMIK’s court and so on.”

Life in Bicha village
Life in Bicha village

DESECRATION OF THE DEAD

On July 29 of this year the first residents returned to the village of Bicha, only a few kilometers from Osojane. Ten heads of households began to restore their homes from ashes beneath tents and on bare soil. Not a single house remains in the village, home to 600 Serbs before they were expelled. On some of the newer houses all that remains is a skeleton of steel reinforcements and steel. Even the bricks from the walls have been removed. The destructive tendencies of the “peace loving Albanians”, as their Western mentors called them at one time, did not spare the village cemetery. In addition to destroying the memorial plates, remains of deceased Serbs were removed from their tombs and scattered across surrounding meadows.

APPEAL FOR ASSISTANCE

Before the expulsion of the Serbs 250 students attended the Rados Tosic Elementary School in Osojane. The school reopened for the second semester of the previous school year with six students in metal containers. In the coming school year about 40 students are expected to attend classes in the partially restored building which was reduced to bare cement after the Serbs’ departure. School director Stanoje Ostojic issued an open invitation to all graduates of elementary school to return from Serbia so that instruction can be organized for them in a college preparatory school specialized in social sciences and languages. Embittered by the Serbian Ministry of Education, which pays the teachers’ salaries but provides nothing by way of school supplies or instructional materials, Mr. Ostojic appealed to all people of goodwill to help with the purchase of a heater and other essentials for the forthcoming winter.

New life begins around the church
New life begins around the church

POLITICAL MANIPULATION

“Kosovo and Metohija continues to be manipulated just like in the time of the Milosevic regime which stayed in power thanks to the votes of the Albanians. The present government in Serbia is building its democratic image before the international community with the fate of the Kosovo and Metohija Serbs,” Momcilo Trajkovic told “Ekspres”.

“The issue of returns is a critical issue. Not only for the Serbs but also for the international community which is advocating a multiethnic Kosovo. However, our government is using this for political maneuvers and “shrewd moves”. Why is the state of Serbia not providing building materials for Serbs who want to return? Why isn’t the question of whose problem are the refugees finally resolved? Are they UNMIK’s problem or the problem of Serbia and Yugoslavia? The Government of Serbia is making concessions to the detriment of local Serbs in order to collect a few points before the international community. The Return Coalition (Povratak) was invented for the purpose of manipulation; there are honest people in it but the majority of them left Kosovo and their families are living in Serbia. If we don’t succeed in ensuring the return of Serbs to Kosovo it will be lost to all of us forever,” believes Trajkovic.

LAND OF HOLY SHRINES

“You are the protectors of the oath of Lazar and Kosovo. Great shrines are in these parts. The land of Kosovo and Metohija is the land of holy shrines which have survived great trials. God’s justice and God’s truth are indestructible while lies have short legs. As I look upon this golden wreath of your children, I see that the Lord has blessed your return for the future lies where there are children,” said Bishop Amfilohije to the gathered returnees after liturgy.

Translated by S. Lazovic, KDN (August 18, 2002)

Related article:

Metohija: Land both Holy and "Cursed", Vesti Frankfurt, Aug 15, 2002
Between International Community's Projects and Reality, Danas, July 23, 02
First Serb Returnees Come Back to Osojane, Aug 13, 2001

Containers in Osojane
Many are still waiting for thier homes to be rebuilt, Osojane, summer 2002