FIRST SERB RETURNEES ARRIVE IN OSOJANE

After two years of refugee life in collective centers in central Serbia, the first group of Serb returnees returns to their destroyed homes in Metohija*

*Western part of UN administrated Kosovo Province

The returnees in front of UNHCR tents
First tents for returnees in Osojane Valley (click photo for a larger image)

RETURN TO OSOJANE

On the night of August 12 and in the early morning of August 13, UNHCR, UNMIK and KFOR organized the return of 54 previous residents to the village of Osojane near Klina who for two years have been living as displaced persons in central Serbia. The returnees returned on two buses which arrived at 4:30 a.m. in front of the village school where UNHCR prepared the terrain for tents and the basic infrastructure for their stay. The bus arrived with an unprecedentedly strong military escort by Italian and Spanish KFOR troops who met the Serbs in their armored transporters at the Savine Vode crossing near Pec. Like all other Serb convoys, this one, too, arrived in the early morning hours to avoid possible attacks by the Albanians. Upon arriving in their destroyed village, the residents of Osojane were received in the damaged school building in which an improvised dining hall had been set up.

The arrivals were addressed by David Michaels, the regional administrator of the UN mission, who welcomed them. Spanish forces had already been deployed in considerable number in recent days throughout the whole valley in order to prevent all incidents. After breakfast and registration of the returnees, KFOR troops inspected their luggage while UNMIK officials issued temporary identification cards. From 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. the first tents were pitched; presently there are a total of 13 of them. The Serbs immediately gathered around the tents, the first gas burners were lit and coffee was prepared. More than 20 returnees are elderly people and one could still see the confusion on their faces as a result of their arrival here under these unusual circumstances. This is also probably the reason why there was no display of emotions and it almost appeared as if these people were returning their homes after a brief trip. For many of the first group, this was the first visit to their village since June 1999. Prior to the arrival of this group, UNHCR organized on several occasions brief visits by a small number of villagers.

Words of encouragement

At the beginning
Encouraging words for the returnees - A new beginning (click photo for a larger image)
Milivoje Ribac: "Everything looks different except the sky above us and the Prokletije mountains in the distance"


The return of the displaced Serbs of Osojane is the first organized return planned by UNHCR, UNMIK and KFOR. The Osojane Valje includes the region of several Serb hamlets whose inhabitants in the first days following the end of the war and the arrival of international peacekeeping troops fled before the Albanian extremists and found temporary refugee at several locations in central Serbia, mostly in collective centers. In the meanwhile, local Albanians led by extremists from the Kosovo Liberation Army looted and set on fire all Serb houses in the valley and seriously damaged the new church whose construction was in the final phase. From the first days, there was work on the organized return of the people of Osojane, which would enable the beginning of a broader process of returns of Serbs who fled from their homes in Kosovo and Metohija. Unfortunately, to date is has been impossible to organize returns because security conditions still remain extremely difficult and unpredictable.

According to estimates, within the village of Ostojane itself it will possible to repair only five or six houses of the 120 destroyed in the first phase despite the fact that there is material for about 30 houses. For the restoration of the remaining houses more time will be needed because the damage is significant. Besides this, the returnees found nothing of their personal property in their destroyed homes while many have not been able to even see their homes due to the danger from landmines and remain within the confines of the temporary reception center near the school. KFOR forces in the near future will be actively working on demining the entire valley in order to provide unhindered accesses to all houses and properties.

The intent of UNHCR is to have the first group of returnees create basic conditions in the near future for the arrival of other men, women and finally children, for whom the the damaged St. Sava School in the village will be renovated. For purposes of renovation, basic construction material has already been gathered and the biggest resources now missing is manpower.

Considering the current security situation, Osojane and the surrounding villages will most likely share the fate of the other Serb enclaves in Kosovo and Metohija. Every trip outside the protected zone will be very risky and will be possible only with the armed escort of KFOR. The first several months will certainly be the hardest until crops are sown and conditions are created for the production of basic foodstuffs and a more or less normal life.

This is also a great test for the international mission, which according to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is responsible for providing for the return of all persons displaced from the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, and for their free and secure life. To date, the international community in essence has failed to make Kosovo free for all and the majority of the non-Albanian population in the Province lives without basic human rights, in enclaves surrounded by barbed wire and tanks. On the other hand, NATO has not only failed to disarm the Albanian extremists as foreseen by UN Security Council Resolution 1244 but they are engaging in almost everyday attacks on Serbs, Bosniacs and Romanies, and actively participating in destabilizing the neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Holy Liturgy
Povratnicka slava
Holy Liturgy in front of empty school - Refugee patron saint's day festive bread
(click photo for a larger image)

FIRST LITURGY

Tomorrow, August 14, 2001, on the religious holiday of Holy Maccabees (the beginning of the fast before the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos), the first Holy Liturgy was served in the village of Osojane by His Eminence the Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, Amfilohije, with the assistance of the Right Reverand Prior of the Monastery of Visoki Decani, Teodosije, Hieromonk Petar Ulemek of the Monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi and Hieromonk Jovan Culibrk from Cetinje. The Holy Liturgy was accompanied by the singing of the nuns of the Monastery of the Pec Patriarchate who, together with the monks and nuns of other Metohija monasteries, remained after the war to share the fate of their suffering people who remained in Metohija.

On behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Bishop Amfilohije greeted the returnees and encouraged them for the great challenge facing them. In his sermon, the Bishop compared the suffering of the Serbian people with the suffering of the Jews according to the Old Testament, recalling the words of the psalm "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning" (Psalm 137:5). He then emphasized that Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija have their ancient shrines which must under no circumstances be forgotten. Just as Holy King Stefan did not leave the Decani laura with his monks, so, too, did the nuns of the Pec Patriarchate, Devic and Gorioc remain in their environment protecting their shrines. Bishop Amfilohije emphasized their example as an incentive to the refugees to endure in their choice and to be prepared to endure through all trials which await them. Bishop Amfilohije extended his special thanks to the commander of the Spanish forces which protect the village and who have expressed a great desire to assist the returnees in resuming their life in Osojane. The Spanish officer approached Bishop Amfilohije and accepted his blessing, kissing his hand, while Bishop Amfilohije accepted a Spanish flag as the gift of the KFOR unit commander. The monks and nuns of Decani, the Pec Patriarchate and the entire Diocese of Raska and Prizren will take care to regularly visit and assist the returnees. The Church, which remained with its people after the war, is ready to welcome returnees and assist them in renovating their villages and shrines.

The returnees spontaneously chose the Day of the Holy Maccabees as their village patron saint's day; consequently, following Holy Liturgy, the first patron saint's day festive bread was blessed. Following the blessing of the bread, the people and the priests visited the village cemetery under armed KFOR escort; unlike many other Serbian Orthodox cemeteries throughout Metohjia, this cemetery has not been desecrated. Candles were lit in memory of the deceased and the weeds which covered many graves were cleared.

The church with the crown of thorns

The Church of the Archangel Gabriel in Osojane with its
"crown of thorns"
(click photo for a larger image)

OATH IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH

Afterwards the people expressed the wish to visit the Church of the Holy Archangel Gabriel for the first time; the church was seriously damaged in the post-war period and cannot be repaired. Those present confirmed the willingness of the residents of the villages to construct a new parish church yet again in the same location. This demonstrates that only by restoring life to our abandoned villages is it possible to restore our destroyed shrines which have suffered together with our people.

The newest Serb enclave in Kosovo and Metohija began its life with prayer and the hope that the day will soon come when it will again be possible to live and work in peace. As never before these brave people need support and assistance to survive in a terrifying place.

Text and photographs: Monks of Decani Monastery
©
Copyright Manastir Visoki Decani
http://www.kosovo.net

HOW TO HELP?

For all additional information regarding assistance to the people of Osojane through the Serbian Orthodox Church, please contact: The Monastery of Visoki Decani (Hieromonk Sava) decani@web-sat.com
The Pec Patriarchate (Sister Milica) pecarsija@iom.ipko.org

Read information about the Decani Monastery Relief Fund in US which has been supporting the suffering people of Kosovo and Metohija in last three years thanks to donations of many God loving people all over the world. Regular reports are issued on the Internet by Fr. Demetrios Serfes (US), the President of the DRF.

The ruined village

Osojane valley

The Osojane Valley and the destroyed village showing the roof of the former
textiles factory (click photo for a larger image)

Scene from Osojane
Scene from Osojane - A returnee and Father Hilarion of Decani

Visiting the ruins two years after the end of the war in Kosovo
Two years of the internationally granted peace still leave Orthodox Christian
churches in ruins

Desecrated Serbian Orthodox church in the deserted village of Osojane, Kosovo
Delegation of the Serbian Orthodox Church led by Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro visited the village of Osojane on Aug 10, 2001 before the return of first refugees to their homes. The village is completely demolished . The village church by grace of God still stands but has been severely damaged by Albanian extremists.
(click on each photo for a larger image)