Information Service

Serb homes destroyed after the war in Musutiste
Other houses which are undamaged are Albanian, summer 2002

Nezavisna Svetlost, Kragujevac, Yugoslavia
Issue 366, September 28, 2002


Return of expelled from Kosovo is no longer controversial; what is controversial is how Albanians will respond who say they have nothing against returns but devastated Serb houses and property


KFOR commander Bush was unyielding; his deputy, Austrian Major Karashi, was no better. In negotiations which began as long ago as July 31 of this year in the UNHCR office in Prizren and then continued in the municipal assembly, Serb returnees from the village of Novake asked for KFOR protection. If granted, the entire population of the village was prepared to return. More precisely, the Serbs were not asking for special protection, only two-three soldiers who would be in the village around the clock. Bush and his deputy Karashi, however, offered occasional patrols and, as an all-day security measure, a cell phone.

The Serbs from Novake are satisfied with UNHCR and UNMIK but not with KFOR. In UNHCR’s opinion, it is too early for the entire village to return. For the beginning it would be best to have an expedition of some 15 people who would constantly rotate.

The “Zavicaj” Association of Displaced Persons from Kragujevac and “Sveti Spas” from Belgrade with the mediation of UNHCR organized the first visit to the destroyed Serb village of 95 houses in July of this year. At that time UNHCR took it upon itself to investigate the possibility of return. Work on the restoration of the Serb houses, it was precisely agreed, is supposed to begin on the first of March of next year. It would be logical for the first returnees to show up in the village at that time. However, the foreign mediators are asking that the Serbs show up in the village immediately and that they spend the winter under tents because this is a condition set by the donors. If the village remains empty until March, the donors will not invest a cent in the restoration of the homes.

At a recently held meeting in Lapovo, it was agreed that the first group of 15 people would arrive in the village on November 1. The meeting was attended by representatives of UNMIK and UNHCR. Representatives of KFOR were not present because according to the UN resolution they have no freedom of movement outside the territory of Kosovo. The meeting was attended by displaced Novake residents now living in Mladenovac, Lazarevac and Kragujevac – in short, by the entire village of Novake.

The talks continued in the Prizren municipal assembly. Participants included the civil administrator, non-government organizations and the mayor of Prizren, an Albanian, who said that he “in principle does not oppose the return of a limited number of Serbs but is afraid that a more massive return would irritate the Albanians”.

Serb refugee settlement in Western Kosovo and Metohija, summer 2002

Albanian persuasion

In Prizren there is a seven member municipal committee responsible for returns composed exclusively of Albanians. It will supposedly take care of the return of Serbs from Prizren and the vicinity. The reproach of the Serbs that there is not one Serb member on the committee was not taken into consideration. Thus, an ethnically pure commission is responsible for building a multiethnic society.

As things stand the Serbs, after all this time, are before the gates of Prizren itself! First returns would begin to the villages for security reasons and in the near future about 20 Serbs are expected to walk into the city itself. First there will be one day, so-called “go and see” visits and when conditions are right, real returns will commence.

For a start the residents of Novake, as they have been promised by Miss Chris, the UNHCR director, will receive housing under tents, an electrical generator, water in canisters, food, blankets, beds and stoves. KFOR conducted talks with Albanians from some Prizren villages and they did not in principle object to the return of the Serbs. However, the four member commission for returns to the village consisting of Jovan Krstic, Krunoslav Janicijevic, Vladimir Nikolic and Ljiljana Janicijevic, wanted this to be confirmed by the Albanians from all the neighboring villages. They had never appeared in the chambers of the Prizren municipal assembly before which caused additional insecurity.

The village of Novake was not randomly selected. First, the village is surrounded by Catholic Albanian villages none of which was burned down during the war. On both sides, the Serb and the Albanian, there were no casualties during the war. When the Serb returnees who come to visit their property appear, kisses and embraces are exchanged; their Albanian neighbors invite them to their homes and greet them on the road. Of course, the unspoken question remains unanswered: is this all a theatrical presentation? The surrounding villages of Ceparce, Spinadija, Valeza, Trpenica, Lesane, Smac (a mixed Serb-Albanian village), Gornja Srbica, with 14 Serb houses, were not set on fire. But what about the Albanian villages which were set on fire not far away?

In ’97 everything pointed to war. An Albanian from Smac, Zef Cetaj, was marrying off a son. To his friends from Djakovica he first introduces the best man while the second man according to rank is a Serb from Smac, Stanislav Zaharijevic. No one is surprised that a Serb played a key role in an Albanian wedding. On the Zaharijevic’s patron saint’s day feats, six or seven Albanians were always seated at the table. However, the Albanians last wished the Serbs a happy Orthodox Easter on April 11, 1999. Since then the connections have been completely broken.

The Serbs from Novake and Smac claim that they are the ones who looked after the surrounding Albanian villages during the war. However, after their expulsion the village of Novake was leveled with the ground while in the ethnically mixed village of Smac not one foundation of a Serb house remains. Were these villages looted, set on fire and destroyed by the same Albanians whose homes were looked after by the Serbs? The answer would appear to be yes. Recently a Serb from the village of Novake and his guest, a neighbor from a nearby Catholic Albanian village were discussing this topic in Kragujevac. The question of destruction of houses came up. The Albanian jumped up as if burned:

“It wasn’t us; it wasn’t us, neighbor! It wasn’t us; it was some stranger...”

The Albanian neighbor had come to inquire about the sale of Serb houses and property...

On June 15, 1999 the Serbs from the village of Novake fled to the neighboring village of Smac. They spent two days and two nights there; then they were disarmed by KFOR and the KLA. KFOR then lined them up in a convoy and escorted them to Serbia along with the Serbs from Smac. That was on June 17...

The Belgrade newspaper “Blic” previously published a photograph taken from a helicopter showing how the Albanians were destroying Novake. There is a man in the photo but his face is not clear. Someone thought of cutting out the photo from the paper and magnifying it. Then everything became clear. They recognized Sokolj Cetaj, a farmer from Smac, the father of two sons and four daughters.

Dejan Petkovic knows Sokolj very well:

“I just can’t believe it! Every time I entered the village store, Sokolj would offer me a drink /a sign of hospitality/...”

When the KLA introduced a curfew for Albanians, the only person in Smac who did not obey it was Sokolj Cetaj. He remained with the Serbs until late into the night even though the other Albanians locked their homes at eight o’clock. Now the Serbs are asking themselves whether Sokolj perhaps had “special” privileges – or tasks?

Desecrated Serbian tomb near Prizren, summer 2002

What irritates the Albanians

Be as it may, different times arrived and Sokolj Cetalj “plowed” 16 Serb houses, destroying them totally. Finally in those locations he sowed clover.

When a delegation of returnees from Smac arrived for a visit to their native village, the Serbs were welcomed by Sokolj Cetaj. He greeted them and exchanged kisses as if they were members of his closest family. And when he gave one local resident from Smac a liter of brandy for a safe trip home, he could not resist asking him: “Did I do a good job destroying your house?”

“I don’t know anyone who could have done it better,” the other replied.

A few days later some Albanians informed their neighbors in Serbia that Sokolj made an appearance on Prizren television criticizing those Albanian families “who went to welcome the Serb murderers”. Our source, who has daily contact with some of his Albanian neighbors –every Serb has “his” Albanian contacts – says that the crux of the matter is the following: some Albanians were not only on good terms with the Serbs but also with the former Serbian authorities. When they found themselves in an awkward position as a result of a change in the government, they were forced to provide additional proof of their loyalty. This is why they set on fire, looted and plowed everything Serb, thus becoming worthy of joining the ranks of the “real” Albanians.

The most active member of the committee for returns, Jovan Krstic, says:

“We are not afraid of the Albanians from the neighboring Catholic villages. We protected them during the war and none of them were killed. But what about the more distant Albanian villages where there were casualties in the war? What about the Albanian extremists?”

The Church of the Unmercenary Healers /Sts. Cosmas and Damian/ in Novake appears whole – from the outside. However, the inside of the church has been demolished and vandalized; the church bell has been stolen. The Serb returnees, when they come, light candles even in a church in this state. The well in Krstic’s yard is completely full of debris. Everything which could be removed has been taken; the fruit trees have been cut down; the foundation of the house is barely visible in the soil. Only the dogs stayed in the village after the departure of the Serbs. Jovan Krstic says:

“In order to enter the village the Albanians must have killed the dogs. We searched the former streets after three years in search of at least one skeleton of our dogs. No luck. We will find them one day when we empty the debris from the wells...”

Translated by S. Lazovic (October 7, 2002)

Desecrated Serbian church in Smac, near Novake, Summer 2002

Information Service of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren
Kosovo and Metohija