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The bearable heaviness of coexistence, by Marko Risović

Author’s statement

This story, although told from one side only – that of Kosovo Serbs, touches many problems representative and important for all the people living in this sensitive area. The purpose of this work is to present the complexity of coexistence of Serbian minority and Albanian majority in Kosovo today. Like all the other material trying to elaborate this issue, this piece could be a subject to free interpretation, especially in this specific moment. Intention of the author is not to increase or support any nationalistic and chauvinistic ideas, just the opposite! The basic idea behind the whole body of work is that without tolerance and strong urge for peace and acceptable coexistence, acquired through learning about the tragic past, neither of the sides involved has the chance for normal future.

As the politicians are again on the loose, rattling arms over the backs of people, and giving their best to keep us all stuck in the Stone Age by causing irreversible differences between us, there is an urge for showing the real, everyday problems of those who have been seriously endangered by their hasty, selfish and stupid acts, and who have already been the victims of such politics in the recent past.

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A priest holds devoted prayers on Christmas morning 2016. Beautiful light of candles illuminates interior of one of the most sacred places of Serbian Orthodoxy – church inside the monastery of Visoki Decani in Kosovo. Yet, the sight is unusual, with priest being surrounded by two rows of uniformed soldiers. The badges of brigades on the shoulders reveal their countries of origin. A prayer for peace and prosperity in front of uniformed man is just a kind of absurdity among many that could be found nowadays in this piece of turbulent land.

Beautiful scenery is something that overwhelms those who come here for the first time. The mountains, woods, rivers and plains illuminated by the sun should illustrate scenery of prosperity and welfare. But this superficial beauty hides dark secrets from recent past. When one takes a look at beautiful hills around monastery of Visoki Decani, it could be very hard for him to imagine that they were used as a range for a mortar, targeting monastery after the war finished – in 2000 and 2004. Or areas around cities of Pec, Djakovica and Prizren which hide many graves and tragic stories of prematurely interrupted lives.

In this turmoilous land, Serbs and their neighbors Kosovo Albanian have to find a peaceful shape of coexistence. Serbs, being absolute minority today, live in the northern part of Kosovo and on islands of land surrounded by Albanian territories.  In everyday life, this means that they have to engage in daily contacts with neighbors. Sometimes this normal and prosaic act of living is not easy to perform at all, which is partially understandable keeping on mind all the tragic events from recent past. Alienation and isolation can almost be touched in sharp and fresh air of Serbian enclaves among beautiful hills.

But sometimes the light of hope sparks from the grayness, as in the smallest local shop in a backstreet of Serbian village of Velika Hoca, where two friends from the progressive period before the war,  Kosovo Albanian Seljami and Serb Stajko, are toasting with home made brandy and cheep beer, remembering in clear Serbian language the time of their lives when ethnicity and religion were not the things of concern here.

These things will certainly not be an issue in the family of  Krsta Simic from Velika Hoca. He married Albanian wife Pranvera and in this mixed marriage, he achieved his greatest wish – to become a father. Today he says that he is a satisfied man, while his mother proudly holds her two grandsons in her arms. The troubles he sometimes has come actually from other Serbs living around him and even more from Serbian authorities who have had ignorant attitude towards his needs and related benefits more than once. Diversity is obviously always been difficult to accept, regards the sides.

For Kosovo, which has a high stake in daily geopolitical games, the future is certainly very vague. For Kosovo Serbs, it’s the opaque curtain, and the big question is whether this curtain may need to remain undiscovered forever. Time always finds answers, and until it reshapes disturbed relations from the past, neighbors of Kosovo will live in the atmosphere of bearable heaviness of coexistence.

*The story has been made on assignment for National Geographic Serbia magazine as part of the project of Ministry of  Culture and Information of Republic of Serbia.

*note: Every photo in the story has it’s own caption which could be read by dragging the pointer over the bottom of the photo.

Photo and text by Marko Risović © Kamerades. Any use without written permission from the author is strictly forbidden!