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Saturday, September 23, 2023
Apostolis Fotiadis and Zoltan Dujisin
GRACANICA, Kosovo, Feb 18 2008 (IPS) - As Pristina is abuzz with crowds of Albanians celebrating the declaration of independence, Kosovo Serbians seem mostly gloomy about what the future holds.
On the main arteries leading to Pristina, security forces were stopping cars and checking for weapons Sunday amid fears that tensions could escalate between ethnic Albanian and Serbian Kosovars.
Above 92 percent of present-day Kosovo is comprised of ethnic Albanians, whereas the Serbian community, partly due to persistent emigration into Serbia proper, has been reduced to a mere four percent of the population of two million.
Serbs are unsure about their role in an independent Kosovo, and some Albanians are apprehensive what Serbia will do following Belgrade's pledge to take strong, albeit peaceful counter-measures.
Serbian authorities have threatened to cut economic ties with the province in retaliation for the Feb. 17 declaration of independence by Kosovo's parliament.
Kosovo, where unemployment stands around 40 to 50 percent, is highly dependent on imports from Serbia, including in its weak energy sector. Power cuts in the region are frequent.
The international intervention did little to improve the already tense relations between the two communities in Kosovo. Now, many Kosovo Serbs are doubtful that there will be a place for them in an independent Kosovo.
In the Serbian enclave of Gracanica, 10 km south of Pristina, the few locals remaining in a town looking strangely empty are pessimistic about their future.
"Many have left over the weekend, we don't know what's going to happen, and we are afraid," the owner of a small family cafe told IPS on condition of anonymity. Sitting with his wife and 10-year-old son, he says that barely 10,000 people are left in a town that had three times as many. "Life is very hard nowadays."
His other son has left to study in Kraljevo in south-central Serbia. Serbs say they can no longer go to universities in Pristina, and go for higher education either in Serbian areas in northern Kosovo or in Serbia proper.
"I was born in Pristina, but it is impossible for me to return," a local lawyer told IPS. "I left in 1999 when the war started, and I had to move here." Although he says he has Albanian friends, the lawyer says he rarely meets them now. "They are ashamed and even afraid to be seen socialising with Serbs," he says.
Close to the café, a 14th century Serb Orthodox monastery is protected by a barbed wire fortification and a Swedish battalion from the NATO-led Kosovo Force.
The depressing atmosphere of Gracanica contrasts sharply with the optimistic mood among some Serbs at a hip cafe in Pristina.
"I don't think Kosovo Serbs are in danger; the government has shown them they are citizens of the future state," Jelena Bjelica, editor-in-chief of the Serbian language Kosovo publication Gradanski Glasnik told IPS.
She says she does not feel insecure. "I've been fighting for this independence eight years, why should I leave now?" Bjelica seems more concerned that Belgrade is acting irresponsibly towards a province. She thinks this will do Serbia's EU aspirations no good.
As in all Pristina's restaurants and bars, clients, owners and waiters celebrated the birth of a new country in the Balkans late into the night. Through all this, there were also some kind words for Serbs.
"Serbs may be our enemies now, and even if I remember being beaten up by Serbian soldiers when I was a teenager, hopefully one day in the future we will be able to live side by side again," Bajram Krasniqi, a waiter from Pristina told IPS, taking a pause from both work and drinking.
The U.S. and 20 EU member states have given serious indications that they will recognise Kosovo's independence. Russia has strongly condemned the proclamation of independence by Kosovo, and refuses to recognise it, saying it will set a dangerous precedent for other separatist movements. A handful of European countries have also expressed reservations.
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