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Page last updated at 02:46 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 03:46 UK

Kosovo lives: A mixed village

Dragana Gospic and one of her daughters

In the first of five pieces by BBC reporters on life in Kosovo today, Nick Thorpe meets a Serbian family forced out in 1999, which made a new home in Kosovo five years later.

"The most painful thing for us, is when we see people selling up and leaving," says Dragana Gospic.

And she relates how one of her neighbours, a fellow Serb, has just sold his land, and is now selling his house.

"Each person who leaves makes it harder for those who remain," she explains.

At 33, originally from the Bosnian town of Mrkonjic Grad, she lives in the village of Vidanje, near Klina in central Kosovo, with her husband Ranko and daughters Tanja and Sanja.

It helps that the Albanians here are Catholics because that means they trade in pigs like we do
Dragana Gospic

She has twice been displaced by war - from her home town in Bosnia at the age of 16, and again in 1999 from Kosovo, when Nato bombed the Serbian government into withdrawing its army and police. "I don't think I could survive a third [forced move]!" she says.

But in this sunny corner of Kosovo, at least, there are no war clouds on the horizon.

Vidanje is a mixed village, ethnic relations are good.

And by Kosovan standards, the Gospic family are making a reasonable living.

They run the village shop, farm 50 hectares, raise a handful of cows and pigs, and are now planning to add geese to their collection. On the night before our visit, a new calf was born.

We talk by the shed, as the calf tries to stand, and the children try to stroke it.

"It helps that the Albanians here are Catholics¿" says Dragana, "because that means they trade in pigs like we do." The majority of Albanians cannot, as Muslims, touch pork.

Freedom to travel

During the events to mark Kosovo's declaration of independence on 17 February, there were no inter-ethnic incidents here, though a Belgrade tabloid managed to invent one.

BBC map

As the Albanians were celebrating independence from Serbia - and the Serb minority were mourning it - fireworks flew everywhere.

Windows were broken in several houses, both Serb and Albanian, Dragana says.

But no-one could say it was deliberate, and no-one was hurt. The tabloid turned it into an anti-Serb hate crime.

Another factor which makes their lives easier than that of many other Serbs in Kosovo, is that here they feel free to travel.

The shops and main hospital in Klina are in walking distance. There is a van every Thursday to the last Serbian urban centre in Kosovo, northern Mitrovica. And they feel no physical threat from the Albanian majority.

But Kosovan independence has brought some difficulties.

Ranko Gospic was recently stopped by the police on his way back from the north, with goods for his shop.

These can be brought duty-free in the north, which has become a haven for smugglers since angry Serb crowds burnt down UN customs posts in February.

But the police wanted to charge him 8,000 euros in duties on the cigarettes and fodder in the van - far more than the load was worth.

Another problem is that the cattle trade across the border with Serbia has dried up.

Health and education

Electricity shortages are one problem which people of all ethnic backgrounds in Kosovo share.

The Gospic farmyard
The Gospic farm has prospered

"An Albanian neighbour joked to me recently that the power supply was more reliable before independence - what kind of country is this, without electricity?" Dragana says.

When I was last here on the eve of independence, they were serving customers by candlelight in the shop.

Now, in summer, the daily power cut only lasts an hour or so each evening. But it is never announced in advance.

The villagers would also like to have a health clinic of their own. Few Serbs speak Albanian - now the dominant language of all Kosovan institutions.

"Our main hope for the future is the school," says Dragana, pointing to a low building, 200 metres from her house.

Only five of the 40 Serb families who returned here in 2004 have children.

There are just 11 children in the girls' class. If more families returned from Serbia, like the Gospic's, this place could really thrive, she says.

It is the good soil, above all, that keeps us here, she says. "Just look at it!"


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