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Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 16:21 UK

Kosovo lives: Ivan's journey

The broken headstone of Ivan's grandfather
The broken headstone on the grave of Ivan's grandfather. Ivan asked for his face not to be photographed, for personal safety reasons.

In the third of five pieces by BBC journalists examining life in Kosovo today, Patrick Jackson brings a Serb doctor back to the town he was forced to leave in 1999.

Ivan Radic is one of nearly a quarter of a million people from Kosovo still classified by the UN as internally displaced persons (IDPs) nine years after the war.

The vast majority are ethnic Serbs, now scattered across Serbia with a minority living in Kosovo's enclaves. Most of the hundreds of thousands of wartime Albanian IDPs were able to return home long ago.

"I am in Urosevac almost every night - when I dream," Ivan tells me, remembering his birthplace as we stand on the central bridge in the town of Mitrovica.

I'm back home with my friends, in my grandmother's house eating pancakes, playing with the snow, smelling the spring
Ivan Radic

The north side of Mitrovica is now the only large urban area in Kosovo where Serbs live in any numbers and Ivan, 32, has settled there.

Urosevac (Ferizaj in Albanian) lies 62km (39 miles) to the south but it is a journey he rarely makes, and only then in the company of friends from the international organisations in Kosovo.

Ivan, who moved to Mitrovica in 2003, is wary of setting foot across the Ibar river which divides the town.

After the war, he tried to live in the Kosovan capital Pristina. One day, however, an Albanian gang identified him as a Serb and beat him up.

Only a passing Norwegian K-For patrol saved his life, he believes.

Today he has walked on to the bridge from the north with a friend from central Serbia, coming with us at Ivan's request.

A taxi with an Albanian driver awaits us on the south side, behind the K-For base.

On the outside

On the highway, Ivan is initially reserved, reluctant to speak within earshot of our English-speaking Muslim driver Adem (not his real name).

Ivan on the main bridge in Mitrovica
Ivan brought groceries - a present for some isolated Serbs we visited

A devout Christian, he points out Serbian Orthodox churches. Ruined Serb homes and roadside shrines to dead Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters are passed without comment.

But his friend in the front soon strikes up a lively chat in Serbian with Adem and the atmosphere eases.

By nightfall, we will have all shared a meal at a cafe and, in the car, Ivan and Adem will have sung folksongs to one other in each other's language.

Now, in the heat of the afternoon, we turn off the highway and pull up beside what looks like a fenced-off fallow field in the village of Babus, 12km from Urosevac.

This, Ivan explains, is what remains of the graveyard where his grandfather was buried in 1985 and that, he says pointing to the only grave visible among the tall grass and weeds, is his broken headstone.

We cannot enter because of the real danger of mines.

"It was a beautiful graveyard before the war," Ivan says, recalling how he and his grandmother would visit, bringing candles and sweets.

He is glad his grandfather, who lost a leg fighting in World War II, did not live to see the flight of the Urosevac Serbs.

Five minutes

A stranger might think Serbs had never lived in Urosevac, which has a population 160,000, were it not for the central church.

The block of flats in Urosevac where Ivan once lived
We passed a building in Urosevac where Ivan once had a flat

As we cruise around the streets of this bustling town of shops and new cafes, some built on the sites of demolished Serb houses, I see no trace of the Serbian language in the street signs.

Ivan, who grew up in an Albanian district where he spoke the language of his friends and neighbours, recognises nobody.

Just 70 Serbs live in the area. The town's other Serbs make up the bulk of the 12,800 IDPs from Urosevac counted by the UN.

The events of June 1999 are an open wound for Ivan, who feels betrayed both by his Albanian neighbours and K-For.

During the Nato bombing, he says, his father and another Serb had stood up to Serbian paramilitaries, telling them if they wanted to harm their Albanian neighbours, they had to harm them first.

But when the KLA moved in after Serbian security forces withdrew and K-For arrived, his Albanian neighbours locked themselves in their houses, he says.

KLA gunmen were going from "house to house giving people five or ten minutes to get out" and he, his brother and his parents left their house with only the clothes they were wearing, he says.

US soldiers in the town, Ivan believes, did little more than escort them out. Ivan was one of some 5,000 Serbs who left the town in a convoy on 17 June.

The family house was burnt down like hundreds of others.

Across the globe

Ivan eventually lost touch with his old Albanian friends and neighbours after keeping in contact by phone just after the war.

Ivan Radic shows his Serbian ID card in the back of the taxi
Ivan shows the Serbian ID card he carries on him

He does not blame politics, but the pressures of everyday life, and says he has made new Albanian friends since then.

His close Serb friends from Urosevac mostly live outside Kosovo, as far afield as Australia, Canada and Russia.

"My Christian beliefs tell me that if I am expelled from one place I should make my home in another because everywhere is God's land," he says.

Starting from scratch, all he has of Urosevac today is memories and dreams:

"I'm back home with my friends, in my grandmother's house eating pancakes, playing with the snow, smelling the spring, and it's so specific and unique. That's only in the home town."

After we leave Ivan and his friend safely back in Mitrovica that night, Adem speaks:

"I feel sorry for the guy. But I felt sorry too for the Albanians who suffered under Milosevic."

He points out houses along the road to Pristina where, he says, Albanians were evicted in the 1990s to make way for Serb refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

We reach the city close to midnight. I go to my hotel and Adem goes home.

Kosovo map





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