Building and rebuilding – the infancy of independence in Kosovo

Ten years after the war in Kosovo, and more than a year after the region declared independence from Serbia, thousands of people, both Serbs and Albanians are still struggling to repair their homes and lives.

For a decade, Albanian families from the north of Kosovo’s Mitrovica have been living far from their homes. They fled in 1999, after the area became the Serbian sector of the ethnically-divided town. But now they’re returning.

“There were 124 houses before the war. They all were burned by Serbian police and civilians. Albanians couldn’t return because Serbs were against this, but now we – Kosovo’s government – have given the Albanians money to help rebuild their houses,” says Rasim Veseli, the Director for Public Services and Infrastructure

But it’s something the Serbs are still heavily opposed to.

The house of Sinisha Lazic, from Serbian Night Watch, is just 300 meters from the reviving Albanian district. He sees the Albanians’ return to the Serbian part of town as an invasion.

“They want to set up a center for the Albanian security forces here, in these houses, to control the Serbian part of Mitrovica. Their main goal is to force us from our land and to populate it with Albanians,” says Lazic.

Sinisha says the return of Albanians forces the situation off balance, as things are very different for Serbian displaced people. While there are Albanian families in the Serb part of Mitrovica, there are no Serbs in the Albanian part.

Their churches and cemeteries have been totally destroyed, and their houses occupied. There is no longer a way back home for them.

“Why is that? Serbs have many times applied to the Mayor of the Southern, Albanian part of Mitrovica, asking to return to their homes. But no one has responded. The international community should admit that they were wrong with this independent Kosovo, because they listened to only one side,” says Sinisha Lazic.

Kosovo’s authorities call it Serb paranoia. They claim that, together with the international missions in the region, they are ready to help every single Serb, not only Albanians, to return home.

“Some 2 or 3 years ago, we rebuilt more than 100 houses in the village of Svinyary, but the Serbs don’t want to return. And we cannot force them to,” says Rasim Veseli.

A beautiful village in Kosovo is home to hundreds of displaced Serbs. More than 50 families moved here after the clashes of 2004. The majority came from the very village of Svinyare, which Kosovo’s authorities say they’ve rebuilt.

RT asked one man why he’s not returning there.

“No one will ever tell you that he doesn’t want to return. Everybody wants it. But we cannot. We are afraid. The Albanians stole our land, they robbed our houses. It’s absurd, but we couldn’t even work in our own gardens. How can we be sure that this time they’ll not do the same with us?” said Serbian refugee Slobodan Tanic.

Security is something many Serbs here in Kosovo are seeking, and something, Slobodan says, few of them hope to ever get.

”No, there is absolutely no way to live in this independent Kosovo, ever,” says Slobodan.

The village Slobodan lives in is just one of dozens of refugee camps in Kosovo, and one of hundreds all across Serbia. Thousands of displaced Serbs continue to live far from their homes with no hope of return. At the same time the feeling here is that many Albanians, supported by the EU and UN-led missions in the region, are coming back to their villages. And until this homecoming stops being a one-way street, the situation in Kosovo is likely to remain tense.

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