News 17 Mar 17

Serbs Commemorate Anniversary of Deadly Kosovo Unrest

Serbian officials and Kosovo Serbs commemorated the anniversary of ethnic unrest in Kosovo in March 2004, when 19 people died and several thousand fled their homes.

Vanja Djuric
BIRN
Novi Sad
The commemoration in Gracanica on Friday. Photo: www.kim.gov.rs

Officials from Serbia and local Kosovo Serbs attended a ceremony the Orthodox monastery in Gracanica in central Kosovo on Friday and laid flowers at a monument dedicated to missing persons in commemoration of the 13th anniversary of the deadly unrest.

The deputy director of the Serbian government's Kosovo office, Ljubomir Maric, told the commemoration that Serbs were determined to remain in Kosovo.

“Today we are united, more than ever, we have the open support of the Serbian state and the Serbian government; violence, storms [a reference to Croatia's 1995 military operation Storm] and other crimes will not happen ever again,” said Maric, Serbian national broadcaster RTS reported.

According to an OSCE report, 19 people were killed (11 Albanians and eight Serbs) and more than 900 were injured (including 65 international police officers and 58 Kosovo police officers) in the violent unrest on March 17 and 18, 2004.

More than 50,000 people, both Albanians and Serbs, participated in the riots.

As well as assaults and killings, many Serbian Orthodox Churches were burned down and several thousand people were forced to leave their homes.

To mark the anniversary, Serbian Education Minister Mladen Sarcevic and Labour Minister Aleksandar Vulin visited a primary school in Belgrade to talk to children about Kosovo.

At the beginning of the class at the Petar Petrovic Njegos school, the ministers asked the pupils if they had ever been to Kosovo.

“Every Serb has to go and see Kosovo, at least once in their life. Just to see, nothing else,” Vulin told the class, B92 television reported.

“You will see villages like other villages, roads, cheese. But you will feel something, something that cannot be described,” he added.

In an apparent sideswipe at Kosovo Albanians' history, Vulin also told the schoolchildren that the Visoki Decani Orthodox monastery was an example of the achievements of Serbs in Kosovo which dated back hundreds of years.

“That was at the time when some other people [ethnic Albanians] who are maybe the majority there today were building small houses,” Vulin said.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said before the anniversary on Thursday that he was ashamed of what happened in March 2004, because it was unnecessary and disgraced Kosovo.

“It is not our tradition to ruin cultural and historical monuments, to imperil property, to burn houses, to be a threat to children, women, older people. We will always punish acts like this, and I really don’t want this to happen ever again,” Thaci told Serbian journalists in Caglavica a village near Pristina, Radio Television of Kosovo reported.

The violence erupted after three Albanian children were reported to have been drowned in the Ibar River in Mitrovica after allegedly being attacked by Serbs, although the Serbs denied any involvement.

International courts in Pristina have prosecuted several people who attacked several Serbian Orthodox churches, handing down jail sentences ranging from 21 months to 16 years.

When the violence in Kosovo erupted in March 2004, several bakeries and other shops owned by Albanians in Serbia were attacked.

Demo Berisa, the president of Association of Albanians in Novi Sad, said that every year on the anniversary, Albanians in Serbia feel ashamed but also afraid about what could happen to them.

“I am against any kind of violence, the deportation of people who lived somewhere for centuries, and I condemned [the violence in 2004],” Berisa told BIRN.

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