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15 Jan 15

Vucic Visit Lifts Serb Spirits in Kosovo Village

Kosovo Serbs gathered in Strpce in southern Kosovo welcomed the Serbian Prime Minister - who promised more money for their shrinking community and urged them not to leave.

Una Hajdari
BIRN
Strpce

 

Photo by: BETA/Milos Miskov

Kosovo Serb children in the village of Strpce on Wednesday donned Serbian traditional dress before gathering at the local hall of culture to welcome their guest of honor, the Prime Minister of Serbia.

Two days earlier they heard that Aleksandar Vucic was coming to visit their town and that they would be the ones to welcome him. With the Prime Minister being more than an hour late, some children were itching to get out of their outfits. They waited another 40 minutes in the freezing cold, with a couple hundred other residents of Strpce carrying Serbian flags.

Strpce was one of three towns, including Pasjane and Gracanica, that Vucic visited on Wednesday in honor of Serbian Orthodox New Year.

For most of the remaining Serbs in Kosovo, who cherish ties to Serbia, Vucic - not the Prime Minister of Kosovo - is "their" Prime Minister, and this visit represented a top honor.

In the event, Vucic tried not to disappoint. “The government of Serbia, and Serbia itself, has not and will not forget the people in Strpce and the rest in Kosovo and Metohija,” Vucic said in his speech in front of the Dom Kulture and after being offered the customary pogaca bread.

“The government of Serbia will offer much greater support. We will invest in your road infrastructure. We will invest in the food and food processing industry, so that you will know how to better sell and profit from the goods you produce,” Vucic continued, generating a round of applause.

Vucic also urged Serbs to stay in Kosovo and not sell up. “I know Albanians will offer a lot of money for your houses. I ask you not to sell your houses. You are the ones who protect and build our country,” he said.

Locals seemed cheered by the oration. “I think it’s very nice that he came. Our hopes lie with Serbia and we’re hoping they don’t betray us,” Marica Pesic, 65, who works at the refugee center in Strpce, said.

 “Vucic said he’d be investing in Strpce. The ski center is the only thing people live off of since the factories closed - and there is no agriculture,” she added. Her recently married daughter is not employed and is considering moving away.

Situated on the side of a mountain in the Sharr range, the Serbian-majority community mainly serves as stopping point for people traveling to the Brezovica ski resort, Kosovo’s top winter destination.

It is home to 7,000 inhabitants according to the 2011 Kosovo census. However, the majority of Serbs in Kosovo boycotted the census. Some claim that around 13,000 live in the Strpce zupa,or region.

A couple of people in the crowd had come all the way from Serbia. “I live in Belgrade. I came here to my grandma and grandpa for the holidays. I like it more here than in Belgrade – I wouldn’t mind living here,” said Anja Seslija, 14, whose parents were born and raised in Ferizaj - Urosevac to the Serbs.

However, her friend who lives in Strpce says that she doesn’t feel at ease living in Albanian-majority Kosovo.

“There are places we can go out to, but Albanians are there, too, so I don’t feel very comfortable,” Bojana Geric, aged 15, said. She usually travels around with her parents.

Vucic’s visit also had a more specifically political purpose, beyond reassuring Kosovo Serbs that Serbia had not forgotten its former province.

It was also designed to underline Belgrade's continuing support for the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija, a party which won eight of the 120 seats in the Kosovo assembly in Kosovo's last elections.

“I told my people who joined the Prishtina government: You did not go in there to become richer. You did it so that our people in Kosovo and Metohija become richer than they are today. You will fight for them,” Vucic noted.

The Serbian List is a crucial factor in the implementation of the Brussels agreement, which is aimed at "normalising" relations between Kosovo and Serbia - which does not recognise Kosovo's independence.

An important component of the EU-led deal concerns the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo with broad powers of self-rule.

However, many Kosovo Serbs say the Brussels agreement and the Serbian List MPs, which now has two ministers and a deputy PM in the Kosovo government, betrayed them.

Strpce, like Pasjane and Gracanica, all have mayors from the Serbian list. Officially, these mayors are part of the Kosovo system – but the fact that Belgrade backs the List makes it easier for staunch opponents of the independence of Kosovo to accept them.

Confusingly, Vucic’s government has undermined the Brussels agreement by continuing to back so-called "parallel structures" in Kosovo, responsible only to Serbia.

Thus, mayor Bratislav Nikolic, after being elected mayor in local elections in Kosovo, was also chosen to be mayor of the Serbian-run parallel structures.

Currently he is mayor according to both systems, both of which maintain offices in the same building in the municipality of Strpce.

Meanwhile, not all Serbs were wowed by the Serbian Prime Minister's promises. Some say they have heard it all before.

“I don’t expect anything to change after the visit. Vucic should come and spend 24 hours with us, see what it’s really like,” Randjel Filipovic, 22, said. “My goal is to find a way to move to the West.”

 

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