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HVOSNO OSOJANE HOPES

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  • Snezana Lazovic
    http://www.hvosno.co.yu/default.htm [ Hvosno is the publication of the St. Sava Cultural Center in Istok. Following the displacement of most Serbs from Istok,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 2001
      http://www.hvosno.co.yu/default.htm

      ["Hvosno" is the publication of the St. Sava Cultural Center in Istok.
      Following the displacement of most Serbs from Istok, it is now based in
      Leposavic.]

      SERB RETURNS

      Our topic: Serb Returns to Metohija

      OSOJANE HOPES

      Some 80 Serbs have returned to their homes, to the ancient hearths of their
      long-ago ancestors, to the land where fate dictated they would take their
      first steps, where their first bread and salt was snatched from them. They
      knew they were returning to a place where not even the graves rest in peace,
      to a place surrounded by a jungle. They knew that their hands would be tied.

      A long time ago it was agreed in our office that Hvosno would serve the
      purpose of encouraging Serb returns. As he composed his report "We must not
      be disappointed", writer B. Vujovic chose his words carefully "in order to
      not make the position of those who returned or those who were preparing to
      join them any worse". But it is a pity and a shame not to admit that
      Osojane, at least now, most resembles a detention camp. A detention camp
      that is the shame of European civilization. A detention camp where
      apparently Serbs were not expected to return at all and if they had to
      return as a result of some kind of political initiatives, where they would
      quickly become discouraged and leave as soon as possible.

      Few Serbs came, less than a hundred. They were brought here in the fall, a
      season when projects should be finishing up and not just starting. They came
      to live in tents and our illusions were shattered that massive returns would
      be organized this fall, that Serb houses would be repaired in large numbers,
      not just primitive housing within a circle of some 200 meters. A few tens of
      several hundred ruined houses will be repaired. The school will not open
      because children cannot come here for safety reasons. There was no
      electricity because even the electrical poles and local distribution
      stations were torn down and taken away. No postal service, no telephone, no
      factories able to produce anything whatsoever.

      At first the Serbs of Osojane were received coldly by ten odd humanitarian
      organizations and there were protest demonstrations by Shiptars who welcomed
      the opportunity, a century and a half after beginning their bloody violence
      against the Serbs, of crowning their achievement with the defeat of the Serb
      people and Serb repudiation of their land.

      Centuries of pillagers of Serb graves have never had stronger helpers, never
      experienced such a windfall of good fortune, never before had the
      opportunity to loot Serb property to this extent and transform our farms
      into rubbish heaps, to leave so many without hope, without moral or physical
      strength. In these fateful times, waiting for us to be trampled by debauched
      European "Christian mercy", misplaced justice, crushed by time, covered by
      darkness and desolation and greedily stripped of Serb properties, villages
      and cities, they are witness to the return of the Serbs to Osojane. There
      are few of us in the beginning but there will be more.

      We place our trust in God's justice, in the hope that all expelled Serbs
      will massively return and that Osojane will be the beginning of the end of
      the tragedy of the Serbs.

      WE MUST NOT BE DISAPPOINTED

      The first two groups of returnees arrived in the Osojane Valley and were
      temporarily housed in tents. There is a huge difference between what they
      were promised by representatives of the international mission and what they
      actually found upon arrival. "We will put up anything as long as we can
      maintain ties with our homeland here," say the returnees who came to prepare
      their houses for the return of their families.

      The Osojane Valley has received the first two groups of its returnees into
      its burned, destroyed and looted bosom, now overgrown with thorns and weeds.
      After a long trip from Belgrade, Kraljevo, Nis. the first group arrived
      under the escort of KFOR and UNHCR on August 13, the second on August 23.

      In a one square kilometer clearing in these ghastly surroundings, first one
      group and then the other of returnees arrived here, 83 of them altogether.
      The moment they arrived they encountered the inhospitable "welcome" of their
      foreign "hosts" who, without a hint of helpfulness or goodwill, tossed
      unassembled tents at their feet for them to put up themselves to make
      temporary shelters.

      This sort of encounter by these displaced persons upon their return home
      before the beginning of any of the promised repairs on some 50 houses and
      other infrastructure was difficult for some of the people to accept and they
      voiced their complaints.

      "They could have at least pitched our tents since they have built thousands
      of houses for the Shiptars," protested Zarija Obradovic.

      "By the Holy Cross, I am thinking about setting out on foot to where I came
      from," responded Nenad Djuric bitterly.

      The returnees housing complex is patrolled by tanks and watched over by
      troops. They refuse to allow anyone to visit his house without a license,
      even if the house is located just hundreds of meters away. This is
      especially infuriating for Vukoje Ostojic, whose destroyed house is only 200
      meters from the temporary housing camp.

      Immediately upon their arrival, the returnees were immediately struck by the
      appearance of the middle part of the Osojane Valley. Under construction on
      10 hectares (4 acres) of the most fertile Serb land is a KFOR military base.
      The topsoil has been stripped and replaced with gravel. Observation towers
      have been built and embankments have been formed. The Shiptars are also
      involved in the construction of the base; they transport the water and
      gravel.

      Few skilled workers and little material

      Since their arrival the Serb returnees have been working almost ceaselessly
      because they are the work group that needs to provide for the complete
      return of their families. Radovan Repanovic says that they are "working like
      slaves to restore the planned buildings by the end of fall".

      However, the majority of them doubt that they will be able to achieve this
      because they do not have enough skilled workers and building materials are
      not arriving according to schedule and are unavailable in sufficient
      quantities.

      Sasa Ristic, the head of the Yugoslav Committee for Kosovo and Metohija's
      Sub-Committee for Returns, who arrived with the second group of returnees,
      is not satisfied with what the representatives of the international mission
      have demonstrated in practice.

      "What they are doing is quite different from what they promised to do. If
      they are deceiving us, our homeland needs to jump in to help us. You need to
      be settled in at least 50 restored houses by the beginning of winter," says
      Ristic.

      He also mentions Covic's promise to provide material assistance to the
      members of the families of these people who are still displaced and that
      those here will receive double salaries.

      In the first few days, four roofs are repaired and the people who are to
      move under them are contented. However Milivoje Repanovic complains because
      on one house where his family and his brother's family will live only part
      of the roof is being restored.

      "Before both our families lived under one roof; now we will have to both
      live under half a roof," says Milivoje, dissatisfied.

      All the returnees are unhappy that there is no electricity, that not one
      public building - school, health center, factory or agricultural
      cooperative - has been cleared of ruins and is ready to use. However,
      despite this these people find strength in their indestructible love for
      their home and their firm resolve to persevere in renovation and return.

      Gojko Djuric, the newly elected representative of these Serbs, says that
      they waited impatiently for the day of return and that they will put up
      anything as long as they can maintain ties with their homeland here.

      Zarija Obradovic, who has come to visit the burnt remnants of his home
      several times during his two years in exile, says:

      "Even the birds left this region and there were no more fish left in the
      Kujavca River flowing through this valley. It's as if they, too, were
      expelled by the Albanian terrorists in the presence of KFOR. However,
      recently we've seen large flocks of birds returning. That's a good sign."

      Manja Gasic, one of several women here who prepare the food, has also notice
      "a good sign" in her yard. The flowers she planted in front of her house
      before being expelled have bloomed as if in preparation for the return of
      her household.

      Stanoje Ostojic says that no one can make them leave again and that they
      will remain even if they have to camp under a tree. Dragoljub Repanovic
      complains because "they had no drinking water yesterday" but despite this
      and other problems he encourages his neighbors:

      "We have to be patient in asking for everything they promised us. We have to
      do as much as we can. We simply cannot allow ourselves to be disappointed."

      "Or afraid," add others, obviously thinking of the demonstrations by
      Albanian extremists in Istok that their leaders recently organized upon the
      arrival of the Serb returnees to the Osojane Valley.

      By the end of the year

      In talking with the returnees, it is apparent that they are not sufficiently
      acquainted with the action plan for returns being implemented by UNMIK,
      KFOR, OSCE and UNHCR. The plan is so flexible that it is difficult to find
      any sort of definition with regard to the timeframe or anything else. In the
      plan there are many conditional and alternative promises dependent on the
      abilities and goodwill of the donors. That means that they are the ones who
      ultimately determine whether they will provide the entire amount of two and
      a half million German marks for the first 50 families on time or not. Or
      whether they will have enough money to renovate the houses that are not
      irreparably damaged, make essential repairs to existing social
      infrastructure, create minimal conditions for electricity, support for the
      first projects that will employ the returnees and for construction of
      additional water wells.

      It is useful to cite the final paragraph of this plan, adopted as long ago
      as May of this year:

      "It is expected that planned returns will begin during the summer and in
      subsequent months, depending on the mine clearance activities and securing
      of funds for restoration of houses and reconstruction of the infrastructure.
      The return of complete families is expected during the fall when the
      restoration of houses should be nearing completion. Viewed from a logistical
      perspective, minimal conditions for the housing of 50 families in one of the
      village locations in Osojane should be completed, realistically, during
      2001."

      Roots of return spread

      Stanoje Ostojic, the president of the "Dolina Osojana" (Osojane Valley)
      Association for Serb Returns Assembly, says:

      "Returnees to Osojane will soon be joined by people expelled from Tucep and
      Saljinovica." Stanoje Ostojic is one of the representatives of the Serbs in
      Metohija who these days has been traveling frequently from Belgrade to
      Osojane and back again. Last week Ostojic visited Belgrade and took care of
      some business essential to potential returnees and returnees to Osojane,
      returning three days later to the Metohija village. We asked him to tell us
      the latest information with respect to returns and the situation in the
      Osojane Valley.

      "Preparations for the return of displaced persons from Banj and Crkolez are
      underway. We hope that they will be joining us soon, which tells us that the
      roots of returnees to Metohija are expanding with increasing speed," says
      Ostojic optimistically.

      He emphasizes that he has good news for teachers who returned to Osojane:
      the Serbian Ministry of Education has secured regular and double salaries
      for them. With respect to this, he says that these teachers will be able to
      begin classes for the first 18 students in 20 days, which is how long is
      needed to renovate a part of the health care facility for that purpose.
      Classes for a larger number of students will not be possible until work is
      completed on the existing school building.

      In a similarly optimistic mood, Ostojic also shared with us the following
      information:

      "The reconstruction of 25 to 35 houses foreseen for adaptation is in
      progress. Roofs have already been completed on 11 of these houses. Also in
      progress is the construction of 20 new houses on sites where previously
      existing houses were literally leveled with the ground. Recently it was
      decided to build 18 additional houses outside the reinforcement zone. They
      will be built for returnees from Tucep and Saljinovica."

      "Five water wells have been cleaned out and now we have access to clean
      drinking water."

      "Electrical poles are being raised to connect us with the long-distance
      electrical distribution system. As of today eight of them are up; when
      everything is done we will no longer be dependent on our own generator for
      electricity."

      Osojane Valley: Serb land for centuries

      Osojane was formerly a Serb municipality comprised of five Serb villages and
      two hamlets. These settlements relied for support on villages with a
      predominantly Serb population in Suvi Lukavac, Belica and Zac. Also within
      the realm of this Serb area was approximately 1,000 hectares (400 acres) of
      state-owned land belonging to the "Dubrava" company in Istok. This land was
      once privately owned by Serbs but was illegally taken away (nationalized by
      the Communist government) in order to form this state-owned agricultural
      estate. This violence of the former officials of this land opened the door
      to many other forms of violence against the Serb population in the Osojane
      Valley. It is hardly surprising that these same Serbs were forced to abandon
      their centuries-old homes two years ago before the onslaught of terrorism by
      Albanian separatists in the presence of KFOR and that they are confronted
      with the problems they must deal with today.

      The Osojane Valley municipality dates back to the Middle Ages. It was
      formerly called the Bishopric of Kujavca after the Kujavca River that flows
      through the Valley into the Istok River.

      Classrooms and bees

      A swarm of bees was found in the school gymnasium. The returnees say the
      bees are a sign that children will soon return to the classrooms.

      However, the restoration of the school building has not yet begun even
      though considerable investment and effort will be necessary to accomplish
      this. So far only one classroom has been cleared out, two or three benches
      and two tables brought in and office supplies secured for meetings. Most of
      the credit for this accomplishment goes to the Spanish KFOR troops, who have
      shown more understanding and goodwill than the other representatives of the
      international mission.

      In this school Albanian terrorists set fire to the school library and
      destroyed the student records.

      Visit and gift

      Last week the returnees to the Osojane Valley were visited by the
      Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, Amfilohije; the Bishop of Raska
      and Prizren, Artemije; the chairman of the Yugoslav Committee for Kosovo and
      Metohija, Momcilo Trajkovic; Serbian parliamentary deputy Marko Jaksic; and
      head of the Yugoslav Committee's Sub-Committee for Serb Returns, Slavisa
      Ristic.

      The returnees are also expecting the visit of Serbian Deputy Prime Minister
      and president of the Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija, Nebojsa
      Covic, as well as greater assistance from the Serbian state in creating the
      necessary conditions for more rapid Serb returns to this part of Metohija.

      PHOTOGRAPHS:

      "Miracle Valley" of Osojane: Part of deserted fields
      http://www.hvosno.co.yu/slike/osojane.jpg

      School in Osojane: Pakistani soldier rests in front of main entrance
      http://www.hvosno.co.yu/slike/skola.jpg

      KFOR military base built on most fertile land
      http://www.hvosno.co.yu/slike/bazakfor.jpg

      On the only "bed" in the tent: Jero Djuric and spouse
      http://www.hvosno.co.yu/slike/sator.jpg
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