Serbs in Kosovo Fear Looming Decision
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now let's turn to the subject of freedom for an entire province, a province that may become its own country. Years after a war there, Kosovo could move toward independence from Serbia. We heard about its ambitions yesterday. And today, NPR's Emily Harris reports on some people not happy about it. Ethnic Serbs say if Kosovo leaves Serbia, they might secede from Kosovo.
NPR's Emily Harris reports.
(Soundbite of dog barking)
EMILY HARRIS: Svinjare is the Serb name of a little town strung along a quiet road in a green valley in Kosovo. Once both ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians lived here. Now, stray dogs guard a knot of empty Serbian home.
(Soundbite of door opening)
HARRIS: Milorad Radivoiovich unlocks a four-room, one-story house. This was built by the Kosovo government to replace his home that was burned three years ago by a rampaging crowd of ethnic Albanians during a flare up of violence. Inside, Radivoiovich says construction problems and crime make it impossible to return.
Mr. MILORAD RADIVOIOVICH: This was a bathroom before, and now it's a bedroom. Yet, there's no bed. It was stolen.
HARRIS: A proposal for Kosovo's supervised self-rule the U.N. is now considering includes detailed guarantees of security and rights for ethnic Serbs. Radivoiovich says that's like wolves caring for sheep.
Mr. RADIVOIOVICH: Don't you know how many guarantees we have had by now? Our pockets are full of promises.
HARRIS: The place most Serbs feel most secure in Kosovo is not far from here, across the Ibar River in the north part of the town of Mitrovica.
(Soundbite of car honking)
HARRIS: Cars in the north use Serbian, not Kosovo, license plates. Cell phones use different country codes north and south of the bridge. Money to support Serbs and this double system comes from Belgrade much through one local Serb politician, Marko Jaksic.
He is confident that Russia will block the proposal for graduated independence for Kosovo. And if Kosovo simply declares itself independent, Jaksic says, Serbs here won't go along.
Mr. MARKO JAKSIC: (Through translator) If that happens, then Serbs in Kosovo are going to declare that this is illegal and not obligatory for us.
HARRIS: He says Serbs in Kosovo would ask Belgrade for political support, and the Serbian military for protection, if necessary. But there are different voices within the Serb community here.
Mr. PETAR MILETIC, (General Secretary, Independent Liberal Party, Kosovo): I am not for independence. It's very unpleasant. But I know that will happen.
HARRIS: Petar Miletic is clearly a maverick here. He's so radical he's banned smoking in his office. The journalist-turned-politician also goes out on a limb to say publicly that Serbs should work with Albanians to secure their rights in Kosovo. But he finds that Serbs here are so obsessed with and fearful of independence they can't focus on problems Miletic believes they could affect, such as unemployment or unreliable electricity and water.
Mr. MILETIC: They think if Kosovo will be independent, then prosperity here don't exist. They are afraid maybe Albanians will try ethnical cleaning in Kosovo. So if you speak about water, they will say, oh, give me a break, don't speak about water, we don't know what will happen tomorrow.
HARRIS: At the Dolche Vita cafe in North Mitrovica, Lubisha Radosavlevich predicts a mass exodus of Serbs from an independent Kosovo. But with healing, he says he'd let his kids decide. One son is a cafe owner, Sasha Radosavlevich.
Mr. SASHA RADOSAVLEVICH (Son of Lubisha Radosavlevich): (Through translator) Personally, I will never leave this place.
HARRIS: This cafe is right next to the river that separates the north from the rest of Kosovo. That will stay a dividing line, he says, and he thinks that's not a bad thing.
Mr. S. RADOSAVLEVICH: (Through translator) I'm not a nationalist, but I see the reality now and this (unintelligible). There is no possibility for us to live together at the moment.
HARRIS: For now, he does business with Albanians. Most goods are cheaper coming through Kosovo than through Serbia. In fact, he says, every morning he meets an Albanian friend he's known since grade school to buy oranges for the fresh squeezed juice sold at his cafe.
Emily Harris, NPR News, North Mitrovica.
INSKEEP: You can hear part one of this report at npr.org.
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