By Muhamet Brajshori
“Challenging” is how 39-year-old Jelena Gasic describes her life.
She is one as of the as yet undetermined number of Serbs who remain in Kosovo’s capital, braving potential intolerance, unemployment and, recently, decentralisation.
The OSCE estimates there were 12,551 Serbs in Pristina in 2005 but that number has likely dropped since a new Serb-dominated Gracanica municipality — formerly part of Pristina — was formed in 2009.
Kosovo conducted a census six weeks ago. While the Serbs boycotted it in many areas of Kosovo, those in Pristina did not.
“Before 1999 approximately 20,000 Serbs lived in Pristina. Many of them fled with the Serbian forces in June 1999. Some were also forced to leave their houses after 1999 because of attacks against them or the economic situation,” media commentator Fatlum Sadiku said.
The Gasic family decided to stay. Jelena now lives with her parents and 14-year old son in the city’s downtown “YU programme apartments”, built by the Yugoslav government in the 1990s for refugees from Croatia and Bosnia. “I was born and grew up here and would never leave, and my parents would not either,” she said.
Her husband had to move to Germany to find work in the years after 1999.
Back in Pristina, “It was hard, because we lived in a ghetto. To go to the doctor we needed a military convoy to accompany us. No one was working; we [spent] many hours without electricity. This was our life,” Gasic tells SETimes.
She appreciates her Albanian neighbours. “We always had friendly relations, we tried to protect them during the war, and, in March 2004, they did the same by alerting us that we might be attacked and asked KFOR to help us.”
Her son attends school in Laplje Selo, just outside Pristina. Municipal authorities organised transportation to and from school for him and three other Serbian children.
“The mayor told us that they do not have funds to organise a class for four children, because of the extra salaries and transport costs for the teachers, so they now pick up the children and bring them back to the school every day.”
Close to Gasic’s apartment is Upiana market where another Serb, Slobodan Krstic, sells produce every Tuesday. This 55-year-old farmer lives in the village of Brnica, 6km west of Pristina.
“My wife makes cheese and I sell apples, potatoes, onions and tomatoes in Pristina and in Gracanica. It is not a [big] profit-making business, but I make enough to survive,” he tells SETimes.
He also receives a modest pension from Serbia that helps make ends meet.
Both he and Gasic says day-to-day life is expensive, though she always manages to buy cheese from him.
On the up side, Kristic says he can now conduct business more freely because inter-ethnic relations have eased. “Previously, it was not safe to come to Pristina or drive in Gracanica.”
The trade-off is that his son’s family moved to Belgrade, likely permanently. “What can they do in Brnica, live as farmers? No, I do not believe that,” he said.