The respondent, a Serbian woman (1982), teacher from Kosovska Kamenica, reminisced about her childhood that she spent with her Albanian friends. She says she has never divided people along ethnic lines. She points out that after the war, the main problem in Kosovo is not the coexistence of Albanians and Serbs, but, as she says, in life itself, that is in the livelihood of people living there. She would not advise her children to stay, mostly because of existential reasons and the impossibility of finding work, and not because these two nations have bad relations in Kamenica. She currently lives in Kamenica with her husband, who is from Leskovac, and who was well received by the local Albanians.

Q: Can you tell us something more about yourself, where do you live, are you married, do you have children?

A: I’ve lived in Kosovska Kamenica, where I was born, for 40 years. I am married and have two boys.

Q: What is it like to live in Kosovska Kamenica, where the majority of the population is Albanian?

A: It’s nice, not like it was before the war, but it’s not too bad.

Q: As far as cooperation is concerned, do you cooperate with them and do you help each other?

A: Because I work in education, I am a teacher by profession, we get together at various seminars. However, the things we have done 10 years ago, which were introduced in our schools, they are a little behind with those things. It is nice that we have more experience in working with inclusive teaching, and our relations and cooperation are very good.

Q: In what language do you communicate with them?

A: Unfortunately, in Serbian, but I am learning their language, because I think that a person is worth that much more the more languages he or she speaks, and I will try my best to improve my Albanian so that we can be equal in our conversations.

Q: Have you had any problems with Albanians?

A: Well, mostly not, but things happened, I personally did not have any trouble with anyone.

Q: Do you plan to stay in Kosovo?

A: Absolutely, yes.

Q: Are you afraid for the safety of your children, given that you have children?

A: Not at all, I divide people into good and bad and not into Albanians, Bosniaks, Serbs, that’s how my parents raised me and that’s how they were raised themselves.

Q: What does that socializing look like, do you visit each other for holidays and celebrations?

A: We used to, we socialized a lot more before the war, but when politics interfered in interpersonal relations, it really had a terrible effect and affected our relations. However, I believe that nothing can upset our relations so much, because we have lived here together for centuries, and as we lived then, we will continue to live. And people who think like me will never have any trouble. The coexistence we have in Kosovska Kamenica, I don’t think you can find it anywhere else, this is a real example of how Serbs and Albanians should help each other and live together.

Q: Your husband followed you here, how was he accepted by the Albanians?

A: Yes, he came here, we couldn’t find a job in Serbia, and then we both moved here. Interestingly, he came here a year before me. He was extremely well received by the Albanians, unfortunately maybe even better than by the Serbs.

Q: Did he have any trouble with Albanians?

A: No, never. Because he worked in the surrounding villages, he even helped their elderly people with transportation, he drove them around. He didn’t know a word of Albanian, since he is not from here, the man is from Serbia, unlike me, but they worked together splendidly. I don’t know how they managed to communicate, but it’s important that he helped them and they helped him.

Q: Do you think your children are safe here, do you plan to stay?

A: You know, the kids are somewhat safe here, but there are always people who do not think the same as me, there are extremists on both sides, on all sides, and because of people like that I am still afraid for the future of my children. Whether they will stay, I sincerely hope, I can not chose their destiny, but I sincerely hope that they will always be happy to come back here, because this is where I’m from, and what they do depends od the situation, because the current situation is not in our favor.

Q: Do your children socialize with Albanian children?

A: They do, we have a park where Serbian, Roma and Albanian boys play football together and there is never any trouble. Sometimes they fight, but if they were all Serbs, they would certainly fight as well, so nothing out of the ordinary.

Q: Do you socialize with the parents of those children?

A: Not with the parents of those children, because the entire population changed after the war. Some old families remained, with whom I grew up and whom I greatly admire and respect, but since I’m already 40, I have both male and female friends, my best friend comes from a mixed marriage, his mother is Serbian and his father is Albanian, and he is still my best friend and I am extremely proud of that fact, and that says a lot about both me and him. It also shows how coexistence is possible, of course it is possible and will be possible, but we should all forget what happened, not just Serbs.

Q: Growing up, were you friends with Albanians?

A: Yes, I we are still friends, but the war had an effect and many of them moved away, and many of our people also moved away, and then the structure of the population simply changed after the war.

Q: Did you go out for drinks, do you go out for a drink today, do you hang out?

A: We visit both Albanian and Serbian cafes, people who are open-minded, both Albanians and Serbs, do not divide people along those lines, to Albanians and Serbs. You either like people as friends or you don’t, regardless of whether they are Serbs or Albanians or Roma.

Q: When you go to an Albanian cafe, do you feel safe, are you afraid to speak in Serbian?

A: No, why would I be afraid, if they serve me in Serbian, I feel honored to reply in Albanian, we even joke around like that, they ask me a question in Serbian, I answer them in Albanian. That’s a big plus from them and for me.

Q: If you go back in time, would you still decide to remain in Kosovo?

A: My decision would be absolutely the same, if I lived a hundred times over, but I would not like my children to live here. Because life here, I’m not talking about coexistence, but about the life of Serbs and Albanians and Roma and all the people who live in Kosmet in general, is much different after the war. It affected the coexistence, interpersonal relations, it affected job opportunities, we Serbs and Albanians have a great problem. In our whole economy, there are job prospects only in health and education for Serbs, and only trade and the service sector for Albanians. You can imagine how difficult it is for a young person to find a job here.

Q: How did Albanians live in Kosovo during the NATO intervention?

A; Just like the Serbs, exactly the same, they were afraid, hungry, terrified, they feared us and we feared them, and we all feared [inaudible].

Q: Did you help each other then?

A: We didn’t really, because then we blamed them and they blamed us for the situation in which someone else took advantage and made friends and neighbors into enemies. That did not do any good to anyone, in only made both nations worse off.

Q: On the whole, what is life like in Kamenica?

A: Kamenica is fantastic, it is the most beautiful place in the world, I feel like I can breathe freely here, and believe me, I’ve been around many places. I studied in Niš, I lived for a while in Vranje, I was married in Leskovac. All those places don’t even come close to Kamenica, whatever they might offer in terms of possibilities, especially Niš, I would always return and I did return to my hometown, Kosovska Kamenica, whoever might live there.

Q: Did you use to visit Albanians and did they use to visit you for the holidays?

A: Yes, we used to visit each other and I have fond memories of attending their weddings, but also of my everyday life as a kid. As a child, I always loved visiting my grandparents, because they were friends with Albanians. We once went to their neighbor’s son’s wedding. They’ve got nice music and very interesting customs regarding the ceremony itself. It’s not like our weddings and it’s very nice, and having subsequently studied folklore, it was nice to compare those customs and see what we can learn from each other. By respecting other people’s tradition and faith, we can also respect ourselves. That is nice, and because were inseparable, there were as many Serbs in my neighborhood as there were Albanians, half-and-half. They would visit us, my grandfather played the accordion, and being a teacher he knew Albanian, he played and sang in Albanian, Russian and Serbian. Too bad I didn’t take after him and wasn’t interested in learning the language then. Many Albanians would learn Serbian quicker and better than we did Albanian. However, now times have changed, and since I did not understand how important it is to learn another language, whatever that language might be, I will try to learn their language so me and my neighbors can communicate even better.

Q: What was the attitude of the Serbian authorities, the police and the army towards the Albanian population?

A: Just like toward the Serbian, completely the same, those who deserved it were punished accordingly, in proportion to the severity of the crime, we were never divided into Serbs and Albanians, our government may have even favored Albanians. I remember when we were in school, those are my childhood memories that Albanian kids went to a larger and better school, because their parents had more children. We were mostly families of three or four, and there were seven or eight of them in the family. Then they were given a larger building to use, and that says a lot about how the entire government treated us all in Kosmet, whether they were Serbs or Albanians. Medical cards, for example, were typed in Albanian on top and in Serbian at the bottom. You should ask Albanians this question, I am sure they would give you the same answer.

Q: What are your memories of socialism in Kosovo?

A: Wonderful, and even during communism, since I also lived in communism. Me and my neighbor, I always remember that very fondly, it is the only recitation that I knew in Albanian since I was not even seven then, we recited it for Youth Day, she recited on May Day in Serbian and I in Albanian, we carried the relay baton on Tito’s birthday. It is a memory of the time of communism when we were all really equal, and yes, we were working class, we had less than we do now, but there was brotherhood and unity, especially in Kamenica. Unfortunately, today it is not so. My advice to you is to ask older Albanians about this, or at least to someone who is over 40. I believe that you will get the same answers from them. None of them can get over that time when we were all equal.

Q: Do you think that the socialist period was positive or negative in terms of the development of your town and Kosovo as a whole?

A: Extremely positive, because a lot of money from Serbia was sent to Kosmet, a lot.

Q: Were there any cases of local Serbs providing assistance to their Albanian neighbors?

A: There were, of course, Serbs helping Albanians and vice versa, especially when houses were built, or in preparing preserves, we did it all together. It was a beautiful experience, it was a beautiful childhood in Kosovska Kamenica, I really remember that period very fondly.

Q: What was your attitude towards Albanians between 1998 and 1999?

A: Not very positive, because the conflict was escalating then and we all feared for our lives, both us and them. We were afraid of the invisible enemy, we were afraid of the bombing, we did not even dream that this conflict would grow to those proportions and that all world powers would be involved. Unfortunately, we still see the consequences of those attacks, because those consequences affected everyone.

Q: What was it like to socialize with Albanians when you were younger?

A: It was fantastic, I don’t know if we had more fun in the spring, when we played hide and seek, or in the summer when we all went swimming in the river together, or in the winter, when we sledged together. There is a street without a name and we all call it Small Street. We all skated together until late at night, we were there all day. Our parents would call us to go home and eat something, go get bread, come back and play in the snow until late at night. I remember fondly my childhood and the sommers, all those songs on the balcony when my grandparents would gather together all the children from the neighborhood, Roma, Albanians or Serbs, it was all the same. We knew how to sing in Albanian, but we didn’t know how to say anything, except “good day”, etc. Us kids didn’t have much communication, but our parents who worked in government institutions knew the language and still know it today. I have great memories of childhood and I am glad that I grew up beside them and they beside us. If we have learned anything from Albanians, it is to be united. We should envy them on how united they are and how much they help each other.

Q: Finally, what would you say to people who once lived here but left, and to those who stayed here?

A: I would like to tell the people who used to live here that it will never be the same as it was when they were kids, although I understand why they are no longer here. And I would tell the people who stayed to persist, despite all the obstacles, and stay here. Not to meddle in politics, not to divide people into Serbs, Albanians, Roma, Bosniaks, Gorani, but to divide people just like I do, into good and bad. There is a future for us, I would like to say to all the people who live and work in Kosmet today, forget prejudices, forget what happened in the past, look to the future, nurture your culture, your customs, your lives. Let’s cooperate, let’s live together, as people lived for centuries before us, and a bright future is ahead. Forget about politics, take an interest in culture, learn from each other and live just as we used to live all those years, together. We have, do and will continue to live together, whether someone liked it or not.

Image courtesy of Aleksandar R. Miletić

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