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BOSNIAKS IN THE ZHUPA VALLEY

Bošnjaci u Sredačkoj Župi

Hello and welcome to UNMIK ON AIR's new documentary series the focus today on the Bosniak minority community in the Zupa Valley near Prizren .

Dzavit Azari: I came back one year after the war. I was away from home for 3 years. My wife and my children were living here. I was hoping to get some loans, to start something here, hoping that industry would start to recover but nothing, it's a lost cause, I'm going back to Germany. One must survive, must struggle.

Happy to be back, but resigned to leave Dzavit Azari is not an exception. Most Bosniaks in the Zupa valley agree with his assessment. The area was home to some 20,000 Bosniaks before the war, but within the last five years around thirty percent of the people have gone abroad to seek their fortunes, the majority to Germany. The reason is simple - unemployment.

Before the war, the village of Recane was home to more than 1.300 people - today, says Recane's local community chief Emrus Huduti, there are just some 800 left. And with more then 70 percent of the population unemployed, says Huditi, it is impossible to speak of returns.

Emrus Huduti: It is very easy to get people to return, it is the easiest thing. But if you do not create the conditions, any conditions, even the minimal ones, for them to get a job, to be able to support their families, then it is the biggest absurdity to take such a step.

Bosniaks in Recane, like most people in Kosovo have to compete for a very limited number of jobs in the public sector hospitals, schools, the Kosovo police service, or even, as we witnessed recently, the Kosovo Protection Corps.

But even the lucky ones who manage to get such posts can't survive with a monthly salary of 120 to 150 euros. In Recane for example, everybody depends on family members working abroad, says Huduti.

Emrus Huduti: The money is not produced here, trade does not exist, industry does not exist, it's a question of survival, It is a stroke of luck that we have somebody out there to support us. And it seems that the international community is paying little attention to the economy. Its focus is on security or other issues, I don't know, but we do not see any improvement when it comes to the economy.

Mustafa Balje is deputy editor of the Bosniak bi-monthly Alem, the only source of information for the Bosnian community in the Zupa valley. The area is so cut off from the rest of Kosovo, that it can't even capture the national public service television RTK.

Balje feels the international community's concentration on interethnic relations between Serbs and Albanians work to the detriment of other minority groups.

Mustafa Balje: We had a big problem when 62 Bosniaks were killed after the war, and no one did anything. Believe it or not in a village near Dragas, two or three years ago, a man was killed Menduh, I can't remember his surname he was working in KEK. He was killed and imagine after three years he is still not registered in the book of dead people. And the government says it does not know how many Bosniaks were killed. If it were birds they would know and those were humans

VOX POP: Children I'll study in in Sarajevo I have fun in school, I play football and I'll study in in Sarajevo Belgrade

The Recane village school sits near a babbling brook the mountains smile down on the kids who play as if there were no tomorrow. But the future of these kids is unlikely to be in Kosovo. The lack of high schools and universities in their mother tongue means that students eager to continue higher studies are obliged to travel outside Kosovo to Sarajevo or Belgrade. But studying abroad can also be difficult, says Merlit Milicevic, a teacher at Recane primary school. He remembers the good old times back in the 70s, when he first started teaching.

Merilit Milicevic: I have many good feelings from that time. My salary was in dinars but it amounted to at least DEM 1.000; that was in 1976, I could live normally then, even to go to the seaside. Today I cannot even buy food for my family. And how can I make a better future for my children, to afford education for them, in Sarajevo for example, because there are no faculties here, or in Belgrade. For that I'd need 1.000 euros, but my salary is just 130 euros.

Poverty brings other things in its wake. A no future generation is coming to adulthood in the Zupa valley, warns journalist Mustafa Balje.

Mustafa Balje: Probably you have already heard that there is an increase in prostitution and drug addiction, thank God it is not present here in a huge number yet, probably because of the cultural pride of our community. Young people are left to themselves and there is no way for them to grow up as other young people in Europe.

Recane community head Emrus Huduti agrees. It is high time, he says for the international community to realize that providing humanitarian assistance is the only way of reviving Kosovo society.

Emrus Huduti: I always said that the biggest need of Kosovo society was projects concerning schools, education, and culture. That is the way to build civil society, a cultural and democratic society. And I think that the international community should focus on those issues in order to get out of that vicious circle.

In the meantime, life in the Zupa valley centers on day-to-day survival. Primary school teacher Merilit Milicevic says his case is mirrored by hundreds in the area.

Merilit Milicevic: I live in the village and I have a cow, I mow the grass and gather the hay, but my child can't do the same because he's bound by the school. It's difficult for me as well to manage to do these other jobs. And now its summer time and instead of resting, I am obliged to work somewhere as a day laborer in order to earn 10 euros per day.

Today I feel sorry that I did not go to Germany as many of my friends did. Because everyone who went to Germany or to Switzerland, today they drive a car, and I can't even afford to buy a bicycle. Not even a donkey someone comes from Germany with a luxurious car and travels to the coast, that's something I can only dream about. And the students I teach Geography to can only imagine Monte Negro and its sea.

Nebregoste is another small, isolated village in the Zupa valley, but it faces the same problems as Recane. Only 350 out of a pre-war population of 1.500 remain in the village. The rest of them are somewhere abroad, mostly in Western Europe. For many though, the West was not the land of milk and honey they dreamt about.

The Zulji family - Isak, Cazima and their three daughters spent the last four years in Germany as refugees. Tighter asylum and immigration rules across Europe forced them to return when the German Government decided to deport them back to Kosovo.

Isak Zulji: We didn't expect to be returned immediately. We were waiting for the court verdict after the trial that took place on Feb 12 th . We were supposed to wait for two weeks. Police came during the night. It was on Sun 23 rd . We didn't expect the police to come because we were waiting for the court verdict. They came at night, dashed into the room and told us that we had until four o'clock to get ready to leave.

Today, Isak and his wife have no job, no land, only three young daughters. They say that till now they didn't receive any kind of help

Isak Zulji: Nothing, no social aid, not any kind of help, or some money that I was supposed to get after my return. I didn't get anything in Germany either. It's a crisis here and I don't know how it will be. Salaries are too low and I don't know how it'll be possible to survive. To have a job and a salary of 100 euros or 150 euros for a five-member-family, that's too little.

Some say that Bosniaks could be a good bridge between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, because they have language in common with Serbs, and religion with the Albanians. Unfortunately, says Recani local community leader Emrus Huduti, no one seems to have understood that fact so far.

Emrus Huduti: After the war there was huge discrimination. When I attended seminars in Pristina during that time I felt very uncomfortable and I've been in some uneasy situations, simply because I don't speak Albanian. And yet we share the same religion, but who is on the other side, you see a enemy in everyone, simply because you are afraid.

Journalist Mustafa Balje echoes that sentiment. Bosniaks he says always suffered from misunderstandings and conflicts between other groups, in this case between the Serbs and Albanians.

Mustafa Balje: we are similar to Serbs in terms of language, and to Albanians in religion. But these factors were not used well enough. Worse, we are paying the price of those misunderstandings.

The program was written and compiled by Zoran Culafic and edited by Martin Redi.

 

 

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