Eleventh humanitarian trip towards the Serb of the enclaves of Kosovo and Metohija

Eleventh humanitarian trip towards the Serb of the enclaves of Kosovo and Metohija
Thursday 05/20/2010 :: Magazine

May 2010, Kosovo

On this land where peace has disappeared for almost six centuries, a Serbian zone is still standing for its freedom. The north of Kosovo, i.e. some 10% of the region, is populated with Serbs. From the north of the town of Kosovska Mitrovica to the customs checkpoints controlled by the international forces 40 km up north, the Serbian people is holding fast and resisting Albanese-Kosovar demographic and political pressure. The struggle is difficult and risky but it is carried out with mettle and courage by people who refuse to disappear. Hope is in the many dynamic Serbian youth – but as in all the conflict zones afflicted by social misery, the youth very often finds refuge in artificial paradises: drugs and alcohol. Against this plague, sporting facilities and organizations are being set up, so far with limited impact for lack of resources.

May 2010, France

The association Solidarité Kosovo is preparing its 11th humanitarian convoy. After buying several thousands of euros’ worth of sporting material in various specialized stores, two volunteers hit the long road of 2000 km (some 1250 miles) to the Serbian zone of the Kosovo province. The boxing bags and gloves, rackets, balloons, goals and nets thus cross 7 customs checkpoints to arrive two days later in the north of Kosovo.

Encounter with the Serbian boxers, Kosovska Mitrovica

We go the boxing club of Kosovska Mitrovica to deposit technical equipment. Its quality impresses the boxers, and we are moved by their thanks. This club has approximately 60 members, including 10 competitors. We discuss at length with the coach, whom we already know because two years ago we had brought him a complete boxing ring. We think up a new project: a Serbia vs. France boxing tournament in Kosovska Mitrovica! The idea is simple: to bring together our two peoples through sport. The date is also symbolic, as this tournament will take place during the Vidovdan festival (Saint Guy), the memorial day of the battle of Kosovo Polje during which the Serbian army faced the Ottoman Empire in 1389. Solidarité Kosovo will organize and fund the trip of five French boxers to Kosovo so that French-Serbian friendship may live again.

A refugee village: Zać

While still in Kosovska Mitrovica, we learn that the village of Zać, in the south of Kosovo (in a zone with a majority of ethnic Albanians) has been machine-gunned during the night. We had already planned to return to this village to bring food, drinking water, and hygiene supplies. This attack only reinforces our motivation and our desire to support these refugees who had the courage to return and live again in their destroyed village. After being delayed for 4 hours at the Albanian-Kosovar customs, we head south to Zać. The camp is not hard to find: immense tents of the UNHCR, protected by a police car and a KFOR car. 14 men are living there, representing 14 families who wish to return on their land. The ambiance is peculiar. While we are shown the thirty impacts from the day before, we can hear people laugh and joke. Apparently it is not a gust of Kalashnikov that could frighten these villagers! However, laughter subsides when we discover bullet holes in the tents tarp at chest level, that is, meant to kill. Thank God or chance, none of them hit anyone. In three months here, these people have undergone it all: beating, stoning, shooting with an automatic weapon… But nothing will thwart their will. This is their land and they are here to stay! We give them a good amount of food; not preserves, as they only eat that usually, but fresh produce, meat, sausages, cheese and wine. This should be enough for getting on a small feast during several days, and a good booster to hold on.  We also offer them telephone credit so that they can join their close relatives who remained in the main part of Serbia and are waiting until the situation at the village improves. This is not much of a gift in itself, but for them it is enormous. All ask us to return, “even without assistance”. At that point we realize how much comfort there is in the arrival of two Frenchmen in a camp “lost” in the middle of Kosovo for these refugees who are abandoned by all. We greet them fraternally, wishing them courage. We promise to return to see them. We drive away from Zać, moved and concerned for the future of these refugees who are back on their land. The good mood, humor and warmth of these few Serbs who are going through dramatic events also give us the hope that the situation will improve and that other Serbian families will also return and to live in Kosovo.

Monastery of Visoki Dečani

As the night is falling, we reach the medieval monastery of Visoki Dečani. We unload, with assistance from the monks, all the material to be redistributed in the various Serbian enclaves of Kosovo and Metochia. Jackets, balloons, school material – everything is new and cleanly packed, and we unload it in less than 20 minutes, in a genuine profesional work! In the monastery, this evening, there is a feast, and we attend a special liturgy, with many faithful in attendance. Serbian families from the neighbouring enclaves follow the office with attention, while the kids try to join the monks’ choir. Incense, songs, candles and icons: the ambience is always extraordinary in this monastery, an especially striking trait considering that it is protected by several teams of Italian soldiers on guard at the entrance…  We drive out of the monastery at 10 PM and arrive late in the night in Kosovska Mitrovica.

The last day is devoted to the press. We give several interviews and we even have the privilege to speak live in a TV studio, sending a clear message to all the Serbs of Kosovo: “You can count on us; you can count on the French of Solidarité Kosovo”!

This eleventh humanitarian mission was a success. Helping the Serbian youth north of Kosovska Mitrovica getting along through sport, supporting villagers under attack, bringing material to the enclaves –  as many stones added to a building that we have been building for 6 years now.  In one month, it will be French sportsmen who will come to Kosovo to support and encourage Serbian youth. All that has been done and all that will be done has been made possible by our donators and supporter. We pass on to you the many thanks we received during this deep moving week in Kosovo-Metochia.
Arnaud Gouillon