The Heart of Serbia

It’s All Right, Even When It Isn’t
Going down a dusty road, through the woods, we cannot recognize anyone in the darkness. We are hoping no one can see us either. We are going slowly, winding uphill a goat path, certainly impassible in rain and mud. That narrow path, non-existing in Belgrade news and insincere statements of political marionettes, is one of the rare remaining connections between Serbia and itself. The sky is clear this November night and above the mountain slopes, among faraway stars, shines the halved moon

By: Milorad Ćirilović
Photo: Dragan Bosnić

While politicians in Serbia defend Kosovo with unconvincing words, while the main Belgrade news speak about Greece, natural disasters in the world and the košava wind, this November 2nd I am traveling down there, to the southern Serbian province. By surprise, to a reporter’s pilgrimage to the newly built Orthodox Christian temple in Prilužje, in ”central Kosovo”. The hosts (who will drive us there) didn’t say how we will pass the blocked administrative crossings, with a consoling message not to worry and ”if we are longing for excitement – we’ll have plenty of it”. They guarantee our security, to the extent it depends on them. And it doesn’t much.
I am taking with me only my reporter’s notebook and pencil, my colleague Dragan Bosnić his cameras. Will anyone ask us where we are going, what we are going to do, how long we are staying, whether the purpose of our visit is tourism, business or private…? How much has changed since I have been there last time, about twenty years ago? Everything has changed. I will spend 36 hours on that trip and travel more than a thousand kilometers there and back.
Barricades on the Jarinje and Brnjak crossovers are there this morning too, with barehanded people preventing the crossing of armed soldiers with their bodies. At the moment, at the beginning of November, the conflicts reached the point when danger lurks both from the air and the land.
– You people from Belgrade aren’t used to it, but we are. We have to. We will take the crossing used in special situations, such as this one.
I will not reveal how and where we crossed from central Serbia to Kosovo and Metohia in the middle of the night, with a ”caravan” type vehicle, without showing our identity cards or – God forbid – passport. For us, there is no border between the two areas whose inhabitants watch each other through the representatives of their recognized or unrecognized states. We are going to the southern province unilaterally proclaimed a state by one of its ethnic communities, under the administration of KFOR, UNMIK and EULEX.
– Only God sees and knows what will happen – says our guide who doesn’t tell us where we will pass. He is smiling mysteriously, promising that at least the trip won’t be boring. Our destination is not as far in kilometers as it is shrouded in uncertainty. Reporters’ teams do not cross there, however, we cannot use the normal road. So we are crossing in a place ”controlled only by our side”.


Going down a dusty road, we cannot recognize anyone in the darkness. Perhaps no one can see us either. We are driving slowly, winding uphill a ”goat path”, impassible in the rain and mud, so narrow that a truck could hardly pass. In the night between the 2nd and 3rd of November, the sky is clear, and above the mountain slopes, among the stars, shines the halved moon. Kilometers in this road stretch like sticky dough. There are no barricades, no police patrols, and no one can be seen from the houses fenced with high walls.
After who knows how many kilometers of deep holes our skilled guide avoided, as well as curves leading into an abyss, we reached an asphalt road. We were pretty deep into the night and there were no vehicles on the road. While driving, our host is arranging our accommodation over his cell phone. We park in front of a building more resembling a hangar than a motel. Or so it seemed to me. We rang the bell, and the man who opened the door gave us the keys of our rooms in which we comfortably settled in the dark. See you in the morning.
For the first time I spent the night in a motel without a reception desk, without a pricelist on the door, without a restaurant with food. I open the window and hear a river rumbling nearby. The Ibar? I don’t turn on the light. I smoke in the darkness. I have no idea where I am. What if someone knocks on the door? What am I doing here? Am I a guest with good intentions or an ”infiltrated stranger”? I fall asleep with my conscience clear aiming towards an honorable cause.
Morning. Same silence. I go down the stairs from the first to the ground floor, straight to the entrance door. An inn is on the right. The man from last night, the host, alone at the bar.
– Good morning, can I have a coffee?
– Good morning, certainly, what coffee would you like?
I wonder whether I should order Turkish or Serbian or domestic, so I say ”espresso”.
I am sitting alone, waiting for my colleagues and our hosts to pick us up to continue further. The coffee is good, the cell phone is not working any more, a patrol car stops at the inn door: Police.
I had no reason to worry, except if they ask me how I got here. I stare at the TV screen in the inn, Pink TV, and four policemen in a good mood sit at a table next to mine without even looking at me. They speak Serbian and laugh as if they are telling jokes. Then our hosts came to pick us up.
A stop on the way: Leposavić. Reputable Serbs gathered in the Church of St. Vasilije of Ostrog, discussing where to plant the trees that arrived from Šumadija. Father Milomir Vlašković reminds me: accomplished is the one who has at least one child, plants one tree and writes one book. I don’t know how many people in Leposavić wrote a book, I don’t see children at the main square, they’re probably in school, and the new plants will be planted already today.


We are moving towards our destination, the Church of the Metamorphosis in Prilužje, south of the Ibar. In Kosovska Mitrovica we get another vehicle, with new Kosovo registration plates and a driver who will drive us down the highway towards Priština, passing many police patrols and military convoys, without anyone stopping us and asking us who we are, where we are from, what we are doing here. It is peaceful only so it would seem peaceful, no gunshots can be heard, no cries and explosions heard in a war. From time to time a helicopter or jet fly above us.
At the entrance of Prilužje, there is no plate with the name of the place. About three thousand Serbs live here as if in an ethnic canyon. They are surrounded with the Sitnica and the Laba rivers and thousands of Albanians who wish to inhabit this fertile soil, which father Mića calls the Kosovo Eden. Fertile paradise. The seat of the Vučitrn municipality was moved here after the war, as well as many employees of ”Elektroprivreda Kosovo”. In August, the villagers protested against the construction of the bridge over the Sitnica towards the neighboring Albanian village of Glavotina. The international forces prevented bigger conflicts. Serbs living here will eventually have to give in somehow and allow the, although risky, ”passing of goods, services and people”. Especially the ”passing of people”, who will be able to cross to this village undisturbed, having the situation as in other places in Kosovo where the Serbs cannot leave their homes at night, afraid for their lives.
Older inhabitants of Prilužje, Stanko Aritonović, Živojin and Božidar Terentić, Aleksandar Stolić, grimly sit near the old chapel of Holy Sunday, next to the village cemetery, and cheerlessly prophet the future when it comes to the bridge. One of them says: ”We all know everything, we are all know-it-alls, but when it comes to action, nothing.” The Albanians built a sewage system in Prilužje with foreign aid.
– The worst is when they provoke in groups, especially the younger ones. When they initiate a conflict, they present themselves as the endangered ones, call the elders and international police for help. Across the street from the Church of Metamorphosis, in the very center of Prilužje, Albanians are selling wood. Nobody touches them, although some suspect that the wood is from the Serbian woods on the other side of the river. Dragan Bojković, former electrician, now sexton, says:
– That’s democracy. We can’t do anything to them, they can do everything to us.


Most of the people we have talked to are convinced that they will stay here and preserve their tradition, that the new church will be the place of their gathering and new hopes of better times. While I was talking to priest Milomir Vlašković (1976) about the temple, sitting on a bench in the churchyard by the main road, we were interrupted many times. Many people wanted to greet their priest and get his blessing. Miloje Petronijević, the new parish priest since August 1 this year, was absent.
I am walking the main and side streets of Prilužje. My guide is Miloš Terentić (1988), biology student at the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Faculty in Kosovska Mitrovica. The day is sunny, the temperature 18 degrees, kids and young people are having a stroll. The houses are mostly one-storey ones. About 500 households on about 500 hectares of fertile soil. Miloš’s family, for example, grows fruit, vegetables, wheat, corn, breeds cows and fowl. I haven’t had such a tasty meal in a long time as the one with the Terentić family in Prilužje, all domestically grown, from their yard. But the electricity is cut all the time, they have it for two hours, then don’t for four. And it is constantly so.
Miloš says that mobile telephony is not working all the time, you have the network only if you’re lucky. His girlfriend is from the neighboring village of Plemetine. They can hardly communicate by phone, so they have to arrange their dates in a safer way.
– Our girls are perhaps the most beautiful in all of Serbia. In Kosovo for sure – he says self-confidently, tall, handsome. – This is where the girls of Kosovo (the title of the most beautiful Serbian girls in Kosovo) come from, such as the Bojković sisters. Beauty granted from God.


After one working day in Prilužje, 24 hours in Kosovo, we start off towards the border crossing of Merdare. Back to Belgrade. But there is more to go.
Half an hour late, a minibus of a private transporter (who drives Serbs and Romas from the remote Kosovo enclaves) arrived to the train station in Prilužje. Trains don’t pass through here any more. There is only a few of us travelers, but there will be more in stations along the way.
”How much is the ticket to Belgrade?” I ask the driver.
”Fifteen Euro. You can give me dinars, a thousand and a half”, he says.
I give him two thousand, he puts them into his pocket and leaves.
Down the main road with Albanian flags everywhere, red with black eagles, with convoys and patrols of uniforms, we soon arrive to the crossing of Merdare. We stop. Move to another bus. I look through the window: about 150 vehicles in line to the customs point (that many stop lights I could count in the dark). Even the patience exercised for years doesn’t help in that moment. And the moment is treacherous. Our driver suddenly gets out of the line and in full speed, driving the opposite direction, heads towards the crossing. He noticed a standstill due to customs procedures, caught the right moment and rushed down the opposite lane, passing by the whole line, just to get to the crossing second. After a brief inspection of identification cards, we enter ”no man’s land” between the Albanian and the Serbian crossing.
”You can go out to smoke”, said our driver. ”Who knows when they’ll come.”
About half an hour later, we heard sirens of the KFOR jeeps escorting white trucks transporting huge containers towards central Kosovo.
Then we crossed to central Serbia. Changed buses again. We drove around, through the mountains, towards Blace, to Kruševac, and then to the highway. Serbian folk songs started screaming from the speakers and I was returned my 500 dinars change with a big apology. After seven and a half hours of driving and three vehicles changed, we arrived to Belgrade from Prilužje. A strong košava wind is blowing.


Youth, however, is not lacking here. An average Prilužje family has at least five members. About 350 pupils attend the ”Vuk Karadžić” Elementary School, about 150 the Middle Technical School ”Nikola Tesla”. There are 180 children under school age, so a kindergarten will be opened soon.


Two angry watchdogs in the Terentić yard are almost about to jump out of their cage and tear us apart. I ask about their breed.
”Oh, it’s some local breed!” they say. ”We have to let them go at night to watch the gate, you never know. They bark at any suspicious sound and warn us if there is any danger.”


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