In a Vortex of Memories
We went to Mušutište, near Suva Reka, to mark our saint day on the ruins of the old church. We brought gifts and memories, the saint day cake and good will. However, they didn’t let us reach those foundations. Serbs exiled from this medieval Serbian village were again convinced in the same thing. The Albanian newcomers destroyed their houses and churches, entered their estates hidden behind someone else’s missiles and bombardiers, although deep inside they know it is not theirs and that nothing there is for eternity. And it’s certainly not easy to live in front of such a mirror

By: Vladimir Janković
Photo: Željko Sinobad

The few who dozed off woke up before Jarinje: the administrative crossing between central Serbia and the province of Kosovo and Metohija. A hundred and thirty passengers in three full buses of ”Kolašin trans” are natives of the village of Mušutište, Suva Reka municipality, on the edges of fertile Metohija, and from 1999 (since the province went ”under protection of the United Nations”) ”temporarily displaced persons” to other parts of Serbia. On the day of Holy Trinity, they agreed to visit their village on their village saint day, meaning tomorrow.
It was August 27, early Saturday morning before the day of the Ascension of Holy Virgin.
– We live scattered all over Serbia and don’t see each other often – tells Ivan Mihajlović, temporarily staying in Barajevo near Belgrade. – Each time we get together is a new feast of memories for us. The possibility to make it in our village, and on our saint day, is equal to a miracle. I only hope that they won’t cause any trouble again.
So, talking, we crossed the Ibar and passed by Kosovska Mitrovica.


Although impatient to ”get home” as soon as possible, they decided to stop in Gračanica. They are pious people: they cannot pass a famous monastery just like that. In the monastery Church of Holy Virgin, the humble hieromonk was giving holy communion. First women wearing scarves on their heads, and later men. The line was already very long. We are all greeted by holy king Milutin Nemanjić, blinded in the ”Ottoman times”, standing on the narthex wall, with a church on the palm of his hand (founder’s fresco). He has been there for seven centuries, and there is still hope that he will remain there in the future as well.
The nuns are busily walking through the monastery yard, trying to host everyone as best as they can. They softly ask people not to walk on the beautiful lawn. They had a difficult time renewing it after the St. Vid’s day gathering. It is quiet. If there were no barb wire on the outside wall around the monastery yard, one would say that everything is normal. The newsstand crouching on the opposite side of the monastery gate didn’t have some of the daily newspapers issued in central Serbia. The friendly seller powerlessly shrugs her shoulders:
– Either the distributor failed or the ”Kosovo government” exercises censoring in Jarinje. Whatever it is, it has been so since the beginning of this month.
A deadly serious young man working in the nearby coffee shop refuses to accept a tip. Regardless of our insisting. Only when he found out his guests were from Belgrade, he unwillingly accepted.
– People here don’t have enough money to buy bread, yet they still keep the custom of leaving tips – he protested.
By force of circumstances, he said, both euros and dinars are equally in circulation in Gračanica. The euros are used by the ”Kosovo government” to create a fake picture of well-being, and the dinars are an everyday connection for these people with their own state, which they still rely on, despite everything.
– We only don’t accept Albanian leke, perhaps because no one has ever offered them yet – he finally made a joke. – I hope to God that no one ever will.
A sculpture of a horseman is on a small square next to the south-western walls of the monastery: prince Lazar in bronze pointing his finger towards Kosovo Polje. He reminds a bit of prince Mihailo from the Belgrade Republic Square, on his horse, pointing his finger towards Istanbul, only somehow more massive. Everyone wanted to take a photo under him, so phones and cameras started flashing.
After an hour, we slide down the modern highway and pass by Priština. Shopping malls, affiliates of companies from former Yugoslavia, too expensive and too big houses.
– Potemkin’s villages – whispers conspiratorially a talkative old man. – So that no one realizes what is rolling behind the hill. According to official figures, the unemployment rate in the usurped Serbian province is as high as 45 percent. If there were no families living abroad and sending help, an uprising would have started a long time ago.
– Like in 1981, when they demonstrated in Priština because of the then unemployment rate of 20 percent – he says, without malice. – Oh, poor are these people! They ruined the lives of both us and them.


We go through Prizren without stopping, although the luring Bistrica seduces us with its magical beauty. The first destination during our stay in the imperial city is the monastery of Holy Archangels, endowment of emperor Dušan. The monastery was plundered, demolished and set on fire by the Ottomans in 1455, when they conquered this part of Serbia. Seventy years later, they completely destroyed it, and built Sinan-Pasha’s Mosque from the same stone. Today the mosque is flashing, while the monastery is in ruins. (Here, in Kosovo and Metohija, it is easiest to understand why Orthodox monasteries have been circled with high walls since the ancient times, like fortresses.)
A ”Kosovo policeman” guards the way towards the Archangels. He asks us for the number of people, list of passengers, writes down the registration number of the bus.
– That’s how things are here – tells us one of the passengers in low voice. – Probably this same guy was among the vandals who set fire on and torn down the monastery in 1999 and 2004, after its renewal began. Now he pretends to guard it. He only needs a small sign to become one of the destroyers again, in some future barbarian, vandal show.
Next to the remains of the Church of Holy Archangels, the imperial lavra, are the remains of a small church dedicated to St. Nicholas. In the old times, masons, serious and dedicated people, first used to build a small church on the future construction site, where they prayed and took communion while constructing the main edifice. There, on the remains of the small church, we find a man working hard, with the help of four younger men. Word by word, we discover that his name is Javid Rejepi, that he is a retired professor and that he has been volunteering for years on renewing the holy places in Kosovo and Metohija.
– I am not an Albanian, Serb or Bosnian, just a Muslim – he introduced himself. – I restore both churches and mosques, hoping to be an example to others. People are not divided by their nation or faith, only into good or bad.
He looked around and continued:
– When the Church of St. Elijah in the village of Smeć was burned down in 2006, these four young men helping me, Albanians, took the church bell and later brought it here, to the monastery, to keep it. But, only temporarily, they say, until the church is renewed. Don’t write their names, they could get into trouble. These days, a good deed cannot go unpunished.
Later, in Prizren, in front of the Church of St. George, we meet Slobodan Đurić, priest of Prizren and parishioner of Mušutište, who will serve the holy liturgy tomorrow. He reminds us that all nine Prizren villages were destroyed in the pogrom, but that they succeeded in returning seven into the so-called liturgical function. Sixteen years ago, only three Orthodox Serbs remained in Prizren.
– The situation is better now – says priest Slobodan. – There are already twenty-five today, including three little children: two of mine and little Milica.
We ask about the monastery dedicated to St. Mark of Koriš. And about the tomb of Sima Andrejević Igumanov, great benefactor, equally respected by both Serbs and Turks, a great man whose last will was to be buried in the monastery yard. Priest Slobodan just shrugged his shoulders and we understood everything.
In the ”Sarajevo Ćevap”, only the owner spoke a little Serbian. We ordered grilled meat. They were polite and the prices sky-high.
Some girls and women in Prizren are dressed in oriental, some in European clothes. Albanian flags are sold everywhere, however not a single flag of the self-proclaimed ”Republic of Kosovo”. Does anyone find it strange?


The legend says that the monastery of Zočište, dedicated to holy doctors Cosmas and Damian, is three centuries older than Dečani. The relics of the blessed healers are kept in this holy place (they were moved in 1999 to Sopoćane, and then returned in 2006 after the reconstruction of the torn down monastery). Remains of an old church, with a spring of water under it, are in the very village of Zočište. People believe it is beneficial for the eyes, thus its name (”za oči” – ”for the eyes”). A spring of salutary water is captured in the monastery, so many people come here with great hope. Albanians also come, but in hiding, during the night, so that none of their compatriots could recognize them.
– Wash your face with our water and you will see – replied the monk to our question how they were.
Although unannounced, we were greeted as dearest guests. The whole fraternity consists of the prior and two monks. Two young couples are also their guests in the eve of the holiday. They came to help. The small monastery yard became narrow with so many guests and they heartily offered us refreshment. They opened the small church for us to pray, light candles and to convince us that the frescoes in it are reconstructed to be faithful to the original.
We parted with a promise to come next year as well, perhaps already for Holy Trinity. We couldn’t even anticipate that unpleasant events will bring us back to them already tomorrow, on the day of the Ascension.
We started off towards Velika Hoča during daytime, and watch from the bus the vastness of the Chilandar monastery metochion, gift of Emperor Dušan – from the slopes of Šar Planina on the south, to the foggy horizon, where the skies and the wavy plain surrounding us merge.


Velika Hoča is in the municipality of Orahovac, inhabited only by Orthodox Serbs. It had a population of more than a thousand before the warfare, and three times less today. (Even so, there are more people than in Orahovac.) It is surrounded by vineyards, the best in Serbia, and has preserved nine medieval churches in its bosom. The legend says that there used to be fourteen, but that the number decreased due to different conquerors of other faiths.
– There wouldn’t be so many of us if it weren’t for a strange event – tells Miloš Spasić, tenant of one of the oldest houses in Velika Hoča and owner of a wonderful collection of icons collected by his ancestors for eight generations. – When the Serbian army began retreating from Kosovo and Metohija in 1999, we also packed to go. We were about to leave, because no one really believed that the international peacemakers were sincere. It happened that my brother Stajko was away, so I had to wait for him. Our neighbors from several surrounding streets also stayed with me. My brother and I are mechanics, the only ones in the village, and you cannot start off to such a long journey just like that. Finally Stajko arrived, but just as we were about to start, my tractor failed. It suddenly crashed, and I, a mechanic, couldn’t start it. I couldn’t find out what was wrong with it. People are good in reading signs, so only later I discovered that the water pump broke, but this kept us on our land.
Miloš insisted on being hosting a few of us, after we came unannounced to his backyard, although he already had guests from Orahovac.
– To leave without tasting my wine? I would be very angry and who knows what the village would say about me. Come on, at least one glass, to make a toast to your arrival and tomorrow’s holiday.
We later visited the monument erected as a memory of eighty-seven Serbs from Orahovac and Velika Hoča, kidnapped and killed in the first two years after the warfare ceased. How many people know about that monument and their suffering?
Where and how the locals accommodated a hundred and thirty guests, only they know. The four of us were taken over by some honest people, a young couple, who tried to kill us with food and drink until midnight. We spent the night there and in the morning left them money in the house without them knowing. They would never have accepted it otherwise. We left hoping that we didn’t insult or make them angry with that.
Early in the morning, we started off to Mušutište, our final destination. Passengers joyful, impatiently anxious, like children, although they know they will find only ruins there. Before our arrival, about twenty young men were there for a few days, cleaning the Church of Virgin Odigitria, where, as they planned, we would celebrate the village saint day. Commits, as they jokingly called them, were from Gračanica, Orahovac and Hoča, and three of them from Belgrade, although also temporarily displaced residents of Mušutište.
While the buses were sailing towards Suva Reka, the mentioned three young men, Zvezdan Milanović, Miroslav Mitić and Miloš Maksimović, were telling their neighbors for the hundredth time what they found in the village and how much work they did. No one was prouder than them.


We got ”police escort” from Hoča. It was due to the fact that we were joined by some Serbs from the ”Kosovo government” and Aleksandar Micić, president of Suva Reka municipality. The presence of the ”Kosovo police” meant some kind of security, but only until the exit of the small town.
We stopped around half past seven in the morning by some road stand, where a woman in a hijab sold fruit and vegetables, only ten kilometers from our destination. The first thought was that we stopped to purchase supplies for the celebration of the saint day in the Church of Virgin Odigitria, so everyone bought something – a box of tomatoes, grapes, pears, a wreath of chili peppers, and one woman even bought a kilogram of new beans, to remind her of her Metohija when she returns to Mladenovac.
The first hour of waiting passed quickly, but the second slowed down. Fear already began replacing impatience, and no one could explain us why we were waiting so long. The appearance of a policeman, whose epaulettes indicated that he was a high-rank officer, raised our hopes. However, he brought devastating news that a few hundred people gathered in the center of Mušutište, Albanians, with flags and banners, to bid ”welcome” to their former neighbors.
– Don’t worry, we have a special police unit there, they will soon be chased away – he said in spoiled Serbian.
– What special unit? – whispered one of our fellow passengers. – Their intervening can only make things worse! We better go at least to the center of the village, and if they let us pass, good, if not, we’ll at least see it for a moment.
Standing next to the bus, we are trying to understand what made our former neighbors so angry. No one from Mušutište died in warfare, except for several young men mobilized by UCK, and three old men, two of them on dialyses and one whose heart broke from sorrow and uncertainty of life.
– They are furious because they know none of us intend to sell our properties – explained Ivan Mihajlović, who came with his brother doctor to see at least the ruins of the house he was born in. – All Serbian houses are torn down. They have been using our property for a decade and a half, but we are still the owners! They destroyed everything that could remind them of us, all thirteen churches in Mušutište, even the monastery of Holy Trinity, four kilometers from the village. They proclaimed themselves natives a long time ago, only our ownership of the estates is an obstacle for changing history, demography and geography.
Around eleven, two young girls went from bus to bus and gave each of us a nice sandwich. They were followed by young men with a bottle of rakia, a box of beer and various fruit juices, all that we would eat or drink at the celebration in the church yard.
– Shall we call priest Slobodan to consecrate the cake here, in the middle of the road – said one, trying to erase the shadow of disappointment from the faces of his fellow passengers, but in vain.
Police and ambulance cars coming from the direction of Mušutište passed by us, which was a good sign that this was no joke, and that every following attempt of Serbs to come to their land will be more difficult. And more dangerous! Even the seller on the road stand stopped selling her fruit to us, as if we were contagious.
At noon, after almost five hours of waiting, we started off back. Our friends from Velika Hoča invited us to hold the holy liturgy in their village, but we went to the good monks in the monastery of Zočište. Priest Slobodan held the service and consecrated the cake with the guests. Sad celebration, even sadder people.
The murmur following us on our way here turned to silence on our way back. It eased a bit in Kosovska Mitrovica, on the left bank of the Ibar, among our people, but only shortly. We passed Jarinje as well.
– Hope next year will be better – sighed someone near Ušće, in the vicinity of Studenica.
And so it was until Belgrade.


A young novice in the Holy Archangels tells us about the miraculous paths of the relics of Emperor Dušan Nemanjić, from the imperial lavra in Prizren, through Skopje, to the Church of St. Mark in Belgrade, where they rest today. He couldn’t explain how they avoided the rage of Ottomans and Albanians, how they escaped desecration. Instead of answering, he raised his eyes up, towards heavens.


Skipping Over
Buses with Croatian and Slovenian plates are driving around Prizren. They have a sign in front, in Albanian and English, writing that they drive passengers ”to Italy over Albania and Croatia”. How and why they skip over Montenegro, no one could tell us.


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