On the Spot: Kosovo: Great Fear in Velika Reka
14 May 1996
Since a gas bomb exploded in the hands of Albanian boy Nedzat Hetemi and killed him on April 27, the children of Albanian natives and Serb refugees in the village of Velika Reka no longer play together. After the kids had settled their accounts, the situation in Velika Reka, a village 15 km from Pristina on the road to Vucitrn, is tense again. Watching the boy's funeral which was attended by mere than three thousand people, Zdravka Glamocanin, a refugee from Sarajevo said she felt fear.
President of the Vucitrn branch of the leading Kosovo Albanian party - the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (DLK) - Bajram Mullaku said it was a big funeral even for Albanian standards. Mullaku said that even more people would have come if people had found out about the incident earlier and if the funeral did not coincide with the greatest Islamic holiday Bairam. It is reasonable to presume that the fear of Zdravka Glamocanin, facing the demonstration of Albanian demographic power, would have been much greater, too. She would like to have more Serbs around anyway.
Rifat Hetemi was told by a policeman that his son had been killed by a "bomb with gas." Judging by the smell of what has remained of the shell found in the grass by a Hungarian radio reporter - he did tell the truth.
The explosion broke off the short-lived friendship between Serbian and Albanian boys and brought unrest and tension to their parents. The explosion in Velika Reka is the latest in a sequence of explosions which started causing unrest in mid-April when Zlatko Jovanovic, thinking that someone was trying to break into his car at three in the morning, killed Armend Daci, a student who was seeing off his visitors at this late hour. A week later, in just one hour, people were killed all over the place: policeman Milenko Bucic outside the police station in Stimalj, Blagoje Okuka in Decani, Stana Radusinovic and Milenko Dragic in Kosovska Mitrovica, Dragana Necic who was being taken by the police to prison in a car which was sprayed with bullets, policemen Safet Kocan and Zoran Dacic were severely wounded in Pec.
Incidents of much smaller proportions had caused anxiety in Kosovo. The Serb side and authorities reacted to them with far less self-control. At present, the self-control in Kosovo is at its peak. Both sides are aware that a final clash might have terrible consequences. The patrols on check-points are relaxed. The Albanians, on their part, have removed an enormous portrait of Armend Daci, which had stood as a warning in Cafa, the place where Albanians gather.
The synchronization of actions - four attacks in just one hour - and lots of blood make us suspect that terrorism is the only explanation. The Liberation Army of Kosovo (OAK) informed the Pristina BBC correspondent that they were responsible. Since the explosions in Serb refugee camps, this is the second time that OAK has taken over responsibility for terrorist actions. To put it short, their message is: we are dissatisfied with the way and speed at which the Kosovo issue is being resolved. The threat is addressed both to the Kosovo Albanian's political leadership led by Ibrahim Rugova and the Serb authorities.
Shkellzen Maliqi, an independent intellectual from Pristina and one of the best collocutors on Kosovo political issues, says there are no signs which would show who might be hiding behind the name of OAK. He has noticed that the bottom of the Balkans has been splashed with terrorism: attempted assassination of Macedonia's President Kiro Gligorov in Skoplje, explosions in Kosovo and explosions of car-bombs in Albania. Maliqi has no explanation to whether the terrorism is directed from inside or from abroad. A possible motive of the Albanians could be that extremists are impatient and do not trust that the international community and Rugova could resolve the problem. In the Serbian block, Maliqi believes, both the ruling party and the opposition could be settling their accounts by doing things in Kosovo, while terrorism could also be coming from abroad in which case the motive could be destabilization of the Balkans in order to maintain one's influence in it for as long as possible.
One of Ibrahim Rugova's closest associates Hydaiet Hysen has tried to deny the theory that synchronized shooting was organized by terrorists. He said that two terrorists in Decani spoke Serbian, that it was a little strange that two Serbian women were being transferred to another prison when there are more Albanian women who are imprisoned.
The Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (DSK) has sent people out to calm down the passions. Judging by the Albanians in Velika Reka, Ibrahim Rugova's authority is at stake. Rifat Hetemi said that every new event increases the fear and intensity of passions. New events added to the old experience push the situation closer to blowing up.
On the other hand, the Serbs are frightened by Albanian aspirations for independence and the moves of their own authorities. Dragan Lazic, who in the mid-eighties vociferously opposed Serb majorization, says the Serbs are lethargic. "The Serbs are still seeking refuge in central Serbia," Lazic said and added that the sale of real estate from leaving Serbs to the Albanians, which had been banned in mid-eighties, is now done with simple procedure.
Dragan Lazic, one of the few Serbs who dare speak against the regime, like every Serb in Kosovo had been in Gazimestan to see and hear Serbia's President Milosevic. He now asks, "Who was it that did not like Milosevic then?" and maintains that many things have changed for the worse because of Milosevic's policies.
No one is satisfied in Kosovo. "Serbia's southern province" and its people are the prisoners of the maximalism of their leaders according to whom, on the Serb side "Serbia is either united or there shall be no Serbia" and on the other is "Kosovo independent Republic."
The fear from the course of events in late April has partly hushed up Albanian political discord. Adem Demaqi keeps repeating his formula for the reconciliation of the Albanian and Serbian stubbornness. This is his renewed thesis about Kosovo as an equal federal unit with Serbia and Montenegro in the federation which would be the basis for further integrations in the Balkans. Some people fear that Demaqi's ambition is to unite all forces. He, however, denied such claims. On the other hand, Serbian authorities do not have much space at their disposal either. The West is adding pressure and the maintenance of the "regulating apparatus" is more and more expensive. This is another reason why the number of policemen has been cut down. Essentially, the Kosovo situation is repeated day after day.
Since the outbreak of the crisis, never have the Serbs and Albanians been so solidary as they are now, fearing that shooting could become a daily event. But this fear is shared separately, as it has been in all these years. There are rumours in Pristina that negotiations have started and that Albanian leaders and Serb authorities might reach an agreement on the functioning of Albanian schools.