Local participants in the ART Forum had their cameras ready as we approached the center of the city. They tried to record every detail of Potkaljaja district, burnt in March, all beautiful buildings of, according to many, the most beautiful city in the southern province of Serbia, next to which we were escorted by an armed UNMiK and Kosovo Police Service team on the way to, also burned, Holy Archangels monastery. Visitors from abroad who had their "baptism by fire" a week before on the burnt ruins of the Devic monastery, were again stunned. They demanded to be explained everything they saw and told what had happened. After the bus finally managed to find a parking spot in the narrow street near the UNMiK headquarters, guarded by KFOR as if it were the Pentagon itself, ethnic Albanian security guards of the UN mission welcomed us with the gesture most frequently used all over Kosovo to greet Serbs: with their hands, palms facing up, they went back and forth across the throat, presumably showing what they would like to do to us.
A cafe patio is separated from the destroyed Saint George Cathedral only by barbed wire, and we've been told that tables have been placed in front of the demolished and burnt down Bishopric as well, which we could not confirm from the spot at which they guarded us.
"Do you like the church better like this," ethnic Albanian men gathered around the ART Forum bus shout in good Serbian language. The owner of the nearby café extremely and exaggeratedly loudly offers candy and ice cream for free. The appearance of even a small group of people who may be Serbs obviously causes quite a stir among Albanians and provokes their collective reaction.
Although visits to Serbs staying at the German KFOR base are permitted every day between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., if you come from outside, the visit can end up being very complicated. Especially if you honestly declare that you are a journalist, and from Belgrade. International organization representatives will promise to take you to Prizren until it turns out their superiors do not allow them to take civilians there. KFOR first rejected the official request by Danas for a permission for their journalist to visit Serbs staying at the base. Later, thanks to a chance encounter with influential officers, after long negotiations, an approval arrived at the last moment, together with an armed escort.
Germans take care of accommodation, food and health of civilians who ended up in their military base after the March events. Although Colonel Damke claimed that he would not allow that German "hospitality" be brought into question, Serbs are concerned and fearful because of recent questions about relatives living outside Kosovo and Metohija or in Serb enclaves in the province who could take them in. Elderly Serb residents of Prizren would gladly return to their homes, provided they are fixed, while younger ones are trying to decide between Prizren and moving abroad.
"We do not want to stay here, guard Prizren, and again experience what happened on March 17. We want to go where we want. We don't want to be forced to go where someone else wants. They are asking about our relatives so that they could send us away. We are free citizens. We all have the right to decide about our own lives, whether we want to stay here or leave. We demand to be compensated for our destroyed property, for belongings destroyed on March 17, for suffered fear, because all of this is futile," Maja Petrovic was adamant. She explained why she could not return to her house: "On March 17 I was evacuated first from our house. My grandmother was first beaten up so badly that she almost died, and then also evacuated. The same night we received an offer from a neighbor. He offered to buy our house if we wanted it to be saved. I refused. The house was burnt down after that. How can we go back when our next door neighbor harmed us. We'll never be able to live with them. Multiethnic Kosovo will never happen," said this young woman from Prizren.
"That is a sort of compensation. It is true that it is too little, but the practice abroad is to offer urgent humanitarian assistance. Compensation is given only if culprits are arrested," German colonel said. His reply to the question whether those who beat up Serbs and set their houses on fire on March 17 have been arrested was that "documentation has been lost; UNMiK police and KFOR will repeat the investigation, so that they could arrest culprits". Colonel Damke characterized the current situation in Prizren as "unstable and unsafe".
"KFOR cannot secure the whole city, nor can UNMiK do that. Most of the population is peaceful, but we cannot guarantee for everyone. Our analyses indicate that some of the people causing trouble are not from Kosovo. They enter Kosovo legally, and we cannot tell from their faces that they are criminals. I claim that 95 percent of Albanians want peace," colonel emphasized.
In German KFOR they reject criticism coming also from the West regarding the behavior of their soldiers on March 17, although rumors can be heard all over Metohija [western part of the province] that many members of the UN military mission, true, most of them Italians, out of shame refused to accept decorations that are usually awarded after every rotation of KFOR military units.
"We, soldiers, were surprised by the incidents. There was no indication that incidents would take place. NATO and KFOR had already been reducing the number of units stationed in Kosovo and Metohija. Our first priority was to protect people, which we managed to do in Prizren. Unfortunately, it was not possible to protect houses, monasteries, churches. KFOR cannot act decisively, nor can it shoot. Now we have new security measures, and permission to use firearms. We have created protected zones, which is the case with the Holy Archangels monastery and churches in Prizren. March 17 incidents cannot be repeated," colonel Damke claimed.
It is difficult to sort it out with KFOR officers, especially those from the German contingent, whether the catastrophic lack of security for Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija is a failure of the UN Mission regarding its obligation given in UN SC resolution 1244 or, as they claim, the freedom of movement depends on a political solution that will be reached through negotiations. Above all regarding the status of the province, which, according to them, need not be "independence", but must draw investments and start the economic development of the Kosovo society.
According to him, it has been said that Serb houses in Prizren will be fixed by October. The temporary government of Kosovo is in charge but, despite announcements to that effect, its Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi hasn't visited Serbs in Prizren. Serbs claim that their houses were broken into and damaged even after March 17, even those that were supposed to be under military protection.
"We can only move on the relation barracks - Bernaf marketplace, on the outskirts of the city, on the road to Orahovac. They take us to that marketplace, we buy potato chips, coffee and other small things they cannot give us. Watermelon, for example. There were attempts by KFOR to claim that they could not be responsible for anything that happens to us outside of the barracks, but due to colonel that hasn't happened. Thanks to officers we were given a TV set, a receiver and a satellite antenna, so that we can follow Radio TV Serbia, BK and Montenegro first channel. The OSCE delivers Danas daily," said Ljubisa Pleskonjic. Our collocutor said that most Serbs living in the city were psychologically suffering. "Local authorities provide medications but that is enough. They need medical oversight. The rest of them have found their niche and work with Albanians. They sell Serb houses and property and are consequently allowed to move around freely. When they outlast their usefulness, they'll kill them as well," Pleskonjic said. It is sad, but the life in the KFOR barracks has some advantages. Most Serbs, especially retirees, who do not earn more than $40 from social security, would have a hard time surviving outside the barracks.
Ljubisa Pleskonjic believes that Prizren and its Serbs fared the worst in March because they were an easy target. "Our people did not take care of us. Albanians knew that no one would break sweat because of us and that's how we ended up here".