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Heart of Serbia All fotos by Michael Bothager

Five years ago, the Serbian province of Kosovo declared itself independent. To many Serbs, it felt as if the very heart of Serbia had been torn from them.

The end of the crisis of Kosovo in 1999 was the end of the Balkan wars, which in one decade had torn the old Yugoslavia apart and left fragments of small states.  Now you were no longer Yugoslavian, but Bosnian, Montenegrin, Serbian, Kosovo-Albanian, Croat or something entirely different. Ethnicity, religion and heritage was now more important than a common state.
In Kosovo the Serbian military and police fled north into the safety of Serbia as the NATO forces pushed forward.

The Serbs left behind was consequently without protection, and the Albanians returning home took revenge, while NATO and the international community was only able to evacuate the unprotected Serbian minority from atrocities perpetrated by the Kosovo-Albanians. The mantra was "an eye for an eye", while the Kosovo-Albanians settled the score for past Serbian sins. More than 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo fled after the conflicted had been resolved, and NATO and UN were in control and had power over Kosovo.

Today, more than a decade after the resolution of the conflict, and five years ago since Kosovo's declaration of Independence, more than 10,000 Serbs are still internally displaced in Kosovo, living either in small enclaves surrounded by Albanian villages or in the Serbian-dominated northern Kosovo.

According to the Serbs, Kosovo is the heart of Serbia, although the province was under Turkish rule for more than 500 years, ever since the Serbs lost the battle of the Kosovo Plain in 1389. That is why the Serbs do not recognise the unanimous declaration of independence, which today is recognised by about a third of the world's nations and 22 out of 27 EU countries. The Serbs are afraid that the Heart of Serbia will once more strike its beats in a foreign country.


Foto: Michael Bothager

Vladan Lazic (left) is drinking beer with two friends in the store of the village Gobulja.

Gobulja is a Serbian village in the region of Vushtrii in the middle of Kosovo.  
Most of the inhabitants have moved, since there are no jobs and in the period of 1999-2004, the village has come under attack by Kosovo-Albanians several times. The village school only has 16 pupils. It used to be 60.


Foto: Michael Bothager

Scrapped machine gun at a local Kosovo-Albanian dealer in scrap metal.
After the conflict, innovative Kosovo-Albanians could start up small businesses, dealing in scrap iron and metal. They collected destroyed cars, old batteries, copper and lead wires from ruined houses to melt down the metals and sell them.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Dragoslav Lazic still has an old portrait of Slobodan Milosovic lying in his basement.
Slobodan Milosovic held two historic speeches in 1987 and 1989 to more than a million Serbs on the Kosovo Plain. The speeches have been interpreted as encouraging Serbian nationalism and accepting the ethnic superiority of the Serbs.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Supporters of the PDK celebrate that the party won the local election of Mitrovica. The gratitude of the Kosovo-Albians towards the USA is still great, and for just about every festivity, both Stars & Stripes and the flag of the EU are waved along with the red Albanian one with the two-headed eagle.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Milanka Cvejic, 71, and her daughter Javorka, 34, live in a camp for internally displaced refugees (IDP) on the outskirts of Gracanica. The camp consists of 27 containers, each having a residence of 12 square metres.
Milanka fled in 1999 from the village of Kraiste (Libljan) to Stapogradske, where her son was killed with 14 others on a field.

in 2000, her husband Jordan died, who had been bedridden for four years following an accident, where he broke his hip. In 2004, they were relocated to the IDP camp at GRacanica, where they have lived since.

They live off Milanka's deceased husband's pension, 14,000 dinari a month, and are waiting to be re-housed in some of the newly built residential complexes next to the camp.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Internally displaced Serbs fleeing the village of Svinjare between Mitrovica and Pristina in 2004, when the Kosovo-Albanians began a larger uprising against the Serbs, following a drowning accident involving Kosovo-Albanian boys in the river Ibar. Many of Svinjare's Serbian refugees fled north and found empty houses in Mali Zvecan - houses originally built for Serbian refugees from the Balkan wars.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Death plays an important part in Serbian traditions. Relatives of the deceased visit the graveyard weekly up to one year after the funeral.  
Here, they clean the burial site, light candles and eat and drink with the deceased.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Father Nikola blesses a family's ornamented bread for the celebration of the saint St. Nikola. The bread is cut, doused with wine and blessed, before a male member of the family brings the bread back for the evening dinner of the following days.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Local Serbs celebrate New Year's Eve in Zvecan.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Wall painting of the Bosnian Serb Radko Mladic, whom many Serbs consider a war hero. Mladic is standing trial in Haague, accused of atrocities and genocide in Bosnia during the war in the beginning of the nineties.

Foto: Michael Bothager

Serbian barricade on the Mitrovica bridge. Since summer 2011, Serbs in northern Kosovo have erected barricades to hinder the free movements of KFOR, the NATO forces in Kosovo, and EULEX, the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.

Foto: Michael Bothager

The Serbs celebrate the battle of Kosovo Plain on the 28th of June, which they lost in 1389. Many places in the Serbian enclaves of Kosovo have performances, music and speeches, remembering Serbian history and hopes for the future. On the street of Mitrovica, a boy has climbed onto the top of a car to better see what takes place during the festival.

Last modified on Friday, 15 March 2013 09:56
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Michael Bothager

Michael Bothager is a danish freelance photojournalist based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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