Emilie Fort

 

From enclave to municipality? Emilie Fort digs into the lexical shift of how Serbian majority areas in Kosovo are described by political elites and the international community, and what problems the word municipality poses for the Serbian communities themselves. 

Almost a year ago, as I exchanged some emails with a professor in Belgrade, she observed my use of the term “enclave” regarding the situation of Serbs in Kosovo. She stated that “municipality” is now the right denomination. It is accurate that consecutive to the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, under the guidance of the European Union, the Kosovo administrative map has been redrawn and 10 Serbian-dominated municipalities emerged on the Kosovo territory. At that time, I wondered whether this political reality matches the social one and if those Serbian municipalities contribute to desenclaving the Serbs in Kosovo, meaning ending their isolation and providing them with freedom of movement. The long-term fieldwork I realized, in four Serbian villages in Kosovo (Orahovac, Velika Hoča, Gračanica and Štrpce), provides some avenues to answer that question.
 

A social reality far from the political ideal: isolation and marginalization

Based on participant observations and interviews with local Kosovo Serbs, my nine-month fieldwork research reveals a huge gap between the Serbian community’s social reality and the concept of the municipality promoted by Kosovo’s political elites and the International community. 

Traveling throughout Kosovo, the dominance of the Albanian language and signs all around quickly raised my attention as it opposes the limited and bounded expression of Serbian symbols to Serbian majority areas, like Gračanica, Mitrovica North or Štrpce. As literature shows, the symbolic appropriation of a territory is a key element in the building and securing of a group identity. On several occasions, interviewees provide examples of situations where they fear expressing their Serbian origin or they have to be careful in doing so. Walking in the streets of Pristina, they pay attention to wear clothes without any visible Serbian signs. The majority of them do not use formal Kosovo transportation or speak Serbian outside the main Kosovo Albanian cities because they fear that Kosovo Albanians could perceive it as a provocation. Those situations constitute restrictions to Kosovo Serbs everyday life and limit their freedom of movement, and more broadly their freedom. 

Even if they acknowledge the benefits of Serbian-dominated municipalities in terms of representation and services, those political units do not provide them with a sense of integration. Many Kosovo Serbs used the terms “ghettos,” “prisons,” “enclave” and several times “reserves” when they talked about their living context. They usually associated their lack of freedom with their inability to return cities or to travel safely outside Serbian places. 
 

What about Serbs in non-majority areas? 

Focusing on municipalities rather than enclaves also contributes to marginalizing twiceSerbs who live in non-Serbian majority areas. Whether it is literature or the media, there is a tendency to present Serbs in Kosovo as a homogeneous community. However, a few Serbs remained in Western Kosovo after the war and continue to live in quarters or villages, isolated both from Serbia and from other Serbian places in Kosovo. During my fieldwork, I spent four months in the Serbian quarter of Orahovac and in the village of Velika Hoča located in the municipality of Orahovac. Due to their low demographic percentage, they face resistance regarding their representational capacity at the municipal level but also in their everyday life. Contrary to Serbs in majority municipalities, Serbs in Orahovac and Velika Hoča are almost unable to appropriate symbolically the territory. Only few graffiti participate in marking those places as Serbs. Also, direct and indirect forms of harassment perform by Kosovo Albanians exacerbate their sense of isolation and marginalize them even more, as those behaviors contribute to ongoing exodus of the Serbian minority and prevent the return of Serb refugees.
 

Municipality vs Enclave: Speaking about Integration rather than Marginalization 

The competences provide by the Constitution and other laws, notably to the Serbian community, contribute to creating an idea that Serbs are now well integrated both within formal Kosovo institutions and within the Kosovo society. Speaking about “municipalities,” puts the emphasis on the rights granted to Kosovo Serbs and their representation, while talking about “enclaves” focuses on failure and marginalization. From a long-term perspective, speaking about municipalities rather than enclave contribute to several and “dangerous” shortcuts. The focus on elite and political level totally overlooks the reality of ordinary people. Literature reveals, however, the difficulty to reach social cohesiveness, as well as a sustainable peace and stability, without solving societal issues. It also contributes to promoting a failed state-building international policy. Thus, despite obscuring a social and practical reality, emphasizing municipalities rather than enclaves, also participates in perpetuating a non-functioning system.

 

Emilie Fort is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Université Laval (Quebec, Canada). Her doctoral thesis is on the influence of enclavement on the Serb identity building process in four Serbian enclaves in Kosovo. Emilie main research interests include identity, identity politics and nationalism in the post-Yugoslav space. 

Image: Arthur Barys