The detritus of war is still visible at every turn in the village of Brovina one year after Serbian forces sent all 600 residents fleeing over the nearby snow-covered mountains to Albania.
Most residents were quick to return after Serbian forces withdrew last June. But little has changed in the village since then. In marked contrast to most other war- damaged parts of Kosova, where homeowners have largely finished reroofing their shelled or gutted houses, this westernmost corner of Kosova, known as Rreka, still looks as if the war just ended. Most houses remain in ruins.
As is the case in neighboring villages, most of Brovina's 14 fortress-like residential stone towers, known as kullas, are empty shells, having been bombed or burned out by the Serbian forces. Elsewhere are blown-up cars, a burned-out bus on which the initials of NATO and the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) have been scrawled, and a roadside mass grave of Albanians executed by the Serbs, covered with wreaths of plastic flowers.
In the center of the village a newly built playground, a donation from abroad, keeps the children out of the wrecks and ruins and away from the surrounding fields, still full of mines and unexploded ordnance.
In the next village, Nivokaz, only two out of the 24 centuries-old kullas survived the Serbian assault intact. Many have nothing left but one or two walls and a stone staircase. The owner of one war-damaged kulla is a two- year-old war orphan.
International humanitarian assistance has arrived in Brovina, Nivokaz, and surrounding communities. But besides the health-care, food, and educational aid and the donations of livestock and assistance to rebuild infrastructure, little has been done yet for the area's war-damaged architectural heritage.
A U.S. foundation has donated some 10,000 square meters of plastic sheeting to cover exposed kulla walls in western Kosova. But the head of the Institute for the Protection of Kosova's Monuments, Fejaz Drancolli, told RFE/RL that this sufficed to protect just 60 damaged kullas out of a total of nearly 500 across western Kosova.
Some donated plastic sheeting appears to have found other uses. In Junik, where about half of all Kosova's kullas are to be found, the co-owner of a gutted kulla, Esat Shehu, has used donated plastic sheeting and timber to build a barn for his war-decimated herd of three dozen sheep.
"No they didn't give this [sheeting] to us for kullas," he told RFE/RL. "The Serbs burned all the farm buildings. I didn't have anywhere to put the sheep, so I built this shelter. But we will save these kullas. A professor from the Institute [for the Preservation of Kosova's Monuments] was here and told us that there are some Americans who are trying to help us. We'll see, but there is no way that we will let these kullas be further destroyed."
As in other villages, residents say visiting foreign aid workers urged them not to tear down the burned out kullas but to try to save them. However, many kulla owners, though proud of their heritage, have no idea where to begin.
One local businessman in Decani who grew up in a kulla, Sali Caca-Drini, hopes to change that. He is working to establish a local non-governmental organization to represent the interests of kulla owners and educate them in what needs to be done to save their heritage.
Caca-Drini, who owns several photo shops, documented the kullas in some 12,000 photographs over the last 20 years but has recovered only about a quarter of his photo archives. The Serbs burned down his home and shops, but he says what caused him to weep for days was the destruction of Decani's kullas.
Virtually the only hope of saving the kullas in the foreseeable future is through local efforts, as the international community treats them as low priority.
European Commissioner Chris Patten made that clear on a visit to Prishtina earlier this month. "Doubtless other donors will want to help rebuild the cultural heritage and in due course that may be something we (the EU) look at first," Patten said. "But I think what people require first of all is a roof over their heads, the assurance that the power supply will be more regular next year, better roads so they can get their goods to market or their exports to regional markets."
In the meantime, foreign aid organizations continue to put up their plaques on the kulla ruins, taking credit for postwar recovery. But tangible recovery in this corner of Kosova is still a long way off.
The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent based in Prague.
- Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
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