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South Slavic: February 14, 2002


14 February 2002, Volume 4, Number 6

THE ROLE OF LITERATURE IN SERBIAN-ALBANIAN RELATIONS.

Part II. Part I appeared on 7 February 2002.

A recent program of RFE/RL Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg with: Vladimir Arsenijevic, a Serbian writer, and Migjen Kelmendi, an Albanian writer.

RFE/RL: Mr. Arsenijevic has just explained that the word "Siptar" has a derogatory meaning in Serbian. Mr. Kelmendi, is there a similar word for Serbs in Albanian?

Migjen Kelmendi: Of course there is. It is the word "Shka" or "Shkie." Unfortunately, the people in Prishtina and Kosova use the word quite frequently. That is yet another example of this mutual hatred.

RFE/RL: And how do you translate the word "Shkie"?

Migjen Kelmendi: Well, the meaning is quite similar to the word "Siptar" the way that Mr. Arsenijevic has just explained it.

I fully agree with Mr. Arsenijevic that using such words reflects a primitive and provincial political outlook. You can imagine how we felt under Milosevic's rule, when some provincials from sleepy villages around Prishtina, such as Gusterica and Priluzje, some subliterate persons, suddenly came to power in Prishtina. That was a bad omen of worse things to come. I knew that such stupidity and provincialism would lead to a catastrophe.

Mr. Arsenijevic mentioned that we should go to Belgrade. I went to Belgrade in 1996 together with my friends, some painters. We had an exhibition there. There was an oasis in Belgrade called the Center for Cultural Decontamination, and there was this great woman, Borka Pavicevic, who invited us and who became our good friend.

But although we were in Belgrade, Belgrade did not come to our exhibition. We had only a handful of visitors. My friends, the painters who were in Belgrade with me, have been repeatedly invited to go there again, but they do not want to go. I would like to ask Mr. Arsenijevic how things are in Belgrade now, since my friends do not want to go there again....

RFE/RL: Mr. Kelmendi says that Albanian painters were ready to go to Belgrade in 1996, during the Milosevic era, but that they have refused invitations now. How do you explain that, Mr. Arsenijevic?

Vladimir Arsenijevic: Because in the meantime there was the year 1999, when the already overstrained relations between Serbs and Albanians reached the breaking point. After 1999, people from Kosovo hardly dare come to Belgrade. I can understand that.

On the other hand, I find it even harder for people from Belgrade to go to Pristina -- that would be far more difficult and complicated. People are simply afraid.

However, I have to repeat that there are places in the former Yugoslav region that can be used for our meetings, such as Sarajevo. If meetings are not possible now in Belgrade or in Pristina, we should have them somewhere else. It is important to make contacts now, and when time finally washes those negative emotions away, we can easily move back to Belgrade or Pristina.

RFE/RL: What do you think about that, Mr. Kelmendi?

Migjen Kelmendi: Well, of course. We already met in Sarajevo in 1996. It was impossible for us to meet in Belgrade, so we went to Sarajevo. That was immediately after the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

That cultural event was called the LUR, which stands for Flying Artistic Workshop. Artists from Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Prishtina came by bus and were led by Mrs. Pavicevic. We crossed the territory of the Republika Srpska filled with horror -- but we finally arrived in Sarajevo. If we could go to Sarajevo in 1996, why can't we go there now?

...But one can hardly expect Albanians to go to Belgrade and talk. I would nonetheless like the communication to start in Prishtina. I would like Prishtina to be the meeting point. I think that is possible.

RFE/RL: Mr. Arsenijevic, what would artists from Belgrade say if they were invited to a meeting in Pristina?

Vladimir Arsenijevic: I cannot speak in other peoples' names. As far as I am concerned, I would be glad to accept such an invitation. It would have a special meaning for me, since that would really mean that the barrier between us has been smashed. I even think that a certain number of liberal, normal people would be very glad to accept the invitation. There are people whose public statements in the recent past have never been filled with hatred or intolerance....

But there are still so many things to criticize and so many negative things about Belgrade, which have nothing to do with the Milosevic era. They are products of the times we live in and the values that are current.

No society is immune to negative phenomena. What matters is the way a society faces up to them. In that respect, I find things much better now in Belgrade.

RFE/RL: And, finally, Mr. Kelmendi, can you imagine a moment when a Belgrade theater troupe will play in Pristina, and a Pristina company play in Belgrade?

Migjen Kelmendi: Of course I can. If I were not able to believe in such a thing, I would have become an asylum seeker a long time ago. I would have become a citizen of a country far away from here, so I could forget about this region.

But this is what I believe in, and I do not think it will take long to happen.... It all depends of the will of the people.

RFE/RL: What do you think, Mr. Arsenijevic?

Vladimir Arsenijevic: I think that some Belgrade theaters are already willing to take on such a project.

I would like to mention another thing that could improve communication between us. There is quite a big project in which both Serbs and Albanians could take part. The media house Radio and TV B-92 has started a project for a feature-length film based on the book "Mexico." The book has two parallel stories that take place during the [1999] NATO bombing: one in Belgrade and the other in Kosovo, while the characters are both Serbs and Albanians. Why not have actors from Kosovo take the Albanian parts? If that happened, it would be a sort of joint Serbo-Albanian project. That could be the beginning of cooperation, and other projects might follow.

RFE/RL: Mr. Kelmendi, do you think that there are Albanian actors ready to participate in this project?

Migjen Kelmendi: I think there are. I know some actors who, I think, might agree. Of course, they would have to read the book first.

RFE/RL: Thank you, Mr. Arsenijevic.

Vladimir Arsenijevic: Thank you and Mr. Kelmendi for this pleasant conversation.

RFE/RL: Thank you Mr. Kelmendi.

Migjen Kelmendi: Thank you. I am so glad that I have finally had a chance to talk to a like-minded Serb.

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