We can only guess how much money, working hours, useless conferences, round tables and entire careers have been spent in the last 22 years since the return of displaced Serbs to Kosovo is being talked about. And it is talked about as a matter of paramount importance for the normalization of the situation in Kosovo. And what is the effect? In 22 years, only one in ten refugees and internally displaced persons have returned to Kosovo, according to UNHCR data. For years, the trend has been declining, approaching zero, which is understandable, because over time, people adapt to the environment in which they fled, get a job, go to school, and think less and less about returning. Nor does anyone call them to return, let alone help them with that.
Dragica Gašić from Đakovica, with her unprecedented persistence and courage, exposed all the bureaucratic and political nonsense that has been accumulating for too long over the issue of returnees, which Pristina, as well as the UN and the European Union would like to forget. She came to her hometown of Đakovica with all the documents about her apartment, forced the authorities there to evict the intruders who lived in it and moved in. It does not occur to her to give up or withdraw, even though everything that could fall on her already did – the anger and racism of the Albanians from Đakovica, the municipality that is suing her, burglars, the owners of the shop where they do not receive her money. Everyone would like Dragica Gašić to somehow disappear, because her return is “dangerously” symbolic – she is the first Serbian woman to return to Đakovica, out of about 12,000 Serbs who lived there before the war and out of about 450 families who registered after 2008 that they wanted to return to their city.
We have all heard about Dragica Gašić and her struggle, but not about her fellow citizen Nusrete Kumnova. The words of this activist from Đakovica best show what kind of place Dragica Gašić decided to return to: “She is not going to live here. All Serbs committed crimes and the wounds are open. We will not allow a single Serb to return to Đakovica”.
Her Albanian compatriots may not speak like Nusrete, so harshly and racist, but they will not do things much differently to maintain a milder or more open apartheid towards Serbs, which has ruled for 22 years. These days, Dragica Gašić feels it on her back with all the strength, and several times a year, all those families who find the broken monuments of their deceased during the commemoration service feel it. It is also felt by a small number of families who, even after a quarter of a century, live isolated on their properties, where from time-to-time hay burns, or someone cuts down the forest. Just like the monks when the KLA graffiti or bulldozers appear on the gates of their monasteries, and they start tracing their way through the monastery land.
Dragica Gašić will stay in her small apartment in Đakovica, because she is right and because she is brave and persistent. Not because she received messages of support from the scandalized Twitter community from Serbia, but much more as an occasion for attacks on NGOs that do not stand in her protection, and especially on the state of Serbia, regardless of the fact that the state was the only one to come to Dragica Gašić’s aid. To that team, she is just a passing reason for the so-called “moral panic”, another simple slogan for saying that the state (Vučić) is not doing anything and for the message – “let someone do something”.
Dragica Gašić will win in this matter, she will continue to live in her apartment and her city, and what her life will look like only she will know and she is ready for that. But the fear remains that a new Dragica or Dragan will appear after her with exactly the same problem. And then we will again have a “moral panic” among Twitter fighters, we will have their attacks on the state (Vučić) and we will have a state that is trying to help the returnee to Kosovo. This can last forever, or at least as long as there are displaced Kosovo Serbs willing to take risks and try to return home. If there are none left, then it will be a great day for Albanian society in Kosovo, because the passage of time has taken its toll.
That is why the case of Dragica Gašić is by far the strongest argument against all those who advocate delaying the solution for Kosovo, against those who see a chance for Serbia and Serbs in Kosovo in the passage of time. Dragica Gašić is a victim of Albanian apartheid, but she is also a victim of the status quo. How many more people like her need to experience the same fate so that one day, in the distant future, Serbia will “return to the previous state”. And at what price?
The hypocrisy of all those who are horrified over the fate of the Serbian woman from Đakovica, and at the same time accuse Aleksandar Vučić of betrayal because he wants a compromise with the Albanians and wants it as soon as possible, is unprecedented. There is a direct connection between his policy and the case of Dragica Gašić, because such suffering would not have happened if the compromise sought by the Serbian president had already been found. Kosovo is not only a legal and state provisional solution, it is as such a black spot for every human right of those who want to live in it, and are not Albanians. The longer this castle in the air lasts, with the apartheid government and people, along with the disinterested and often corrupt international administration, in charge of the rule of law, the cases of Dragica Gašić will be repeated. Conversely, the sooner a compromise and the solutions sought by Vučić and Serbia are reached, a regime of responsibility is established in which Pristina must not allow such lynching of minorities. Such a regime never existed, neither according to Resolution 1244, nor according to Ahtisaari‘s plan, nor after the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence, and it does not exist today. It did not exist, because there was no compromise with Serbia, but only impositions that never brought results. Dragica Gašić can be the last Serbian returnee to face problems if Serbs and Albanians reach a long-term and compromise agreement, which is what the Serbian president is persistently and only looking for. As soon as possible.