A group of young British-Kosovan-Albanian artists are holding an art exhibition in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Except perhaps for the elaborate tongue-twister, there should be nothing unusual about this story. And yet, when the subject of the exhibition is a massacre against the artists’ family, committed by a criminal paramilitary outfit close to the Serbian government of fifteen years ago, the story suddenly becomes a tad quirky, in line with everything that Balkans is prepared to throw at you, and compatible with the maxim that nothing that comes out of these lands should ever surprise you.
The exhibition “Bogujevci – Visual History” opened last night at the Belgrade Cultural Centre, amid heavy police presence, who dispersed a group of around 20-30 right-wing protesters chanting “Treason!” and “Kosovo is Serbia!”
Despite the protests, the opening night of the exhibition proved to be very popular and the centre was packed to the rafters.
Amongst the patrons, many Serbian public personalities, artists and politicians could be spotted, with a special endorsement provided by the presence of the Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, who stated there were threats the exhibition would be disrupted, but he personally ensured its success, because “there has to be the freedom for all the sufferers to be heard.”
This gesture was welcomed by Cedomir Jovanovic of the Liberal Democratic Party, one of a very few political subjects in Serbia who claims that normalisation of the relations between the two countries should start by the formal recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, a stance still inconceivable by the majority of Serbs.
“I hope that PM’s attendance today will initiate a process needed by Serbia. We have distanced ourselves from the nineties, but we haven’t really changed much. We must do more to remove everything that’s wrong inside us; otherwise we’re risking another catastrophe.”
The exhibition deals with the massacre committed on 28 March 1999, when a notorious Serbian paramilitary unit called ‘Scorpions’ killed fourteen people in the north-eastern town of Podujeva. All the victims belonged to two families – Bogujevci and Duriqi, and the murderers executed them indiscriminately, not sparing the old, women, or children, with the youngest victim being only two years old. Five children survived the massacre, suffering wounds and heavy injuries.
Saranda, Jehona and Fatos Bogujevci were among the survivors. They managed to flee from Kosova shortly afterwards and eventually ended up in the United Kingdom, eager to tell their story.
In a brief address, Saranda Bogujevci expressed hope that the Belgrade audience will visit the exhibition.
“It is very important to us that we are here. We have a feeling that we were meant to survive in order to tell our story, to tell the truth. I hope that people will come to look at the exhibition“, said the elder Bogujevci sister.
Mia David, the director of the Belgrade Cultural Centre said at the opening that is very important that such an exhibition is held inside a public institution.
“This is the beginning of a dialogue, the official beginning of a whole new chapter in post-war relations and I was particularly pleased that it is the Belgrade Cultural Centre where it is happening”, said Mia David.
It is still too early to say if this exhibition signifies the beginning of the reconciliation between Kosovan-Albanians and their Serbian neighbours, or is it just another false dawn, coming at a time of further wielding of the EU carrot to both countries, with Serbia already gaining the candidate status and Kosova being promised a start of negotiations.
For the majority of Kosovars, the showing of the Bogujevci story represents the readiness of their neighbours to come to terms with their not-so-proud-not-so-distant past, but they feel that no final resolution will be achieved without the recognition of Kosovan independence, the formal apology for the war crimes and oppression during the dark era of the nineties, and compensation to the thousands of Albanians who have suffered – a three-layered cake that most Serbians will find very hard to swallow, with or without a carrot.
By Artor Behluli