Exhibit is a step forward in Serbia-Kosovo relations, officials say

14/01/2014

An art exhibit in Belgrade tells the story of an Albanian family in Kosovo during the 1990s conflicts.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 14/01/14

photo

Fatos (left), Jehona (third from left) and Saranda Bogujevci are three of five siblings who survived a March 28th 1999 attack by the Scorpions, a Serbian paramilitary unit. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]

In what is being hailed as a step forward in the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo, an art exhibition in Belgrade is depicting the tale of an Albanian family who was victim of Serbian war crimes.

Siblings Saranda, Fatos, Jehona, Lirije and Genc Bogujevci survived a March 28th 1999 attack by the Scorpions, a Serbian paramilitary unit. The unit opened fire on 19 Albanians in Podujevo, killing 14 of them, many of whom were members of the Bogujevci family.

A Serbian anti-terrorist unit rescued the children and took them to a hospital in Pristina. With the assistance of British doctors, after NATO entered Kosovo, they were evacuated to Manchester, England, where they live now.

During the past 10 years, the siblings have been putting together the art exhibition about their lives before and during the spring of 1999.

Saranda, Fatos and Jehona came to Belgrade on December 18th to open The Bogujevci -- a visual history exhibition at the Cultural Centre of Belgrade.

"It is very important for us to be here and it is the time to tell our story. So, it is here now and I hope that people will come to see our exhibition," said Saranda Bogujevci, now a 27-year-old interactive arts student.

Mia David, the director of the cultural centre, noted the importance of having such an exhibition in Belgrade, which was organised with the support of the government.

"I met Saranda two years ago, and when I heard her story, I knew it [had to be told] in Belgrade as well. This is the beginning of dialogue, a totally new beginning of the new chapter in after-war relations. The support given by the city and the state authorities has special meaning and represents the beginning of totally new chapter," David said at the exhibition opening.

Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic attended the opening, and led by the Bogujevcis, looked over their memories from the Milosevic days.

Dacic said that he and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic advocated for the exhibition because it is important for people to know the truths of the 1990s conflicts.

"I have even suggested building a joint monument to all victims from the Kosovo war, in the Albanian and Serbian parts," Dacic said.

Serbia has done much for the normalisation of relations in the region. Dacic emphasised that in name of Serbia, all who have committed war crimes have to respond for their actions.

"Those who committed this crime have been convicted. I would love to see all who committed crimes against civilians in wars throughout ex-Yugoslavia convicted," he said.

Four members of the Scorpions were arrested for the crime in 2007. Zeljko Djukic, Dragan Medic and Dragan Borojevic were jailed for 20 years and Miodrag Solaja for 15 years.

Many see the exhibition as crucial for the future of the final reconciliation between the two countries, as well as for their EU future.

"This is a message for the part of Serbia that can't accept past happenings in Kosovo. For these people, it is important that those who committed these crimes are sentenced and it is important that the prime minister emphasised it," Miljenko Dereta, Liberal Democratic Party MP and Civic initiatives NGO director, told SETimes.

"This is the signal that institutions are ready to face the past. The fact that the exhibition gathered cultural and political elites says that our society has taken one step ahead and that we are accepting to talk about taboo themes now," Andrej Nosov, director of the Heartefact Fund, which helped to organise the exhibition, told SETimes.

Vladimir Miladinovic, a visual artist from Belgrade, told SETimes that the exhibition is the most important event he has seen.

"The prime minister's presence is a signal that there is political will to face the past in order to achieve joint future. If we bear in mind that the main aim of the government is EU integration, we can see this as step forward," Miladinovic said.

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Kosovo officials also lauded Dacic's move.

"It is a positive gesture toward the apology of Serbia as a state and the Serbian people against crimes that occurred in Kosovo, and is a sign of repentance for those actions," Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuqi told SETimes.

Correspondent Safet Kabashaj in Pristina contributed to this report.

What other cultural events could lead to a final reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo? Tell us what you think below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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