Pec Journal
Town that is no more

About a documentary film that dispels prejudices and portrays a tragedy without resorting to big words

by Uros Komlenovic

Vreme, Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, July 1, 2000

In spite of long-term regime propaganda about emigration of Serbs from Kosovo and their troubles, the prevailing opinion among the citizens of "Serbia proper" was that Kosovo Serbs do not differ much in their education and general culture from their Albanian tormentors. A thirty minute documentary film, "Pec that is no more" (director Milan Konjevic, journalist-researcher Ivana Lalic, camerapersons Aleksandar Kostic and Predrag Djudjic, executive producer Lazar Lalic...), recorded within the series "Dossier YU" by the video production house "Arhitel" has not only dispelled these prejudices but also, using simple technique, without big words and dramatic testimonies, managed to portray the tragedy of Serbs from Pec, the town in which there aren't any Serbs left any more.
The calm atmosphere of the film recorded in the greenery of the complex of the Pec Patriatchate and in the Belgrade apartment of Ms. Mirna Tripkovic, born in Pec, is only briefly interrupted by excerpts from fiery speeches of Slobodan Milosevic in which he gives firm promises to the inhabitants of the province that they would not experience what later turned out to be their fate. With intermittent accompaniment of curses shouted by ethnic Albanian children from the road passing above the Patriarchate, father Petar calmly reminds that the number of Serbs expelled after the onset of the NATO occupation is the same as the number of Serbs that had emigrated from Kosovo during the eighties and nineties; at the same time Fr. Petar openly speaks about the events from the previous war and the behavior of the Yugoslav armed forces: "They fought, proudly pulled out of the province and left the people to celebrate behind... And crimes had been done previously. The church begged and warned that that not be done because the Albanians would use that later; the local population protected their neighbors as much as they could. It was all in vain; some people came from outside the province and it was no use talking to them. The worst thing is that now they say that all that was done by the Serb army. Why don't they say that that was done by the Yugoslav Army and Yugoslav Police, an atheist and antichrist army and police? Now even Albanians do not respect their besa [word of honor] that they would protect their Serb neighbors. That is why there are no Serbs left in Pec. This tragedy is the result of a conflict of two armies of non-believers."

TOWN PLAN: Similar words are repeated in the film by Mirna Topalovic, although she only heard Fr. Petar's testimony at the film's opening. She talks to Vreme about the history of Pec, written by her father, Svetislav Hadzi Ristic: "He started working on the manuscript in 1971 when, after increased pressures that followed Albanian demonstrations in the late sixties, we moved to Belgrade. He started work with the intention of focusing on the twentieth century, until year 1945. He did not want to write about more recent times. However, aware of the fact that the history of the town is closely connected with the history of the Pec Patriarchate, he went back as far as medieval times and even earlier, mentioning archeological sites around Pec. He was a descendant of an old trader family; all their property was confiscated after WWII. He wrote that history for twenty years in a small apartment. He also drew a detailed plan of the town, including every house and garden with surnames and professions of inhabitants. I believe that this book will be published before the end of the summer."

A glance over Hadzi Ristic's pre-WWII plan reveals some names that are very unusual for today's Pec: Andjelkovic, Gazikalovic, Hadzi Ristic, Popovic, Jojic...

"It is horrific that only now, when the official data about the number of expelled Serbs, as well as those that remain in the province have been published, we finally know how many of them had until recently lived in Kosovo and Metohija," says our interlocutor. "As late as during the sixties, while we lived there, the town was full of Serbs. The Bistrica river split the town into Serb and Albanian parts. There were separate promenades... Therefore, Serbs were not a minute minority of two, three of five percent as has been claimed by the state propaganda for years. On the contrary, quite a few distinguished and wealthy Serbs lived there. And, I would like to emphasize, they made their wealth through honest work. Besides, earlier there was a small rivalry between 'aristocratic' Prizren, which had been an imperial capital and Pec, which because of the Patriarchate and numerous monks who copied manuscripts had the reputation of an educational center. Exactly the unity of the church and the people gave strength to this town. Until now."

BEHIND MONASTERY WALLS: What follows is a story about roomy Serb houses, about large gardens with doors hidden behind plants that were used as an escape route whenever the tormentors would arrive. The largest rooms in houses of Hadzijas [based on the Islamic tradition, the title of Hajji, or Hadzija, was taken by those Christians who completed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem] had walls covered by icons, on canvases up to three meters square in area, giving impression that the wall was covered with frescoes. Based on the place of origin of these icons, these rooms were referred to as Jerusalem rooms. Prayers were observed daily and were obligatory. From ancient times, every Serb house had a "hideout", a secret room in which men would find shelter from raids of Turkish and Albanian outlaws, who had become especially frequent after the Prizren league. It seems that then, unlike today, no one touched women and children. It seems that such behavior is based on lack of education, primitive and archaic understanding of virtue and sin. Whatever the case, Serbs somehow managed to survive.

"After the Prizren league, my great-grandfather Hadzi Rista Markovic, together with Emanuel Serafimovic Tetovac, the abbot of the monastery of Devic, two times traveled to Russia and was both times received at the imperial court," says Mirna Tripkovic. "Since the Turks did not allow that the news about persecution be spread, he carried data about the suffering of Serbs in a hollowed out cane. He brought back books necessary for liturgy and financial assistance for monasteries. Partly thanks to their efforts Russia officially demanded from the Ottomans to rein in the Albanians and even opened two consulates, in Pristina and Mitrovica. My great-grandfather was not forgiven that and one day someone shot at him through the window while he was praying. The bullet hit the icon with the Mother of God. Since then he revered her as his protector."

Different times, different customs. If Hadzi Rista were alive today, they would not have to shoot at him from the dark. They would simply pull him out of his house, lynch him in the street, and would not be held accountable by anyone. Ms. Tripkovic does not talk about that but she does remind about something else: "Both after the emigration with Patriarch Arsenije Carnojevic, and after the Prizren league, when about 400,000 people left Kosovo, there were Serbs in Pec. Today, unfortunately, none remain in the town."

This is not absolutely correct. There are Serbs in Pec. "Arhitel's" team encountered twelve persons, besides the small sisterhood, in the Pec Patriarchate. Seven of them are refugees from Krajina [Serb majority area of Croatia, until its liberation by Croatian forces in 1995], five are from Pec. They have nowhere else to go. The last frames of the film show the greenery of the monastery complex and serious Italian soldiers, the last line of protection from unrestrained extremists who would gladly chase the inhabitants of the Patriarchate complex away and then break in to check if there are any valuables that can be looted, or sacred items that could be burnt or desecrated. Serbs from Kosovo prefer Italians as guardians of their monasteries, since they believe that Italians care about these sacred sites. Although, who knows, they may be sent to a different task in the future. In any case, if foreign guards leave, only foundations may remain from the monastery into which, as legend has it, Turks and Tatars rode in on horses but never burnt it. Perhaps, not even the foundations would be left.