Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Playing with the 'devil' in Kosovo's Colombia

This is a great article. The story of this Dasic is the story of the Kosovo Serbs, trapped between reality and Serbian radicals. Which in a way is between a rock and a hard place, although this analogy may not be right. They want to recognize the reality that they live in Kosovo which will soon be independent, but there so much pressure from Belgrade and nationalists not to integrate in Kosovar society.

Playing with the 'devil' in Kosovo's Colombia
By Matt Robinson


MITROVICA, Serbia, Dec 13 (Reuters) - French gendarmes guarded the doors as police searched the hall for explosives. Security was unusually tight for a minor league basketball game.
Inside the dilapidated Mitrovica sports hall, Miomir Dasic sipped Russian tea and waited for his players to cross the bridge from the town's Serb north to the Albanian south.
Since joining the Kosovo basketball league this year, Dasic has grown used to the security checks and police special units that greet his all-Serb team, Bambi, wherever it plays.
Bambi has done the unthinkable and opted to play against Kosovo's Albanian majority, which is bidding for independence from Serbia in a drive set to reach its climax early next year.
Police fear an attack on the team by Albanian militants. But Dasic says it's the Serbs he fears.
"They threatened to kill me; they blew up my car," says Dasic in his cold backroom office half an hour before tip-off.
"The reaction in the north has been catastrophic. They're basically calling for me to be lynched."


Serbs and Albanians have led largely separate lives since the 1998-99 Kosovo war, in which Serb forces killed 10,000 Albanian civilians and expelled almost one million in an indiscriminate bid to crush a two-year insurgency.
NATO bombed Serbia to drive out its forces, and after three months NATO troops moved in and the United Nations took control.
But like Kosovo's shattered economy and uncertain status, the sentiments of its 2 million people have been frozen, waiting for the day next year when foreign powers decide their fate.
Many Albanians still look on Kosovo's remaining 100,000 Serbs as a fifth column in their midst. For hardline Serbs, with their country on the line, only traitors try to integrate.
Dasic is in the middle, just wanting to play ball.
"Most Serbs accept what I've done, but silently," he says. "They show support by tapping me on the shoulder and saying well done, but hurry away so no one sees them talking to me."
"The boys just wanted to play," he adds. "It's our future."
Most of the 'the boys' are from central Serbia, not Kosovo. Kosovo's Serbs have faced rejection and violence since the war, so to share in sport calls for a leap of faith too far.
The divide is most apparent in Mitrovica, a former mining town split at the river between Serbs and Albanians since 1999.
Dasic once played basketball for Trepca, named after Mitrovica's sprawling lead mine. Like the mine, the town has gone to rot since the war, a mess of kiosks and jostling cars that Dasic calls "Little Colombia" for its thriving drug trade.
Saturday night's game saw Bambi beat their Albanian rivals from the capital, Pristina, 92-83.
Technically a home game for Bambi, the stands were empty. The Mitrovica faithful, the Black Green Boys, had stayed away. Dozens of police and French NATO soldiers stood courtside.
Not a single Serb has yet been to watch.
Serbs in north Mitrovica say Dasic is in it just for the money, that the Albanians are using him as a marketing tool to prove to the West their commitment to minority rights.
"Dasic is an exception, an individual who for personal, above all material interests, is prepared to endanger the future and interests of the region in which he lives," Nebojsa Jovic, a prominent Serb political leader in Mitrovica, told Reuters.
Dasic says the Kosovo authorities have provided only equipment. And the players need the salary, which should come from sponsorship but has been missing for the past three months.
"They told me: 'We'd play with the devil himself if it meant earning the money to pay for our studies.'" (Additional reporting by Branislav Krstic)

Playing with the 'devil' in Kosovo's Colombia | Breaking news | Guardian Unlimited Sport

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