Tue, Nov 20, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Albanians, Serbs trying to move on at ski resort

GOOD OLD DAYS Serbian restaurant owner Orlo Jovanovic misses the days when he could go to the movies with his Albanian friends without problems

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BREZOVICA, KOSOVO

War is not forgotten here, but there is at least one place -- at this ski resort, 1,700m high on a mountain blanketed with snow during winter -- where Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs try, however uneasily, to get along.

"I don't care who owns Kosovo as long as I can make a living," Ivan Milosavljevic, the Serbian owner of a ski lodge here, said recently as he downed a shot of slivovitz and watched Serbian music videos with two friends from the province's Albanian ethnic majority. "I hardly ever go down from here because this peak is civilization. Down below is a political jungle."

Lutfi Alozi, an Albanian friend who comes to ski with his family, nodded in agreement.

"We love to ski more than we love to hate," he said, in fluent Serbian.

The sight of Serbs and Albanians drunkenly laughing together is a fragile sign of optimism in this predominantly Serb-inhabited skiing village, harking back to its heyday when its natural beauty, powdery snow and Olympic-level ski runs attracted the likes of the former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito.

Today, NATO peacekeepers in camouflage patrol the slopes. Strpce, a Serbian enclave that encompasses Brezovica, is about 64km from Belgrade, Serbia's capital.

It has been under UN administration since the ouster of the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Many Serbs struggle to stay in business until the ski season brings in roughly 100,000 middle-class Kosovar Albanians, who patronize Serbian-run businesses.

Only in the past two years have Albanian skiers begun to return. Orlo Jovanovic, 58, the Serbian leader of Brezovica's business association and owner of Rok, a restaurant here, said the local economy depended on middle-class Albanians and that he was determined to draw them back.

It is not easy. Many Serbian-owned restaurants and hotels sit empty during ski season because Albanian tourists are under pressure to boycott Serbian establishments, he said.

When his Albanian friends do come to his restaurant, he said, they try to hide their identities. He expresses nostalgia for the days of the former Yugoslavia when he went to the movies with Albanian friends and the restaurant was so full he had to turn people away.

"We used to live very well with Albanians," he said, surveying Rok's empty tables. "Now, my Albanian friends say that they can't come to a Serbian place even to drink a glass of water."

But some Albanians here say skiing is more important to them than residual ethnic tensions.

Shkelzen Domi, an Albanian and self-described ski fanatic, recently found himself stuck for an hour on a chairlift with a Serb during a power outage. The two discussed the slopes and later skied down the mountain together.

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