From behind an antique loom, Sister Jelisaveta demonstrates the craft. Weaving one bag, she says, takes up to a day.
Sister Anastasija stands out among her fellow sisters, all of whom are in their 70’s. Originally from Belgrade, 300 miles north, the young nun alone represents the future of Gorioc.
Though happy at the monastery, Sister Anastasija does enjoy getting out once in a while to shop in Istok. Novica Antic, an ethnic Serb who has lived in the valley his entire
life, accompanies the nun whenever she comes into town. On the streets, her traditional black habit attracts stares from passersby.
The reception in the shops, however, is warm and genuine.
“Oh yeah, I like her a lot. She’s nice.” says Adelina Kastrati, a clerk in a local shop. “We treat the nuns as equals, and they can do as they want,” she says with a smile. Ms. Kastrati addresses Sister Anastasija in Serbian.
For her part, Sister Anastasija is studying Albanian. Growing up in northern Serbia, she had little exposure to the language and finds it very difficult. Nevertheless, she is determined to learn it and speak with her Albanian neighbors.
Religion and language constitute the main fault lines separating Kosovo’s Albanian and Serbian populations.
Most Albanian Kosovars are Sunni Muslims. Serbs, on the other hand, generally belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church.
As part of unified Yugoslavia, all Kosovars used to learn Serbo-Croatian in school. But since the collapse of a unified Yugoslavia, bilingualism has been disappearing. Public schools no longer require Serbian as part
of their curriculum. And the few remaining Serbian-language schools in the country
rarely teach Albanian. A whole generation of Albanian and Serbian Kosovars has come of age unable to communicate in each other’s languages.
“For better or for worse, they don’t touch us and we don’t touch them,” says one Albanian man about relations between the communities.
In such a divided culture, more and more Serbian Orthodox men and women religious in Kosovo are making it a priority to learn Albanian. Their efforts reflect a renewed interest in promoting peace and reconciliation between ethnic Albanians and Serbs.
Monks at the nearby historic Serbian Orthodox Decani Monastery, for instance, now speak
“It’s just a means of communication,” Father Ezekijel, a monk at Decani, says modestly.
Outsiders, however, are enthusiastic. Recently, a group of Albanian architecture students on a visit to Decani expressed delight when addressed in fluent Albanian.
Nol Binakaj, an Albanian Kosovar architect and a member of the group, recalls being denied entry to the monastery just a few years ago. “Now I am welcomed in my own language,” he says. “This is taking the interethnic dimension to the next level.”
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