“Dragon’s Teeth: Tales from North Kosovo” is the title of a book by diplomat and writer Ian Bancroft.
Ian lived throughout the former Yugoslavia for more than ten years. He worked in Kosovo for EULEX, for the OSCE in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also writes about the Balkans. He lived in the north of Kosovo for almost four years.
“When people ask me, how did I write a book and work, one builds upon the other basically. You hear a lot of anecdotes. You hear a lot of insight and the real power of the book is, as you say in the introduction, the voice of others. It’s not my own voice, it is the voice of the people I had the pleasure of talking to and it’s not just those voices that are directly quoted but it’s the people who are constantly shaping understandings about what is going on in the north and what the sort of future outlook is. So just as important, are those people who were constantly around me in other conversations over dinner or at home. We were quite embedded in the community here. Even those voices that aren’t directly quoted, who are just, as important, in terms of shaping my understanding about the place”.
When asked why part of the title of the book is called “Dragon’s Teeth” – Bancroft states that there are three reasons.
The dragon’s teeth are called the concrete blockades that were used to block roads.
“And of course, in the north, this has been a pretty well-used tactic at various junctures in the recent history”.
The second is the landscape of the hills around the north, which are especially visible on the way back from Pristina.
And the third is about the metaphor – the Greek myth of the “sowing of dragon’s teeth” from which warriors actually arose.
“So, I felt it captured various sorts of dynamics of what it is because the book is a lot about resistance. It’s a lot about community. It’s a lot about the diversity and I felt that that name captured some of those traits”.
Each manifestation of dragon’s teeth here bears witness to the past, engages in the turmoil of the present, and nourishes future forms of resistance, both peaceful and otherwise. The experiences of the community – the darkness of war and 2004, Kosovo’s independence declaration in 2008, and the barricades of 2011 – have sown new dragon’s teeth in north Kosovo.
The book itself covers a period of almost an entire century – from the beginnings of Trepca to recent events.
It includes messages, attitudes, stories and perceptions of events by people from northern Kosovo, not only from the Serb community, but also from the Albanian and Bosniak.
Although the book is not a historical one, it reveals historical details less known for a good part of the public in Kosovo and beyond.
The initial chapter begins with the formation of Trepca, i.e. information about Alfred Chester Beatty – who researched the ore potentials, and was actually a key person for the formation of Trepca.
Bancroft, among other things, reveals that Beatty salvaged the three most valuable Serbian medieval documents, which were part of the Serbian National Library in Belgrade until the First World War.
The book continues with the story of the Mining Movement against Nazis during the Second World War, followed by the newer events.
Among the newer events are barricades in 2011 that have been often perceived as controversial by the wider and international public.
This part of the book conveys the voices of ordinary people with whom Bancroft talked also:
“As I am writing in the book, one of the portrayls is that people in the north are manipulated, that everything is either orchestrated or contrived… If a mobilization happens, it happens because people have either been forced through their employment in public institutions or they’ve been bribed in certain ways or threatened. What we see in 2011 is a really pure expression of why people wanted to stand up for their own rights, for their own dignity, for their own liberties. What is important to understand – when people talk about borders not having changed is to understand what the independence of Kosovo does actually mean for the realities of day-to-day life for people here. It’s not simply the changing of the status of these lines on a map, it really has fundamental ramifications for the way people live”.
In one part of the book the author reminds on the “football game”, i.e. the action of young people from Leposavic “Goal for the open borders”.
“The two captains shook hands and exchanged milk and bread; daily necessitates in increasingly short supply”.
The match near Jarinje was accompanied by a judge of bound eyes – which would be the international community, while the footballers wore the yellow strips around their arms, referring to their ghettoization.
The author recalls that the scenario, envisioned by Bane Nešović, then a student of political science, who wanted to show the public ‘that the “Northerners” are men of flesh and blood, just like anybody else’:
“As your original quote about flesh and blood, it’s been too easy often to just simply castigate people in the north, to not to dehumanize them, to not look at their claims to be legitimate, to say that this part of Kosovo is simply a black hole or a nest of organized crime and to forget that there are normal people living here…”
Thanks to the voices of ordinary people, the book provides an insight into the situation and atmosphere in northern Kosovo which is often misperceived:
“That is one of the intentions for writing the book because there are a lot of misperceptions about the north, there’s a quote in the book about how describing the north as an anthill which means that it looks formidable but it’s easy to crush and that just represents a fundamental misunderstanding about the strength of the community here.”
Wrong or incorrect perceptions about the north of Kosovo have certainly affected the way the international public and the international community have treated this part of Kosovo:
“There has been a weakness in terms of how the international community has engaged the north. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as dehumanizing but I think it does start to have that effect it certainly ends up putting the north into a category of people less deserving of our attention, less deserving of our empathy or understanding. I mean, there’s a very fine line between trying to understand the way people feel about an issue and being perceived as you’re justifying why they feel that way. I’ve listened to a lot of people here that I don’t agree with but I can appreciate why they’ve reached that point of view and then the point is to try and engage them and maybe persuade or just accept that is the way that they feel about a certain topic”.
I think there’s also a misnomer that the north is the only problem, it’s the only last remaining barrier… People like to put these sort of conflicts into very black and white categorizations… That if the problem with the north would go away then everything else in Kosovo would be… Like solving the north is a panacea for solving all the problems facing Kosovo and therefore the region and Bosnia and everything.
“One thing I hope this book is helped achieve is to try and at least broaden slightly understanding that north is a diverse place. Diversities are something also that doesn’t come across. When you talk to many, they have this idea the north is a homogeneous community of Serbs”, Bancroft said.