This is a sorrowful story of a Serbian man whose 42 tonnes of wine were brutally seized Wild West cowboy style from him by Albanians from Serbian Kosovo and Metohija in December 2022.
Mid-December 2022 in Velika Hoča, Kosovo and Metohija, Serbia. Long guns primed at a simple wine label. This is a sorrowful story of a Serbian man whose 42 tonnes of wine were brutally seized Wild West cowboy style from him by Albanians from Serbian Kosovo and Metohija in December 2022.
They arrived all of a sudden unexpected and surely uninvited, armed to the teeth, with a gun one too many given the circumstances, with the long-barrelled guns, pepper spray, in a full army deployment. ‘I was just worried that somebody might get hurt, that somebody might provoke an incident, that somebody might get arrested. Nothing is worth a human life lost tragically, not even the wine seized away from me’ – this is how the small-scale wine producer from Velika Hoca talks about this unfortunate incident. He is a Serbian living in Kosovo and Metohija. The photos and the videos about the Albanians brutally seizing his 42 tones of wine have circulated the world. The only way he had to stand up against this vile brutality was his mobile phone and his Gandhi-style defiance.
The day, Petrović recollects, started rather routinely and nothing could even indicate what was about to happen when at 8:30 in the morning he opened the front gate getting ready to do some errands downtown. A group of scowling armed men broke into his house with no explanation whatsoever.
‘I just bent a little to close the front gate and all of a sudden, I saw four uniformed men with firearms. They made a forceful entry into my house without any explanation, asking me what I was doing and what I did for a living. I replied: ‘I make wine. I am a small-scale wine producer. There were two jeeps and one van parked outside. I stood aghast at the sight, I couldn’t even remember to ask them if they had any police warrant, what sort of a police operation that was, Srdjan goes on to explain. He personally was utterly confused as to who might find fault with a small-scale wine producer such as himself, who in his ordinary course of business, runs a small-scale wine plantation on a small arable land and simply makes wine the way his parents and grandparents did for centuries.
He keeps saying that he does not buy off the wine from other wine producers in order to resell them further, he is not selling his own, his wine cannot be found in shops, neither to the south of the Ibar river nor to the north of the Ibar river and nor does he export his wine elsewhere. In the past years, he says, the family had a family misfortune regrettably, his father has had to start using the wheelchair for the disabled, plus COVID pandemic for two years more or less, but regardless of all that, his vineyard yielded fruit, they processed the grapes and all of a sudden the accumulated amount was rather huge which they stored in the wine cellars for later consumption. He did not even know how much there is there in total. His small business and the whole region lives the life of the yesteryear, mercifully. (N.B. there are no leading edge high tech computer systems in place to do the accounting for them at the click of a button)
‘I did not even fully understand what I did wrong. I duly registered the quantities of grapes yield to the Institute of Wine Production in Orahovac, and until the 15th of December there was a deadline to register the amounts of wine after the processing. I was meaning to go and register. I used to run a small business, the status of which is now dormant because of the Covid pandemic. But the customs officers told me on that tragic day ‘What on Earth are you talking about? What fine? You ain’t gonna get no fine, but we are going to seize and confiscate all your wine. I asked them: ‘Why? It was not even offered for sale, but they were brutally persistent, says Petrović.
He makes sure he explains that the very first day the customs officers came, they did not present nor issue any formal document when they stormed into his yard and the house (the wine cellars are there adjoining the house and in the basement) and not even when they were leaving, but sadly in two days after having seized 42 tonnes of his own wine he was only given the short and scanty confiscation report with no elaboration as to the reasons and legal grounds for it all. ‘Using the long rubber hoses wrapped around their shoulders in circles, they literally sucked out the wine from my wine barrels into the cisterns. What can one do, we are here to stay, we will continue to go on growing grapes and making wine’ he says with utmost calm and composure.
He added that he hired a solicitor from the town of Djakovica upon recommendation of a friend of his, and that he was invited to come and receive the minutes report from the customs office and give his statement and then he is supposed to have an appointment with the public prosecutor. One wonders why the Customs Office deals with this since he never exported any wine into other countries, and it was a local, internal matter. Even Michael Davenport offered to visit them in a couple of days to try and help remedy the situation, but Srdjan was in Belgrade at the time.
‘I am unsure as to what the issue was in fact. We have had rather amicable neighbourly relations with the local Albanians. I had no problems at all so as to provoke anybody to cause us harm’ Srdjan says, utterly perplexed as for the reasons for the whole affair. The Petrović family keep getting kind and generous offers of help and moral support from all over the world. Mr Srdjan goes on expressing his gratitude to all those who offered their help, starting from the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who ensured there was an official reception for him and his wife into the Serbian Presidential Building, and according to what he says, the way a parent would embrace a child in distress, and that he will help in any way possible for them to go on with their small wine producing business.
When all this happened, the first call I received was in fact from Republika Srpska, Miodrag Arlo called me to say that the wine producers from Herzegovina stand by me to offer their support and do whatever it takes to help me and my family. Serbian Orthodox Church monks from the Serbian Orthodox Church in Hilandar called me as well, where Iguman Metodije told me reassuringly not to worry about the seized wine, they will send me 20 000 bottles of their own. I got a phone call from Los Angeles, USA, Greece, Macedonia, Russia, from the whole Europe. Every little matters in a moment of distress. You feel you are not alone. However, I felt rather odd that I am to get all that wine from others at this sorrowful moment, and I have kept giving the wine away for free to friends and random strangers and I never regretted it. As the saying goes: ‘One good turn deserves another. Petrović points out that he got phone calls from Albanian friends and neighbours as well because they were only too shocked to hear about the incident.
Waiting for Peter Handke
When asked what the reason for all this might be (for the Priština authorities giving him grief, Petrović points out that he can only assume he has been a political thorn in their eyes to them because of the film Waiting for Handke by Goran Radovanović, which was premiered the day before the incident, on Monday in Gračanica. Srdjan says ‘I fail to understand why Handke may have been the reason, he won a Nobel Prize for literature. I never mentioned any Albanian in the movie and not one single politician. My son and I were randomly selected besides sixteen other locals from Velika Hoča to feature in the film presenting the way of life in Serbian enclaves in Kosovo and Metohija’, Petrović elaborates further, in whose house Handke stayed a few times, either on his own or with his wife Sofia.
Peter Handke, the Nobel Prize winner for literature, literally fell in love with Velika Hoča so much that in his recent visit told me that his lifetime wish is to become a monk in this place. He would sit underneath this vine, he would sip at his white wine from the Petrovic wine cellars and he would write, he would go for a stroll in the fields and vineyards and he would wander around to many a place and he would visit all the churches there, Petrović says. Srdjan reminded us that Peter Handke had written a book The Cuckoos from Velika Hoča‘ (Die Kuckucke von Velika Hoča: Eine Nachschrift von Peter Handke) and he granted 50 000 euros in earned royalties to the local Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. Srdjan continues that the director Goran Radovanovic phoned him immediately to say that we have Peter Handke’s and his own full support.
He goes on to express his doubts that Priština may have taken issue with our new wine labels for the bottles written in Cyrillic: the origin of production Velika Hoča, the municipality of Orahovac, Kosovo and Metohija, Serbia. In retrospect to what happened in December 2022, he expects the situation to abate and to be sorted out in the best interest for both the Serbs and the local Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija.
Our only wish is to continue to make wine in our centuries old small scale family business, to continue our family tradition. This incident has been a huge shock for all our family both for my wife and children, we are being denied our chance to earn our livelihood but thanks to our friends and good people worldwide, we will manage to get by and get over this obstacle. A kind word means a lot – says Srdjan with a kind smile.
The return of the Serbian army would help hugely
Petrović firmly believes that it would be very good for 1000 Serbian army soldiers and police officers to return to Kosovo and Metohija, as stipulated by the Resolution 1244. That would most certainly change the situation for the better both in the north and in the south. I fail to understand why this has not been in place yet. Firstly, if that is stipulated in the resolution, what seems to be the problem not to abide by it? Secondly, if other countries keep their military forces there, why not Serbia as well? Serbia should be the first one to have their soldiers and police officers there to protect and defend her own citizens. Why wouldn’t our military and the police forces be allowed to give their own contribution for the peace and stability to be restored for them all to leave in peaceful coexistence’, says Srdjan Petrović the wine maker from Velika Hoča.
SCF readers might like to have a look at this video report from then where Peter Handke took to sleeping in his favorite bed