Fieldwork Sipkovica

Fieldwork Šipkovica: Perceptions and group dynamics

Sanja Vojvodić

The focus of my presentation will be on a field trip to Shar mountain’s village Šipkovica. I have chosen this trip because I believe it contributed most to the social dynamics between the Belgrade and Berlin group.  Consequently, it influenced how people perceive themselves, and how are they perceived by others, which was definetely one of the aims of the excursion. From this perspective, we can observe the elements of group behavior that apperently occurred due to the polarization emerged out of this field trip.

Let me introduce you with the retrospective of my experience:

The bus with the Belgrade licence plates enters a small mountain village, at an altitude of 1086 m, with a narrow main street, accompanied by a striking amazement and the disbelief of accidental pedestrians and women in the yards. They seemed notably uncomfortable with the curious stares and tourists. However, few of the villagers quickly gathered around where the offloading from our bus took place.  There were only men in local taverns, and there were no women on the street.

Methodologically unprepared, and even without the crucial information about the place we came to, we went out in front of them unanounced, so that we can, for the purpose of the project, try to find out how many languages do the local people speak, and maybe learn something more about their ethnic backgrounds and affiliations.

You can imagine the fascination of the population of this Albanian village with young people from Serbia, a village where many former KLA’s and eventually NLA’s fighters reside. This people have a vivid memory of rebellion against the Serbian army and police in Kosovo in 1997-99 and of insurgency in 2001 in North-Western Macedonia against Macedonian forces.

With my colleagues (Miloš and Slađan), I’ve got into a conversation with several local people who invited us to a drink in the nearest café. Interestingly, the invitation was in proper Serbian. As a political scientist, this experience was more than valuable to me; we got a first-hand insight of the mindset of Albanians in North-Western Macedonia and how rooted the agenda about the naturalness of the Albanian expansion to other countries really is. It was not a secret that they perceive North-Western Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania as their own country, nor did they try to conceal their statements with more neutral terms. We tried to monitor their speech and gesticulation with full attention, especially when they were showing us which parts of Macedonia they consider as their land.

Although we felt the slight discomfort through the entire experience, mostly because our arrival probably seemed very unnatural and could have been interpreted easily as a provocation by the locals, we managed to communicate with these people and return to the bus enriched with new important insights of the nuances in mental, political and identity boundaries in the Balkans.However, only after returning to the bus, it was noted that Šipkovica was the main stronghold of the former UČK, which the members of the Belgrade group considered to be the most important information in their later analysis of the entire event. The failure in a complete data releasing led to a sudden disruption of trust between the groups that had previously tried to overcome the dichotomy of US/ THEM, and I do not recall that something has been done in order to improve newly strained relations.Through the conversations with my colleagues I have got the impression that the resulting mistrust led to a constant analyses and observations of the behavior of Others. Even before this trip, logically, the members were referred to the people with whom they arrived, but after returning from Šipkovica such relations became regular. There was no concern to break up the suspicion that the subsequent release of information about UČK headquarters was a random failure and the hypothesis that bona fides exists in the research was doubted.A rough methodological error influenced the awareness of belonging to a particular group in the bus, which may have disturbed the real research goals.Therefore, my suggestions for overcoming such divisions in the future would be:- Do not form groups artificially (such as sitting in a bus and randomly deploying teams that are not familiar from the start of their teamwork and have no commonly established interests), but to leave a natural flow of people’s networking, which I believe, would inevitably occur – Always inform all researchers about the most important characteristics and information regarding the places of visit; openness and exchange of views on a methodology of research will surely promote mutual trust (It was not only disputed about lack of information or partial information regarding the place, but also disagreements about how the visit was supposed to be carried out)- To leave the possibility of freedom of choice – for example, if someone might feel unsafe in an environment such as Šipkovica, or maybe has some traumathic experiences, he/she should have a possibility not to go; that’s why we always have to keep in mind the sensitivity of such issues I think this trip was a great opportunity for reflection and autoreflection and analysis of group behavior. In the following discussion, I hope we could come to some common conclusions where the subject of the analysis will not be one group or another, but all together. Although finally, we all came together simply because of the physical closeness in a bus that this kind of excursion requires, in my opinion, there was no higher level of trust and cooperation, and we can correct this missed opportunity just by the anticipated discussion. This experience might be very useful for the next faculty projects. In a way,  it was a “coming of age” project experience.