From earth to paper: property claims and the materiality of loss in post-war Kosovo
Agathe Mora (Graduate Insitute of International and Development Studies)
Paper short abstract:
In the context of post-war Kosovo, this paper looks at Kosovo Serbian claimants' narratives of loss, and at how loss shifts chronotopic material encapsulations from earth to paper through the judicialisation of property claims.
Paper long abstract:
In the last months of the Kosovo war in 1999, between 70,000 and 200,000 Kosovo Serbs had to flee Kosovo, leaving most possessions behind. Seven years after the end of the war, in 2006, the United Nations put in place the Kosovo Property Agency (KPA) to adjudicate war-related property claims. More than 90 per cent of such claims were lodged by displaced Kosovo Serbs. Based on 14 months of ethnographic research in and around the KPA, this paper explores the concept of property as deployed in Kosovo Serbian claimants' narratives of loss. The paper identifies claimants' language of property as one of mourning that materialises loss in chronotopic objects. Property, through such 'melancholic' objects, stood in for the all-encompassing loss they suffered in 1999. Because the KPA process focused exclusively on (immoveable) property rights, however, articulating the lost home as property also became a way of sanctioning grief by voicing the recognised injury of war-related loss of property. This paper argues that claiming property through the KPA impinged on claimants' subjectivities as much as it transformed their relationship to their reputed property by way of documents. The substance of loss-as-property shifted from earth to paper: the agency's decisions came to embody and materialise property, itself generating new forms of social action and highlighting the importance of paper in articulating political and legal subjectivities through time and space.