The Roma are Kosovo's everymen; the racism directed against them assumes that their stories can't be the same as others, but they are. Many interviewees were internally displaced persons, uprooted from their communities in mid 1999, and now living in extremely precarious positions. Their family structures were broken apart; their family members were abroad, or dead, or displaced somewhere else in the province. Their trauma was their uprooting, and a new, almost economic separation from their culture; they dwelled on the holidays that they could no longer 'afford' (in terms of both finances and now widely displaced family members), and they spoke of these holidays endlessly, because these celebrations were the only things that they looked forward to. This also happened in regard to weddings and other community gatherings.
In regard to customs, many interviewees were, at best, rusty about the meanings of their holidays and traditions. A few interviewees- almost all of the Prizren interviewees, especially Ibrahim Eljsani- were stellar. But Prizren is different from any other Roma community in Kosovo in that only 10% or so of the community were displaced after 1999, and they have complete and total freedom of movement within the city. Prizren’s Roma even have their own radio station. The Prizren Roma community has its own middle class; Roma own and operate their own shops and cafes. You don’t find this in any other Roma community in Kosovo.
Prizren’s Roma have an outstanding sense of their own identity. They are proud to be Roma, and they are not simply resigned to be victims. But the Roma interviewees in most other sites in Kosovo are from communities that were always structurally smaller and weaker, and more under the sway of other nationalities, be they Albanian or Serbian. Outside of Prizren, many of Kosovo’s Roma communities, and almost all interviewee sites, may not exist in the next decade or so.
With the exception of the Prizren Roma, Kosovo’s Roma will continue to be displaced due to economic and security reasons. The community of Bostan will likely have no Roma in the next five years because there is no economy there. And I mean literally no economy- no shops, no nothing, no industry. The young Roma will leave, and the old Roma will die.
Prilužje and Plemetina also have no foreseeable economic future. Roma there are dependent upon UNMIK social assistance and small-scale international aid- which will not last.
Of the interview sites outside of Prizren, Gracanica’s Roma are the most survivable Roma community, because their fate is tied to the fate of the town’s Serbs. Gracanica is the de facto capital of the truncated Serbian Kosovo- much more so than North Mitrovica- and its survivability for the near future is assured. But Gracanica’s Roma are a small population as well- though numbers fluctuate quickly, there are roughly 350 Roma there. And they will follow the same patterns as other minority communities in Kosovo, albeit with more choice- the young will immigrate and the old will fade from the picture.
Kosovo’s Roma are on the same downward spiral that smaller and poorer national minorities across Europe are in. The Kosovo Roma situation is exacerbated by the 1999 war and the poverty that affects the entire province. Roma communities in Kosovo are under tremendous pressure; from the Albanians, the Serbs, and even the internationals that come at them with so many different half-baked assimilation programs that do not take into account their situation or circumstance.
The Roma population in Kosovo partially loses its collective identity with every generation’s passing. This is essentially the same story for every other Roma community in Europe. But the war has brought this situation forward to the point where in a few generations there may be no more Kosovo Roma. If the Roma population continues to leave, they will simply be absorbed into the foreign Roma communities they find refuge in, be it in the Mahalas outside of Belgrade or Skopje, Macedonia. They will not maintain their own identities for long, at least in regard to generations.
It must also be said that using the word community for Kosovo’s Roma, though common, is misleading. There is no unified community. An area of 350 people may have three rival leaders with 5 families supporting each; the rest will be shut out of the political processes or they just won’t care. There is no real Roma leader.
This project is an acid test for the Kosovar Roma. It shows, through personal stories, what they’ve been through, what they want, and what they know about themselves. It shows what they expect out of life, the punishment they’ve suffered, and it also may indicate what the future for them holds. And a picture does emerge, a history, and a chronicle of the racism, violence, and scapegoating this community had dealt with.
As a benchmark this project is extremely useful for international and local NGOs working with the Kosovar Roma. It is Roma memories and priorities; it shows the devastation the communities have suffered and it shows the amount of displacement they have undergone. For local Roma groups, it demonstrates well what they have claimed for years- that Kosovo’s Roma are forgetting themselves. And not of their own volition. Circumstance, blame and history are all at fault.
In a way that is not immediately measurable, ROH also benefits simply by preserving the stories and disseminating them to a wider audience, both inside and outside of the community.
No internationals were present during the majority of these interviews. Our interviewees were more candid and comfortable without them. The presence of an international would change the questions, answers and content.
All interviews were conducted in the language the interviewee felt most comfortable telling a story in; every Roma involved in this project speaks Albanian, Serbian and Romanes fluently. Roma are linguists; they have to be.
Many interviews have been extensively edited for content. Thirty interviews are not included in this project.