HOME | PROJECT BACKGROUND | ROMA HISTORY | ROMA CULTURE | INTERVIEWS | SITE MAP
Castes & Clans : Site Profiles : Maps :  Photos : Links : Additional Reports : Contributors

Interviews

Page 1  Page 2  Page 3  Page 4  Page 5  Page 6  Page 7  Page 8  Page 9  Page 10  Page 11  Page 12  Page 13  Page 14

Page 2

Ardita (a pseudonym)

Ardita requested that she not be named, videotaped or photographed.

She is an IDP from Obilić/ Obiliq town

 "We stayed at home in Obilić. More windows were smashed. Three or four times. Albanians came to demand money from us. They said they wanted money to pay for the release of their friends and relatives imprisoned in Serbia . ...they would say 'You are Roma- you looted and stole from us, and you killed Albanians.' And even if you said you didn’t kill anyone, they would simply say, 'Yes, you did.'"

Plemetina Village

Ardita graduated from medical secondary school last year. The year before she refused to pay bribes to the school administrators; they gave her an oral exam, didn’t record it, and asked her plenty of questions about podiatry- not a required subject. They failed her and sent her on her way.

Last year she showed up again, and refused to hand out money for the second time. She’d spent the year working and studying on her own, and she taught herself the fundamentals of podiatry, among other things.

Ardita’s family are considered outsiders in Plemetina Village . They’re close to Gadje- the Roma word for everyone who’s not Roma. Ardita's family live on the very edge of the Mahala, in a two-home walled compound; they’ve been there for four years. The family is subjected to taunts and low-level harassment from a minority of the local Roma. Plemetina’s Roma suffer from political divisions that pit one half of the community, led by a prominent and corrupt family, against the others, led by no one. Family alliances are made and broken every day; Ardita's family try to ignore the political problems around them, but they often cannot. Their guests are harassed. The family that targets them blocks the road to their home with their one dilapidated car. They grumble and threat; Ardita's family keep their heads down. Their kids study and their parents worry. Ardita and her older sister are both employed by international organizations, and this makes them targets for others who have no work.  

Ardita’s father’s an engineer, or he was, until he had to flee Obilić town in 1999. He keeps busy by caring for chickens, playing with cats, and repairing electrical odds and ends. He’s the guy the local Serbs and Roma turn to when their radios and televisions stop working.  

Plemetina Village: February 2003

Ardita's sister worked for an international organization as a Roma Community Advocate: a fancy title for a girl that makes sure that the Roma homes will withstand the winter and the children are immunized. But some of the other Roma hate her. They circled a petition in the community demanding that she be fired. The organization told the petitioners; if we remove her, we won’t appoint another advocate.

The implication: no current advocate, no future advocate, and no representation at all. The petition’s organizers didn’t care. Fire her.

Many Roma signed. They did so because the petitioners told a bald-faced lie; they claimed that Ardita's sister diverted food aid destined for them. None of this was written on the petition. No matter that there was no food aid anymore.  

Where were you born?

A: I was born in Pristina but I grew up in Obilić.

How old are you?

A: I am 19 years old.  

Why you don’t you live in Obilić?

A: Because of the current situation there. Security isn’t what it should be. We had to flee Obilić (In July of 1999). My family came here (Plemetina, 2 KM north of Obilić town- a predominantly Serb enclave with a significant Roma population); we live in someone else’s house and we abandoned our own. I’m still here.  

Why specifically did you have to abandon your house?

A: Because of the Albanians (In Obilić town). Some of them made problems for us, but not our neighbors: they were good people. mp3

Did you stay in Obilić during the NATO campaign?

A: Yes. During the bombing we stayed there.

How was the situation before the war? Were you in school?  

A: Before the bombing I went to school in Pristina. We had a good time there. My school wasn’t so far, the public transport was good and the situation was much better than now. I wasn’t afraid of anyone. We didn’t do the things then that we must do now. mp3

On the first day of the NATO campaign (March 24, 1999), did you believe that it was going to happen?

A: Yes, we knew. We heard about it on the television. That day I went to school; my mother and father were very afraid. They went to work that day anyway. It’s normal that parents are afraid for their children.

Were you afraid that day? For what might happen?

A: Everybody knew that the bombs were coming, but no one knew when they’d stop. mp3 The bombing lasted a long time (The NATO bombing campaign lasted for 78 days).

What did you do when the bombing started? Did you go to the shelters?  

A: All that time we stayed at home. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We listened to the different airplanes and we heard the bombs explode. Nobody knew where they would fall. mp3

Were you afraid that your house would be destroyed?

A: Yes.

Did you have any problems with Albanians during the bombing?

A: No, we didn’t have any problems with them. Our (Albanian) neighbors were very kind to us; the Serbs were too. Now everything’s changed.

And after the bombing? When you had to leave your home?

A: In the beginning I wasn’t there…

Where were you?

A: My family and I had fled to Serbia . After the bombing, when I came back, the situation was awful. Groups of Albanian men came to our house every night, demanding money; they forced their way into our home to check whether we’d stolen or looted anything during the war. My family called KFOR; they did nothing. One night someone smashed our windows. We didn’t see who- it was dark. We were afraid to go out and see or say anything; it was too dark, and maybe those who did it had guns. There was no security. mp3

We stayed at home in Obilić. More windows were smashed. Three or four more times. Albanians came to demand money from us. They said they wanted money to pay for the release of their friends and relatives imprisoned in Serbia.* But that was just an excuse to come to my family and demand something from us. They said ‘You are Roma- you looted and stole from us, and you killed Albanians.’ And even if you said you didn’t kill anyone, they simply said, ‘Yes, you did.’ mp3

(* When Serb forces pulled out of Kosovo, they brought thousands of Albanian political prisoners with them. Others- in Istok/ Istog prison- were massacred in their cells before the war’s end. Most were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment during mass trials. The charges were usually unverifiable and unsubstantiated terrorism offences; almost all of the Albanian prisoners were released by the new Serb judiciary after Vojislav Koštunica came to power in late 2000.)  

Where did you go after you left Obilić?  

A: We fled Obilić after someone threw a hand grenade at our home. Someone accused us of doing it to ourselves; that wasn’t true. We knew that one of our neighbors did it. My family was afraid to tell anyone this. He had actually helped us before. We didn’t have problems with him before. The grenade didn’t damage anything or injure us; it just broke our neighbor’s window. Then someone broke another of our windows, and we went to find the new police. They sat, smoking cigarettes, and said they’d send a patrol over, but no one ever came. We realized there was nothing left for us in Obilić. We left. mp3

Did you have any problems when you first arrived in Plemetina?

AB: We didn’t have many problems in Plemetina; it’s a big Serb village and they don’t make trouble for us. Albanians don’t make problems for us here. But we can’t really leave, we can’t travel anywhere.

Did you finish school?

A: I completed secondary medical school.

Where?

A: I completed my first year in Pristina, and my last three years in Plemetina.  

Tell us about school in Pristina, did you have any problems there?

A: No, we didn’t. Before the war, going to Plemetina for school was a problem because there wasn’t any public transport.

And now?  

A: Now I am looking for work.

 

Back to top

 

Sabedin Musliu

Mr. Musliu is an IDP- first displaced from Bosnia in 1992, and later, from Pristina in 1999.

He requested that he not be videotaped.

 

“The rich Roma families- their children actually finished primary school. But people like us finished only four years. We could work as cleaners, or physical laborers; we didn’t think a lot about school.”  

 Gracanica 

Sabedin took his young wife and children with him to Bihać , Bosnia in the early 1970’s. He built a life there, and earned his money by building homes. Sabedin is a skilled carpenter and roofer; like many Gracanica residents, he also has the title majstor- a man who’s good at just about anything around the house. He can fix pipes, repair a hot water heater, tinker with a car engine and fix a radio.

(* Majstor/ Meister (German)/ Master (English)) 

Sabedin fled Bosnia when the war there began in April of 1992. When we interviewed him, we asked for permission to scan any old photos he had of his family.  

“We have none of those things,” Sabedin explained. 

“They’re all still in Bosnia .”

Bihać- or, to use a term from the early 1990’s, the Bihać pocket- was attacked by the Croats; it was shelled by the Serbs. The renegade Bosnian Muslim businessman Fikret Abdić declared a revolt in Bihać against the Bosnian Muslim government of Dr. Alija Izetbegović, and a Muslim-on-Muslim civil war began. Abdić cut a deal with the Bosnian Serb Army; they provided him with artillery support. Abdić’s men carried banners into battle bearing his portrait; their slogans declared their willingness to die for him; they called him Daddy.

Sabedin’s photos probably won’t be found again; a small history of his family and his life was wrecked back then. Sabedin and his family became refugees, in their land of origin; they settled in Pristina, and after the NATO campaign ended, they fled again. But Sabedin, like Ismail Butić in Livadje, took the time to build a new home in Gracanica. Unlike many others, Sabedin had a plot of land to return to.

Sabedin allowed us to interview him, but on one condition; that we should take pictures of his home, and his family, and give them to him.  

How old are you?

SM: I was born in 1952; I’m 51 years old.

Where are you from?

SM: I’m from Pristina, but I lived in Bosnia for 20 years- from 1973 to 1992. When the war started in Bosnia we fled.

Did you return to Pristina?

SM: We had nowhere to live when we came back; we had no home in Pristina. We rented a place; we were refugees. When the NATO war started, and they bombed for 78 days, everybody left Pristina. We fled too; to Kruševac, in Serbia . We stayed there for three years. But before the bombing I built a house here- in Gracanica.  

Sabedin's Home. Gracanica: Feb. 2003

Was your father from Pristina?

SM: Yes, and my grandfather as well. We lived in the Moravska Mahala. mp3

When I went to Bosnia , I built two houses there. I worked many trades; we had wealth, but we left everything there. When we returned to Pristina, some of my sons traveled to Italy and Germany *. They helped me by sending money home, because we didn’t work here. Again we had to leave everything in Pristina. Our riches were lost; we lost our minds, our way of thinking. mp3

(* Kosovar Roma working in Germany , when discovered, are usually deported back to Kosovo, despite the security risks they face. The UN and Roma NGOs have pleaded with the German government to stop this practice.)

When you were young, what was your father’s work?

SM: My father was a Hamaldjija.*

(*Hamali/ Amalija/ Hamaldjija. Serbian: Nosač. English: porter. Hamaldjija is from the Turkish word Hamal; Hamal is also a Turkish insult. SM’s father was fortunate in that he had a samara, or pushcart, enabling him to carry heavier loads and earn higher wages. Most men had only their backs.)

Everybody lived together then- Albanians, Turks, Ashkalija and Roma. It was very peaceful; in that time Tito ruled us, and everything was okay. Peaceful, as I said, but the people who had work had a better life. Some were paid very well, some were rich, but today we work all day, only for some food. mp3 In Pristina we made bricks and sold them. Everybody did that- Ashkalija and Roma- because we lived together.

Is there much difference between Gurbeti and Arlija?

SM: Yes, but the differences are very small. We can understand any Roma accent. Bugurdjije use some strange words; people call them Kovači.* Bugurdjije lived in places like Plemetina, Prilužje, Obilić, Kosovo Polje and Slivovo. Another Roma group, Divanjoldjije, lived in Pristina. Some of them spoke Turkish; they were Roma.  

(*Kovači is the Serbian word for Bugurdjije- blacksmiths.)

How old you were when you were married?

SM: I was 15 when I had my first child, so I was married at 14. For Roma, it’s normal to get married very young. Serbs and Albanians, they get married at around 25 years old. When a Roma boy reaches 14 or 15, his parents marry him; that’s the tradition.  

(In Pristina) the boys weren’t in school?

SM: A very small number were in school. Some children finished only four years of primary school. The rich Roma families- their children actually finished primary school (eight years). But people like us finished only four years. We could work as cleaners, or physical laborers; we didn’t think a lot about school. mp3

How many children do you have?

SM: I have seven children; two sons are with me and two are outside of Yugoslavia . And I have three daughters.

Sabedin's Son & Grandchildren: Feb. 2004

Do you have any income?

SM: No. I don’t even have a pension, because I worked privately*. I saw that it was very good to work private.  

(* Private is the general word that Roma use to describe any labor when they work for themselves. Private can embody everything from collecting cans and digging trenches to constructing homes.)

Are your sons all married?

SM: Yes, except my youngest son.

What customs did you follow when your sons were married?

SM: First, you must go to the (bride’s) family, to ask for their daughter. An agreement is struck; the bride’s father then says the bride price, along with instructions on how much gold to purchase, and what clothes to buy as well. This costs the equivalent of one house.

So it’s easier to marry a daughter than a son?

SM: You see, when my daughter was married, I didn’t want any money. mp3

We have to pay around 2000- 3000 Deutschmarks (as a dowry), but it depends on the people. Some families want around 20,000 Deutschmarks, so that they’ll become rich; Gurbets* Roma do this. mp3

(*Gurbeti- Gnjilane/ Gjilan Roma)

Which holidays do you celebrate?

SM: I’ll start with Herdeljez; that’s our important day. We buy new clothes for our children and a sheep. Second is Vasilica, but that’s more a Serbian holiday, like Christmas. For Christmas we just buy apples, nuts and so on. But for Roma, the biggest holiday is Herdeljez.

When you were a child, how did your parents celebrate Herdeljez?

SM: On May 5th we’d bathe and go to the Turbe; we’d wear the new clothes our parents bought for us. My mother would prepare food to take with us. Others would sacrifice sheep and chickens there. We’d stay at the Turbe for the entire day. We’d return to the Mahala to see others sacrificing sheep at home. On the 6th we’d take a ceremonial bath with flowers in it (Kukureg and Dren).  

Sabedin's Home

Do you celebrate Vasilica, like other Roma?

SM: Yes. On Vasilica eve we’d light candles, and we’d sing- Muhadjeri* and Gurbeti together.

(*Muhadjeri- Roma from Pristina)

Muhadjeri are also Roma?

SM: Yes, they are Roma, and they celebrate Vasilica very strongly.

Why they are called Muhadjeri?  

SM: I think because they came from some other place. Like us; we came from Pristina, and now we live in Gracanica.   

(On Vasilica) we slaughter a goose, and from its meat we make polenta*.

(* Polenta- a mush usually made of chestnut meal, cornmeal, semolina and farina.)

Why do you sacrifice the goose?

SM: Tradition. It’s the same thing Roma do on Antanasia, but we celebrate Antanasia only when someone in the family is sick.

The day after Vasilica, a visitor comes with corn and gold, and he strikes the family members lightly on the head. He does that to insure a better new year. The family waits for him, and serves him coffee.

What religion do you follow?

SM: Most Roma are Muslims; in our Mahala (Moravska- Pristina), everyone was Muslim. Our great-grandfathers were Muslims, and we are still Muslims.

Were you in Gracanica during the 1999 war?

SM: Yes, but we left after the bombing- after the NATO soldiers entered Kosovo.

During the bombing, where did you shelter?

SM: I was at home, with my family. I have 4 rooms, and many Roma people from our Mahala stayed in my home because it was very strong. We stayed in the first floor; there were 50-60 people in my home. One room was for children, another for women, and another for men. We put blankets over the windows; we sat there. A lot of us smoked; we were very scared. mp3

Did any bombs fall in Gracanica?

SM: The first bombs, I think they fell in Gracanica. It was like an earthquake.

We could hear planes, flying high above us. Many Roma slept in shelters, and there they had safety, but I slept in my home. We were six or seven families, all sitting inside. All those days we stayed together, and everyone was okay.

Back to top 

 

Gazmend Salijević

Watch a Video excerpt of Gazmend's engagement celebration (1).

Watch a Video excerpt of Gazmend's engagement celebration (2).

 

"Roma here wouldn’t talk about Roma problems. They didn’t believe in themselves; they were fearful to speak about individual problems and community problems. The situation is now different, and people who didn’t talk before now talk freely; they do things for their community."

"Now the Gracanica Roma community is ready to speak- as a community."

Gracanica

We interviewed Gazmend four days before his wedding; we were invited to the wedding as well. The women, in their finest clothes, danced for hours to traditional music while we sat with a few hundred other guests, Serbs, Roma and internationals, wolfing down sausages and cabbage and kačkaval cheese and drinking rakija.  

The Roma cut loose; outside the wedding tent in Gazmend’s family compound, they had no jobs, no security, and few economic prospects. But inside, blinded by light and cigarette smoke, they were a community, celebrating the marriage of one of their own, rejoicing along with him and his family for his future, and his future children. 

Gazmend married a Plemetina girl he met on the job. He’d picked her up that day. Her family would ride a chartered bus into Gracanica the next morning; but this night was for Gracanica alone.

Gazmend is a translator for KFOR. He works 24 hour shifts; he speaks Romanes, English, Serbian, and passable Albanian. Gazmend worked for several international Non-Governmental Organizations after the 1999 war ended. Children’s Aid Direct, a now-defunct English group, gave him his first job; he delivered sacks of food on behalf of the UN’s World Food Program to isolated and endangered Roma & Serb enclaves throughout central Kosovo.

Besides his translator work with KFOR, Gazmend works for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ; he also writes articles for youth papers, and founded his own Roma advocacy NGO- the Eyes of the Future .

GS: I am 22 years old.

You are a Roma activist. What activities do you conduct?

GS: My first activities were before 1999. In 1996 I worked as an amateur actor at the theatre in Pristina. We shared Roma culture through stage dramas and comedies.

Did you conduct any shows around in Kosovo?    

GS: My first show was in Gnjilane in 1998, with many other performers from around Yugoslavia . Back then I began to write songs and poetry.

In Romanes?

GS: Yes, in Romanes. My teacher told me to write in Romanes, because I already wrote well in Serbian. So I started, and I wanted to write a book of poetry. mp3

After 1999, what types of activities did you have for Roma?

GS: First I’ll tell you an eastern saying-  “In something bad there is something good, in something good there is something bad.” This war was a step forward for us. For my friends and I who work for Roma, this war built our capacity to work. mp3

The Bride & Groom: Gazmend and Drita's Wedding

GS: After the war, we began to work very actively in December 1999. I worked with my friends to develop greater awareness of Roma culture for those Roma who were still here. Roma were massively discriminated against by the (Kosovar) majority. We tried, through culture and language activities, to keep them* here. mp3

(* GS later expanded on this by talking about his efforts at community stabilization; getting the Roma left behind in Kosovo to not flee, like so many others. Many Roma communities across Kosovo, once thriving, have completely disappeared because of the war.)

Did your work have good results?

GS: Yes, because we were the first ones to start these activities, and I think that we had a big influence on Roma. We were the first Roma youth who took this responsibility in our hands.

Between your childhood and now, do you see much difference in Gracanica’s Roma?  

GS: Yes. (Before) Roma here wouldn’t talk about Roma problems. They didn’t believe in themselves; they were fearful to speak about individual problems and community problems. The situation is now different, and people who didn’t talk before now talk freely; they do things for their community.

Now the Gracanica Roma community is ready to speak as a community. mp3

Is there Roma representation in the media here?  

GS: Yes, it’s very good in the Pristina region. Before 1999 in Pristina there was only one radio station and one TV station: Radio Television Pristina. Now we have four or five radio stations in this region, in the Roma language; they broadcast programs twice a week in Romanes. We don’t yet have a television program, but RTK* is planning to do something in Romanes. This is very positive. There are around 25 Roma journalists in Kosovo now.

(*RTK: Radio Television Kosova)

Did the cultural activities you developed change after 1999?

GS: Yes, things changed after 1999, especially in this region. Myself, my friend Adem and two others started everything, and I’m very proud of our work. After 1999 many people began to think, and work, on things that can develop the rights of Roma.

Does your work influence younger Roma?

GS: Some very young children emulate us. When we performed Romeo and Juliet in Gracanica, the kids were acting out the scenes in the streets. They wanted to be like us, which I very much liked.  

Gazmend's Father: June 2003

There are children here who want to do something with their lives. mp3

Are you going to continue your work?

GS: I don’t know, but I believe I’m going to continue in politics. I may form a Kosovar youth democratic association; we’ll see.

Did you cooperate with Serbs and Albanians in these activities?

GS: Yes, it was good sometimes; almost normal. We had some misunderstandings which are common in work, but no one ever attacked me. We try, with diplomacy and words, to solve the problems we have. mp3We have very good cooperation with Albanian NGOs and their activities. I have good contacts with one (Albanian) politician, Adem Demaçi.* And we have good contacts with the Serbs- their NGOs and political associations.

(* Adem Demaçi is the founder of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms (http://www.albanian.com/kmdlnj/), a Pristina-based Human Rights monitoring group. Demaçi spent nearly three decades in Yugoslav, and later Serbian, jails, due to his separatist activities. Demaçi was later one of the spokesmen for the Kosovo Liberation Army.) 

 


Gazmend and his future bride.

 

   Back to top

 

GO TO: Interview Page 1  Page 2  Page 3  Page 4  Page 5  Page 6  Page 7  Page 8  Page 9  Page 10  Page 11  Page 12  Page 13  Page 14



©CSD 2003-2009. All rights reserved.

For more information email bobby@balkanproject.org