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

Selim Ljatifi

Gracanica

Mr. Ljatifi is an IDP from Pristina.

Mr. Ljatifi asked us not to photograph or videotape him.

"(In Pristina) Roma made horseshoes, and Roma made bricks from mud. Other Roma made charcoal. They went into the forest and chopped down trees; they buried the logs in earth and started fires over them."

"Roma people always worked for themselves, with only their ten fingers; they never robbed anyone, and they trusted people."

Selim Ljatifi refused to let us take his photograph, or videotape this interview. He’s an angry man- out of work, out of patience, and out of the neighborhood he grew up in and lived his life in until June of 1999. Like so many other Roma, he fled Pristina; Selim is now a blacksmith with no tools, in a village full of Roma men with the same trade. He’s a city Roma, and he cannot compete with Gracanica’s Roma blacksmiths; the village Roma had the benefit of not having their homes and equipment looted and burned four years before.  

SL: My father and grandfather were both born in Pristina. My father’s grandfather was a blacksmith; he came to Pristina in the time of the Turks, and he stayed there.

There was a quarter of Pristina where the Turks lived; Roma lived there as well. We grew up with the Turks and went to their school. mp3 I remember that Roma never had problems with the Turks. They were nice to us. We had good communication.

What was your father’s name?

SL: My father’s name was Shukri. After he died I went to live with my mother’s father. He was a very rich man; he had a lot of land. He worked for no one else; he worked his own land, and I helped him.

My father didn’t have a proper job, but he worked for himself. He made bricks from mud and sold them to others, to build their homes with. This was the way we survived. mp3

My family had a nice life, a very good life, because we never had troubles with anyone, and no one gave us trouble.

What kind of stories did your parents tell you as a child?

SL: A man once had a dream. He did not know where to go and say the dream he had; that man decided he’s tell this dream to the king. The king’s court did not wish to give him an audience with the king; they said his dream, whatever it was, was unimportant. One member of the court finally requested for the man an audience with the king. The king agreed to hear the man’s dream.

The man entered the king’s court and said unto him:

Your highness, I dreamt that your kingdom is cursed, because you do not look to God.

The enraged king had the man jailed, and the man with the dream of the curse was quickly forgotten. He rotted there.

And from his cell, he dug, every night, until he came upon a rock barrier and he broke through, and found himself in a wing of the palace. The man walked through dark halls until he came across a beautiful room and saw a rich table, piled with food and drink, and his hunger overcame him. He gorged himself on someone else’s feast. The man then left through the hole he had dug and returned to his cell.

The room belonged to the king’s daughter; she discovered that someone had eaten her meal, and she called together her servants and slaves and demanded, which among you has done this? None answered.

The next night, after the king’s daughter had fallen asleep, the prisoner quietly returned and ate again. The following night the king’s daughter sliced open her finger; the pain would not let her sleep. She watched the prisoner quietly walk to the table, take his seat and eat again. When the prisoner stood to fetch some water, he walked close to the daughter’s bed, and she flew awake and grabbed his hand.

“Please don’t have me killed,” the prisoner asked. “Your father has imprisoned me, and he has just as quickly forgotten me. I have no food there.”

“But my father does not have any prisoners,” the king’s daughter said.

“He has me, and others,” the prisoner replied.

The king’s daughter kept the prisoner’s secret. He returned every night to share her meals.

The king soon decided to marry his daughter. He put out a riddle for her suitors to answer. In a fenced field he placed three horses. The king asked the prospective princes: which horse is the mother, which is the daughter, and which is the daughter’s son?

The suitors of the king’s daughter were confused and nervous. They had no way to tell who was who, and they knew their chances of guessing successfully were small.

That night, the prisoner and the king’s daughter had their meal. The prisoner noticed the girl’s unease; he asked her gently what vexed her and eventually she told him her father’s riddle.

“The solution is simple,” the prisoner said. “When the horses are startled, the mother will run first, the daughter will follow second, and her son will follow last.”

The daughter’s suitors all guessed, and failed to win her hand. And the king’s daughter told the king about one man who knew the answer.

“Your prisoner knows,” she said.

The king had the prisoner brought before him, and he put the question to the man. The prisoner gave his answer, and it was proven correct.

The king had the prisoner’s manacles struck from him. And he married his daughter to the prisoner he had forgotten about, and secured for him another wife as well; the daughter of a far-away king.

And the man told the king about another dream he had had before he was imprisoned:

“Your daughter was my right hand, and the daughter of that far-away king was my left.”

What is your profession?

SL: I knew many different trades because my father built bricks, and houses, and I learned his trades from him. Later I learned to forge iron; that’s what I did in Pristina, for a long time. In the Mahala there were many skilled Roma- Roma with trades. If the Roma returned there, don’t you think they would do the same things? They’ll be there again. The iron-makers, the blacksmiths.

I want to say that I stopped forging iron for some time, but I did not forget how; because I knew that I would start my work again after the bombing. This saved me. mp3 Roma don’t forget their trades.

There were many Roma making things in the Pristina Mahala. Many different trades. There were at least ten families of nothing but blacksmiths.

There were Roma making horseshoes, and many Roma made mud bricks. Other Roma made charcoal. They went into the forest and chopped down trees; they buried the logs in earth and started fires over them. Roma people always worked for themselves, with only their ten fingers; they never robbed anyone, and they trusted people. mp3 Some Roma in Pristina worked for others, not themselves, but most of them were cleaners.

What about Ashkalija and Egyptians? Did you know about them before the war?

SL: There were Ashkalija before. We (Roma) didn’t really deal with them; they knew how to speak Romanes but they would not use it with us. They wanted to be Albanians. There are many groups- Arlija, Gurbeti, Ashkalija, Bugurdjije- but they are all Roma. The only difference is their dialects. mp3 Roma around Kosovo speak differently.

Can you tell us something about Roma history?

SL: Most people say that Roma are from India . I don’t think so. I think Roma came from Arabia ; they traveled in past years and they went to many cities, and that’s why Roma are everywhere. Just because we have similar words to Indian doesn’t mean anything; Serbs have many Russian words, but Serbs don’t say they’re from Russia because of this. You can also say this for (Kosovar) Egyptians- how can they be Egyptian? Egyptian people are from Egypt , and a person who speaks Albanian cannot be Egyptian.

What kind of Roma are you?

I’m Arlija. The only difference (between Arlija and other Roma groupings) is dialect. We understand other dialects; Arlija understand Gurbetija.

What about your religion?

SL: I’m a Muslim, and all the Roma in Kosovo are Muslim. We celebrate the Muslim holidays. We always have. I’m proud of myself because I’m Roma and Muslim.

Which holidays do you celebrate?

SL: Roma celebrate all the holidays that happen in Kosovo, from Herdeljez to Bajram, Vasilica to Christmas. We celebrate everything. I should let you know, though, that I don’t pay too much attention to the details. I celebrate because others do.

What about Roma traditions regarding marriage?

SL: Before, Roma parents would never ask their daughter if she wanted to get married. A girl’s father would not even speak to her about it; he would simply choose a man for her. mp3 Regarding a groom, a girl’s parents would ask around- what kind of people are the groom’s family? Is the groom a good man, is his father a good man? And so on. And of course there’s the main tradition- where the groom’s family buys his bride from her family.

Did you finish school?

SL: No. I went to school for only 6 years. By then I had the skills and trades that would help me out in life. mp3

Do you remember World War II?

SL: Roma were in a very good position during the Second World War *. There weren’t too many problems. Roma had good relationships with everybody.

(SL seems unaware of Reich policies regarding Roma, and the extermination of them in other areas of Europe . Kosovar Roma were not targets of this policy; eventually, they would have been.)

Can you tell us something about Roma life under communism?

SL: When Tito was alive, the Turks left this place. They sold their houses to the Albanians, and now the Serbs are doing the same. mp3

But there were not any problems then between Roma and Albanians, Albanians and Serbians, everything was just okay.

Can you tell us about the bombing in 1999? What was your experience?                                                    

SL: We were very afraid. We never had these problems in Tito’s time. mp3 Everything was okay then; we never heard even the shooting of guns. My daughter is still crippled because of the fear in those days. It was terrible; I won’t talk about it.

Back to top

 

 

Mevlide Mevljida

Mrs. Mevljida is an IDP from Pristina.

"'This is my home,’ I told him. ‘I never did anything bad to anyone. If you want, come inside and see if I’ve stolen anything.'

'I didn’t come to see who stole what,’ he said. ‘I came to tell you- you’d better leave this place. When we were driven from our homes, you stayed. Now it’s your turn.'"

Gracanica

Mrs. Mevljida helps care for the bed-ridden wife of another interviewee- Isat Fetahi. She’s known the Fetahis for decades, first in Pristina, and now in Gracanica. They were neighbors who abandoned their neighborhood together. Every day they sit and talk, often about the past; a Serb woman joins them. She fled Pristina as well, and when she had nowhere to go, the Fetahis put her up. We asked her for an interview.

“I have nothing to say,’ she said, and that was all. She was a Serb, cared for by Roma who loved her. They provided for her when her own family wouldn’t.

MM: My name is Mevlida. I am from Pristina; now I live in Gracanica. In Pristina we had a good life, good living. Someone took all of the things that I had before. Now I have nothing.

MM: My father’s name was Fadilj; my mother’s, Fetija. My father had eight children. He worked very hard to give us a good life. He worked as a cleaner in a Pristina school. mp3

What kind of Roma are you?

MM: We are Arlije.

Can you tell me about Saint Vasilica, what are you doing on that day?

MM: When I became married, my husband celebrated this day. We baked special bread and cooked a rich dinner. We invited all our friends and relatives; we drank and had fun.

In the early morning no one could enter our home. Our family wished each other a happy holiday and sang the song of Saint Vasilija. My mother sang that song very, very well. mp3

Do you also celebrate Herdeljez?

MM: On Herdeljez we would wake up before dawn and walk to the Turbe* (in Gazi Mestan- Obilić municipality) to sacrifice sheep.

On Herdeljez morning, our children, with new clothes, would meet together and go from house to house in the Mahala. The neighbors would give them Para * and candy.

(* Para : in old Yugoslav currency, 1 Para = 100 Dinars. Para is slang, across Kosovo, for cash)

And on Herdeljez evening we’d have a large dinner with all the members of my family, and that’s that.

Do you celebrate Christmas?

MM: On Christmas we bake cookies. We don’t pay too much attention to Christmas.

Do you know many Ashkalija?

MM: Yes, I knew about Ashkalija before.

And Egyptians?

MM: No, I never heard of Egyptians before, but Ashkalija have many things in common with us. The difference is that they speak Albanian. mp3

Were you born in Pristina?

MM: Yes.

How was Roma life in Pristina before the war?

MM: My family was okay- we had a home, and we had work.  After the war we all got worse. We are all in a different way now.

Mrs. Mevljide's Wedding, Circa 1940's

(After the war) I went to Pristina, to see my home again. And when I saw it, I had a feeling- it’s better to die now than to live. There were no houses left: they destroyed everything. They seized the house of my husband’s brother, and they kept his two cars. Soon after, I became sick, and was in hospital because of high blood pressure.

It’s very sad for Roma- because we never had problems before, even with Albanians. I had Albanian neighbors, but we never had problems with them until recently- these problems that began to exist between us.

What about your brothers? Did they have problems with Albanians?

MM: No. We always cooperated with them.

I’ll tell you the truth- when the Albanians told me I had to leave my home, they didn’t make too many problems. An Albanian saw me standing in front of my home and he asked me,  

‘Which house is yours?’

‘This is my home,’ I told him. ‘I never did anything bad to anyone. If you want, come inside and see if I’ve stolen anything.’

‘I didn’t come to see who stole what,’ he said. ‘I came to tell you- you’d better leave this place. When we were driven from our homes, you got to stay. Now it’s your turn.’

I called to him, ‘Why are you doing this? Why did you take things from my mother’s home?’

He told me again, ‘you stayed here and now you must go. We’ll show you who rules this place. mp3 It’s better for you to go- I won’t do anything bad to you, but worse men will come. You’d better leave.’

We talked about it with our neighbors. And we left the Mahala.

Where did you go after you left Pristina?

MM: I moved to Gracanica. I’m still here. I don’t know what the future will bring. mp3

Did you go to school in Pristina?

MM: Yes. I went to primary school for four years. That was okay for me, because with four years of primary school I could find a good job. mp3

My brothers- they all went to school, some of them for eight years and some of them for six; it was okay for us.

Back to top

Ismail Butić

Mr. Butić did not allow us to videotape or photograph him.

"What did you think during the bombing? Did you leave Kosovo?"

"No, we didn’t leave. Of course we were afraid, but we didn’t leave this place."

"And that is now the past."

"Roma are very good, very hard workers; they stayed in any place where there was a place to sleep, food to eat and work to do. My grandfather built a house in the center of Livadje; he worked very hard, and he built the house that became his home."

Livadje

After the end of the 1999 NATO campaign, Ismail Butić found himself utterly cut off from the world he once knew. He was unemployed; to venture into areas where he could find work was to risk death.

Ismail decided that this was the perfect time to do something he’d meant to do for years; build a new home for his family. Before, he’d never had time because of work that had taken him all over the former Yugoslavia , and as far away as the Czech Republic and Germany .

Ismail got the equipment, laid the foundations, and set to work with his sons. His new home is complete now.

“I want to work; I need to. But there’s nothing here, nothing in Livadje now, and I can’t go into the Albanian areas to find a job,” Ismail told us over coffee while he played with his young grandchild. “It’s too dangerous.”

Ismail has applied to international organizations for a small loan, to buy equipment for blacksmithing; his family trade. He’s waiting for a reply as I write.

IB: I’m 43 years old.

Where are you from?

IB: I’m from Livadje. My father was born here, and his father as well.

What kind of Roma are you?

IB: We are Bugurdjije.

Where did the Bugurdjije come from?  

IB: Smithing was their trade. My father told me they had to survive somehow; my father told me that his father first did this work in Skulanevo*. The work got slow, and he moved to Dobrotin*. mp3 There are a lot of Roma left in Dobrotin, and many of them are my relatives.

(*Skulanevo- 5 kilometers northwest of Lipljan/ Lipjan town.)  

The Butic home in Livadje

(* Dobrotin lies roughly 10 kilometers south of Livadje, in Lipljan/Lipjan Municipality.)

IB: Lots of Roma live in Livadje; my grandfather came to work here. The Serbs of Livadje gave him a small place to work, and they made a deal; he could stay here only if he worked for the Serbs for free.  mp3 And he worked cheap for the Roma.

Roma are very good, very hard workers; they stayed in any place where there was a place to sleep, food to eat and work to do. mp3 My grandfather built a house in the center of Livadje; he worked very hard, and he built the house that became his home.

He built his house after he worked for awhile in the mines, in Kišnica*. He retired there, and got a pension. But the traditional trade that my family followed was smithing. I also finished technical secondary school.

(* Kišnica lies several kilometers east of Gracanica, on the Gjilan/ Gnjilane road. The mines there have been worked since Roman times.)

Where did you attend school?

IB: I finished school in Lipljan. After school I went to Belgrade and worked as a technician; I stayed there for ten years. I returned to Pristina to work in a factory.

Did your parents tell you any stories about your family when you were a child?

IB: I don’t really remember. My father was in World War II though; he was with the Partisans. I know that he had a brother, but they were not together. My father was a prisoner in Beć*, and after the war he returned home. mp3

(* Beć is the Serbian name for Vienna , Austria .)

My father’s name was Pulji and mother’s name was Sevdja; she was from Pristina.

On weddings:

IB: When I go to a girl’s father, to ask her hand for my son, I bring a nice bottle, wrapped in flowers, and filled with sugar water. If the girl’s father accepts the bottle, his daughter will marry my son . mp3

Do you pay a dowry for the bride?

IB: Our people- Bugurdjije- ask for money, but not too much. I’ll ask for money (for my daughter), just so the custom won’t be forgotten. mp3

Do other Roma ask for more money?

IB: some Roma- Gurbeti*- ask for a lot of money when someone marries their daughters. They give a lot of money as well  There are big differences between Gurbeti and Bugurdjije regarding marriage. For example, in my family no son was married until he finished his military service. And no daughter will marry until she’s finished secondary school. mp3

But Gurbeti Roma- their daughters don’t attend school, and their sons marry too early. mp3

(*Gurbeti Roma inhabit Kosovo’s southeast, and are mainly found in Gnjilane/ Gjilan municipality. The Roma areas of Gjilan town are almost exclusively Gurbeti.)

On Ashkalija and Egyptians:

IB: I know about Ashkalija; they live in Albanian areas, and they speak Albanian, but they are Roma too.

I didn’t know about them (Egyptians) before. They came into existence recently. They don’t want to call themselves Ashkalija, and they don’t want to call themselves Roma, so they call themselves Egyptians. But everyone knows that they are Roma. mp3

What religion are you?

IB: I’m Muslim.

Are most Roma Muslims?

IB: Yes. In general, yes.

What customs do you follow (in Livadje)?

IB: Vasilica- January 14th – is a day of great importance to us. Then comes Herdeljez (Serbian: Djurdjevdan- Saint George’s day), on the 6th of May. And Saint Arangel*, on June 26th. We also celebrate the Muslim Bajrams.

(*Saint Michael the Archangel- Arangel- occurs on November 21. Below IB states that Saint Michael the Archangel is celebrated twice, and the second time falls in November. I can find no other reference for the June date IB describes.)

What are your customs on Vasilica?

We wake up at midnight and prepare ourselves, and we make the sacrifices. We bake coins in the bread; whoever finds a coin in their piece will have luck and happiness for the next year. But if no one finds a coin, that means that the home and family will all have that luck. On the second day our wives make the traditional meal- Sarma*.

(* Sarma is a traditional Balkan meal of ground meat and rice, wrapped in cabbage leaves.)

When we prepare Sarma, the women will stay awake all night, watching the Sarma as it cooks, to insure that no one else comes to steal it.**  When the guests come the next day, to eat the meal, the woman that cooked the Sarma ‘sells’ it to the guests. ‘How much does it cost?’ the guest will ask the cook. She’ll name a price. ‘It’s too high,’ the guest will say. ‘Can I pay you in the summer?’ The cook will agree to this, and everyone will eat. We sing many special songs on this day.

Do you know the songs?

IB: Yes, there is one special one sung on this day;

Here is Vasi*

Here is Vasi

For my little son

Please, Lord

Give him everything he wants

mp3 

And the son will then sing for the entire family.

(* Vasi is the diminutive form of Vasilia)

And on Djurdjevdan? What customs do you follow on this day?

IB: On the 5th of May we have already cleaned up our homes for our guests and visitors. We buy sheep for the sacrifice; the more money you have, the more sheep you can sacrifice.

There is a place in the hills, on the way to Sušica, where we walk to drink the water and collect Kukureg and Dren. So that our children may be as healthy as the Dren we find. We mix the Kukureg and Dren in water and bathe in it; our women bake special bread, in the shape of sheep.

We also collect Debeljica for the children who are very weak, that they can become strong.

Then we sacrifice the sheep we’ve bought, and have a roast. On the first day of Djurdjevdan we have no guests; everyone celebrates in their own home. On the following day many visitors come.

Do you celebrate Christmas?

IB: Yes, but we don’t pay as much attention to Christmas as the Serbs. We buy fruit for our children.

I remember when I was a child; my father brought home hay on Christmas that we would sleep on. The main reason why we celebrate Christmas is because of our children; we don’t want to divide them from the Serbian people. There is not any really special reason why we celebrate.

And Arangel*, on the 26th of June, can you tell us something about that?

We celebrate this firstly because we live in a Serbian area. And also, because on the 26th of June* once something terrible happened to my ancestor, but they recovered. This same holiday is also celebrated in the wintertime- on November 21st.*

(*IB refers to, on November 21st, the day of Saint Michael Archangel. This is a Serbian patron saint’s day, or slava.)

On June 26th we simply invite our relatives and friends over, to have dinner.

You finished high school in Lipljan. What about primary school?

IB: Four years in Livadje and the rest in Donja Gušterica*.

(*Donja Gušterica lies several kilometers south of Livadje.)

(In school) did you have friends of different ethnicities? Albanian, Serbian, Turk…

IB: In secondary school we only had Serbs and Croat from Janjevo.* Albanian children had their own, separate schools. mp3

(* Janjevo is a predominantly Catholic town in Lipljan/ Lipjan municipality. Janjevo’s population is Croatian, Roma, Ashkalija and Albanian; the few Serbs there fled after 1999.)

How was the relationship between (Kosovo’s) ethnicities before?

IB: When I was in Belgrade , I worked in different places. I met many different nationalities, and I didn’t have problems with any of them.

Did you have any dreams for the future, after you finished high school?

IB: After I finished high school, I went straight to university. I completed the first year. My family and parents were then evicted from their home; we couldn’t find another place to live, so we moved away. I had to leave University. It was wintertime; I couldn’t stay. My father had no work then, so it was very hard to continue.  mp3

Some time later, I had the opportunity to continue my education, but my father could not afford it. That was my last chance.  mp3 After everything passed, I served my time in the army. After the army I was married.

How old were you when you were married?

IB: I was married in 1980. I was 21 years old.

Where did you complete your military service?

IB: In Macedonia . I was a driver.

I’m married and I have three children; one daughter and two sons. My eldest son is married and he has a baby boy. My daughter is in the third year of medical secondary school, and my other son is in primary school- the 8th year.

For their future- I want my children to finish school and continue with their education. mp3 All my brothers attended school; some of them even finished University. Education is of the utmost importance; the conditions are good for it.

The one problem that really scares me is the (economic) situation. People have no work. My son finished electrotechnical secondary school, and he cannot find a job*. mp3

(*Many educated Kosovar Roma parents do not send their children to school for precisely this reason. They believe that education did not help them, and is therefore a waste of time for their children.)

How was the situation in this village during the 1999 war?

IB: A bomb came down one KM from Livadje. There was a Yugoslav Army encampment nearby; NATO bombed that place all the time.

What did you think during the bombing? Did you leave Kosovo?

IB: No, we didn’t leave. Of course we were afraid, but we didn’t leave this place. 

And that is now the past.

mp3

Back to top

 

Radomir Ivanović

Gracanica

Mr. Ivanović is an ethnic Serb.

Mr. Ivanović would not let us videotape or photograph him.

"Roma didn’t have good jobs; they didn’t have the same rights as Serbs and Albanians. They were one step under them."

RI: I’ve lived in Gracanica for 45 years with the Roma; I was born here. If we’re talking about Roma from Gracanica, they are good people and good neighbors. mp3

Roma always worked with Serbs together, for example, in making bricks. Roma didn’t have good jobs; they didn’t have the same rights as Serbs and Albanians. They were one step under them. mp3

Do you know the reason why? Perhaps education?

RI: Education. When Roma children wanted to go to school, they couldn’t. This was because of Albanians; they were the majority, and they didn’t want Roma to be educated.*

(* This is a heated and partially untrue comment. RI’s statement does not take into account that Roma faced as much discrimination in Serbian schools- including Gracanica’s own Kralj Milutin school- as they did in Albanian schools.)

Roma here celebrate Djurdjevdan and Vasilica. Have they always celebrated these (Serbian) holidays?

RI: Those are their days; they’ve celebrated them for a long time. On those holidays we visit them and drink with them; they drink and dance and so on.

Back to top

 

 

Adem Osmani

Read  Adem's War Diaries (English) 

"There was no traffic; there were many soldiers, and they were drunk all the time. I was with my friend, and a soldier aimed his gun at us. We were lucky; his friend disarmed him. Otherwise he’d have shot us."

Gracanica  

Adem Osmani is a born journalist. When the bombs started falling near Gracanica in March of 1999, Adem grabbed the family camcorder- a gift from his father, who worked abroad- and he headed into the outdoors, against his mother's wishes. Adem waited inside until he heard planes overhead; then he ran out. This is the opposite of what most people do during bombings, I told Adem; he shrugged.

Adem showed me the footage he shot four years ago. A Yugoslav arms depot, on the winery hill overlooking the Kralj Milutin School. He caught the first missile when it was still smoking and the second one when it impacted, blowing dirt and concrete and other such items 70 feet into the air. The video is jerked and ragged; it makes one queasy to watch.

"It's like that because my mother kept trying to pull me into the house," Adem said.

In September of 2001, my office was burgled; two laptops were stolen. As two Filipino technicians dusted the windowsill for fingerprints, I provided the names of my office staff to the Swedish investigating official, so that their fingerprints would not bring them under the suspicion of the police. I provided my fingerprints as well.

The local police immediately fixated on the two Roma on my payroll.

“We’ve got Gypsy suspects,” one of them said.

Adem was one of my summer camp counselors. He was too intelligent and driven to stay in that position for long. He was a Roma activist; he was about to encounter the state racism he’d only heard others speak of.

The police picked him up without my knowledge. They held him for 10 hours. They told him that if he didn’t talk, they’d go to his school and tell his classmates and teachers that he was a thief. The new lead investigator- a Romanian woman who told me that Roma were responsible for all of Romania’s crimes- acquiesced to this detention.

I found out about Adem’s detention after he was released. I went to visit him. He was in shock- a secondary medical school student who’d never even thought of stealing anything in his life. He was embarrassed, and angry at me. His mother looked as though she wanted to kill me.

Two days later the Romanian ordered Adem to be picked up again. His thumbprint had shown up on my desk. No matter that he sat at that desk for hours every day. The fact that he worked in my office meant nothing to them. They wanted to bust a gypsy, and they had one, and that was that.

My colleagues and I secured his release. ‘We don’t give a shit who did this,’ we said. ‘Leave this kid alone.’

I didn’t know what to say to him. I’d assured him, after the first detention, that it wouldn’t happen again. And it did. ‘If something happens to my son, I’ll die,’ Adem’s mother told me. I didn’t doubt her. It took awhile for Adem to calm down. He got nervous whenever a car stopped in front of his home. Adem’s a respected young man- respected by all. The soldiers and teachers and internationals that know him sing his praises. In a village with no work, he’s worked since the age of 12, helping his older brothers and his father repair their home. He worked for NGOs when he was still in high school. He talks about studying theology in Sarajevo , and he will, one day. He will leave this place on the strength of his will, passion and intelligence.

But to the police, and the lead international investigator, he was nothing but a number, a gypsy, a suspect.

Adem's Father (Left), circa 1960s

AO: I am 21 years old.

Can you tell us about the last days before the bombing?

AO: In the days before the bombing, I sat and watched television. I didn’t watch the news, but my older brother, my uncle and other older people watched. We listened to the radio, to try and figure out what would happen, or if there would be a solution. There were negotiations between the nationalities here, mp3 but it didn’t work in Rambouillet, and no solution came.

What about Roma? What was their reaction?

AO: Some Roma would say, ‘Well, we’ll have a war then.’ They didn’t understand politics, but they saw the situation in Kosovo. Other Roma said, ‘There are Russian soldiers* (near) here, so we won’t have problems. Let’s talk about May 24th; the radio stations issued warnings. I remember it like it happened today. People started to prepare themselves.

They opened their windows wide and prepared clothes, soap, and towels, in case something happened quickly, and they needed to flee.

(* AO may be referring to the presence of Russian troops in Bijeljina, NE Bosnia - roughly 280 KM from Pristina. Before the war, the Serbs believed that that Russians would intervene- at first, diplomatically, and later, if needed, militarily- to ‘save’ them. The Russians did do both of these things; in the beginning they actively opposed the coming campaign through the few diplomatic means at their disposal, and later, near the end of the NATO campaign, the Russian contingent in Bijeljina disappeared and only turned up again when they seized Pristina’s Slatina Airport and paraded themselves through Pristina, where they were greeted as heroes by the Serbs who remained behind. These were symbolic gestures at best, and not what the Serbs had fervently wished for.)  

What was your opinion of all this?

AO: My attitude was common- only because of what may pass if the bombing came. What would happen to people here? I didn’t consider that the bombing would happen. I thought that it was impossible, but my uncle and my family told me that the bombing would come- either that evening or the next day. mp3 On that day I was going out- walking around town. This was exactly four years ago.

What was the reaction of the youth?

AO: Everything was normal. We spent a lot of time playing football. We made jokes about the coming bombing- “yea, they’ll blow up this and that-“ but we didn’t think about the consequences, how it was going to be when the bombs came. We didn’t take it seriously.  

Adem and Guitar: May 2003

That day (the first day of the NATO campaign) everything was normal. People talked all the time about the bombing, but everything was the same. Shops were open, other institutions (schools, government offices) as well. The traffic was normal, and people went to work. At 7 O’clock that evening I saw on the news that the (NATO) planes were waiting and armed. They had targets; they were warming up. Then I realized it was really going to happen. Soon the windows in my home shattered.

We heard some large explosions far away from Gracanica- probably some military installation. We couldn’t hear it very well. The morning after we heard air-raid sirens; my family decided not to sleep at home that night, and we went to the shelters. It was full of people. On the first night there were 4 families there. On the second night- March 25th- my family made the decision to flee to the Vojvodina* mp3

(*Vojvodina is an ethnic Hungarian section of Northern Serbia , roughly 320 KM from Gracanica.)

Adem's Mother & Grandmother

Why did your family think it would be better in the Vojvodina?

AO: Because NATO wasn’t dropping so many bombs there. It would be safer, because it wasn’t a real war, like in Kosovo. Albanians fought Serbs here from 1995 onward; a guerilla war, like the Partisans. We took the train to Belgrade , and then ended up in Vladimirovac.

(*Vladimirovac- a small village 50 kilometers from Belgrade .)

What was the situation there?

AO: It was fine. I only remember one night of bombing, and that was very far away from Vladimirovac. The place was full of Serbs, and it was nice, but we couldn’t stay longer. We missed our home. It was really difficult for me to leave my home. I thought we would never come back, and I’d never see my friends again in my life. mp3  

What did the other Roma here do?

AO: At the start of the war, many Roma families went to Serbia ; some went to Italy . We couldn’t leave the country; we stayed in Vladimirovac for 17 days.

We returned to Gracanica on the 24th of April. It was a disaster. My home had been looted. Everything- all the valuables- were gone. I didn’t know what to do; I went to say hello to my friends. That was it. We saw many soldiers that we’d never seen before; some were from Kosovo, but many were from Serbia . There were a lot of army trucks, and a lot of guns. mp3

All the shops were closed. Everything was expensive; one kilo of rice was 200 Yugoslav Dinars. mp3

What did you do when you came back?

AO: There was no traffic; there were many soldiers, and they were drunk all the time. mp3 I was with my friend, and a soldier aimed his gun at us. We were lucky; his friend disarmed him. Otherwise he’d have shot us.  

Why did he do that?

AO: Because he was drunk. He didn’t care about anything; it was all a joke to him. The bombing went on for 78 days.

Can you read us an excerpt from the diary you kept then?

June 9th- they (the Serbs) have signed the agreement. People (in Gracanica) are celebrating, shooting guns into the air. The television says the war is over; we can’t talk about the end of war, because everyone that was in this war has lost it.

The bombing stopped in a few hours.

June 11th- The Serbian army has pulled back to its prewar positions. On the 10th of June, at midnight , NATO came into Kosovo; the Russians took Slatina (the airport). The next day others arrived- Germans, Americans and French.

Adem's Older Sisters: 1970s

When did you write this down?

AO: As it happened- when NATO took over Kosovo. On June 21st Albanians began to return to their prewar homes. They returned to Pristina- and the Roma there fled. Some of them came to Gracanica, and others headed to Serbia proper.  

On June 21st, those Pristina Roma fled to Gracanica- because they were told, if you don’t leave, you’ll have problems. mp3

So Albanians forced the Roma out?

AO: Yes. They had to leave if they wanted to avoid problems with the (returning) Albanians. Too many Albanian homes were burned and destroyed.

Adem's father (Left) builds his future home. Circa 1970s

Gracanica emptied immediately .We’d left during the bombing, but after it ended, we didn’t want to go anywhere. People were leaving, and Gracanica had only five or six Roma families left. My friends were gone; I was alone. mp3 Albanians provoked us; Pristina was cut off from us.

Did any incidents take place in Gracanica?

AO: Albanians kidnapped one man here, but two days later he escaped; he had to walk from Pristina to Čaglavica. He was lucky. Two other men were kidnapped in Preoce; they were killed. A few years later their bodies were found.* Three or four months after (the Preoce kidnappings) a bomb was detonated at the market in Gracanica. After that the Serbs stopped Albanian cars*. We just played football. mp3

(*Gafo Fazljija (Male, aged 23), and Ismet Celovic (Male, aged 52) - last seen alive on July 3, 1999 in Pristina’s Ulpijana district.  

The following eyewitness accounts of their abduction were compiled by the Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade http://www.hlc.org.yu/indexeng.htm  

Fazljija, his brother F.G., Ismet Celovic and his brother C.A. were hired by a Serb trucker, Slavko Zdravkovic, to move an elderly Serb woman from her apartment in Priština (entrance 11, seventh floor, green building, Kicma (Kurriz) district)) on 3 July. F.G. and C.A. recounted that Zdravkovic came to Preoce at 9.40 a.m. and drove them to the building. The elevator was out of order so they carried the furniture and belongings down the stairs. A group of Albanians gathered on the steps outside the building and threatened and insulted them. Zdravkovic, who was upstairs, called KFOR. A patrol arrived shortly and dispersed the Albanians, and they continued loading the truck. Half an hour later, the same Albanians came back, resumed abusing them and said the belongings they were taking out of the apartment had been stolen by the elderly Serb woman. The Serb woman called KFOR and the Albanians were again dispersed.

The loading was finished at 3.30 p.m. Zdravkovic told the Roma he could not drive them back to Preoce as he had promised, and they walked to the bus stop near the market in the Ulpijana district. They noticed that they were being followed by four men, three of whom were about 23 or 24 and the fourth about 30. The older man was tall, of strong build and going bald. The younger men were shorter and thinner, two had streaked hair, and one curly hair. The witnesses recognized them as being in the group of Albanians who had abused them while they were loading the truck. At the post office, the men separated, two turning to the left at the market and two going in the opposite direction.

As they neared the bus stop, a white Zastava 101 with four men inside stopped in front of them. One of these men was the curly-haired man who had been following them. Then a blue Lada car drove up, with the remaining three men in it. The Roma started running: F.G. and C.A. toward the market and Fazljija and Celovic down Vidovdanska to the ring road. Two men got out of the Zastava and chased after F.G. and C.A. When they reached the Kontra Restaurant, F.G. and C.A looked back and saw that no one was following them any more. A KFOR patrol with a young Albanian woman interpreter came by and they tried to report the incident. The woman at first refused to translate what they were saying but then said something to the KFOR members. The witnesses believe that she did not translate their words as a KFOR member merely gave them a piece of paper with a telephone number to call if they needed an escort. The woman told F.G. and C.A. that they were safe and would not be harmed.

F.G. and C.A. walked on and then sat on a bench where they were approached by two young women who had overheard them talking about the incident. They said they were Serb and offered to take F.G. and C.A. to the apartment of a friend who spoke English and could help them report to KFOR what had happened. They agreed, went to fetch the young man who spoke English and went with him to a KFOR post. The KFOR members there heard them out, said they could not leave their post and gave them the address and telephone number of the KFOR headquarters in Priština. Afraid of being caught in the streets, they returned to the young man's apartment and tried to call the KFOR headquarters but the line was constantly busy.

A Serb neighbor of the young man offered to drive them to their village, for which they paid him Ten Deutschmarks. They never learned what happened to Fazljija and Celovic.)

(*Gracanica’s Serbs block the main road between Pristina and Gnjilane/ Gjilan after major security incidents or attacks against them. The reason is partly their own security, and partly to draw attention to their current plight.)

AO: The Roma fought with Albanians on that day; there were Roma in the market the Albanians had bombed. Some Albanians were injured.

How is the situation now?

AO: The situation is different. Everyone is looking for work. Many organizations* came to Kosovo; if we want money, we have to work with them. In Gracanica now we can speak in any language,* but everyone still hates one another, and that’s that.

(*AO refers to International Non-Governmental Organizations, KFOR and the United Nations, who offer the highest wages. Drivers and security guards for these organizations make more than university professors and judges.)

(*AO’s primary language is Albanian; his father is Ashkalija.)

Read  Adem's War Diaries (English).

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