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Interviews

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Esat Fetahi

Mr. Fetahi is an IDP from Pristina.

Mr. Fetahi requested that he not be videotaped.

 

“We had many Roma here, but as I said, they’ve gone, they’ve left their homes. Some went to Serbia and some went to Europe . Those who could find a solution, a way to live here- they stayed. And those who couldn’t, left to other places.”  

Gracanica

Esat lives near the top of the Gracanica Mahala. Every morning he walks down the Mahala’s single dirt road. In the spring that road is deep mud. He stops and talks to his friends; some days he pulls up a chair with them. They sit in the sun and sometimes they have a rakija or a coffee. And Esat then takes his leave and walks back to his home, his groceries banging against his right knee.

Esat jokes. The life of your mother! Is his favorite expression. Esat likes to drink a bit of beer while he says odd things about Roma and Albanians and Serbs and his bedridden wife and guests laugh. He’s retired, with a miniscule pension, and a home 13 km away that was taken from him. He feels it’s his job to laugh, to put the humor into bad things, so that others may relax. Esat may not believe his own jokes, but others do.

EF: I was born in Pristina; I lived in Gracanica for almost 20 years. I then lived in Pristina, but now I am here again, a refugee. I’m 60 years old.

What were your parent’s names?

EF: My father’s name was Haljilj, and my mother’s name was Bedrija.

What did your father do?

EF: He worked in Pristina. He had a lovely shop; he sold brandies, cakes, chocolates… and my mother worked in Albanian and Serbian homes, to give us everything we needed. After that, she found work in an ambulanta.*

She was beautiful; you couldn’t tell that she was a Roma. mp3

(*Ambulanta- a medical clinic.)

What kind of work did Pristina’s Roma traditionally have?

EF: Some Roma gathered wood in the forests. They sold the wood to the blacksmiths.

Esat and his wife, Ljana, 2003

Before it was better, because everyone helped one another. mp3

What kind of Roma are you?

EF: I am Muhadjeri*, but there are many other types. As I said, now everything is different, and people have changed.

What is the difference between your dialect and others?  

EF: The only difference between our language and other Roma dialects is pronunciation. We still understand one another. We say maro*, others say mandro*.

(* Maro/ Mandro- bread in Romanes.)

Can you tell us about the holidays you celebrate?

EF: We celebrate everything. First, as Muslims, we celebrate Bajram. We also celebrate Djurdjevdan and Veljigdan. On Veljigdan we color eggs for the children, so they’ll not be jealous of others. We also celebrate the first of May.

If we have money to spend, we spend it; we don’t think about tomorrow.

On Djurdjevdan:

EF: Last year I bought three lambs, and we killed them. One lamb, we baked; that morning some neighbors came to my house. We drank coffee and ate the lamb’s kidneys. The next morning, we ate lamb for breakfast, with all our family. And every year we wait for the visitors.

On Vasilica:

EF: We have to kill geese, turkeys and chickens. In the morning, one invited guest will come. Others bake special breads.

Do you know any Egyptians or Ashkalija?

EF: The Egyptians didn’t exist before. Ashkalija? In their homes, they speak Albanian. I’ve only heard of Egyptians in the past four years.

What’s the difference between Roma and Ashkalija?

EF: The Egyptians side with the Albanians.

How old were you when you were married?  

EF: I was 14 years old. I still live with my wife; I love her, and I married her. mp3

Tell us about your wedding.  

EF: My father visited her family. Her father heard that we were in love with one another. I had to pay 2000 Deutschmarks for her; she escaped from her family home, and now I have children and grandchildren.

Have many children do you have?

EF: I have five children and twelve grandchildren.

Do you remember the Second World War? Did your father or grandfather tell you any stories from that time?

EF: I was a baby when the Germans were here. They left me in the forest, I stayed there. They forgot me. And when my parents came back to get me, they thought they’d find me dead. I was born in 1943.

Where were you during the last war?

EF: I was here. We were scared; we hid in the shelters with many others. The first night was frightening, because many windows were broken.

What did you think then?

EF: I thought the bombing would not happen. But when I saw that it would, I was scared. Many people died during the bombing.

My wife is paralyzed because of the bombing. When NATO soldiers came here, the Albanians took Kosovo in their hands. Everyone left the Mahala; everyone left Kosovo. mp3

(Esat Fetahi’s wife suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her condition is a direct result of the bombing, and her PTSD has aggravated Mrs. Fetahi’s preexisting medical conditions. She is bedridden; her bed is placed in the Fetahi’s visiting room, so that she won’t be lonely during the day.)

EF: We had many Roma here, but as I said, they’ve gone, they’ve left their homes. Some went to Serbia and some went to Europe . Those who could find a solution, a way to live here- they stayed. And those who couldn’t, left to other places. mp3 Now some Roma have come back, and some are still there.

What do you know of Roma history?

EF: I heard that we are from India . The people of India said that we should return, but Tito wouldn’t let us do that. When Tito was alive, we didn’t have problems; we had jobs. We didn’t have war, like now.

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Redjep Čurkoli

Mr. Čurkoli requested that he not be videotaped.

 

"When I got married, I had to work for two years to pay the dowry, but in my opinion, the money’s not important. The important thing is the life of the couple, and that is what we should care about."

Kosovo Polje

RC: I used to live in Pristina. I moved to Kosovo Polje 14 years ago; I was born in a village.

Do you remember your grandfather?

RC: No. I don’t remember.

Are you Ashkalija?

RC: Yes. My father and grandfather were Ashkalija. Before, we could not prove that we were Ashkalija.

We were poor: but we had freedom. mp3

What work did your father do?

RC: He worked in the fields. We had to work in the fields, to pay for our weddings.

How were you married? What customs did you follow?  

RC: We could not go to our bride’s home, because the bride’s family would kill us. We sent elders to do our talking, and if they want to give their daughter for marriage, then we have to talk about the money.

When I was betrothed, my wife and I lived in different Mahalas. If I saw her, I would have to leave and go my way via a different road. We weren’t allowed to see each other (before the wedding) - that would have been a great shame for us.

We had to do that; if my father were to see us together, he would kill us.  mp3 And we weren’t allowed to say that we didn’t wish to be married. Now it is different, and for us, it is a different feeling, because new parents don’t know what they are doing. Before, our parents knew about everything. The most important thing, though, is the same; the boy and girl must be healthy.  

When your fiancé came to your house for the first time, did you meet her, or did you have to leave?

RC: I hid myself. That tradition was for good reasons; that’s what we believe.

Did you pay the dowry?

RC: Yes, we had to pay for the girl.  

Did you pay a lot?

RC: I’ll tell you this: Many Roma have left the country to work; they have lots of money, and we don’t. For them, the price is bigger. When I got married, I had to work for two years to pay the dowry, but in my opinion, the money’s not important. The important thing is the life of the couple, and that is what we should care about. mp3

What are the origins of the Ashkalija?

RC: I don’t know. We know only that we are Ashkalija, and we are Muslims.

Do you know any Egyptians?

RC: Before, the Egyptians didn’t exist

What holidays do you celebrate here?

RC: We celebrate Bajram and Ramazan.

(Ramazan- Turkish/ Romanes for Ramadan)

Do you celebrate Djurdjevdan?  

RC: No, we don’t celebrate Djurdjevdan. We shouldn’t have this holiday. The people that celebrate Djurdjevdan: we say that they’re Roma. mp3 On the first day of Djurdjevdan, the Serbs buy the biggest lambs, and that day they don’t do anything.

Did you attend school?

RC: I never went to school. We were poor; we had to work. There were many different schools then; Muslim schools, Albanian schools, and Serb schools.  

(The Muslim schools RC refers to are Medressas- Islamic schools where students learn to read and write Arabic and memorize the Koran.)

What did you think of Tito?

RC: That was a good period. Everyone who wanted work had the opportunity to work.  

We worked for 20 years, and that was a great time. mp3

Where were you during the NATO campaign?

RC: We stayed here. We had some problems.

Do you remember the Second World War?

RC: Yes, I remember that time. My brother was a soldier.

Did Roma have many problems then?

RC: No, we didn’t have problems.

(Roma were not targeted for extermination in Kosovo, as they were in the other German-occupied areas of Europe .)

Did you have enough food to eat?

RC: Yes, we had enough. We had enough to eat, and it was better then than now.

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Shaha Beriša

Mrs. Beriša is an IDP from Obilić/ Obiliq Town.

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview.

"Some Albanians broke our windows; they said terrible things about us. But other Albanians would protect us, because they knew what kind of people we were. They even got into fights because of us."

 

Plemetina Village

Mrs. Beriša may be evicted soon; her landlord, a Roma who fled to Serbia after 1999, has declared his intention to sell her rented house from under her.

It’s a bluff; he’s asking 15,000 Euro. He’d be lucky to get 5,000 in a good market. Mrs. Beriša’s from the city, and so is her husband; they’ve got to have money somewhere. This attitude is common, especially in a village, and it makes Mrs. Beriša’s life hard.  

The one great hope is that she can reclaim the apartment her family owned in Obilić town. Her family could get out of Plemetina, and return to the city, where there’s more opportunity, more things to do, more open minds.

Obilić, however, is not a place for open minds. The Ashkalija have returned to the Azotiku neighborhood there, and have settled in with few security threats. But the danger is always there- especially if you’re a minority, and too many people find out about you that don’t care for your presence. A Serb family that refused to flee Obilić after 1999 held out until June of 2003, when they were all beaten to death in their beds in the middle of the night. Their home was then burned.

The Interview

So maybe she’ll get the apartment back, and then sell it, and move on- maybe out of Kosovo, maybe not. She’s negotiating with the man who took over her apartment after she ran from it. He’ll move, as long as he gets a 5,000 Euro ‘upkeep’ fee. This is the unofficial fee for all apartments seized in Kosovo after the war. If you pay, you have no problems. If you don’t, and the UN evicts the people that stole your place, they’ll return soon and set it on fire. Count your blessings; at least you weren’t beaten to death.  

SB: My name is Shaha, and my surname is Beriša.

I came from Obilić; I am a refugee. I’m here with my four children; three daughters and one son.

Did you know your husband before you married him?

SB: I knew he would be my husband. I had a relationship with him, and I told my father that I loved him. I was 18 years old, and my husband understood me. mp3

First I told my mother this, and my mother told my father. And soon, my husband’s family came to ask for my hand.

When I was married, I wore a white dress. I had everything I needed in life, because my father was a blacksmith. We had money. Now, everything is different.

You lived in Obilić before the war?

SB: We had many neighbors there- Albanians and Serbs- and we never had problems with them. We were together then, all the time, and there were no differences between the people. mp3

What problems arose after the war?

SB: Some Albanians broke our window; they said terrible things about us. But other Albanians would protect us, because they knew what kind of people we were. They even got into fights because of us. mp3

What about KFOR? Did they help you with the harassment you received?

SB: As I said; some Albanians broke our windows. The whole neighborhood heard the noise. KFOR was near, but they didn’t show up; we went out to find them, and when we did, they came with us.  

Shaha's Husband in the Army: 1960s
Shaha & Husband, circa 1970s

How long has your family been in Plemetina?

SB: We came here four years ago.

Is it better here?  

SB: It’s not easy to live in a house that isn’t yours. Our landlord came to tell us that he will sell the place we live in. We are worried about our home, our children, everything. mp3

Did you attend school?

SB: I finished primary school, but I had to stop after that. The secondary school was too far from my home, and I had no transport. I wasn’t the only one who had to stop going to school; many Serbian girls didn’t finish school either. Only those who had transportation could go to school in Uroševac. mp3

(Uroševac/ Ferizaj lies 36 kilometers south of Obilić/ Obiliq.)

Can you tell us about the holidays that you celebrate?

SB: We celebrate Bajram, Djurdjevdan, everything.  

On Vasilica I saw, from the elders, what they do, and we do the same things. On Vasilica we bake bread with a coin in it; all the members of the family will get a piece. The person that finds the coin will have a lot of money, and they’ll need to carry the coin in their pocket for the entire year.  mp3 Before, the old custom was to sell Sarma, but we don’t follow this.  

On Bajram, we celebrate better, because we are Muslims. There are two Bajrams- big and small. On the big Bajram we bake cakes; on the small Bajram every family with money must buy a lamb and give it to a poorer family. mp3

The Berišas, circa 1950s

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Ferki Emini

Prilužje

Mr. Emini requested that we not videotape or photograph him. 

“I wouldn’t sleep; while my children slept, I kept guard. I knew that I couldn’t help them, and I couldn’t stand it. I could not sit in one place. I wanted to save them, but I didn’t know how.”

FE: First I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Ferki Emini, and my nickname is Beco. I am the leader of Prilužje’s Roma. I was born on October 15, 1960 , so that means I’m around 43 or 44 years old. I was born in Prilužje.

Are you employed?

FE: Right now I’m the leader* of Prilužje’s Roma. I had a regular job (before June of 1999), but I don’t work anymore. Most other Roma are in the same situation as me. I work privat*.

(*A Roma leader represents a sole community, and many divided Roma communities have competing leaders. The position is elected, by general consensus; leadership can be revoked at any time by a group vote of all the Roma men in a community.

(*Privat is a general Roma term for manual/ contract labor, and means anything from recycling to digging trenches to more sophisticated trades, like carpentry.)

What is your trade?

FE: I am Bugurdjije, but I don’t have so much work as I had before the war. I have to keep working; I want to earn money for my children. mp3

Was your father a blacksmith?

FE: Blacksmithing goes s kolena na koleno (family to family). My grandfather was a blacksmith; he taught my father, and my father taught me. And I teach my children.

Blacksmithing, work, is something very important. Roma are all poor. My family are blacksmiths; I started this work when I was 12 years old and now I can say that I am a professional. I work with my brothers and my sons. mp3

How many children do you have?

FE: I have six children – three sons and three daughters. My daughters are all married, and one has a son.

Can you speak about your mother and father’s early lives? How they lived, the stories they told you, the problems they had?

FE: We were so young…  I would like to thank to my mother and father now- because they helped us children a lot. (Without them) we could never be what we are now.

They fought for us. They didn’t have proper work; my father worked private to earn money for us- to educate us.

Now we are in the same position as them; now we have to help our children .My parents raised me, and now it’s my turn to care about my family. And that’s that. mp3

How old were you when you were married?

FE: I was 17 years old.

Why did you marry so early?

FE: My father wanted me to be married; my mother was against this, but my father was persistent. My oldest sister was already married; I was the second one to go, and my father told me I’d be married. I did not know my wife; my father investigated. He went to my bride’s home, to see what type of people they were. After he approved it, I met them, and the arrangements were made.

Did you have any problems with your bride, considering that you didn’t know one another before the marriage?

FE: Listen: I’ve been married for 23- 24 years, and I’ve never hit my wife*. We never had any big problems; we respect each other, and we teach each other. There are always some little problems, but thanks to me, everything is fine. All of my children are good; they respect us, but we respect them; we respect their decisions as well. Everything is fine. mp3

(* Please note that spousal abuse is not a readily recognized concept in Kosovo.)

What kind of Roma are you?

FE: We are proper Roma- Bugurdjije. And we speak Romanes.

Do you know where Roma originated?

FE: I once read a book on Romani history. We came from India ; this is what the older Roma also told me. There are many shared words between Romanes and the Indian languages*. An example is pani- water. We cannot be Egyptians; we are from India .

(*Romanes bears distinct similarities to the Indo-European Panjabi, Dardic and Gujarati languages of northern India .)

On Roma holidays:

FE: As my mother told it, we celebrate Djurdjevdan, Vasilica, Božić (Christmas) and Veljigdan (Easter).

On Djurdjevdan, Roma begin their preparations a month before. In their homes they paint and clean up;* when the day arrives, we buy a lamb, and our children help us kill it.

(* This is serious cleaning. The women of a Roma household will empty the entire home, stack the goods and furniture outside, and clean absolutely every centimeter of the house.)

On Djurdjevdan we cannot kill any other animal; it must be a lamb, and it must be that because it is a very special day.

On Vasilica:

FE: We’ll kill chickens, or geese; that is the custom. If you have, say, five sons, then you must kill five geese; three sons, three geese. But people cannot do this any longer (because of the cost). We celebrate with our families; the women have some additional work in the home, but that’s not for us; it’s for them. They must make Sarma that night. And Sarma has to boil all night, and be ready at eight in the morning; we’ll be awake the whole night with them, watching it.

That morning, my family will go to visit my uncle and sister at my mother’s home. But they have to buy the Sarma.

The youngest daughter-in-law will be the one to cook the Sarma; my mother can cook it well, but she no longer has to. The cook will name the price that must be paid for the Sarma.

With Deutschmarks… actually, Euro now, DM are no longer… we will make a deal with the cook over the Sarma, and before the negotiations are complete, no one can begin eating. The head of the house will give the money for the feast. We will light a candle, and place it near the bread, and that is the custom of Vasilica.

Do you sing songs on Vasilica?

FE: Roma are always making music.

Are there any special songs sung on Vasilica?

FE: There are some special songs, but we usually just listen to the radio.

What about Djurdjevdan?

FE: There is one special song for Djurdjevdan. On that day, as I said, we kill a lamb, and celebrate for three days. In our village we have one musician. We’ll have other parties, and sometimes we invite Roma from Plemetina- especially the youth- to join us. The Serbs will join us as well.

What about Christmas?

FE: Christmas is for the Serbs, but we celebrate this day as well. We buy fruits, for the children, and the eldest member of my family has to go out to bring hay in our home; he scatters it on the floors, and we lay blankets over it and sit in a circle.

We all chant pile, pile, pile* – which means we’ll have many new animals in the coming year. mp3 And after that we share the fruit among our family; nuts, apples and others.

(*Pile- Serbian for chicken)

On Christmas morning, the old Roma custom is to visit our neighbors, very early, and bring wood as a gift. We wish them a merry Christmas, and they invite us in for coffee and meat.

Where were you during the NATO bombing?

FE: I was working on the day the bombing began. When I returned to work, for the second shift, an Albanian friend told me that NATO would begin bombing all military installations at 8 PM . I don’t know how he knew, but it was the truth; at exactly 8 the bombing started. It was terrifying, because our village had a military aerial (radio tower). I thought NATO would bomb us. We were very afraid.       

The sound of the alarms was really bad. We couldn’t bear the sound. We had to leave home, and we’d think, now they’re going to bomb us. Now they’re going to kill our children.

I wouldn’t sleep; while my children slept, I kept guard. I knew that I couldn’t help them, and I couldn’t stand it. I could not sit in one place. I wanted to save them, but I didn’t know how. mp3

As Prilužje’s Roma leader, can you tell us what problems Roma here deal with?

FE: To be honest, I try, and I do my best, to help Roma here. And some of them are grateful. But Roma are Roma; if the result is not very big, if the quantity of help isn’t huge, then they are not grateful. I watch television, and I saw the war in Iraq ; I know that we do not have a lot of help here, but they (*Internationals), are doing their best to bring us help, especially in our village. In other villages, the situation is worse. Twenty days ago an American organization came here. They brought us food, clothes, shoes and school supplies. Thanks to one soldier’s friend we received that help. But again, we need aid. mp3

Thank you for coming to visit.

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