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Interviews

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The Interviews- Page 5

 Azem Beriša

This interview was conducted in the Albanian language.

Mr. Beriša requested that we not videotape him.

"My father was Ashkalija; my mother was Roma. But all of us are like shit from a cow; when the cow steps in it, it flies everywhere. We are all the same; we are all from India ."

"This is a very hard thing for Roma; they don’t know where to go. They are in the middle; not Albanian and not Serbian."

Kosovo Polje

AB: I am from Pristina; I’ve lived in Kosovo Polje for 40 years.

How old are you?

AB: I was born in 1935, so I’m around 68 years old. mp3

I lived through three wars. I remember when the Germans came and destroyed the Serbian people after they built a palace for King Peter (sic- Aleksandar); when he died his wife and son stayed alone, and his cousin* sold Yugoslavia to the Germans*. mp3 Albanians helped the Germans well* when they entered Kosovo. The Germans ruled us for three years.

(*King Aleksandar Karageorgevic was assassinated in Marseilles , France in 1934; a Macedonian in the pay of the Croatian Ustaša threw a bomb into his motorcade, killing him and the French foreign minister. Ante Pavelić, a Croat fascist living in exile in Mussolini’s Italy , organized the murder. Pavelić later became the puppet ruler of Croatia after the German invasion of Yugoslavia in June of 1941; he was executed by the communists in 1946.)

(*Prince Paul, the dead king’s cousin, was appointed Regent of the throne until Aleksandar’s young son, Peter II, became old enough to rule. Paul was pressured into signing a treaty with the Third Reich allowing for the Germans to transport troops across Yugoslav territory and into Greece , in order to aid the beleaguered Italian invaders there. When news of the treaty became public, protests spread throughout the country. Bolje Grob nego Rob, their banners read: better a grave than a slave. Paul was removed in a coup d’etat; Peter II was declared king, and the Germans invaded 10 days later.)

(Germans were welcomed as liberators by Kosovar Albanians, due to their mistreatment under royalist Serbia. After Germany's June, 1941 invasion of Yugoslavia, many Albanians turned on the Serbs they regarded as colonists, burning hundreds of villages. Italian troops tended to protect the Serbs. Germany eventually formed the Kosovar Albanian Skanderbeg SS division; one of the only actions this group took part in was the rounding up of Kosovo's Jews for deportation to the extermination camps in Poland.)

AB: After some time one grandmother mentioned to me that there was a very nice man who was ready to hit the Germans; he was going to be our new ruler. After a long time Tito became our president, and everything was very good. mp3

How was the Tito’s era for Roma?

AB: For Roma, he was very good; thank God that Tito was a nice man. Roma never had problems with anyone. We worked together here; everything was good. After Tito died, Roma began to suffer.

This is a very hard thing for Roma; they don’t know where to go. They are in the middle; not Albanian and not Serbian. mp3

What kind of work did Roma do in Tito’s time?

AB: Tito gave everyone the same rights; Roma had the same rights as Albanians. There was no difference (between the two).

In Tito’s time I had a job, and after that I even got a pension. mp3

What kind of work did you have?

AB: I built homes. My job was great. I worked well with Albanians; everything was just okay. We always cooperated well with Albanians.

What about now? Do you still have good relationships with Albanians and Serbs?

AB: It’s okay; but not like before.

How old were you during the Second World War?

AB: I was 7 years old. I remember once when we ran from the Germans; there was water in front of me. The Germans began to shoot but I jumped in the water. Roma then were hiding in the forests, crying; someone would kill them. mp3 This happened sometime in 1942, the war went from 1941 to 1945 here.

There was a huge battle between the Partisans and Germans in Trst (English: Trieste , Italy ). My brother was in the army in Trst; he told me that the Italian (communists) and Russians will help the Serbs take Trst. The Americans came and stopped it; Trst isn’t ours now. In 1944 my brother came back home and in 1945 the war ended.  mp3

(* Trst- Trieste- lies in Northern Italy , a few miles from the Slovene border. Tito’s partisans claimed the city as theirs after the war and briefly occupied it before being driven back by English and American threats.)

Was there famine then, because of the war?

AB: In 1947 we had problems finding food; we worked all day and still couldn’t afford food for everyone. I went around asking people for flour; that’s how I got food for my family. mp3

During Tito’s regime, did the Roma situation change for the better?

AB: It was very good during Tito’s time. We were very good friends with all the different nationalities, but after that everything got worse.

What kind of Roma are you?

AB: We are Muhadjeri. My father and mother, the same.

Tell us about Muhadjeri- do they have same customs as other Roma?

AB: We don’t pay much attention to customs like Vasilica or Djurdjevdan because we’re Muslim. Muslims aren’t allowed to celebrate these things. I know Roma from Kolibarska (a Roma Mahala in Pristina) who celebrated these things, and this was not proper.

Did you attend school?

AB: No. I have, maybe, a year of school. During the second year my father died; my stepfather removed me from school. I had to work for him. I became a shepherd when I was nine years old. I was a shepherd until I was 15, and then I married. mp3

Why do Roma get married so early?

AB: I can tell you why I was married early: my first son was married when he was 14 years old, and my two elder sons were married when they were 24 years old. I married young because my mother was very old, and she could no longer provide for us- the cooking, washing… 

I had a nice girlfriend; it was very hard to convince her to marry me. One Herdeljez I bought a sheep and brought it home. My mother was waiting outside our house, and she asked me, ‘What did you do to that girl?’ 

‘What girl are you talking about?’ I asked her.

My girlfriend soon came to my house; she had run away from her father. I went and bought one more sheep- to prepare for the wedding. My stepfather asked me why I bought another sheep. I told him ‘don’t ask, just go and try to make an agreement with her family, and I will take care of the wedding.’ My stepfather went to her stepfather and spoke to him; everything was okay because we had many things in common. She was without a father, and I as well. On that day we killed two sheep, and I had a big wedding. mp3

Is there a difference between Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptians? Are you Ashkalija?  

AB: My father was Ashkalija; my mother was Roma. But all of us are like shit from a cow; when the cow steps in it, it flies everywhere. We are all the same; we are all from India . mp3

Azem's Wife, watching the Interview

There is a story about one prophet in the Koran who God punished. God told this prophet, don’t be afraid of war, and don’t leave your home. You must stay in the place where you are from. And I’m afraid that we are actually descended from that kind of people. mp3

I know that there was some war, and the Roma fled from it. We scattered to many different places; some Roma ended up in Egypt and, of course, they lived in Egypt for a long time and forgot the Roma language. The Egyptians expelled them, and they came to Kosovo. They still called themselves Egyptian, but the only reason they did that was because they forgot the Roma language. When they arrived in Kosovo, they moved to Albanian areas and learned that language.

There was a Roma man that went to an Albanian village to ask the hand of a girl for his son. The girl was Egyptian; she spoke Albanian, and the Roma talked to her in that language. They married; so what is the Roma husband? Roma or Egyptian?

People like that began to call themselves Ashkalija. They think they’re descended from some king whose name was Ashk*, and that’s how they got the name. But we are all Roma, from India ; the Roma language is the same there. We changed our language because of where we are.   

(*This is a fanciful tale. Please refer to the Roma Clans & Castes section of this project.)

Roma speak Turkish, Albanian and Serbian; it depends on the environment we find ourselves in. Everybody needs to speak the language used where they live.

Where were you during the 1999 war?

AB: In that time I stayed in my place, my home. We were very afraid, and we didn’t go out. I put plastic sheeting around my house so that smoke couldn’t enter inside. We were very afraid; we couldn’t sleep most nights.

My son was killed. He was 44 years old, and now his wife is a widow with three children. He was murdered by the Serb military; they thought that he was someone else, and they shot him. My other son found him, and when he saw him he collapsed. Three times. It was terrible for us. mp3

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Hazbije Vičkolari

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview (1)

Watch a Video  excerpt of the interview (2)

 

“When I was married, my father asked for 4 Napoleons. That’s about 400 Euros now.”

Prizren

HV: My name is Hazbije Vičkolari. I come from Prizren; I was born in Prizren. I’m 74 years old.

What was life like for you before?

HV: Before, it was very good. Yes, there many poor people, but there was also happiness. mp3 We were good to our neighbors, and we celebrated together on Bajram and Herdeljez; those were very good days. We bought sheep and new clothes for the children; we dyed eggs in water. It symbolized health.

What about Vasilica?

HV: On that day we baked bread and made a nice dinner; all the family sat together and ate.

Do you have a trade?

HV: My father was Hamali.* My mother’s name was Huro.

(*Hamali/ Amalija/ Hamaldjija. Serbian: Nosač. English: porter. Hamaldjija is from the Turkish word Hamal; Hamal is also a Turkish insult.)  

Can you tell us about World War II?

HV: The Roma from Mitrovica all fled from that town, because of the Bulgarian and Italian soldiers. Twenty-five homes worth of Roma came to Prizren. mp3

My mother worked for the Partisans in Dušanovo*; she made their bread and washed their clothes. mp3

Prizren's Ottoman Mosque

(*Dušanovo lies in Prizren municipality.)

What kind of Roma are you? And what dialect do you speak?

HV: I speak Arlijski (Arlija dialect); Roma from Prizren speak this.

Do you know any Ashkalija and Egyptians?

HV: No. There should not be that kind of division. We are all the same, we are all Roma.

I cannot ever, ever be Albanian or Serbian.  mp3

How old were you when you were married?

HV: I was 15 years old.

Did your father arrange the marriage?

HV: My father was the one who chose a man for me; that is the custom. I’d never seen the man before. He was from the villages, and I was from the city.

What is the marriage custom here?

HV: One man (appointed by the groom’s family) will go to ask the (potential bride’s) family if they would give their daughter for marriage. They will tell him, ‘no, she’s too young for that.’ The appointed man will ask again, a second time (at a later date). They’ll say no again. (The potential bride’s) family won’t give the answer because they are collecting information (on the potential groom’s family), asking around, ‘what kind of people are they?’

If the family decides to give their daughter’s hand in marriage, then the appointed man from the groom’s family will receive gifts.

One week before the wedding, there is a special, small wedding, but only for the women. The next one is for everyone.

The women put henna in the bride’s hair and hands, and the bride will cry for everyone.* mp3 The women with the bride will wash her hair; the bride’s mother, father and brothers are not allowed to see her. Especially the father, who will not see his betrothed daughter until the last day, when her two brothers will cover her with a veil and lead her from her family’s home (If she has no brothers, cousins play this role). They’ll escort her to a horse-drawn cart*.

(* The bride will approach each woman she knows and softly ululate, to say goodbye.)

(* Borrowed Mercedes or BMWs have since replaced carts and covered wagons.)

The bride will climb onto the cart; bystanders will throw paper and shredded tissue at the cart as it rides away (to the groom’s house). The children will chase the cart, to see who may catch it first. Other guests will move around the Mahala, crying Hazirala, Hazirala, to let people know that they must be ready because the bride has arrived in the Mahala.

What would you wear (to the wedding)?

HV: Different shoes, nice skirts and a lot of gold.

Tell us about the dowry.

HV: When I was married my father asked for 4 Napoleons.* It’s now around 400 Euros. mp3

(* Napoleons are French gold coins, minted in the 19th century in denominations from 20 Francs up to 100.)

What happens if a boy is in love with a girl, but is too poor to pay her father, especially if the father’s asking for too much? mp3

HV: So what? I wouldn’t let him marry my daughter. It cannot be his way; it has to be my way. mp3

What happens if the daughter loves him? mp3

HV: I don’t care. She can die. But I’ll not allow them to be married. mp3

Did the Turks have this custom?  

HV: The Turks don’t do this. (Roma wedding customs) are more similar to Albanians. Albanians also ask for the payment.  

What is the reason for the dowry?

Hazbije's Son & Granddaughter: April 2003

HV: How can I make a wedding for my daughter? They pay you, because you are doing everything. But- if the daughter doesn’t obey them, then the entire dowry should be returned no matter what.

Would it be better to dispose of the dowry in the future?

HV: No- it’s better to ask for the dowry, because the groom didn’t work hard to raise and care for my daughter. I did that. To pay the dowry is much better because they (the bride’s family) have worked hard. You’ll sell your house to be able to marry your son. They’ll keep and respect the girl more; she’ll be part of their home. Again, though, if the bride does not obey them then the dowry should be returned. mp3

We flew Serbian (Yugoslav) flags during the wedding (procession). The man that carried it had to be someone that everyone respects.

In the mornings the bride will wake earlier than others. She heats water for her father-in-law and everyone else; she’ll wash their hands and feet, every morning and every evening. When I married my son, his wife washed my feet and prepared my bed… mp3

Why does the bride do that?  

HV: Because they are my children; she has to respect me. mp3

When does the bride visit her own family?

HV: Two weeks (after the wedding), the girl visits her family. She must go on foot, so everyone knows that she’s going to visit her family*. She’ll wear her best clothes.  

(*And, so that everyone will know that she is following the customs.)

When does the groom visit the bride’s family?

HV: That’s the best. Because everyone (in the bride’s family) will play practical jokes on him. They’ll put eggs in his shoes. They’ll put salt in his tea. Lots of different jokes, and it will make him feel good, and accepted by them. mp3

I remember games we played- girls only. Everybody put in what money they had, and we’d buy food. We’d eat and sing and play games, all night.

One game- at night every girl would put something in a pot: clothes, jewelry, whatever. In the early morning each girl would take something out of the pot, without looking, and keep it. We’d sing a song, in Turkish;  

What we put in

Is ours no longer.  

Arif Alija

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview

"I worked as a servant in the homes of Serbs and Albanians. We never had problems when we worked in those homes. I worked as a servant for six years. In the homes we worked in, we were like members of the family; we all ate from the same bowl."

"We never think about the next day. If we have enough to eat for only one day, for the next day we say, ‘God will provide.'"

Plemetina Village

AA: My name is Arif Alija. My father’s name was Demo, and my mother’s name was Fata. I live in Plemetina; I was born in Prilužje.

Did your family have a trade?  

AA: My grandfather was a blacksmith. We Roma- Bugurdjije- are blacksmiths. I went to school for two years, and in that two years I learned six or seven trades.

First I worked as a servant in the homes of Serbs and Albanians. We never had problems when we worked in those homes. I worked as a servant for six years. In the homes we worked in, we were like members of the family; we all ate from the same bowl.

We never think about the next day. If we have enough to eat for only one day, for the next day we say, ‘God will provide.’ mp3

What holidays do you celebrate?

AA: Good Muslims should only celebrate Bajram- the big and the small.

We Roma should only celebrate Bajram, but we celebrate Djurdjevdan as well- because it was winter time, and Roma didn’t have enough to eat. When the spring came for the poor people, it was a treasure. mp3 But Djurdjevdan is a Serbian holiday.

Do you think that Roma shouldn’t celebrate Djurdjevdan?

AA: I tell you- that is a Serb holiday. The Roma also celebrate Vasilica.

Why do you think some Roma call themselves Egyptians?

AA: If someone says I’m an Egyptian, maybe I’ll believe them. Maybe some of them came from Egypt , but lost their language. Regarding Ashkalija, I say they’re Roma. But it depends on where they lived, and if they accepted the language from that area. If we live in a Serb area, we must know Serbian, but if we live in an Albanian area, then we must learn Albanian.

Did your father tell you any stories from the Second Word War?

AA: I’ll tell you something that my father told me: he said that when the Germans soldiers came here, it was not a big war like we have now. But German soldiers were here; they bombed Belgrade *, and many died.

(The Germans began the June 1941 invasion of Yugoslavia with a Luftwaffe bombardment of Belgrade.)  

AA retells a story he heard as a boy:

A Muslim man married an Orthodox Christian (Serb) woman. He wanted her to convert to Islam, but she would not convert. Instead, he became a Christian. They lived well together, and loved each other. They drank rakija; they went to Serbian celebrations and weddings.

After a long time, the man grew sick, and soon he died. His widow called an Orthodox priest, to pray for his soul.

‘What is your husband’s name?’ the priest asked.

Asan,’ the widow said.

‘That’s a Muslim name,’ the priest replied. ‘You’ll have to call a Hodja.’  

(*Hodja/ Hoxha- a Muslim cleric.)

She called the hodja. He came immediately, and asked her;

‘What was your husband’s name?’

Asan,’ the widow said.

‘And are you Muslim, or did you convert him to Christianity?’ the Hodja asked.

'He was a Christian,’ the widow said.

The Hodja asked her many questions.

Did you bring him to Serbian weddings?’

‘Yes.'

‘Did he attend Orthodox masses?’

Yes.’

‘Did he drink Rakija?’

‘Yes.’

‘This isn’t my job,’ the Hodja said. ‘You’ll have to call someone else.’

The widow didn’t know what to do. She called the police; she broke down and told them everything that had happened with the priest and the hodja.

A policeman called the priest and the hodja, and ordered them to meet him at the widow’s house.

The priest demanded that the hodja start the service, and vice versa, but neither would begin. The policeman got angry.

‘If you two don’t do your jobs, I’m going to drag you both to jail, and then I’ll call some other hodja and some other priest.’

The Serbian priest began to sing:

God, help us

God, please help us

He’s not one of ours.

 

Plemetina Neighbors, 1960s


Alija Arif and his neighbors- 1960s

Ibrahim Eljšani

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview

 

“We don’t have anything that is our own. All that we had was taken by other nations.”

“Education, education, education- I don’t know how many times I can say that, I cannot say it enough.”

Prizren

IE: My name is Ibrahim Eljšani; I am a professor. I worked for 40 years, teaching pedagogy and psychology. I finished primary and secondary school in Prizren, and I completed university in Belgrade . I studied at the Faculty of Philosophy; there I concentrated on psychology and pedagogy. I taught for 40 years; I am 66 years old.

Do you know of any schools that taught Roma in their own language?

IE: Before, we had no schools* for Roma. A problem this resulted in was that Roma children, when they begin to attend school, did not know their language of instruction. Many Roma children aren’t interested in school; they don’t want to learn, and they are taught in a language they don’t know well. These are the main problems. (Roma) parents must talk to their children about school; they must tell them that school is what their future will be based upon. mp3

Ibrahim & his Wife, Circa 1960s

(* IE does not mention the Roma school that existed in Pristina, Kosovo until June of 1999, when it was destroyed. The Pristina school was the first school in Kosovo to educate Romani children in their own language. Several Non-Governmental Organizations (Including UNICEF, Balkan Sunflowers, the International Rescue Committee and others) have begun remedial education classes in Roma communities throughout Kosovo, but these classes emphasize the use of Serbian or Albanian language. Currently there is only one school in Kosovo that educates in the Romanes language: the ‘ Blue Door School ’ in Gnjilane/ Gjilan town’s Roma Mahala. This school was initially denied recognition by UNMIK, which later reversed its stance. Unfortunately secondary-school education is not available in Romanes; nor is there any university option. From an integration and viability standpoint, the ‘Blue Door’ school’s suitability must be judged primarily on the veracity of its Albanian or Serbian language instruction.)

Which world languages are most similar to Romanes?

IE: Everyone knows that we are from India . Philology, anthropology… every field of study points to us being from India . We have also absorbed many, many words from Greek, Serb and Turkish.  

In every place the Roma lived, we absorbed the words. Our language was poor, and we had to bring in more words.

Roma came to the Balkans, together with the Turks. They came with the Turks; they were the blacksmiths and the musicians, and when the Turks came here, the Roma followed. mp3 There were a miniscule number of Roma in the Balkans before the Turks arrived.

Many Roma call themselves Egyptians and Ashkalija. First, the Ashkalija- how and why did they adopt this identity?

IE: Let’s place the Ashkalija and Egyptians in one group. They cannot be in Albanian, Turkish or Serbian groups; they are in our group. We are too near to them, too connected to them. And we keep connecting through marriage. 

All of the Roma, in Kosovo and out of Kosovo, and here in Prizren, do not marry the members of other nationalities. But Ashkalija, Egyptians, and Roma marry one another all the time.

But the question you asked is different; it is a political one, and the politics of our time brought us to this question. We must honestly say that they are trying to distance themselves from us. Roma are all on a low level. Those Roma who have a little bit more are trying to separate themselves from us.

Roma absorb the languages around them. We adopt one another’s languages; Albanian, Turkish and Serbian- because we live so near to one another. But some Roma groups, like Ashkalija and Egyptians, assimilated so much that they forgot their original language. Roma that speak only Albanian call themselves Ashkalija.

Playing Secretary:  Ibrahim's Daughter, 1960s

We are creating a magazine here (for Roma), and our content will deal with these issues and others. What’s an Ashkalija? What’s an Egyptian? And others.  

Ibrahim explains his magazine

Roma are below others. That’s why we find ourselves here. Egyptians are connecting themselves with Egypt , and I suppose there is a small number of Roma that may have come from Egypt , or North Africa , to the Balkans.

We were Hindus, from India , but we do not call ourselves Hindus. We’ve changed so much in our culture, language, history, music, clothes and customs; we cannot call ourselves Hindus, although our origins are Indian.

There are some names that other people gave us, but the final one is Roma.

Where does the word Ashkalija originate?

IE: The name Ashkalija has its roots in Turkish. It comes from the root word As, or Has; this was the name for Roma who were not nomadic or sedentary, but who actually lived in one place, year-round. Because they lived in one place, they became more stable, and earned more than the nomadic Roma. They were connected to other nationalities; usually they became blacksmiths.

Do many Roma names come from Turkish or Arabian?

IE: Our (REFERENCE: wearing) traditional clothes aren’t ours. We adopted this dress from the Turks. We took our names and our music from the places we lived. In Kosovo, we Roma have Albanian music, Turkish music, and Turkish dress; it’s not our own. The old folklore that describes our dress- this is what we once wore.  mp3

The religion that we have now (Islam) is not ours. We absorbed it. All that we have now was not originally ours. In Kosovo we took our religion from the Turks, and our names come from Arabic. Look at our common names: Ibrahim, Abaz, Mustafa, Bajram, Hajdar.  

If we wish to show where we came from, then we should use the names from our place of origin. We can move back to Indian music, and our clothes, real gypsy clothes.

I named my daughter Indira. In Prizren we use the Indian names Mohandas and Gandhi. Our origin is Indian, and we should display some elements that reflect that origin; names, music, dress. Philologists have demonstrated where we are from.

Are the Roma holidays- Djurdjevdan, Vasilica, Bajram, and Ramazan (Ramadan)- also absorbed from other nations, like our music and dress?

IE: Djurdjevdan- we call it Herdeljez. Herdeljez is a Turkish word for two Islamic prophets. Serbs use the name Djurdjevdan, and Albanians use the name Shingjergj. This holiday is a tradition that was first celebrated a long, long time ago, before these other religions came to the people. This is a pagan holiday.  mp3

Ibrahim's Daughter: April 2003

The word pagan means villager. Everyone here celebrates this day; a miniscule number do not. Many outside of Kosovo celebrate this day. It’s a holiday for all the people, and it comes from the time before they had religion.

Portrait of Indira Gandhi- Prizren

Some Rome call this day Djurdjevdan, and some call it Herdeljez, but the Serbs claim it’s their holiday. What do you think?

IE: There is a difference between the names; as I said, the word Herdeljez comes from Turkish, Djurdjevdan from Serbian, and so on. Many claim that this is simply a Roma holiday, but they are mistaken. This same holiday was celebrated in Germany , France , Holland , Denmark and others, but it is not celebrated now; they forgot about it. We in the Balkans, however, still celebrate this day. The others developed faster than us, and they forgot this day.

Do Roma have any holidays that only they celebrate?  

IE: There was Bibi*, but this is a Turkish word as well. mp3

About this holiday, I can say that it is not likely our holiday.

(* Bibi is a Roma Saint that was, at one time, worshipped in the early part of this century. A Bibi society existed in Belgrade in the 1930s. There is little other information available on this holiday.)

We don’t have anything that is our own. All that we had was taken by other nations. mp3

In this time we need to focus on education. Education is the most important thing for us.

I thank you for this day, for this conversation, because this will be something that we can show ourselves with. Education, Education, Education- I don’t know how many times I can say that, I cannot say it enough. mp3

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Slobodan Vasić

Gracanica

Mr. Vasić is an ethnic Serb.

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

"Some people say that Roma are thieves, but nothing like this ever happened to me."

How long you have lived (in Gracanica)?

SV: 30 years.

Do you have much contact with Roma in Gracanica?

SV: I worked with Roma in Pristina; I was a driver, and we worked together there. Here we have good Roma neighbors, and we’ve never had problems.

Slobodan plays chess: January 2003

Some people say that Roma are thieves, but nothing like this ever happened to me. mp3

Where I worked in Pristina, with the Roma- when we called them Cigani* they called us brother, but if we called them Roma they called us godfather*. mp3

(* Cigani is a Serbian pejorative term for Roma.)

(* Serbian: Kum)

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