The Interviews- Page 6
Mr. Osmani requested that he not be videotaped.
interview was conducted in the Serbian Language.
watched the Roma children tie multicolored ribbons to the trees. I don�t
know why they did this; maybe they hoped for their wishes to come true.
Some turned rocks, especially those who had no luck in their marriages;
they kissed Sultan Murat�s grave."
Osmani worked privately for years; he dug ditches and wells, repaired roofs,
laid gravel and patched holes in dirt roads. His work habits come from his
father, who has worked construction in
for the past decade in order to support his large family in Gracanica.
is also a hodja for the Muslim community in Gracanica. He prepares the dead for
burial, and prays over their graves. At 27 years of age, he is one of the most
well-known, well-liked and respected Roma in central Kosovo. He never takes
money for his services to the Muslim Roma community.
is also a prison guard at the UN�s juvenile detention facility in Lipljan/
Lipjan municipality. He can�t seem to ever stop working; on his days off, he
builds a front porch for his family home. He re-shingles his roof, repairs the
fences around his home, gardens and plays with his two young children. A third
is on the way.
Besides the Islamic faith, Christianity has a large influence on Roma. Roma
culture even has some elements of Buddhism; this is all normal for Roma, but
Islam is a habit. mp3
I see it as a habit, but a weak one.*
clarified this later by stating that Roma do not follow the pillars of Islam;
their religious identity is tied into their ethnic one. A Roma will simply say
�I�m Muslim,� without clear knowledge of what Islam is. Better stated, a
Roma Muslim doesn�t tend to pray, and he drinks liquor and eats pork.)
in Gracanica have developed better connections with Islam, starting in the
1980s. Before, it was weak. I only saw Islam in Roma before in ritual things.
For example; when a Rom died, the Roma would bring in a Muslim Hodja. Roma
don�t have their own priests; they don�t have their own religion. mp3
A miniscule number of Roma now celebrate Bajram and fast during Ramadan, but
earlier, none did.
originated in places with no Islam; since the Ottomans came they adopted the
customs. But (with the weakness of the faith) I am mainly speaking of Gracanica;
in other areas of Kosovo Roma were and are very connected to Islam- the customs,
holy days, rituals and celebrations.
There is also better education regarding Islam. These places- Mitrovica, some in
Pristina, Uro�evac (Albanian: Ferizaj), Prizren and others, were always
Islamic, and kept their religious traditions. Gracanica and the villages-
because of their positions*, it wasn�t very important to them. An Islamic
holiday or a Christian one- Roma celebrate them all. Every holiday that can
be celebrated, Roma will celebrate; it doesn�t matter if it�s Muslim or
By positions, AO refers to geographical location. Gracanica and the villages-
Preoce, Livadje and others- are Serb majority areas, and therefore Serbian
celebrate the Christian holy days more than the Muslim ones- like Christmas and
Easter. These holidays have existed for a longer time among Roma. Roma pay much
attention to Djurdjevdan- Herdeljez- but they don�t know why they celebrate
this, and they don�t know where Djurdjevdan originated. There are many ideas
(among Roma) about the origins of Herdeljez, as it�s their biggest holiday.
It�s simply tradition. Roma Elders point to the fact that we were always a
very poor group that lived hard in the winters*; we didn�t have enough wood or
food. Roma lived tough lives during the winter.
Herdeljez signifies the end of winter)
Christian holy days- such as Sveti Ilija, Sveti Sava
and Sveti Nikola- are celebrated by Roma here. As I said, Roma celebrate
everything they can. And Roma, especially the older generations, drink a lot
of alcohol. They drink, sing and dance, and they find many excuses to do this-
they found reason to celebrate in the Orthodox holy days. Many Roma follow pagan
rites; when Roma have problems as a whole, or just a Roma family has a problem,
they look towards destiny and predetermination. mp3
But visiting the Turbe* (See the Herdeljez description in the Roma Culture/ Holidays
section); that�s Islamic influence.
went there (to the Turbe) when I was young, just for fun, and I watched Roma
children tie multicolored ribbons to the trees*. I don�t know why; maybe they
hoped for their wishes to come true. mp3
Some turned rocks*, especially those who had no luck in their marriages; they
kissed Sultan Murat�s* grave.
this practice can be found throughout the Turkish, and even Turkic, world; the
Turbe of Islamic scholars, leaders and Osmanlis from Uzbekistan to Kosovo have
this tradition, and pilgrims tie these ribbons in order that their prayers may
be remembered and answered. This tradition, and others, likely pre-date Islam.)
Murat, ruler of the
as it expanded through the
Balkans, was slain during the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. His tomb lies in
Obilić municipality, on the road to Mitrovica. Only his entrails are buried
there; the rest of his body was transported back to
when the Ottoman army
you were there as a child, did you perform the same rituals that others did?
No, I was there just for fun. When someone turned the rocks we laughed, and when
they finished we would clap.
are the Turbe?
Gazi Mestan- near the main road to Pristina/ Mitrovica.
what period are these rituals at the Turbe performed?
Usually May 5th- the day before Herdeljez. People traveled to the
Turbe from all over Kosovo.
Roma no longer make this pilgrimage because of the current security situation.)
was this influenced by Islam?
It was badly, wrongly influenced. Islam doesn�t have these types of rituals.
In Islam, only God helps you.
mentioned before that Islam in Gracanica and the villages developed starting in
the 1980s; Roma began to pay more attention to Islam. How did this happen?
As I said, Islam was weak here. During the 1980s Gracanica had more contact with
Islam because many Pristina Roma moved here. They were educated (about
religion), and Gracanica�s Roma weren�t. Pristina Roma saw the need for
Islamic education here; they brought in a Hodja (an Islamic cleric) named
Muhammad, from Mitrovica. Once a week he came to Gracanica; he and the local
Roma would gather in homes, as there was no mosque here. He conducted classes;
he taught Islam, the pillars, the obligations. In the beginning, Gracanica Roma-
especially those born here- were against these teachings. They saw that Islam
forbade their everyday habits.
prohibited many holidays that Roma celebrated. Islam prohibited alcohol; many
Roma without alcohol would be in a bad situation. Roma celebrating the holidays
had a good excuse to drink. But Islamic education didn�t stop. Some Roma in
Gracanica learned about Islam, and an Islamic life, day by day. Some began to
properly celebrate the Muslim holy days; some stopped a few of the Christian
ones. But most still celebrate Djurdjevdan/ Herdeljez. The Christian holidays
took on less importance.
Roma went to school; they could read and write. A very small number of Roma,
though, finished primary school, less for secondary school, and concerning
university- hardly anyone. One or two Roma in Kosovo (completed university), but
none from Gracanica ever did. Now it�s almost 23 years since Gracanica Roma
began to learn about Islam. And every Roma in Kosovo now knows Gracanica for its
knowledge of Islam.
Roma in Gracanica that stopped celebrating Christian holy days created new holy
days in Islam. Elita* is one; a small number in
Elita celebrate new days. Many of Gracanica�s Roma don�t accept Islam, and
many of the Muslims have since left here. Islam in Gracanica is, again, very
weak; but the main reasons for this are Kosovo�s problems, the war and the
Roma who have left. But those who left still have influence here.
Elita is a group of learned Muslim Roma in Kosovo.)
A day off, spent building the porch.
excerpt of the interview
funny thing is that nobody asked me if I wanted to get married. If my father saw
a good woman he would do everything he could to marry me to her. He never even
asked me; I just found out that I was to be married.�
I�m 75 years old.
you remember World War II? How was it for Roma then?
Roma were punished by all sides. We were slaves to everyone- Serbs, Albanians
and Germans. They hated Roma here.
time was difficult for us. I think that this is also a difficult time for Roma.
Roma always had trouble, in any case. And Roma often have no rights. We are a
people that like to be very happy, to celebrate. Herdeljez is a Holy day for the
Serbs, but we celebrate it too; it�s God�s day.
celebrate too many different holidays- Bajram, Djurdjevdan- and those are now
about the Roma situation before?
When Tito lived, we were under pressure. Roma needed to feed their children, and
the only way to do that was to join the Partisans.* We didn�t want to be
Partisans, but we needed to get bread. We needed work, which we could not have,
because if you�re not a Partisan, no one will give you work.
Minu�i uses the word Partizan
(Partisan) instead of Communist.)
As I said, Roma are slaves to everyone. But Roma have the trades, the skills
to do different things, and this makes life easier. We are Blacksmiths, Amalija*
Serbian: Nosač. English: porter. Hamaldjija
is from the Turkish word Hamal; Hamal is also a Turkish insult.)
To be honest, there are too many Roma that like to get drunk and listen to
music. Roma wives work all day long; the husband comes home and asks her if
she has earned any money. If she has, he�ll take it and drink it all away.
old were you when you were married?
I married in 1948. I was 22 years old.
sent a family member to arrange it. The funny thing is that nobody asked me if I
wanted to get married. If my father saw a good woman he would do everything he
could to marry me to her. He never even asked me; I just found out that I was to
I can only say that Roma will give their last money for music. We don�t care
for tomorrow; it is important to be happy now.
other customs do you follow?
Many holidays. The sixth of May- Herdeljez- is one we really like. We
sacrifice for the health of our family. mp3
The children are happy as well- they receive new clothes. It is terrible for the
poor children whose parents can�t afford sheep. Roma celebrate Herdeljez
because their children love it.
having money for sheep is a big problem for a family. Roma will sell everything
from their home to get the money to buy it. The main reason, again, is our
children; they�ll see other children whose parents have bought sheep.
you celebrate Vasilica?
My father, on that day, would wake up very early and walk to his best apple tree
with an axe in his hand. My mother would speak for the tree.
you going to give me lots of apples this year? If not, I�ll cut you down,�
mother would answer-
give you all the apples you want.�
we sang this song on Vasilica-
day of Herdeljez came
one is giving them (Roma) bread
king saw them and took them to
Roma sang to the government, we have no bread to eat
is half of the song. I don�t remember the rest.
Djoka is an ethnic Albanian.
requested that we not videotape or photograph him.
I was a child, it was different. I remember when our Roma neighbors came to
dinner, they had a child that I played with. They are not there anymore."
Osmani hitched a ride to Pristina in an international organization�s Land
Cruiser; he had this project�s sound recording equipment with him, and he
decided to interview the Albanian who sat next to him in the backseat.
I�m from Sibovce, Podujevo municipality. I�m 28 years old.
there many Roma in Sibovce? When you were young?
There were Roma, but we don�t have them anymore.
there are no Roma left?
Exactly, but I don�t know why. My father told me they moved around a lot. In
1980, when Tito died, we had Roma and Serb families; the Serbs began selling
their homes around 1980.
you have dealings with Roma before now?
Yes, up until 1999 we had contact with them.
you know much about Roma here, and their current conditions?
Concerning Roma conditions, these things didn�t change too much between then
and now. About relationships (between Roma and the majority), they were better
don�t live in Albanian areas anymore.
I�m speaking about my village; but if you ask me about (our) relationships
with Roma and Ashkalija families, that�s a different thing. A democratic way
of living started here. For 1999 and after, I can�t say- that was a terrible
I was a child, it was different. I remember when our (Roma) neighbors came to
dinner, they had a child that I played with. They are not there anymore.
you know any Ashkalija or Egyptians?
I�ve known about them only since 1999. I knew only Roma before. I don�t want
to sound racist, but Albanians would call them Maxhup.* I went to secondary
school in Pristina, and there I saw Roma, but no Ashkalija or Egyptians.
an Albanian pejorative term for Roma)
do you think about ethnic relations between Roma, Albanians and Serbs?
The relations between these communities aren�t so good after what has passed
here. It was something good. We all have to work and move on. We are all
parents, and we need to think about a more positive future. mp3
Mr. Hadji requested that we not videotape or photograph him.
have always gone abroad to seek their fortunes, working construction in western
Europe and as far afield as the
This is especially true of Kosovo, where most local incomes are still primarily
remittances from abroad. Every Kosovar family can name at least one family
member waiting tables in
or building skyscrapers in
In a land where initiative tends not to be rewarded, the Gastarbeiter tradition
political situation makes things harder. In the 1960�s, Yugoslav laborers were
encouraged by the west to immigrate. They did the jobs no one else wanted to do.
The Yugoslav wars changed the perception; refugees registered for the social
services. A minority turned to robberies and burglaries. The west wasn�t
opportunity to them; it was prey. Serb and Croat boys fought and shot and stabbed each
other in expat
nightclubs. Albanians jumped out Serbs in
Serbs kicked the hell out of Albanians in
end of the Yugoslav wars eliminated the ability of many to plead political
asylum. This was especially true of Kosovo, where Albanians were not deported
when they turned up illegally in
They were treated with leniency by governments that understood the situation in
changed after 1996; Kosovars and others were viewed as economic refugees instead
of political ones. A few high-profile criminals poisoned the perception of
Yugoslavs abroad. They were deported in handcuffs. These despondent young men
were a major recruiting pool for the Kosovo Liberation Army.
a Gracanica Rom, was one of the young men who left. He made his fortune in
in the construction business, but he never forgot where he was from. Bajram
donated enough money for the Gracanica Roma community to build its own mosque.
is underway- at the fork of a dirt road on the hill the Gracanica Mahala rests
on. The mosque is utterly without outside ornamentation; from the street it is
simply another unfinished building.
is a smart precaution. Gracanica is 95% Serbian, and therefore 95% Eastern
Orthodox. If minarets were one day visible on the hills above Gracanica, some of
the more radical and nationalist Serbs in the village would ensure that they
didn�t remain upright for long.
has had many meeting with Serbs in Gracanica. He�s received bomb threats.
He�s kept the community relaxed, but he can�t easily remove their
suspicions; too many Serbs believed the lies told ad nauseum about the Balkan
wars. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in
Osama Bin Laden in Kosovo. These wars were political and ethnic. They were never
never meant for the mosque to be perceived as a threat. Kosovo�s Roma are
Muslim, but over time they have forgotten their religion. Bajram wants to return
it to them, should they show interest.
works on the mosque, every day, with volunteers. He quietly moves about, pushing
a wheelbarrow or swinging a shovel, totally inconspicuous from the other men
putting work in.
never know that the mosque owes itself totally to his wallet.
I�m from Gracanica; I�m 54 years old.
talk about the new mosque, but first- was there ever a mosque in Gracanica?
No, never. (Roma) Youth didn�t understand their faith and religion before,
and the time has come to build this mosque in Gracanica. Young people are coming
to learn, but the mosque is still being built.
did people come to Gracanica to teach Roma (about Islam)?
Before 1999 some Turks* and Gorani* came to teach the young Roma Islam. They
came from Pristina.
the Yugoslav 1991 census, Turks were 0.8% of the Kosovo population. The majority
of them have since left; Prizren alone retains a large and organized Turkish
Kosovar Turks may emigrate, but Turkish businesses are beginning to invest in
�s biggest brewery, recently
bought Birr� � Pej�s, Kosovo�s largest and best brewery. For more
information on past Yugoslav censuses, please refer to Miranda
Vickers, Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1998.)
are Slavic Muslims. They live in the southernmost areas of Kosovo- Draga� and
. The Gorani region is
characterized by high mountains that are snow-capped as late as June; Gorani are
traditionally shepherds. The Gorani spoke their own language, a close relative
to Bulgarian and Macedonian, but this tongue has since been Serbianized.)
were these classes held?
In our homes. In Afrim�s* home, my home and others.
Interviewee Afrim Osmani)
first taught you about Islam?
His name was Selim. I thank him; he taught us a lot. He told us how to pray and
what words to say when we prayed. (He taught us) the proper way.
many Roma youth come to these lessons?
They learned the basic knowledge, and later they began to learn on their own.
you think this mosque will change something in Roma?
If God wishes, yes. But we need to work, and to explain these things to Roma; I
think things will change.
you have any problems with Serbs (due to the mosque construction)?
In the beginning, yes. Many wanted to destroy it, and so on, but now everything
won�t stop building?
If God wants, yes.
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