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Interviews

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The Interviews- Page 6

Afrim Osmani

Mr. Osmani requested that he not be videotaped.

This interview was conducted in the Serbian Language.

"I watched the Roma children tie multicolored ribbons to the trees. I donít 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 Muratís grave."

 

Gracanica

Afrim 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 Italy for the past decade in order to support his large family in Gracanica.

Afrim 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.

Afrim is also a prison guard at the UNís juvenile detention facility in Lipljan/ Lipjan municipality. He canít 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.

AO: 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.*

(*AO 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 ĎIím Muslim,í without clear knowledge of what Islam is. Better stated, a Roma Muslim doesnít tend to pray, and he drinks liquor and eats pork.)

Roma 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 donít have their own priests; they donít have their own religion. mp3 A miniscule number of Roma now celebrate Bajram and fast during Ramadan, but earlier, none did.

Afrim's (Lower Right) Class Picture. Kosovo Polje: 1987

Roma 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. mp3 There is also better education regarding Islam. These places- Mitrovica, some in Pristina, Uroöevac (Albanian: Ferizaj), Prizren and others, were always Islamic, and kept their religious traditions. Gracanica and the villages- because of their positions*, it wasnít 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 doesnít matter if itís Muslim or Christian. mp3

(* By positions, AO refers to geographical location. Gracanica and the villages- Preoce, Livadje and others- are Serb majority areas, and therefore Serbian Orthodox areas.)

Afrim's Daughter, Adilje

Roma 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 donít know why they celebrate this, and they donít know where Djurdjevdan originated. There are many ideas (among Roma) about the origins of Herdeljez, as itís their biggest holiday. Itís simply tradition. Roma Elders point to the fact that we were always a very poor group that lived hard in the winters*; we didnít have enough wood or food. Roma lived tough lives during the winter.

(* Herdeljez signifies the end of winter)

Other 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); thatís Islamic influence.  

I went there (to the Turbe) when I was young, just for fun, and I watched Roma children tie multicolored ribbons to the trees*. I donít 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 Muratís* 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.)

(*Sultan Murat, ruler of the Ottoman Empire 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 Constantinople when the Ottoman army withdrew.)

When you were there as a child, did you perform the same rituals that others did?

AO: No, I was there just for fun. When someone turned the rocks we laughed, and when they finished we would clap.

The ribbons at Murat's Tomb: 2003

Where are the Turbe?  

AO: Gazi Mestan- near the main road to Pristina/ Mitrovica.

Murat's Tomb

In what period are these rituals at the Turbe performed?

AO: 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.)

How was this influenced by Islam?

AO: It was badly, wrongly influenced. Islam doesnít have these types of rituals. In Islam, only God helps you.  

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?

AO: 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 Gracanicaís Roma werenít. 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.  mp3

Islam 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 didnít 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. 

More 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 itís almost 23 years since Gracanica Roma began to learn about Islam. And every Roma in Kosovo now knows Gracanica for its knowledge of Islam.  

Afrim & his Son Albert: March 2003

Many 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 Gracanicaís Roma donít 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 Kosovoís 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: March 2003

A day off, spent building the porch.

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Hačim Minuöi

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview

 

ďThe 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.Ē

 

 

Prizren

HM: Iím 75 years old. 

Do you remember World War II? How was it for Roma then?

HM: Roma were punished by all sides. We were slaves to everyone- Serbs, Albanians and Germans. They hated Roma here.

That 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; itís Godís day.

Roma celebrate too many different holidays- Bajram, Djurdjevdan- and those are now Roma holidays.

Hacim Minusi's Wedding Portrait: Circa 1950s

What about the Roma situation before?  

HM: 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 didnít want to be Partisans, but we needed to get bread. We needed work, which we could not have, because if youíre not a Partisan, no one will give you work. mp3

(* Minuöi uses the word Partizan (Partisan) instead of Communist.)

Hacim Minuci (Far Back, Left) with his Family: Circa 1950s

HM: 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* and musicians. mp3

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

HM: 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, heíll take it and drink it all away. mp3

How old were you when you were married?

HM: I married in 1948. I was 22 years old.

We 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 be married.  

Weddings- I can only say that Roma will give their last money for music. We donít care for tomorrow; it is important to be happy now.  

What other customs do you follow?

HM: 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 canít afford sheep. Roma celebrate Herdeljez because their children love it.

Not 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; theyíll see other children whose parents have bought sheep.

Do you celebrate Vasilica?

HM: 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.

ĎAre you going to give me lots of apples this year? If not, Iíll cut you down,í heíd threaten.  

My mother would answer-

ĎIíll give you all the apples you want.í  

Hacim Minusi's Grandchildren: Prizren, 2003

And we sang this song on Vasilica-

The day of Herdeljez came

No one is giving them (Roma) bread

A king saw them and took them to Belgrade

To the government

The Roma sang to the government, we have no bread to eat  

This is half of the song. I donít remember the rest. mp3

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Besim Djoka

Podujevo

Mr. Djoka is an ethnic Albanian.

He requested that we not videotape or photograph him.

"When 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."

Adem Osmani hitched a ride to Pristina in an international organizationís Land Cruiser; he had this projectís sound recording equipment with him, and he decided to interview the Albanian who sat next to him in the backseat.

BD: Iím from Sibovce, Podujevo municipality. Iím 28 years old.

Were there many Roma in Sibovce? When you were young?

BD: There were Roma, but we donít have them anymore. mp3

So there are no Roma left?

BD: Exactly, but I donít 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.

Did you have dealings with Roma before now?

BD: Yes, up until 1999 we had contact with them.

Do you know much about Roma here, and their current conditions?

BD: Concerning Roma conditions, these things didnít change too much between then and now. About relationships (between Roma and the majority), they were better before.

Roma donít live in Albanian areas anymore. mp3 Iím speaking about my village; but if you ask me about (our) relationships with Roma and Ashkalija families, thatís a different thing. A democratic way of living started here. For 1999 and after, I canít say- that was a terrible time.

When 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. mp3

Did you know any Ashkalija or Egyptians?

BD: Iíve known about them only since 1999. I knew only Roma before. I donít 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.

(*Maxhup- an Albanian pejorative term for Roma)

What do you think about ethnic relations between Roma, Albanians and Serbs?

BD: The relations between these communities arenít 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

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Bajram Hadji

Gracanica

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

Young men in Yugoslavia have always gone abroad to seek their fortunes, working construction in western Europe and as far afield as the Middle East . 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 Switzerland , roofing in Vienna or building skyscrapers in Berlin . In a land where initiative tends not to be rewarded, the Gastarbeiter tradition in Yugoslavia runs deep.

The political situation makes things harder. In the 1960ís, 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 wasnít opportunity to them; it was prey. Serb and Croat boys fought and shot and stabbed each other in expat Zurich nightclubs. Albanians jumped out Serbs in Berlin ; Serbs kicked the hell out of Albanians in Frankfurt .

The 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 Germany and Switzerland . They were treated with leniency by governments that understood the situation in their homes.

This 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.

Bajram, a Gracanica Rom, was one of the young men who left. He made his fortune in Germany , 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.

Construction 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.  

Gracanica's Mosque: March 2003

This 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 didnít remain upright for long.

Bajram has had many meeting with Serbs in Gracanica. Heís received bomb threats. Heís kept the community relaxed, but he canít easily remove their suspicions; too many Serbs believed the lies told ad nauseum about the Balkan wars. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bosnia . Osama Bin Laden in Kosovo. These wars were political and ethnic. They were never religious.

Bajram never meant for the mosque to be perceived as a threat. Kosovoís Roma are Muslim, but over time they have forgotten their religion. Bajram wants to return it to them, should they show interest.

Bajram 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.

Youíd never know that the mosque owes itself totally to his wallet.  

BH: Iím from Gracanica; Iím 54 years old.

Weíll talk about the new mosque, but first- was there ever a mosque in Gracanica?

BH: No, never. (Roma) Youth didnít 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. mp3

Before, did people come to Gracanica to teach Roma (about Islam)?

BH: Before 1999 some Turks* and Gorani* came to teach the young Roma Islam. They came from Pristina.

Building the Mosque

(*In 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 community.

The Kosovar Turks may emigrate, but Turkish businesses are beginning to invest in the province. Efes , Turkey ís biggest brewery, recently bought BirrŽ Ž PejŽs, Kosovoís 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.)

(*Gorani are Slavic Muslims. They live in the southernmost areas of Kosovo- Dragaö and southern Prizren Municipality . 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.)  

The Mosque

Where were these classes held?

BH: In our homes. In Afrimís* home, my home and others.

(* Interviewee Afrim Osmani)

Who first taught you about Islam?

BH: 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.

Did many Roma youth come to these lessons?

BH: They learned the basic knowledge, and later they began to learn on their own.  

Do you think this mosque will change something in Roma?

BH: If God wishes, yes. But we need to work, and to explain these things to Roma; I think things will change.

Did you have any problems with Serbs (due to the mosque construction)?  

BH: In the beginning, yes. Many wanted to destroy it, and so on, but now everything is better.

You wonít stop building?

BH: If God wants, yes. mp3

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