exiled himself to his bedroom in the summer of 2000 with two English-language
instruction books. Within two months he’d memorized them both. At the age of
17, with no formal English language education, he became a freelance translator
for NGO researchers and other internationals. He dove into NGO work, becoming a
sexual health teacher for Children’s Aid Direct and a camp counselor for
Balkan Sunflowers. He later spearheaded Roma educational programs for that
group; he taught himself Albanian in his spare time. Sebastjan now operates the
OSCE-funded Roma resource center in Gracanica.
Sebastjan just celebrated his first child’s birth; soon after, he celebrated
his 19th birthday. Plenty of Roma and Serbs don’t like him; he has
two jobs in a place where most people never had one.
you remember the first night of the bombing?
24th of March, Wednesday, .
were you that night?
was 16 years old. My father worked that night; the television news said that the
bombing would begin that evening, but I didn’t think about it. It was all a
joke for me.
couldn’t believe it was going to happen, but I still felt a bit scared, so I
asked my mother if I could go sleep at my aunt’s* for just one night. All the
youth joked about what was coming, because they didn’t quite believe it
either. But there was fear there. No one knew what would happen. It was all that
people talked about.
SS’s aunt lived in Preoce, several kilometers west of Gracanica.)
you at home when the bombing began?
was still at home. Like I said, I wanted to go to my aunt’s, and my mother
agreed. While we walked there, the power cut off, at exactly * It was still a joke; I
didn’t know what was happening.
NATO’s first action of the war was to disable Kosovo’s electrical supply.
e Kosovës Kosovo A and B electrical plants- in
Obilić municipality, near Plemetina- were the first targets. The strikes utilized bombs which dispensed graphite strands across the area, thus disabling the plants, but not destroying them. The strike served as a general introduction to the bombing that followed, roughly half an hour later.)
any bombs fall near Gracanica that night?
Yes. That first night we heard one massive explosion. They dropped the first
bombs on the
bases outside of Pristina*.
Gracanica lies 9 KM directly south of Pristina. A Serb, Oliver Vujovic, who
slept that night down the road from SS’s family, stated:
first night I’d left Pristina, where I lived, and came to Gracanica to stay
with my wife’s family. I was scared for my daughter. Several of us sat
outside, talking, and after the power died we stayed there. The first bomb was a
huge one, and the whole sky lit up from it. The windows in my wife’s family
home blew inward. We walked onto the road, and there were dozens of people
standing there, just watching, not saying anything.
And then everyone seemed to realize, at the same time, that this was real, that
it was finally happening, and everyone ran.”)
you sleep that night?
We stayed awake the whole night. The next day, people started to leave Gracanica
for Serbia. For that, they were smart;
Sometimes we thought that we should go to Serbia as well, but most of the time
we thought we should stay here. Two or three days passed; more people left. It
was sad to see them abandon their homes. I thought that the bombing wouldn’t
last much longer.
you use the bomb shelters?
almost one month people stayed there. My family stayed there only one week; we
couldn’t stand that kind of life. Almost 11 families were down there; the
place was full of smoke.
really cold in the shelters; no one could sleep. They all waited for the
morning, to return to their homes. In those days plenty of bombs fell; you could
see the smoke around.
about the Albanians? What happened to them?
didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. In that time the most important thing for me
was for my family to stay alive. But I heard they were being driven out, into Albania and Macedonia.
were forced out during the bombing, but what happened after?
Many people said that the Albanians were coming back, along with NATO- as soon
as the bombing stopped. More Albanians returned, and more Serbs left.
the immediate aftermath of the bombing, Serbs began to flee Pristina, Ajvalja
and other areas en masse, and many of them ended up in Gracanica)
you go to Pristina after the war?
was impossible to go there (after the bombing). A lot of time has passed, so now
we can go, but we’re still scared. There are always some good people, and some
the shops open during the bombing?
Some of the shops worked during the bombing; lots of people lost interest in
working though. There were always shops where you could buy necessities.
the bombing finished, which soldiers entered Kosovo?
saw plenty of them: Russians, French, Swedes, English.
In Gracanica the first soldiers were English.
said that the Albanians were coming back, and the Serbs were leaving. What
happened to the Roma?
of Pristina’s Roma fled. Some went to Serbia, and some even left Yugoslavia.
Gracanica Mahala emptied out. One day I saw the last family besides us leave. I
you have any problems with the Albanians driving through Gracanica?*
Some Albanians provoked us. An Albanian would see a Roma and say ‘What are you
still doing here? You still live here?’
After the war, there were several instances of attempted kidnappings and grenade
attacks in Gracanica, all from Albanians transiting the village’s main road.
Now, Serbs and Albanians on Gracanica’s main road simply exchange tough looks
Albanians kidnapped two Roma from Preoce, and they killed them.Two or
three years later they found the bodies*.
Adem Osmani’s interview for more details.)
the bombing, was your situation better or worse?
had problems before, but in many cases the situation was worse – kidnappings,
provocations and so on. The situation stayed the same for about two years. Now
it’s getting better.
is it now?
There are some (Albanian) areas where we can go and not have problems. We talk
with Albanians and they talk with us; as I said, there are both good and bad
lived in a house built from mud, and my parents had to labor for Serbs- ten days
and ten nights. Now it’s better; people have salaries these days. My parents
didn’t have shoes growing up, and my grandfather had shoes made from pig skin."
Vodica- CeeVeeto the internationals who cannot properly pronounce it- was a mixed area
outside of Obilić town where Serbs, Albanians
and Roma lived together. Since the war’s end, many of the Serbs, and all of
the Roma, have left. At this project’s beginning there were two Roma families
left; they fled a month later. Djezida
was lucky to have family in Prilužje to put her up. Most Roma didn’t;
families all live in the same area, and they all flee together. Generations of
families ended up in refugee camps in Macedonia
and the northern municipalities.)
father’s name was Rifat, and my mother’s, Bahta.
I’m 45 years old, and I have five children.
do you know of your parent’s lives?
family were blacksmiths, and my grandfather was a blacksmith as well. They were
poor and uneducated. We lived in a house built from mud, and my parents had to
labor for Serbs- ten days and ten nights. Now it’s better; people have
salaries these days. (REFERENCE: Also they) My parents didn’t have shoes
growing up, and my grandfather had shoes made from pig skin.
the bombing started, I thought everyone was kidding.
did you feel after it began?
When the first bomb fell, we said, ‘look. A mushroom fell!’ Our windows
broke. During the bombings, we stayed out in the open; we feared that our homes
would collapse on our heads. We had no sleep those nights.
was the relationship between Roma and Albanians before the campaign?
Albanian family lived behind our home, and we would speak to them all the time.
They knew some Romanes, and we spoke Albanian as well.
old were you when you were married?
was 19 years old.
your father marry you, or did you have a hand in the decision? What was the
custom your husband followed when they came for you?
Before we had Roma fairs, and there we would meet many families.* If someone
comes to ask for your hand, they must pay around 500 Euro now. When my
husband’s family came for me, they brought me clothes and rings.
These fairs are leftovers from the time when southeastern Europe’s Roma were still nomadic.
Once a year Roma would meet at pre-determined areas to sell products, trade
horses, and arrange marriages. This tradition still exists in Romania.)
will come with a bottle of brandy as a gift. Then we’ll have a feast; his
family must bring half the food, and mine brings the other half. We’ll cook
meat and cakes, and prepare Burek.*
a traditional Balkan pastry filled with salted sheep’s cheese)
pay the dowry, both families will drink the brandy, and soon I’ll put the ring
stay awake for the whole night. We have to put out water for the goose to drink,
before we kill it in the morning. We bake bread during the day, and in the
evening we prepare the Sarma; it must be finished by the morning. We dress up
before our guests arrive, and we sell them the Sarma. All the food will be piled
on the table, and different types of bread. We’ll place the Sarma on the
plates and state the price: 15 Lire.
We wake early to bathe with Kukureg and Dren; we must collect the water from
three rivers. Then we slaughter the lamb.mp3
We invite all our friends, to eat, and we’ll have many visitors that day.
Emini relates a story told to her by her mother, when she was a girl:
Once there lived a rich man who sired one beautiful daughter.
he asked his wife: ‘What should I do; should I eat this lovely apple, or I
should give it to someone else to enjoy?’
wife answered, ‘If you like the apple, you should give it to another.’
sought the opinions of his elders. He visited a monk and put the same question
to him; ‘Should I eat this lovely apple, or should I give it to another? The
monk told him he should eat the apple, if it will make him happy.
walked home. On the way there, he asked other elders. They told him something
different; they told him that, for his daughter’s wedding, he should stage the
most beautiful wedding that anyone could imagine; and he should marry his own
daughter. The man told his wife what the elders had told him.
wife grew distressed; she couldn’t sleep that night. She asked herself, over
and over- ‘how can this be?’
tried to reassure her; ‘this is what the elders have said.’
passed; the wedding preparations were well underway.
man’s wife hatched a plan. She called all the servants of the house together
and told them to go and find a tailor, to stitch leather clothes for her
daughter. She ordered her daughter not to bathe. For the leather outfit, she
paid the tailor many Liras. The wife built a huge bonfire and cast a sheep into
it while it raged. She dressed her daughter in the leather and told her,
from here, because the wedding your father plans is for you and him.’
daughter understood; she ran into the night.
smell from the fire was terrible. The man asked his wife, ‘What is that
stench?’ as he approached the fire. His wife told him that their daughter
found out who she was to marry and, despairing, she cast herself into the fire;
there she burned.
daughter fled far from the house. Late that night, she saw three men and a pack
of dogs. She became frightened; she hid herself. One of the men had seen her
from the distance; he approached her.
goes there?’ he yelled.
scared of your dogs,’ she called to him. ‘My name is Leskeca.’ She emerged
from hiding, and the man brought her to his home.
do you bring this dirty girl to us?’ The man’s family asked.
just feed me some bread, and I will sleep in the corner,’ Leskeca replied.
family then welcomed her. Soon they heard that a beautiful wedding would be held
nearby, and they made preparations to attend. Their youngest son left first, on
horseback. When the rest of the family departed to the wedding, Leskeca changed
her clothes, cleaned herself, and walked to the wedding as well.
was blindingly beautiful. The young man on horseback was dumbstruck.
is this girl? Where is she from?’ the young man asked. He had never laid eyes
on her before. The young man tried to follow her, but she disappeared before he
could do so.
raced back to the house. She put her leather outfit on, dirtied herself again,
and when the family returned they saw the same old dirty guest.
family returned home; Leskeca begged them for something to drink, and they
are you mad?’ Leskeca asked.
son saw the most beautiful girl,’ they answered. ‘But she vanished.’
another wedding was announced, and the family prepared to attend. Leskeca
cleaned herself and changed after their departure, and followed them to the
wedding. The young man saw her and, smitten, followed her on his horse. She
handed out sweets, and when the boy approached, she gave him kokrlija.
As he looked at it, she disappeared again.
young man grew sad. He vowed that, somehow, he would find this beautiful girl
that eluded him.
evening his mother baked him bread. When she left the kitchen, Leskeca snuck
into the kitchen. In the bread she hid her ring, and a note:
luck is at home, it
next morning, the young man left with the bread. He walked until he ran into a
miller, with whom he fell into conversation. The young man was hungry, and he
began to eat as they talked. And when he found the ring and read the note, he
suddenly raced home.
showed his mother the note. His mother turned to Leskeca, thought for a moment,
and ordered her to change from her leather and clean herself. She did; she
blinded them with her beauty.
hundred years ago, many people lived here, and the Roma always worked for them.
That’s why Roma know so many languages. I speak Albanian perfectly, because I
worked with them for so long. This is also why I speak Serbian, and Turkish."
can call themselves whatever they want: but when Albanians call them, they
don’t say 'Hey,
'Hey, Egyptian, come
here.' They say
'Hey, Gypsy, come
I’m 66 years old, and from Prizren; I was born here. My grandfather and my
father were born here as well. I am Arlija Rom, from the Terzi Mahala. Our
Mahala bears this name because one Terzi- an Albanian holy man- built a mosque
here once, and our Mahala bears his name.
many Roma Mahalas are in Prizren?
There’s our Terzi Mahala, Jeki Mahala, Dušanova
Mahala, and Durmish Aslanu Mahala. Durmish Aslanu
has both Roma and Ashkalija, and Terzi has both Roma and Albanians.
kind of Roma are you?
am Roma, and Muslim. We are not Gurbeti* here.
Gurbets- Gnjilane/ Gjilan Roma)
you go to school?
What can I say? I finished four years of primary school, but my wife actually
finished primary school.
many children do you have?
have five daughters and one son; they are all married. My son lives in Denmark, two daughters are in Germany, and another daughter is in Belgrade. Here we’re just two- my
wife and I.
have so many older Roma not finished school?
didn’t attend school because we were too poor. Our whole family were
blacksmiths; they forged many things. For us, it was not possible to attend
school, and many did not go because they were scared of Albanians.
were your parent’s names?
mother’s name was HidoIsaka,
and my father’s name was Ismirko.
you know about their lives?
My mother was a musician. She played the Defi*. And my father was a blacksmith.
He was a blacksmith for a long time, but he stopped and went to work in Belgrade* and Novi Pazar* for the Serbs.
Pazar lies 104 kilometers north of Prizren. NP is a textile town with a
predominantly Slavic Muslim population.)
your parents attend school?
they didn’t finish school. They went to the other kind of school*.
refers to Islamic schools, or Medressas*, where students memorized the Koran and
learned to write Arabic.)
were the names of your grandparents?*
grandfather’s name was Semsedin; my
grandmother’s name was Melja.
asked this question, every Roma interviewee named only two grandparents; always
the parents of the father.)
We stay awake the whole night, and we place willows on the doors of our homes.
And then, two weeks after Djurdjevdan, we have Hedenebiri*:
this Mahala calls this celebration Hedenebiri, but
in other Mahalas they call it Shinkol-hedenebiri*.
This is our flag; it is 600 years old. We celebrate for the whole night. We kill
lambs, and after, we parade through the Mahala.mp3
We also celebrate Bajram and Ramazan*.
Turkish/ Romanes for Ramadan)
do you do on those days?
Bajram) Our women prepare baklava. On the first day of Bajram, no one visits
another; this day is reserved for the families to celebrate, on their own. On
the second day, however, we will go to visit all of our neighbors. The Mahala
children will kiss our hands and ask for money.
Ramazan we will rise at 2 or to feast- sifire(Sehri). Then we fast for the day. When the
night comes, we eat again- Iftari.
Then we go to the mosque. Here we are Albanian-Roma; we have the same traditions
were your grandparents from?
They came from here.
was it growing up here? Are there many differences between then and now?
We were poor before. When Tito was alive, everything was much better. Our
children found work, and we lived better lives.
have been married now for 40 years; I was 22 years old when I got married.
Families spoke. If the groom’s family is good, then the groom will be good.
But if that boy’s not a good person- if he drinks alcohol- then nothing will
happen at all. At the wedding, all of the women will dance, and the music will
you know any Ashkalija or Egyptians in Prizren?
Before, I had never heard of Ashkalija or Egyptians. They didn’t exist; but they
(Roma) lived in Albanian areas, and they were afraid to speak Romanes; if anyone
asked if they were Roma they’d say ‘No- we’re Ashkalija.’
are the same people as us, but they don’t want to be us. They can call
themselves whatever they want: but when Albanians call them, they don’t say
‘Hey, Ashkalija,’ or ‘Hey, Egyptian, come here.’ They say ‘Hey, Madjup,*
know a few stories, stories I heard from the older Roma; in their time, there
was no electricity, so they told many stories.
there were three sisters; they were without parents and very poor. The three
built themselves a small home to live in.
man passed their home, and he noticed a star over the door. He immediately asked
if any of the three sisters would have him as their husband.
sister asked: ‘What would you offer us, were one of us to marry you?’
and money and a beautiful home,’ he said, and the three declined his offer.
next day, another man saw the star, approached the home, and asked the same
question. Another sister asked, ‘What would you offer us, were one of us to
have many riches, and I will share them with you,’ he said.
not interested in your riches,’ the sisters said.
sister said, ‘If you were to marry me, we would have two children. A boy and a
I would marry you for that,’ the man said, ‘For without children, one has
man and the sister were married, and soon they had a son and a daughter. Both of
the children were very beautiful, and stars graced their foreheads.
other two sisters became extremely jealous. They kidnapped their sister’s son
and daughter; they nailed them into a coffin and threw them into a river.
fisherman downstream spied the box, dragged and wrestled it from the water, and
pried it open. Before him, scared, sat two beautiful
children with stars on their heads. The fisherman brought the children
home to his wife, who became very, very happy, for the couple was childless.
children are now ours,’ she cried.
at last I am a mother.’
woman was very old, and she could produce no milk to feed her new children. But
the couple had a female horse that produced milk, and the children fed from the
horse. The mother horse gave them life.
children grew up; they both wished to leave the fisherman’s village, because
it was too small, and there were few people. They moved to their cousin’s
mother horse brought them to an old house, and before she left, the horse told
the children to not open the door for anyone. The horse told them of their
aunts, and how they had nailed them into their coffin and thrown them to the
water. And how, of the children, the aunts hated the boy most of all, and would
return to deal with him.
the aunt came to the door of the children’s home.
the door,’ the aunt cried, ‘I only wish to see you.’
at your hair,’ the aunt said. ‘It’s not combed well. When will your
brother arrive at home? When he does arrive here, you must tell him to travel to
the nearest large mountain, and there he will find an old woman who will give
him a special comb for you.’
aunt knew of this old woman; she was a sorceress, and anyone who approached her
would be turned into stone. The girl knew nothing of this, and she told her
brother of his new task.
set out to the mountain, and when he finally arrived he found the old sorceress
and asked her for the comb. She attempted to turn him to stone, but could not;
the star that graced his forehead protected him. The boy returned with the comb.
the aunt returned to the children’s home.
me enter,’ the aunt asked the girl through the gated door. ‘I only wish to
gaze upon you.’
the house, the aunt uttered another command. ‘You must tell your brother that
he is to return to the old woman on the mountain. She has something else for
sister commanded this to her brother, who again set out to the mountain on his
horse. The sorceress tried to turn him to stone again, but the star upon his
forehead protected him still.
do you want from me?’ the Sorceress asked. ‘What do you seek here?’
seek nothing,’ the brother said. ‘What do you want from me? You must come
with me,’ the brother commanded, and the sorceress followed him to his home.
She fashioned herself a home next to his. And the sorceress stitched the brother
new clothes. She placed them on him and revealed that she knew who his real
father was, and more, she knew the tea house where he bided his time.
there,’ the Sorceress said. ‘Sit near him, and wait for only ten minutes.
After that, take your leave.’
went to the teahouse, and sat near his father; the father watched him, but did
not recognize his own son; too much time had passed, and the boy had concealed
the star upon his forehead.
returned home. ‘Tell me,’ the Sorceress asked. Did one speak to you in the
the boy said. ‘My father spoke to me.’
asked me where I was from.’
to the teahouse tomorrow,’ the Sorceress said. ‘And stay twice as long. If
your father speaks to you, tell him where you live and invite him for dinner.
did as she said, and the father, not knowing who the boy was, came to dinner. It
was a large, well prepared feast, and at the end of it the sorceress slipped a
silver spoon in the guest’s pocket.
she made a fuss; she realized that the spoon was missing. And eventually the
guest realized that the spoon was in his pocket, and he revealed it to those who
had invited him to eat.
no thief,’ the man said, ‘and I shall prove this to you.’
then led them to a place in the fields where the horses slept. And there they
found the grave of a woman.
to her,’ the man said.
the brother and sister asked.
woman promised me that she would bear me a son and a daughter. Her sister
changed my children into animals; one dog, and one cat. Raise this woman from
the ground; she is not guilty of her sister’s acts.’
us call her sisters, and they shall tell us what happened,’ the man said.
are your children,’ the sorceress said. ‘All that this woman in the ground
promised you became true. And I am your sister-in-law.’
was around 5 years old; I was born in 1937. There was no bombing, but we ran
away, and we hid in the grape fields. The older people hid their children; they
thought, ‘if we are killed, our children shall live.’
father also told me that when the first Serbians came down here, around 1937, he
worked with them, and that during the war he saved some of them.
hundred years ago, many people lived here, and the Roma always worked for them.
That’s why Roma know so many languages. I speak Albanian perfectly, because I
worked with them for so long. This is also why I speak Serbian, and Turkish.
did your father tell you the Roma were from?
Where did the Roma come from? India. Many people speak about
note on Ilijas’s surname, Čuljandji: this
word, in Turkish, means of peasant origin, and is a pejorative term, likely
assigned by a Turkish official. Please refer to Orhan Galjus’sRoma of Kosovo: the Forgotten Victims. Published in the
father died when I was a child- in 1942. But I finished school.
finished school as a teacher of Privreda*.
But it was very difficult, because I had to travel to Mitrovica* to sit for my
exams. I had no money to get there, so I kept working as a blacksmith. I made
knives. I’m one of the more active Roma; I started my first job in 1969.
lies 77 Kilometers north of Prizren- a three hour bus ride.)
bought our flag,* my daughter’s husband was here. His name was NisretSehiri, and there was another one; his name was
Slobodan Veberski. They were in England in 1969; there, they could
say whatever they wanted.
refers here to the Hedenebiri- the Roma national
I had a
friend, and we both worked together. We still work. When I began work as a
blacksmith, I liked working with the Albanians, because I learned a lot from
them. They were interested i
Djurdjevdan, the most important thing for Roma is the day of the flag. We have
the flag of our religion*, which is 640 years old, and we have a newer flag* for
us (for Roma), which is only 64 years old. I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t
know much about the new flag.
holiday- flag day, or Hedenebiri - seems exclusive
to the Roma of Prizren, though other Roma throughout Kosovo openly display the
younger flag IC refers to in their weddings, festivals and parties. Other Roma
in Kosovo do not recognize or celebrate a holiday for this flag.)
older (640 years) flag IC refers to is a simple green flag with Koranic
calligraphy; this flag was introduced by the Ottomans and was absorbed by
Ilijas and his grandfather, a Roma dervish
four sons and two daughters; I have 14 grandchildren. Before we couldn’t
attend school, because no one respected us; they didn’t care if we knew
anything at all.
far as I know, the Roma came from India. Roma were Indians, but they
had troubles; they had to escape. They moved around, from place to place, and
when some Roma wished to return to India, the Indians would not have
are Roma all around the world: in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Egypt and other places. There are
Roma in Turkey… and we all have the same
heard some say that we are from Egypt. One day on television I saw
Ibrahim Tatlas.* He asked a Roma- Where are
the Roma from? And the Roma said: we are from India. But when we worked in the
fields of cotton, people would tell us that we were Egyptians.mp3
Tatlas is one of the most popular musicians in Turkey.)
exactly where our language is from. And we are still searching, trying to
discover more about our language. We have many words that the Albanians took*.
is an unsubstantiated claim. While Kosovar Roma have
many words borrowed from the Serbian and Albanian languages, there are very few
Roma words, if any, that were borrowed by Serbian and Albanian. The words IC
refers to may be originally Turkish; Romanes, Albanian and Serbian are rich with
Turkish loan-words from the 500-year Turkish occupation of southeastern Europe.)
Muslim;we celebrate two Bajrams, Ramazan* and nothing more.