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Interviews

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The Interviews- Page 9

Aferdita Miftari

This interview was conducted in the Albanian language.

 

Mrs. Miftari requested that we not videotape her.

 

Kosovo Polje

Everyone in Aferdita’s home talked about the Šutka refugee camp, outside of Skopje , Macedonia . Aferdita left the camp two years ago, to return to Kosovo Polje; the camp was back in the news. UNHCR announced that the camp would be closed; the remaining refugees, all Roma or Ashkalija from communities across Kosovo, would either be accommodated in Šutka town or be returned to Kosovo. UNHCR stated that the camp was, after four years, unlivable, due to sewage and water issues; no one would be allowed to remain.

Some of the Roma went back to Kosovo. Some protested in front of the UN and OSCE offices in Skopje . A large number didn’t. With the last of their money, they chartered buses and headed to Greece .

They had no documents, no passports and no visas; the Greeks would not let them in. They settled down in the no-man’s-land between the two countries, and they waited to be let in while the temperature climbed and the ground around them turned to mud. It was their intention to draw attention to their plight, and it worked; the press talked about their plight for a day or two. For all I know, there may still be Roma camped out there.

It’s easy to blame UNHCR or other groups; Aferdita doesn’t mention blame, but she does mention her friends in that camp. The camp’s fate had more to do with the camp’s political leadership. Their leaders convinced the camp refugees- desperate and scared to the last man, woman and child- that if they held out, if they refused to return to Kosovo, if they refused to learn Macedonian, if they made things difficult- they’d eventually get out. They’d get to Western Europe . They’d get to America . The lucky fates of very few Roma convinced them.

But it never happened. Their leaders gambled and convinced them that they’d fixed the game, but they hadn’t.

AO: I am 27 years old.

Are you married?

AO: Yes.  

Do you have any children?

AO: Yes. Three.

What happened to you during the 1999 war?

AO: First we were at home, and then we fled, and stayed in the tents*. mp3

Aferdita and Kadire

(* The tents that AO refers to were temporary tent shelters established on the grounds of a Serbian primary/ secondary school in Kosovo Polje. At its maximum, in mid July of 1999, Roma seeking shelter there numbered 6,000 +. The Roma were eventually relocated en masse to the Plemetina camp, while other Roma fled abroad.)

It was very bad. We had nowhere else to stay; we were afraid to stay in our homes. It was raining; it was cold. mp3 

Who brought those tents?

AO: Somebody brought them; I don’t know who. There weren’t many tents- around 20. Some had them, and some had none. There were a lot of people. We were camped in a schoolyard, and some stayed in the school.

The Miftari Home in Kosovo Polje

Was there enough food? Did anyone provide you with food?

AO: Some organization brought food, but there wasn’t enough. We brought food from our homes.

How long did you stay there?

AO: We stayed there for two weeks.

Were there Albanians in the tents?  

AO: No. Soon we fled- to Macedonia . First we stayed in people’s homes, and then in tents again- at a place called Stenkovec*. Later we went to Probistip*, and lastly to Šutka.* When we returned home, some people gave us blankets. mp3 

(* Stenkovec 1 camp was a temporary refugee camp established by the UNHCR near Skopje , Macedonia . The camp population- 40,000 at its highest point- was mainly Albanian, but with some Roma and Ashkalija. Many of the Roma who went through Stenkovec were forced by Albanian refugees to register as Albanians with UNHCR, to bolster the number of Albanians who had been expelled. Roma in the camp were subjected to threats, taunts, and physical assaults.  

The attempted lynching of three Roma males by Albanians ended the Roma presence in the camp; one of the Roma was randomly identified as a ‘war criminal’ by an Albanian refugee from Podujevo. Several aid workers rescued the three, and took them to a different building in the camp; the building was later besieged by 5000 Albanians who threatened to kill the Roma. The personal intervention of Chris Hill, the American Ambassador to Macedonia , calmed the situation; all of Stenkovec’s Roma were then removed, for their own safety. For more information, please refer to Roma in the Kosovo Conflict, published by the European Roma Rights Center http://www.errc.org)

(* Šutka is the nickname for Šuto Orizari , Macedonia . Šutka, with a population of almost 40,000, is the largest concentration of Roma in Europe , if not the world.)

Did you have any problems with Macedonians?  

Kevser & Kadire Miftari

AO: No.

And what about (Macedonian) Roma?

AO: Everything was okay; we didn’t have any problems with them. Roma from Skopje (Shutka) lived separately from us.

How long did you stay in Macedonia ?

AO: We were there for roughly two years. From those tents in Macedonia , they* constructed camp houses for us. It was cleaner; we had a bathroom and a bedroom. It was nice. Later we heard that the situation in Kosovo had improved, so we returned. mp3 

(* UNHCR established the Šutka camp; the camp was managed by the American Red Cross.)

 

 Aferdita and her Baby Son, Kujtim

Aferdita and her baby son, Kujtim, April 2003

 

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Ferida Hasani

Mrs. Hasani requested that she not be videotaped.

   

"My grandfather told me about my uncle. During World War II he sat through all the night, alone, keeping guard. My grandmother prepared food and brought it to him; he was sleeping in the train station. She searched and searched, and finally found him. And when she did, she said; 'my son, you may sleep, and I will stand guard.'"

Preoce

FH: My name is Ferida; everybody calls me Fida.

What were your parent’s names?

FH: My mother’s name was Hava, and my father’s, Bajram.  

What kind of Roma are you?

FH: we are Kovači.*

(* FH uses the Serbian word for Bugurdjije- Blacksmiths.)  

Do you know about your parent’s childhoods?

Feride's Living Room

Their childhoods happened in wartime. They were very poor; they were shepherds. They went from village to village, working privately, and after they married they had nine children- five daughters and four sons. My older sister died; then we were eight. mp3

When you were born?  

FH: February 12, 1952 .

On marriage:

FH: Firstly, somebody from the groom’s family will go to ask someone from the bride’s family if they will give their daughter for marriage. A representative from the bride’s family will visit the groom’s house, to investigate where and how the girl will live. Those to be married didn’t get to see each other before. mp3

The groom’s representative and other relatives will go, with a bottle of liquor, to the bride’s family, and they’ll make an agreement on the wedding. Before it was good, but today it’s better. mp3

Many Roma pay a bride-price (Dowry). Is this true? mp3  

FH: Yes, that’s true, but our sort of Roma (Bugurdjije) pay almost nothing. mp3

What were your grandmother’s and grandfather’s names?

FH: My grandfather was Halil, and my grandmother, Duda.

Do you know about their lives? Were they educated?

FH: They never went to school; they were also shepherds.

How old were you when you were married?

FH: When I was married, I will tell you- I lived in Pristina then, and I cared for two children. I needed to work; we were very poor.  

Where are you born?

FH: I was born in Lipljan.

How long have you lived in Preoce?

FH: 36 or 37 years.  

On Herdeljez:

A Home in the Preoce Mahala

FH: How many males we have, that’s how many sheep we buy. After the sacrifice of the sheep, we take the blood of the sheep and put it on our children’s foreheads, that they may be happy and live for many, many years. mp3 

I also celebrate Saint Alija.

Can you tell us something about that?

FH: Saint Alija approaches his sister every day. He asks; ‘is today my day?’ mp3

Were she to say, ‘Yes, Alija- today is your day,’ Saint Alija would burn us all. Alija’s sister is very patient; she never tells him when his day is. She tells him: mp3

‘No, my brother. It’s still too early for your day.’ And when the day passes, Saint Alija realizes that his day was today; he grows very angry. The storms will appear in the sky. 

‘Why, my sister, did you not tell me my day arrived?’ His sister will answer that she did not know. mp3

Preoce's Blackbird Roosts

My father and mother told me this story, this custom; many celebrate this day. I celebrated before I was married, and later my husband celebrated this day as well. Saint Alija’s sister is very kind to always lie to him.

And then there is Vasilica.

On this day we sacrifice goats and chickens.

We wake very early, to prepare for this day; we bake cookies and prepare food. We make Sarma, and we stay awake all night and sing the song of Saint Vasilija.  

On Christmas:

FH: There is much sharing among us. We prepare a good meal, and all in the family must come to the table.

We catch birds, sacrifice them and dry them out so that we may share the meat among the children- so that they may fly through their lives.  

My grandfather told me about my uncle. During World War II he sat through all the night, alone, keeping guard. My grandmother prepared food and brought it to him; he was sleeping in the train station. She searched and searched, and finally found him. And when she did, she said;

‘My son, you may sleep, and I will stand guard.’ mp3

How were their lives then? mp3

FH: Very bad. Roma were always slaves. mp3

How was the Roma relationship with Albanians and Serbs?

FH: They were cursed by both sides. Roma are always suffering, feeling bad, because of others.

Roma never wanted to be rich; they always searched for happiness in any place, and this is all. mp3

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Djemilje Emini

Prilužje

"The customs are the same. The only difference is that our families didn’t have to spend a lot for the bride price, like today. In the past a bride cost only one or two horses."

DE: I am 67 years old.

How many children do you have?  

DE: I have two daughters and three sons.

Can you tell us about your life? How was it before, and how is it now?

ED: Before it was much better. Every (Herdeljez) we’d go out to pick flowers and willows*. The next morning we’d go to the river,* to swim and sing. We’d bake; we’d slaughter lambs. We always place willows in the lamb’s mouth; we bake fresh willows and nettles in the bread.

We’d all bathe in water with the willows and flowers we picked.

(*Kukureg and Dren are mixed with water in a cauldron and boiled over a fire; members of the family ceremonially wash themselves in this.)  

The Priluzje Roma Mahala

(* the river ED refers to is the Sitnice. This river now lies in an Albanian area, and is off-limits to Roma.)  

The next holiday we’d celebrate is Veljigdan (Easter).

What do you do on Veljigdan?

ED: We’d paint eggs, for the children. We bake bread and slaughter a Čuran (turkey); we bathe the children. On Vasilica we have to stay awake the whole night to prepare Sarma*; it must be ready for the morning feast.

(*Sarma is a traditional Balkan meal; cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice.)

And you sell the Sarma*?  

Djemilje with her Daughter & Great- Grandchild. April 2003

ED: Yes- we sell Sarma and we take a lot of gold (money) for it.

(*The guests that arrive at a family’s home on Vasilica ceremonially pay the host for the Sarma; the poor guests are given it for free.)

How do you sell it?

ED: The guest asks the host to name the price. ‘How much money do you wish to give?’ I’ll ask. They say a price and if it’s high, I tell them that we’ll take half that amount. If they agree to the price, we begin the meal.  

About your wedding- did you meet your husband before, or even know him?

ED: No, we didn’t know each other. I lived so near to him, but I didn’t know that I was betrothed to him. My mother gave me to him; I am still here, with him. mp3

My father-in-law was a soldier; he came, on behalf of his son, to ask for my hand. I was engaged for ten days. We married when he (the father-in-law) could return for the wedding.

Could you us about the wedding customs you followed?

ED: The customs are the same. The only difference is that our families didn’t have to spend a lot for the bride price, like today. In the past a bride cost only one or two horses. mp3

Did you finish school?

ED: No. Back then we didn’t have schools.

What was the name of your mother?

ED: My mother’s name was Raba; my father’s, Ljatos.

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Ramiza Emini

Prilužje

Mrs. Emini requested that she not be videotaped or photographed.

"Some Serbs were killed, because they were soldiers- but they were so young."

 

 

"I swear on my children, (my husband) was going to work so far away- in Zagreb , in Vučitrn- and now, we still live in hardship. What did we get out of it? What did we get?"

Where were you born?

ME: Livadje. I am 65 years old.

How was your childhood in Livadje? We spoke with the Butić family there.

ME: They are my brothers. Livadje- it was really hard to live there before. My father worked in the fields to earn some money. It was very hard.

Your father was a blacksmith. How did he become one?

ME: He made a lot of different tools.

On Vasilica:

ME: We wake early in the morning- at 3 O’clock , to give the goose some water. After, we kill it. Then we make Sarma.

Do you sing special songs on Vasilica?

ME: No, we don’t. We are real Roma- Bugurdjije.

How many children do you have?

ME: I have eight children- three sons and five daughters.

Did you attend school?

ME: No, I didn’t.

Can you tell us about your wedding?

ME: My father-in-law came to pick me up with a horse and a donkey. And when I came here, I saw cars for the first time. mp3

Did you know your future husband?

ME: I knew my husband. Yes, I knew my husband, otherwise I would never have married him. mp3 My husband’s family came to pick me up with a horse and wagon. I had one brother, and he was a teacher; he was from Livadje as well. He became very angry because of the wagon; he said they were supposed to bring some other wagon. My brother put blankets and clothes in the wagon for me (they hadn’t brought any), and so I came to this village.

What work did your husband have?

ME: I swear on my children, he was going to work so far away- in Zagreb, in Vučitrn (Albanian: Vushtrri)- and now, we still live in hardship. What did we get out of it? What did we get? mp3

When you first came to Prilužje, were there many Roma here?

There were four houses when I first came here; now there are around 50.

Can you tell us about the 1999 war? Did you know it would happen?

ME: Some people knew, and some didn’t. We were so afraid. During the bombing, my daughters came to my home. My husband told them not to be frightened; he said he would stay awake the whole night. The next morning he was still awake, and his eyes were so red. ‘I swear on my children, you’ll die if you do this,’ and I was right; he died that evening. mp3

Did you eventually flee?

ME: No. We stayed here.

Did you sleep in the shelters?

ME: No, thanks to God, we stayed here. NATO passed here, but they did nothing here. They were always going somewhere else.

Some Serbs were killed, because they were soldiers- but they were so young. mp3

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