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.
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.
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.
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.
it never happened. Their leaders gambled and convinced them that they’d fixed
the game, but they hadn’t.
I am 27 years old.
you have any children?
happened to you during the 1999 war?
First we were at home, and then we fled, and stayed in the tents*. mp3
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
was very bad. We had nowhere else to stay; we were afraid to stay in our homes.
It was raining; it was cold. mp3
brought those tents?
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.
there enough food? Did anyone provide you with food?
Some organization brought food, but there wasn’t enough. We brought food from
long did you stay there?
We stayed there for two weeks.
there Albanians in the tents?
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.
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
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.)
you have any problems with Macedonians?
what about (Macedonian) Roma?
Everything was okay; we didn’t have any problems with them. Roma from
Skopje (Shutka) lived separately
long did you stay in Macedonia?
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.
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
My mother’s name was Hava, and my father’s,
kind of Roma are you?
we are Kovači.*
FH uses the Serbian word for Bugurdjije- Blacksmiths.)
you know about your parent’s childhoods?
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
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
were your grandmother’s and grandfather’s names?
My grandfather was Halil, and my grandmother, Duda.
you know about their lives? Were they educated?
They never went to school; they were also shepherds.
old were you when you were married?
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.
are you born?
I was born in Lipljan.
long have you lived in Preoce?
36 or 37 years.
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.
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.
then there is Vasilica.
this day we sacrifice goats and chickens.
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.
There is much sharing among us. We prepare a good meal, and all in the family
must come to the table.
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.
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;
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."
I am 67 years old.
many children do you have?
I have two daughters and three sons.
you tell us about your life? How was it before, and how is it now?
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.
all bathe in water with the willows and flowers we picked.
and Dren are mixed with water in a cauldron and boiled over a fire; members of
the family ceremonially wash themselves in this.)
the river ED refers to is the Sitnice. This river now lies in an Albanian area,
and is off-limits to Roma.)
next holiday we’d celebrate is Veljigdan (Easter).
do you do on Veljigdan?
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.
is a traditional Balkan meal; cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice.)
you sell the Sarma*?
Yes- we sell Sarma and we take a lot of gold (money) for it.
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.)
do you sell it?
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.
your wedding- did you meet your husband before, or even know him?
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
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.
work did your husband have?
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?
you first came to Prilužje, were there many Roma here?
were four houses when I first came here; now there are around 50.
you tell us about the 1999 war? Did you know it would happen?
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.