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Interviews

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The Interviews- Page 11

Hamit Šerifovic

Mr. Serifovic requested that he not be videotaped.

 

 

“We Roma are not a people who desire our own country. When we talk, we talk only about how our rights are imperiled.”

“I cannot imagine these parents who don’t allow their children to attend school.”

Gracanica

Where are you from?

HS: Gracanica. I am 46 years old; I’m Gracanica’s Roma leader. I became the leader here after the 1999 war.

Between the 1999 conflict and now, has the Roma situation here changed?

HS: There are some differences. Before the 1999 war, Roma leaders would not discuss the problems of their communities, and most importantly, the problems of their youth.

Now, this has changed. I communicate with the Serbian Government about our conditions in Kosovo.

In Prizren there’s a local Roma NGO, but they support only one Roma leader: Hadji Zulfa*. Hadji Zulfa is a well-known man, but he needs to understand that there are many more Roma people than the Roma communities in Prizren. There are Roma in Preoce, Laplje Selo… there are many communities, and we must help our youth.

Roma here aren’t very educated when it comes to politics.  

(*Hadji Zulfa calls himself ‘the leader of Kosovo’s Roma.’ Outside of Prizren, few know of his existence. Zulfa acts as a political mouthpiece for various Albanian political parties; Prizren Roma joke about his previous trade- driving a taxi.)  

Hamit in the Army, Circa 1970s

Is there a big difference in the way Roma regard education, between the 1999 war and now?

HS: Before the war I completed primary school at Kralj Milutin,* and my children attend the same school. The biggest problem is that too many Roma are unemployed. No money; can you imagine that your child has an ice-cream in his hand, and my son has none? He’d just look at your child.  mp3

(* Kralj Milutin is a primary/ secondary Serbian school in Gracanica.)

I cannot imagine these parents who don’t allow their children to attend school. mp3 Many Roma children would like to attend school, but their parents cannot afford it*. Our government has to assist us with everything. We Roma are not a people who desire our own country. When we talk, we talk only about how our rights are imperiled.

Hamit and his Wife: Gracanica, 1970s

(* HS does not refer to school fees; instead, he is referring to more basic issues, such as the cost of books, book bags, pens and other needed school equipment. Clothing is also an important issue; many Roma families are too poor to afford good clothes for their children, and as a consequence the children are ridiculed.

Hygiene is also an issue that HS does not touch upon- because he and his family have an indoor toilet. Many Roma families have only outside water taps; in the winter, it is impossible to keep adequately clean. Racist teachers use the hygiene issue as a way to exclude Roma children from school- ‘they’re dirty, and that means that they may have lice…’ and racism takes on the guise of a public health issue. A Roma remedial education center in northern Kosovo brilliantly removed this issue by installing showers for any Roma child that wished to use them.)

What do you mean when you say that our rights are imperiled?

HS: We don’t have the right to work.  

How many Roma in Gracanica are unemployed?

HS: About 85 homes.  

How many Roma refugees live in Gracanica?

HS: We have ten refugee families here. They came from Pristina. Gracanica had 200 Roma homes, but only 68 Roma homes remain. In 65 Roma homes, Serbs live there. Those Roma left, but the Serbs are now paying them rent for their homes. Those Roma won’t come back.

What is your opinion of the Roma situation now?  

HS: It’s not good, and I’m talking about finances- the economy.

What’s your opinion of the relationship between Roma and Albanians?

HS: If we speak of Kosovar youth, there is the possibility of working together. But the older people, those who worked before 1999 want nothing to do with us.

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Henry Scicluna

Mr. Scicluna is the Council of Europe Coordinator for Activities Concerning Roma and Travellers.  He was interviewed in downtown Pristina during a roundtable discussion on Roma human rights issues.

"When you have a population that is already suspect, the minute the conflict starts they are the first ones to be blamed. "

"Whenever I’ve gone to settlements and spoken to women, I got more, better advice, a better view on the situation than from the men. Because they spoke about real things: about health, about education, about the children, they spoke about the reality of the situation. The men tend to think in terms of power."

HS: Up until a few months ago I was still working with the Council of Europe (CoE). I am now retired and am working for the same organization but as a volunteer: as a coordinator for Roma activities. My work is making sure there is a certain amount of coordination in the CoE, between certain sectors that are working on these issues, and also to keep contact with… Roma NGOs in order to promote the interests of the Roma population.

How do you find the ideas to do this work?

HS: Well I don’t find the ideas, the idea was a decision taken by the CoE already a number of years ago, to appoint… there were a lot of sectors within the organization dealing with Roma issues, and then there was a lot of new organizations like the OSCE that were dealing with it, the European Union, that got suddenly interested in Roma affairs because of the enlargement (the EU will soon admit as member states Eastern European countries with significant Roma populations)

Obviously the enlargement meant a very big Roma population, in central and eastern Europe, in countries that were going to become members, so the secretary-general of the organization thought that it would be a very good thing to have a person whose job would be to insure a coordination in all these activities…

One important point, I think, is relations with Roma NGOs because it is they who today are mostly doing the work to promote the interests of Roma. For example, I am very much in contact with the Roma International Congress, with the International Romany Union, and also with a lot of national NGOs, I know personally many of the people that run national NGOs, for example now when we go to Macedonia I will be meeting people I know there from national NGOs in Macedonia . That is my work.

In all your work, tell us what the main Roma problems are, if you could tell us something about that-

HS: I don’t think that there is one… well the one big problem is obviously that this is a population which is totally marginalized by society. The result is that they have very poor living conditions, very poor education, high unemployment, very bad reporting in the media, so in actual fact it is not one problem but a whole mass of problems, they are all resulting from one thing and that is that they are a population that is looked at with great contempt and great suspicion, and I mean for a lot of people they do not know the Roma at all. mp3

I mean even the sight of a Roma raises suspicion that they are going to be assaulted; they are going to be stolen (robbed) and all these sorts of things. What is, first of all, needed, is a very big change in the mentality of what we call the majority and vis a vis the Roma so that the majority can start seeing them as ordinary human beings- so that they can actually live together with them.

There is, of course, one point that has to be made and that is that the Roma, as well, have got certain habits which they have to change. Because it is not simply a question of contempt on the part of the society, but also a certain part of the suspicion of the Roma themselves vis a vis the society, which is quite justified.

I can understand why people who have been marginalized for so long, I mean in some countries they were used as slaves, in Romania they were slaves, and in other countries they were a sort of semi-slaves, serfs, they were used as serfs in Russia for example, so obviously these people have grown up to be suspicious of all of the rest of society, and also they became rather dependent.

Today, in many Roma settlements, children grow up believing that they will never, never get a job. So obviously they grow up without education and without a job, and then the rest of society says, look at them, we have to pay for them, because they receive social services because they are unemployed. But the reason they are unemployed is the fault of society in the first place.

This conference (this interview took place at an OSCE/ UNHCR Roma discussion panel) was a whole series of workshops to discuss the human rights issues, and also the problems of Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptians… there is, in regard to this population, a different problem to that of other countries; in other countries Roma are disliked just because they are Roma, here it is not simply that, it is also because there are a lot of suspicions between the Kosovar population and the Roma population in regard to their (Roma) behavior during the war. When you have a population that is already suspect, the minute the conflict starts they are the first ones to be blamed.

It was important to carry out these workshops on the question of human rights, on the question of tolerance, on the question of different ethnic groups living together, in order to be able to make a new future instead of remaining constantly in conflict, constantly in conflict with each other. And it was important that this was done not just in the capital city, but that they were done in various towns because these problems exist at the local level. It is important that the people who are influenced are the local mayors, the local population, it is useless that, well not useless, alright, but you can influence the prime minister, you can influence the ministers, but it is more important to influence the mayors of the towns and villages and the population of the towns and villages, the various authorities of the towns and villages, because that is where the conflicts are, where the population, the discrimination arises, and that is where the Roma are living.

In the end, I would like to ask you, what is your recommendation? What is your recommendation for Roma?

HS: If I were to make just one recommendation, and I’m talking to Roma in general, throughout Europe , is that they need to realize that they have a role to play in society. There are between ten to twelve million Roma in Europe alone. This makes a big population. It’s the population of quite a sizeable country.

They’ve got their own culture, they’ve got their own traditions, and they have every right to maintain them, but they have to come out of this tradition of dependency, and of course they have been held to dependency, but they must get out of that dependency, they must start using initiative to get out of the situation in which they are in.

(Roma) must, they really must educate their children, so that you get a new Roma population that is educated, and once they are educated… and if I might finish with something that I hold very important, they should in their structures give a bigger role to women.

The Roma population is a very male-centered population and this is not a good thing. Because women have a lot of practical sense, and whenever I’ve gone to settlements and spoken to women, I got more, better advice, a better view on the situation than from the men. Because they spoke about real things: about health, about education, about the children, they spoke about the reality of the situation. The men tend to think in terms of power, mp3 and so on. So I think that this, in itself, would be one very big and important change in their communities.

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Čazim Jašari

Mr. Jašari requested that he not be videotaped.

 

"When I was nine years old, my father bought me an accordion. I could have continued with school, but I liked my accordion very much."

Bostan- Novo Brdo

CJ: I was born here. I’m 49 years old. My father was born in Komarevci,* but my grandfather came from the Drenica*. My grandfather’s name was Ilijaz; during the Second World War, in 1942, he bought this house.  

Many died then because they didn’t have enough to eat. My uncle told me this. Some members of our family moved to Kosovo Polje, some moved to Pristina, and some are abroad. mp3

(*Komarevci is Komorane, Glogovac/ Gllogoc Municipality )

(*The Drenica is a region in central Kosovo comprised of the following municipalities: Srbica/ Skenderaj, Glogovac/ Gllogoc, Klina/ Klinë, and Mališevo/ Malishevë. The Drenica is almost entirely Albanian, and is considered to be the historical heartland of Kosovar Albanian nationalism; the Kosovo Liberation Army’s founders are all from the region.)

Cazim visits his Father in Hospital, Circa 1960s

The Jasari Home in Novo Brdo

When your family moved to Bostan, were there other Roma here?  

CJ: In our Mahala (in Bostan), there were some Bugurdjije Roma, but they left.  

We are Ashkalija; my father and my grandfather as well. We married Roma girls, and now we speak Romanes. Before, I knew no Romanes.

Do you know any Egyptians?

CJ: I don’t know anything about Egyptians, but many people have told us that we are Egyptians.   

What is the difference between Roma and Ashkalija?  

CJ: I think there aren’t any big differences- we are all Roma. The only difference is the language. My father spoke perfect Albanian.

Did you attend school?

CJ: I finished only four years of primary school. When I was nine years old, my father bought me an accordion. I could have continued with school, but I liked my accordion very much. mp3

How old were you when you were married?

CJ: I was 17 years old.

We celebrate Djurdjevdan and Bajram here; for Vasilica, some of us celebrate it, and some don’t. On Djurdjevdan, we ceremonially bathe on that day, because we believe it will make us healthy. And we will kill a lamb that day, very early in the morning.  

Why do you celebrate Djurdjevdan?

CJ: As I heard, many people died on that day, and for that we celebrate it.

Cazim & a friend picking grapes

 Cazim (Left, Seated) Plays the Accordion for his Fellow Soldiers. Circa 1970s


Cazim plays the accordion for his fellow soldiers: 1960s

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Vaide Bajrami

Mrs. Bajrami currently lives in the Plemetina IDP camp, down the road from Plemetina village.

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview.

 

 

“We fled, and spent three or four months in the tents in Kosovo Polje. Forty people lived in a single tent.

It would be better for us to die than to live like that again.”  

Plemetina Camp

Plemetina Camp is on the 'tourist circuit' of that odd sort of international that, upon arrival in Kosovo, treats poverty and desperation like a spectator sport. From the camp's inception in 1999, the dullness and desperation of camp life is often punctuated by the arrival of off-duty internationals with cameras pulling up in an expensive car, waving, smiling, handing out candies to the children, taking dozens of pictures, sometimes shooting video, and then driving off in a cloud of dust on the road back to Obilic..

The camp adults were sick of it until people stopped showing up. Some of the residents thought that, for all the grotesque parody of rich westerners ogling them with film, at least it meant attention was being paid. Now there's hardly any. Even the Norwegian troops- their protectors- packed up their entire base and left.

In Plemetina now, the children chase you. They yell Slike Slike!- Photo! Photo! as they mimic the mechanical operations of a camera with their hands. They ask for toys, gifts, rides in your car. The adults look at you with faint distaste, and sometimes they spit in your general direction. You look like anyone else. You're not there to help or solve anything, and you can't, but they don't think about it that hard. You're just another western ass with a home far from them, popping by to admire the shitty place they live in before you move on to your next posting or job or whatever.

We carried out three interviews in the camp. Two became job interviews for positions we did not have, nor offer. This happened dozens of times over the course of this project. In the camp these interviews were lent a weight of urgency on the interviewee's part and impotence on the part of the interviewers. What's the point of showing up in the camp if you can offer nothing? We couldn't offer anything but questions; we solicited stories about better lives and better places, all in the past, removed by violence and bombs and revenge killings and time. We stopped interviewing in the camp.

VB: I am 32 years old.

Are you from Plemetina?

VB: Yes.  

What kind of Roma are you?

VB: We are Egyptians.

What is the difference between Egyptians and Roma?

VB: We are the same as Roma. We celebrate the same holidays; the only difference is that we are Egyptian.

Was your father Egyptian?

VB: My father’s grandfather was Egyptian, and my mother’s grandmother was Ashkalija.

Which holidays do Egyptians celebrate?

VB: We celebrity Djurdjevdan, Božić (Christmas), Vasilica and others.

VB: On Djurdjevdan we take water from the river, and we collect willows, nettles, and flowers.* We make a bath from the water and the willows. That evening we’ll feast, and the next morning we’ll kill a lamb.

(*Kukureg and Dren)

On Vasilica:

VB: We rise very early: at 3 AM or so. We kill the geese and we prepare the Sarma.* The Sarma must be ready before the first visitors arrive; the Sarma will be placed on each plate on the table, and then we shall sell it.

(* Sarma is a traditional Balkan dish- meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves.)  

The bread we have baked will also be on the table, and hidden in that bread is a coin.

My mother will sell the Sarma to my father, and the guests. One thousand Dinars, she’ll say; my father may say that the price is too high, and if that’s so then she’ll say, ‘Fine. I’ll sell it to another.’

The head of the home will start to eat, and someone will soon find the coin. They will be very happy; very lucky soon. After the meal, we’ll visit our neighbors.

Do you know the songs sung on Vasilica?

VB: The older people knew; but now we don’t know. I know only one song:  

Vasilice, vasilice

You brought us

Geese, Geese

Turkey , Turkey

Every Gypsy cried

For the geese they killed

mp3

Do you have children?

VB: I have one girl and one boy, but I am divorced.*

(* By this, VB means that her husband has custody of her children. Roma males, according to tradition, will always assume control of the children in the event of divorce; the children will then be raised by his mother and the females of his household.)

Can you tell us about the customs of your weddings?

VB: First, the boy’s mother and father will come to ask for the girl’s hand- for example, mine. They will visit me, and if they like me, they invite their son to meet me as well. If we like each other, I will tell the boy’s parents and mine that I agree with the match. And soon they will have to bring the dowry, and new clothes.  

What is the average bride-price (here)?

VB: We Egyptians have the same prices (as Roma)- around 1500 Euro along with new clothes and gold.

What happens if you go to ask for someone’s hand, but you don’t have enough for the bride-price?

VB: If we- the bride and groom- like and love each other, then we girls will escape to the boy’s house.

I did that as well.   mp3

I lived at home: and I loved one boy. We were together (dating*) for one year, and his parents came to ask for my hand, but my father refused them.

One day I told him what time he should come to my home to get me. And I moved into his home*. 

(* ‘Dating’ is carried out in secret among Roma youth. It does not involve western ideas of dating; there are no public displays of affection. Shame, or the potential for shame, defines Roma dating, and to a lesser extent, Albanian dating, though more in the villages than the cities. This is partly explained by the male-centeredness of both cultures; a man can theoretically date as many women as he likes, and still be viewed as a man, whereas a woman can only date one- her husband. After that, many in the community will view her as spoiled, or used.

VB is a divorcee; she found herself in a situation that she wished to extricate herself from, and she did. The rarity of this must be emphasized; for most Roma women, divorce is absolutely not an option. In cases of divorce, the culture and traditions dictate that the man will retain custody of the children- and they will be raised by his mother. More and more Roma women, however, are divorcing.)

Did your parents agree to this?

VB: Not in the beginning!

Did you attend school?

VB: I finished four years of primary school.

Why didn’t you finish school?

VB: I went to an Albanian school. The situation was the same then as it is now.

We couldn’t finish school. It was not possible.

Can you tell us about Plemetina during the last war?

VB: We fled, and spent three or four months in the tents* in Kosovo Polje*. Forty people lived in a single tent.

(* The tents that VB refers to was a temporary tent shelter established at 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. Many, like interviewee Aferdita Osmani, ended up in Šuto Orizari , Macedonia .)

VB: It would be better for us to die than to live like that again. After Kosovo Polje we were forced to move to Bresje,* where we stayed for another year. After that a humanitarian organization brought us here, to the Plemetina camp.

(* Bresje is a Roma/ Serb area one kilometer south of Kosovo Polje.)

I still live in the camp, and everything is fine there; we don’t have any problems.

My mother’s name is Fekrusa Hajrizi, and my father’s name is Sevceti Bajrami.

My mother was ten years old when she was married; my father was twenty. My parents worked in the fields.

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