Gracanica. I am 46 years old; I’m Gracanica’s Roma leader. I became the
leader here after the 1999 war.
the 1999 conflict and now, has the Roma situation here changed?
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
this has changed. I communicate with the Serbian Government about our conditions
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
here aren’t very educated when it comes to politics.
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.)
there a big difference in the way Roma regard education, between the 1999 war
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.
Kralj Milutin is a primary/ secondary Serbian school in Gracanica.)
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
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
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
do you mean when you say that our rights are imperiled?
don’t have the right to work.
many Roma in Gracanica are unemployed?
About 85 homes.
many Roma refugees live in Gracanica?
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.
is your opinion of the Roma situation now?
It’s not good, and I’m talking about finances- the economy.
your opinion of the relationship between Roma and Albanians?
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.
Mr. Scicluna is the Council of Europe Coordinator for Activities Concerning Roma and Travellers.
was interviewed in downtown Pristina during a roundtable discussion on Roma
human rights issues.
you have a population that is already suspect, the minute the conflict starts
they are the first ones to be blamed.
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."
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.
do you find the ideas to do this work?
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
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…
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.
all your work, tell us what the main Roma problems are, if you could tell us
something about that-
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the end, I would like to ask you, what is your recommendation? What is your
recommendation for Roma?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
is Komorane, Glogovac/ GllogocMunicipality)
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.)
your family moved to Bostan, were there other Roma here?
our Mahala (in Bostan), there were some Bugurdjije Roma, but they left.
Ashkalija; my father and my grandfather as well. We married Roma girls, and now
we speak Romanes. Before, I knew no Romanes.
you know any Egyptians?
don’t know anything about Egyptians, but many people have told us that we are
is the difference between Roma and Ashkalija?
think there aren’t any big differences- we are all Roma. The only difference
is the language. My father spoke perfect Albanian.
you attend school?
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.
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
do you celebrate Djurdjevdan?
I heard, many people died on that day, and for that we celebrate it.
Cazim plays the accordion for his fellow soldiers: 1960s
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
am 32 years old.
you from Plemetina?
kind of Roma are you?
is the difference between Egyptians and Roma?
are the same as Roma. We celebrate the same holidays; the only difference is
that we are Egyptian.
your father Egyptian?
father’s grandfather was Egyptian, and my mother’s grandmother was Ashkalija.
holidays do Egyptians celebrate?
celebrity Djurdjevdan, Božić (Christmas),
Vasilica and others.
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.
rise very early: at 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.)
bread we have baked will also be on the table, and hidden in that bread is a
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.’
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
you know the songs sung on Vasilica?
older people knew; but now we don’t know. I know only one song:
have one girl and one boy, but I am divorced.*
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
you tell us about the customs of your weddings?
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
is the average bride-price (here)?
Egyptians have the same prices (as Roma)- around 1500 Euro along with new
clothes and gold.
happens if you go to ask for someone’s hand, but you don’t have enough for
If we- the bride and groom- like and love each other, then we girls will escape
to the boy’s house.
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.
I told him what time he should come to my home to get me. And I moved into his
‘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
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.)
your parents agree to this?
in the beginning!
you attend school?
finished four years of primary school.
didn’t you finish school?
went to an Albanian school. The situation was the same then as it is now.
couldn’t finish school. It was not possible.
you tell us about Plemetina during the last war?
fled, and spent three or four months in the tents* in Kosovo Polje*. Forty
people lived in a single tent.
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.)
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.)
live in the camp, and everything is fine there; we don’t have any problems.
mother’s name is FekrusaHajrizi,
and my father’s name is Sevceti Bajrami.
mother was ten years old when she was married; my father was twenty. My parents
worked in the fields.