FS: I am Fatlum. Fatlum Sadiku from Mitrovica. I was born in 1987. My life has, more or less, been spent living in different places. I said that I come from Mitrovica but the war and the after-war period has led to my ending up in Vushtrri. I completed my studies ultimately the year before last year in Istanbul on Political Sciences and International Relations. Perhaps, for me, as for any other Kosovo citizen, this was my first door to open to the world, somehow, away from the provinciality of our country, but this opens many other topics. Therefore I would like to focus more or less on my childhood and the feeling of being displaced or cast out, you name it.
BG: Can you tell us something about the war, what do you remember, when did it start?
FS: Yes, of course. That feeling of being displaced or cast out, along the war, has been embedded in me since my childhood. Maybe the interethnical implication was not until ’97-‘98-‘99 and 2000 because all I remember from the ‘90s is the war in Bosnia and not here. That habitat, that environment where I was born and raised, i.e. Northern Mitrovica, was an environment not completely urban, but semi-urban, so to call it. The architecture of the buildings was soviet architecture of the ‘60s. The closest building to the building where we lived was SUP, that is, the Serbian Police Station of the time. But that inter-ethnical implication, the conflicting implication, so to say, was not present in me until ’97-’98. All I could have felt was some story from my father about earlier times, namely about the ‘40s – when my grandfather confronted the Serbs for the presence of the Germans in Kosovo, the fascist occupation and such things. But to me these were stories that meant nothing to my being because the environment was mixed, ethnically mixed. Also, Mitrovica was an diverse city, even as far as Albanians are concerned, like Prishtina, meaning that there were people from all regions: you could meet people from Ulcinj, from Skopje. Our first neighbor was from Prespa or the other neighbor was Serbian or the other Turkish neighbor whose wife was form a Bosnian province. Perhaps it was not a comfortable place for the ethnicities or the experience of ethnicity there. But the passing of years later its thing and ending up a refugee, as I said in the beginning, is related to the later years, particularly with year 1999 and 2000, although the feeling of being displaced has existed even earlier for the fact that, more or less, the fall of Yugoslavia in ’89-’90 left the property issues hanging. So, our apartment was never immovable, it was not our property; rather there was some sort of justification or decision “this family will stay here until they find shelter somewhere else”. So the feeling of being displaced has always been present in me, even earlier. But the inter-ethnical implication did not exist until the animosity achieved its peak, that is, in 1997-200 or 1998-2000. During my childhood I used to hang out, and play with both Albanians and Serbs. Maybe I happened to hear about inter-ethnical quarrels somewhere further or about someone else. It was touching for me because, maybe where political civilization is absent, people are prone to feeling something only when it happens to them; there is not such a consciousness that if something has happened to someone 50 meters further or 100 meters further it can happen to you too. But there is always a spatial experiencing of things, as I said earlier, there is not a political or ontological experiencing of such things. Such was the experience of the pre-war and war period. Things would happen first, for example, in Drenica and Dukagjin, whereas in the cities there was neither such an experience nor awareness. I do not want to blame people because the experience was such, I mean, there was an absence of awareness and political civilization to understand that what happens 20 or 50 kilometers away, tomorrow can happen to you too. I remember very well that in ’98, for instance, I cried that my final grade in Math in the first semester was 4. That was my preoccupation. It was actually the last semester when we left school because the war started, and I was crying about such a thing. The understanding that everything was ultimately ending in an inter-ethnical conflict or war, because I do not want to go into details now, corresponds with the years ‘98/’99. Although, the entire ’98 – I am referring to the big cities: Mitrovica…, since I am invited to talk only for Mitrovica and Vushtrri but I figured from reading and later experiences that it was the same in Prishtina, Peja, Prizren – there was a perception that there was a peasants’ rebellion or a revolt of some who were unsatisfied in villages which was going to end with “shuttle diplomacy” or, like in ’74, when the Serbian police stopped its oppression and we gained the constitution of 1974. This again takes us back to people’s awareness and belief, or nonbelief, in this case, that we can actually gain independence. There was not even a promidi (00:07:16) of such a trust, that is, that Kosovo would one day be independent. Maybe it did exist as an aspiration or a wish but not as something real; in the best case scenario people believed that the American pressure would force Milošević to give us back the 1974 constitution and that the Serbian police would be forced to stop the oppression of Albanians. There was another belief: that the part that was not included in the war, the Serbian opposition in Serbia will do its thing and bring Milošević. This was the climax of the belief concerning the ending of the war, I am talking specifically about the period near the bombings because by the end things were clearer. But the beginning of bombing did not indicate something bigger than the capitulation of Milošević or the return of the ’74 autonomy. This was more or less my childhood. The embedding of inter-ethnical haters or non-hatred varied from family to family, from family tradition to family tradition, in some families more than in others. But, perhaps from their character, people in cities are less prone to…now, I would not like to go to much into details because there are citizens who surprise you with their extremism, and there are also peasants who surprise you with their calmness. But in cities, people were a bit drawn and had apolitical stance, meaning dominant apolitical stance. They only cared about their survival. The preoccupation itself, which is, maintaining the house, was a way of stance. It was considered that, after Bosnia, Serbia would not compromise itself anymore and even if they want to, the international community would make it impossible for them to. In Mitrovica, things started to become clearer, i.e. that we were going toward danger, around January-February during the Rambouillet negotiations, I do not know when they started, in ’99. 1998 passed, not to say unnoticed, but with the feeling “this will be over in 4-5 days, not longer”, similar as in Prishtina, Peja, and Prizren, the main cities. February, January, March ’99 started to make it clear even in cities that we were going toward something that none could see the end of. I recall around one week before the start of bombings, someone from Shalla e Bajgorës, members of the KLA, had fired the police station in Bajg in the southern part of the city. I do not know about the damages that this shooting caused, but 24 or 48 hours later the Serbs counter-responded from Zveçan on market day in Mitrovica. They throw a mine from the hill of Zveçan and 6 persons die, and this was done on purpose because the market day for the Albanians of Mitrovica was on Saturday, and they knew that if they shoot on Serbs there will be very few Serbs there. So they attacked and that ended in 6 victims and more than 80 wounded. There was no going back after that. Then, from what I have read and from…from the facts that I collected later as well as from direct experience in the field it was obvious that many members came from Serbia and masked people that you could not see around earlier, and it was actually obvious that you could no longer go out: the school was closed, that is, I stopped going to school after the first semester of grade 5, the second semester we did not attend and the “endemic” environment was now created. Usually, the family meetings, buying bread and such things were now carried out by women or children, not older children or boys but mostly young girls of the age 10 or 12, together with their mothers. It was not recommended, not preferred for boys to go out. Everything started to smell like war. I said earlier that the position of our apartment where we used to live was close to SUP, or the police station in the north, and there was more or less a belief that when the bombings start that building too was going to be a target, which actually happened later. So, the first night of the bombings, one of our neighbors from the first floor came and invited us “come to our apartment because your balcony and your windows are facing SUP, the police building whereas my balcony is on the other side and if they bomb the police station you will be safer.” We listened to him, and did as he said, we went to the ground floor and stayed there during almost the entire month of bombing. As I said earlier we were stuck inside, all we ate and drank was either conserved food or things we prepared earlier, or only women would go out to buy vegetables and food for the house. The night of April 20, 1999, almost one month after the bombings had started, at 1:45 in the morning, masked units, 5-6 persons came into the apartment where we were staying, of course by breaking down the door, entered the hall and the room where we all used to sleep together, and they started asking the head of the house about the family members present, as well as about our presence. He tells them more or less, and also tells them that we are from the fifth floor and that my father is blind. They did not last it too long, but they tore up all of his documents: his passport, ID card, driving license, and they take him to the hall and then to the bathroom, and they begin the beating session, around 10-15 minutes non-stop. To this day I still cannot explain how he could bear all those beatings. Maybe the fact that he had a very strong body as a sports man helped him, as he told us later when we left there. Once they were going to hit him in the head too, which could have been fatal for him but his hand and the watch he had on saved him since the baseball bat, or the police rod, whatever it was, hit his hand and his watch and did not reach their objective to hit him on his head. It was impossible to look at his face because it was all covered in blood, you could barely see his nose, his mouth, his eyes were swollen to the ears. But again, I think his strong body as a sports man saved him in that case. On the next apartment there was a Serbian woman living with her son, chronic alcoholic who even before the war was noticeable used to provoke people. When entering the building he would always offend Albanians while being drunk. He was not armed but he used to express his hatred even before…but we did not take him seriously. Whether we showed civilization or not is more or less questionable but we considered him a chronic alcoholic. I am trying to say that it was very accessible and convincing that they heard everything that was going on upstairs but they did not say a word, and even if they did they would not have been able to do anything. But what I am trying to say is everything happened if not in front of their eyes, in front of their ears because one wall separated us from them, similarly with the Serbian neighbors on the other side but who, similarly, were as silent as death. In the morning, at 5.a. we left from there as we were forced to: “if we find you here at 5 a.m. we will kill all of you”. We left and we wandered the northern part of Mitrovica where we decided to separate from that neighbor, who now lives in Canada with his family. We continued wandering around for two days at our relatives in Mitrovica, mainly in the northern part. There you understand that the feeling of displacement is not only ethnical because ethnical was in the beginning when I heard about the Serbs coming from Croatia but it did not affect me, because I heard that refugees from Croatia had come, I heard that refugees from Bosnia had come. I did not see that as ethnical displacement or ethnically implied. I saw it as ethnically implied only when they entered into our apartment at 2 a.m. But, that the feeling of displacement is not only ethnical I felt at Albanian families too who, of course out of fear, would not admit us into their houses. That is, although you would tell them that you have been cast out, that they entered into your home at 2 a.m., it was impossible to be admitted even if they were your relatives, and even if they would let you stay it was only for one or two nights, perhaps even taking permission from the Serb living in the same building who had ordered not to admit anyone or to be notified when someone would admit others in their house. Here you would notice that displacement is not only ethnically implied because in war conditions you always experience displacement. Of course, I do not mean to relativize the expulsion that we were subjected to, but I am speaking from an existential, ontological stance of mine, or, if I have the experience of not labeling the apartment as I said with Yugoslavia documents, if I consider the refugees coming from Croatia or Bosnia, if I consider the casting out that we suffered which contains a more direct ethnical implication; but also if I consider the refusals from the Albanian families, that means I have two parallels: the political parallel and the personal, existential parallel, meaning that being displaced is something very deeply embedded in one’s being. It does not only refer to someone breaking into your house and dragging you out to feel displaced. Displacement was somehow even before the war started but that depend on how you experience it and where you find your perseverance as a person and from a political stance to say “I have had enough of displacement!” So, we experienced displacement in the ‘90s from our work places, our parents rather, and we faced apathy, meaning that no one cared about it. What happened with our being cast out of our apartment was the end of a displacement process that culminated with violent casting from our private properties. It is a normal process when there are no interventions to all that journey that had started. After the first experience, i.e. after being thrown out of our apartment and wandering around Mitrovica as I said, we got on a Bosnian bus that was traveling from Sijenica to Skopje, with the aim of avoiding Kosova Trans or Serbian buses. We waited, my father, my mother and I, at a ministation which was about 200 meters away from our apartment. The first bus that came was full of Serbs. My dad tried to put his foot on and get in, and they tried to close the bus door on his leg, saying: “We don’t know where we are going either”. Had my father not removed his foot from the bus, his leg would either end up broken or the bus would take him along. When the bus from Sijenica arrived and we got on, it was not as we expected, that there were going to be Bosnians or nonmilitary people. Rather there were Serbian militaries wearing clothes of milicija, army, and paramilitary. I did not hear it but my mother told me later that she heard them asking the conductor: “Is he really blind or is he just pretending?” meaning for my father. The conductor told them, “No, you can do whatever you want but he cannot see.” Fortunately, no one bothered us in that case. We got off the bus in Vushtrri. When we got off in Vushtrri we headed the main road leading to my grandparents’ house, that is, at my mother’s house. While walking my mother ordered me to see if her relatives’ houses had been burned. I raised my head and looked, all their houses were burned. While walking a police patrol told us “You have to turn this way” which now is – and was at the time – the road to the secondary school. So, they stopped us from walking toward the bazaar. When we went there the house was full with other refugees. There were members of my mother’s stepmother, other relatives of my mum, up to 20 people. We stayed there for two weeks until the next displacement. The next displacement happened on May 4, 1999, less than 48 hours, less than 2 days after the massacre of Studime, a village on the way to Prishtina. I would like to mention an interesting detail: the Studime village is the village of Hashim Thaqi’s wife, and I do not know if Hashim Thaqi’s wife was there at the time or not but it is his village. 48 hours after 116 Albanians were executed there, one of the participants of the massacre who now is suffering his punishment of, unfortunately, only 6 years of prison, Zoran Vukotić – he was caught two years ago in Montenegro – enters the neighborhood. It was a small neighborhood of Vushtrria and he threatened in front of us the city’s sole watchmaker. His house was three story and my uncles’ house was so small it was almost impossible for him to notice it and to think that there might be someone living there and the people who saw Vukotić burning the watchmaker’s house and casting out everyone who was there say that he headed downwards to leave the neighborhood but a Roma woman who always used to sit on a stone in front of a door told him that we were there. And he comes back and opens the door. We had just seen him in front of us going inside the watchmaker’s house. We locked ourselves in my uncle’s room, all of us and the relatives who were there. But, in all that hurry and confusion and fear my mother had forgotten about my dad and I had forgotten about him too. He would usually sit on – it was not a balcony – on the veranda because he could not stay inside all the time. He would usually go out to lit a cigarette or something else, and at that moment, when everything happened, I noticed that my dad was not in the room, and I headed to the hall to go out in the balcony and take him. On my way out, he arrived in the yard. I cannot say that he immediately got ready but he started looking at him: why is this man not reacting, not even looking at him or hearing anything that is happening. When he saw that my dad is not trying to do anything, he ignored him and he pulled off the clothesline with his hand, and seeing our movements behind the window of my uncle’s room, he knew where we were and he turned his riffle and broke the window glass, two pairs of glasses, as they used to be in the old form. Obviously all the glass pieces fell on the ground, that was the signal to come out. All of us, 20 persons, headed to the yard. I was more concerned about my dad since I noticed that he was not present in the room. Now I was only trying to take my mum and my dad and leave, everyone doing the same thing. When he saw that there were other people whom he had expelled earlier he completely lost his mind. He started swearing at them: “Did I say that this is Albania, you…”, “why have you come here and not fled to Albania”, and those were at the same time the same people into whose houses he used to go and have tea with them forcefully “Make me a tea!” until he was ordered to expel them. Now those things belonged to the past, that we had been neighbors, that you used to come into my house and have tea. For the sole reason of not complying with his orders and coming there after he had expelled them. So, we was threatening to kill them because of that. The cousin of my mum’s stepmother, Luan Maxhuni was his name, almost got executed because of that. His second irritation was with my mum, who caused some delays because she could not find any shoes to put on. She was grabbing her boots which were very close to his position, she had to pass by him to take her boots. When he saw such an indifferent approximate of my mum to go and take her boots, he started shooting in the air and swearing even more: “Get away now!” At that moment I started crying, and my mum left in a matter of seconds. We left, we did not go 20 meters further above when we saw the smoke coming out of the roof of the house which was a ground floor house, built of baked clay and it was burned completely in 2-3 minutes. We did not see where he went. After that we had more or less the same experience of wandering around as when we left Mitrovica for the first, the first or the second or the third day, “Where do we go now?”. We went for a few days to a neighborhood a bit further which was allegedly being protected by a police officer named Dragan, who was protecting the neighborhood and taking care of the Albanians left there so that no one harms them. But we did not stay there for too long either because, again, there was the issue of not being accepted by Albanian families because fear was very present. “Okay, you can stay for two or three days, but then you have to leave, you must leave.” The feeling of being expelled intertwined with ethnical expulsion and the feeling of being ready to be displaced by anyone have always been very closely related to one another. Indeed, my father still says, joking, “I did not know if it was Zaran or Nurka”. Nurka was the Albanian woman who sheltered us for 3-4 days. He said “when all of you used to stand up I did not know if Zoran had come to expel us or was it Nurka saying “leave now, you’ve stayed enough”.” Those days passed similarly, wandering in that neighborhood that was allegedly being protected by that police officer. Then we went to…I will keep it short. I will not mention some places where we stayed only shortly. We went to my mother’s cousin because in such cases one always reaches for their family members or relatives in order to feel safer. His house was in the central part of the city of Vushtrri, and it still is in the central part of Vushtrri. It was an old Ottoman-style house, probably 100-150 years old. Now it is protected by law as cultural heritage. But it was very well covered since the stables that had been built since that time used to cover the yard. And it was a really long yard which you had to pass to go to the house, but the stable used to cover the view of the house too. To this day, you still have to go to the other side of the road to be able to see the house, otherwise you can only see the stable, not the house. We stayed there until the end of the bombings. But, on May 22 another series of murders happens in about 100 meters of 70 meters distance. But we survived maybe for the fact that some members had come from Serbia and those who were in Vushtrri told them to “go the other side because that is where the population is” and they did not come our side. They only took the son of an older doctor and his daughter’s husband and proceeded in the direction of the city’s cemetery where the concentration of the population was larger, such as the villages from Qyqavica, even from Drenica and the remaining citizens of Vushtrria. That part received the biggest blow. 77 persons were murdered that day in Vushtrria, 68 were murdered in only one house, known as the house of Karaman Pacova, but since it happened on the same day as the the massacre of Dubrava, it has remained under the shadow of Dubrava, because people talk a lot about Dubrava and it is completely forgotten that the massacre of Vushtrri too happened on the same day. That is all about the period of bombings. I will try that within a maximum of 5 minutes or 10 minutes to finish the period of the after-war since my experience spans the after-war too. Returning to the North, even after the war, there was a context or environment where the war was going on, only the tanks were absent. In the first days after the war, since the first week, it was clear that something was not right in Mitrovica. We were still in Vushtrri, the end of bombings, the “liberation” found us in Vushtrri. Of course I do not want to go into details of the experience of the liberation since they are the same for every Albanian who experienced the liberation that day in Kosovo. It is something that you cannot describe. I was over the tanks, I hugged soldiers. But on the very first week it was clear that there is something endemic in Mitrovica. The Serbs had not left but neither had Albanians returned. A confusing and unclear situation; a latent division placed on the bridge by the French KFOR members. The same practice of pre-bombing and after-bombing period continued, that of sending women to see what the situation was like. I remember very well, my mother and her uncle’s wife went from Vushtrri after the liberation to Mitrovica to see what had happened to our apartment. And there they came across the latent division for the first time. The French soldiers said to them: “We have to check you for safety purposes, we cannot ensure you that you will be safe when you go to the north because someone might say something to you or attack you.” In that case nothing happened because my mum and her uncle’s wife returned safely to Vushtrri but they told us that in that part there are no Albanian militaries, the KLA has not even stepped there as they did in almost every other part of Kosovo, there is no Albanian administration, there are not many Serbs since they had not occupied our apartment, that implied that there were not many Serbs there yet, but it is already taking the color of serbisation, like Prishtina started to get a completely Albanian color or the other cities. Indeed, this when the Serbs of Prishtina started an avenge with the Albanians of North Mitrovica, or the Serbs of Peja or Prizren. But the difference is that the expulsion of Serbs after the war or the impromptu murders of Serbs after the war was done, in most cases, unplanned because the KLA, even when NATO was entering Kosovo, did not know what percentage of the territory it would have under its control. Maybe they planned that they would enter Prishtina today but they were not sure whether Prishtina would be under their control, they were not sure whether Peja would be under their control. Everything was, in a way, a gift for them, and a complete indifference of NATO who knew that, if they leave this country divided 60/40 or, in the worst case scenario, like Bosnia, 51/49, the conflict would not end here because things will remain unsettled. So, as an unwritten law, they left the situation 75/25, and in such a situation people are obviously frustrated, they did not know where their family members were. I do not negate the partial involvement of KLA in crimes and expulsion and everything, but you cannot say that there was a system. Serbia, on the other hand, had Milošević’s system until October 5, 2000 when Milošević capitulated because in the North everything still functioned with his system, although with Kumanova’s agreement, the tanks and the members of the Serbian army bla bla bla…the heavy vehicles were to leave Kosovo. But the structure of the people was still there. The telecommunication network, the telephone network with Serbia’s police station remained the same. As soon as you would cross the bridge you could see people with Motorola phones on their hand. “Watch out, he’s coming that way, go, go.” So, there was a paramilitary system functioning, in opposition to what was going on with the KLA who were struggling to find a system but they did not even have a system for themselves because that is why the KLA’s responsibility was partial in comparison to what happened to the Albanians of the north. They knew 20 years before where you would live. Whereas Hashim Thaqi knew, for example, about a Serb in his village in Drenica where the Serbs of Syregana live because Syregana is close to Skenderaj but he did not know where, for instance, a Serb in the Hospital’s neighborhood lives. He did not know if it was his apartment or not, because, in ’99 you could see members of the KLA who came to Prishtina for the first time. It might sound unbelievable but it is true that people who lived in remote, highland villages, had no idea about Prishtina; they were 18, maybe holding a weapon for the first time on the last day of war and this speaks a lot about them, but they came to Prishtina for the first time. They had a family member who was hurt and therefore acted furiously. Therefore, this responsibility of letting Albanians and Serbs together it seems to me that it is some sort of egocentrism because there is an impression that they will always fight each other, and Europeans are superior to them. If there was an expulsion of Albanians from the north, and which, in my case happened twice, and the second time there were maybe 20,000 British soldiers in the district of Prishtina and 20,000 French soldiers in the district of Mitrovica, then what were these French and British soldiers doing when this avenge between the two people happened? Were they watching movies or what? It is normal that those people in those circumstances still had unsettled issues with each other but still, from my impressions, you cannot free them of their responsibilities. It is not of the scale of the Dutch in Srebrenica but you cannot free of their responsibility those people who took the responsibility of the safety situation. Because KFOR was in charge of the safety situation in the ’99 in Kosovo, or the entire safety system. Even if people avenged, if the murders continued, which is somehow understandable but not justifiable in such measures, this does not free of their responsibility the international community in Kosovo. The second expulsion, to keep the story short, was not a classical expulsion taking us out of our apartments, of course, violently, murdering people; it is still known and mentioned the massacre of February 2000 when 10 Albanians were murdered, over 80 were wounded, and thousands and thousands were expelled. That period, February – June, gives the ultimate stamp but in our case fear was always present. Through fear they tried to give us the ultimate stamp of explosion. I personally experienced that occasionally, as I have also privately told you, when I got stuck in the SUP building which had been bombed by NATO, where I used to spend the day because I did not have any other place to go to. I was the only child in the neighborhood and for the fact that I used to spend the day there – I cannot blame my neighbors for exercising pressure on me or violence – but psychological violence, threats, and intimidations came from Serbs of other neighbors. Once, as I was playing, spending my day there, they came with a bull dog in the SUP building. There were three bombed buildings, and out of sheer luck and my getting stuck in one file shelf, although they came in the room they did not look inside because today I would be paralyzed or in the best case with irreparable trauma. This was all I had to say.
BG: Thank you.
FS: It is still too long, 43 minutes.
BG:Could you share the effect that war has had on your every day life?
FS: Should I talk again?
FS: The effect of war on my life after the war has been suppressed by our provincial traditional and conservative tradition because the war and the experiencing of war continued to be experienced spatially, numerically, not uniquely and personally, but spatially and numerically. “Shut up, don’t mention it. Look what they did in Gjakova, in Drenica, look how much more they have suffered.” When you say “much more” that is a number. “Hush, don’t talk.” It was perhaps a second violence that I suffered or all those who were not murdered or wounded or who did not suffer any form of physical violence from an entire system of values that tries to imprison the personal experiencing of a calamity, considering it a shame, a public shame. So, the experience of a misfortune is seen as a shame: it is not allowed to be told or they try to reduce it to consistent oblivion. The same happened to me. I was told: “Do not exaggerate it, you always used to play with them”, for example, just because before the war I really did not discriminate, I played with both Albanians and Serbs. So there is the perception, “You do not have any right to speak because you used to defend for them in football, you used to play with them.” So they compare my experience of 1999-2000 that I bear on my shoulders to a normal relationship I had with them in the period 1993-1999. Only because I could speak Serbian and I still can they perceived me as “no, it is not possible for him to have any experiences, he always used to play with them, he grew up with them.” Maybe this affected me to suppress these things and restrain them until I went to Istanbul, during my studies from 2012 to 2016 in Turkey where, for the first time, I had more personal freedom and was lonelier, more independent to think about my experiences and about my own self. There I started to create a balance – I do not like the term “balance” when it comes to describing an experience but I am using it conditionally – of my personal experience in the sense that you cannot read it spatially or numerically, but as something unique, even if you got a thorn cut, that is unique for you.