GM: I am Gent Muhaxheri, 29 years old. I work as a freelance make-up artist.
BG: Do you remember anything from the war?
GM: Yes, of course. When the war started I was 9 years old. During the war I became 10, in April. I remember many things; I remember the time when the war first started and when we started seeing in the news what was happening, what was going on in Drenica. When we used to go to school we would say “Thank God we do not have any relatives in Drenica because there is a war going on there”, not knowing that it would come in Prishtina and in any other city. I remember a bit the time just before we left Kosovo, before we tried to leave Kosovo. We tried to escape twice. The first time they returned us when we reached the cemetery, on our way to Macedonia.
BG: Can you tell us when, for example, did you take the decision to leave Kosovo?
GM: We took the decision the day we escaped, they just called us. My aunt called us and told us that they were leaving with her husband’s cousins and my family was also convinced to leave. We went to her house which was very close and from there we left, 4 or 5 cars, I do not remember. I remember that when we went at my aunt’s neighborhood there were many cars all the time. We saw people trying to extract diesel from other cars that were not leaving in order to fuel their own cars, because apparently there was no diesel and they did that to fuel the cars: they extracted diesel from other cars with a bottle and then fueled their own cars. I remember that our car was the third one when…
BG: What did you decide to take with you?
GM: Strangely enough, nothing. As I know, if I am not wrong because we have never talked about this, I think we only took the gold and the money we had, nothing else. We believed that we would surely go to Macedonia and we would need anything extra. My sister was 4, and my mum must have packed something for me and my sister. I do not remember what was in the trunk. I know that we did not take any food or anything else. But that day they returned us, 20 minutes after we drove away. There was a police patrol and they took the clothes and everything else out of the first car. The second car was my aunt’s husband car and I know that they slapped him in the car. The third car was ours, but they did not do anything to us, they just returned us. And this was our first attempt to escape from Kosovo.
BG: How did you experience this as a child?
GM: That was really weird because…I had a feeling when we stopped at the cemetery and I saw what was happening with the two first cars, I had a feeling that I was going to throw up. I sitting on my mum’s lap on the back, my grandfather was driving, my grandmother was in the front, my mum, my dad and my sister and it was a very strange feeling because I was an adult to understand exactly what was going on, but at the same time I had an idea that the safety that you should have as a 10 year old has disappeared, it is not there anymore. And there was no one who could provide it, you know, not even your family, your mum and dad who you thought that they will keep you safe, which they did. I am sorry for speaking in English but…It was only that feeling of safety, “what?” Because you could see that no one knew what was going on. But it passed. It passed after many years actually because it is now over but that moment when they appeared in front of us that was a horrible feeling which you did not know how to manage. I just had the feeling that I would throw up. After that, we returned to Prishtina and stayed for two more days in our apartment. After two days we decided to…
BG: What was it like when you came back to your apartment?
GM: When we came back it was a very dull situation, because my family was always listening to the news, the lights would go off as soon as it got dark. We would lit the candles and let the blinds down.
GM: Yes, very weird. Nine year old me exploring. I know you could find classical music and video pornography.
BG: What television?
GM: I do not know what TV channels they were, I just know that…
BG:They were accessible.
GM: You could find them. We tried to maintain a routine at home but it was not a routine, you know. We tried to sleep all in one room. It was the time before the bombings and we were not afraid what would happen with the bombings but it was very dull. Nothing…
BG: What about the second time?
GM: The second time, in contrast to the first time, we tried to go to Bllace.
BG: By car?
GM: Yes, by car. I do not remember how we set off. I just remember that there were many cars. My aunt and the others were there probably but I do not remember how we set off or how we arrived there, I just remember that there were a lot of cars when we arrived at the border. You could not see the end in either side, neither in the border’s side nor within Kosovo. We were somewhere in the middle and that is all you knew. We hoped they would open the border and we would go out very soon. But so it happened that we remained 7 days at the border. After the first night I saw one of our neighbors in her car with her sons. There were 9 people in one Yugo, and there were 6 of us in a car, a bit better than their Yugo, and there was more space in our car. So we invited our neighbor in our car so that they could have more space. At the time you did not care about being too tight as long as they would let you cross the border. I know that we slept in there together. The first four days we did not have any…I mean, whoever had food they ate. Most of them shared the food. I remember the second day my mum went at the other cars asking for food for the children because we did not even have any bread just some biscuits and we had eaten those. Adults did not eat. Almost the entire food that people had in their cars was used to feed all the children. So my mum found a piece of bread somewhere for me and my sister. They did not eat anything for four days. Only my sister and I ate whatever we had, which was insufficient, to feed two children with a piece of bread for four days. But then after four days, someone went into the houses of Albanians along the road of Elez Han and they found flour, they found everything need to bake some bread or anything to eat. I remember that my mum went to the toilet that morning and when she came back she said that she found a place to bake a bread, stay here. She went there with hundreds of women, in a house. I remember because I then went to see what was happening since my mum remained there all day. There was a long queue because every mother or woman or man tried to bake some bread and bring it to their family. After a few hours my mum came back with a frying pan bread. I remember that we ate a lot there so much that all of us then fell asleep in the car. My sister did not wake up for four hours because who knows what it was like eating after 4 days.
BG: What did you do during those four days? Did you stay in the car?
GM: At night, yes. The police ordered that at 7-8 in the evening everyone should get in the car and we stayed there until sunrise. Some slept, some did not.
BG: And during the day?
GM: During the day we stayed together, we would walk a bit forward, a bit backwards to see who is there, whether we knew anyone, to see what had happened. The grown-ups wanted to know who had left, who had remained, whose house got burned. We met a lot of people whom we knew…
BG: Do you remember any story that someone shared?
GM: I do not remember any story that people told, since I was young they did not let us listen to what was happening. Most of the time us the children used to stay together.
BG: What did you talk about with each other?
GM: Nothing related to the war, to be fair. I think none of the children wanted to think about it and the whole time there were game initiatives, trying to play, because you could not do anything but hang around your car and obviously our parents used to tell us not to go to far form the car. You could meet children and different people. I remember something from the fifth night, I think. I was in the car late at night, and I could not sleep sitting on my father’s lap, obviously. The houses along the road had a metal door, and there was a brick over the wall and the balcony above the door, and I woke up late at night and I thought I saw a man with a machine gun standing over the door. I did not see him completely, only as a statue standing there and watching. I did not wake up my dad. The next day in the morning I told them that I had seen a man over the door. They told me that it was nothing, maybe you it just looked like that, it could be the trees or their shadows. At that age you somehow buy that. And my dad probably did not believe that there could be someone inside. But, the next day, my grandmother went inside that house and wanted to go the toilet which was outside that house, in the yard. When she went in the yard, three police officers appeared and told her that she could not go there. Then they were convinced and I realized that there actually was someone inside all those houses where we went to bake bread. They hid from Serbian police and at night they got out to maintain some kind of order of all those cars along waiting on the road to cross the border.
BG: So they were not Serbs?
GM: They were Serbs, they could not have been from Kosovo. Because my grandmother says that they spoke Serbian. I believe they were Serbs, I don’t know. Had they been Albanians they would have spoken Albanian.
GM: Or maybe they were not. I don’t know. I can never know what happened but they did not cause any trouble. I remember that it was afternoon, the last night in Bllace. That night the aids came and there was a truck which stopped about 10 meters in front of our car and they gave us bread, pâté, water, and they used to throw bread like they throw rice and coins at the bride, you know. They would just throw it, whoever could take something, similarly with pâté and water. We could see from our car what was happening. My dad went to take food for us. We ate that night the food that they brought us and we fell asleep. The next day, by midday, they came and told us that they will not allow anyone to cross the border, and whoever wants to can stay, whoever does not want to can go back because we were not going to cross the border. There were many people who went to the so-called “neutral zone”, that is at the border between Kosovo-Macedonia. They waited for several days there in the rain, on foot because they did not allow them to go with cars. And there were many who realized that Macedonia was not going to let them in so they came back inside Kosovo because at least they would stay in the car. It rained all night, they were wet. There were people who stayed there for two days in the rain, in the cold, without anything. There were not even any aids there. My family decided to return home and then we did not try to leave anymore. Because the entire process was even more stressful and scarier than staying in the apartment. At least for me, maybe for the others it was not.
BG: Did they give you any reason why you could not cross the border?
GM: They did not, but I do not think there was any relevant reason. They just did not want to let us in, as in a war when they say no because I do not want to, it is my right to say it is a war condition, I do not have to give you a justification. We came back to Prishtina, in our apartment. After a few days they said that NATO was going to enter Kosovo, or even earlier. It is unclear to me whether the bombing started before we try to escape or after we returned the second time. But I know that the first night…Yes, actually, they had started earlier. The first night we arrived in Prishtina, they bombed the post office, next to the government now, where the European Commission is. They bombed that building and I remember that all the windows of our house were broken. It was 1 a.m. I think. The Post Office burned for about 5 days. It was in front of us, we could see it from the rooms, we saw the entire building which burned for days. I know there were four rockets thrown opposite our building, so close that we too could have been burned. They went in the opposite direction, that is, when the rocket was thrown its end went by the part of the museum, it somehow died there. If the rocket had been thrown 180 degrees, we could have been the ones attacked. Then the bombing started. They bombed SUP, which was also heard a lot.
BG: How did you experience that? Was it a scary experience?
GM:It was because you could never hear such a noise. It was very weird to hear such a noise and the alarm, because there was an alarm before the bombing warning that something would happen close. It was very scary. We all went in the corridor since it was the only place without any windows. It was safer, I guess. We lived in the fifth floor and safety was not on our side there since the fifth floor can very easily tear down and break from that shake. One side of the wall was obviously broken, the windows too, the doors came out because it depended how close it is, what direction the rocket went, on what side the explosion went. For example, we were very close to SUP, it was closer than the Post Office but we did not hear SUP more than the Post Office. Very weird. We had a neighbor on the third floor. We were friends with them. Then there was a period when there were bombings every night very close in the city. We used to go to their apartment and stay there during the night because the third floor was safer. I remember being very nervous the first day. I did not know what to do, I just wandered around the house all day. My mum later told me that she tried to calm me down with food that day because she saw that I was very nervous. But then the other days, after I saw on the first day that I was not going to be attacked…because I did not know what to expect. When you are 9 years old you do not know what bombing is. And, when I saw on the first day that it would not affect me personally, then I calmed down. I remember that, during the day, we could go out in the neighborhood. Our parents let us go out during the day. There were many people in the neighborhood that did not leave. So me and my friends of the pre-war period used to hang out together, we used to go to each other’s. One of them even had a computer at the time. We all used to go there to play. We played basketball…
BG: After the bombings?
GM:No, during the bombings, at daylight. It is very strange because there was now an atmosphere where you were not afraid anymore, I don’t know why. Maybe because it became a routine, and we started getting accustomed to that environment, you know, it became part of our life…this situation lasted for a few months and we got used to it. The bombings lasted for 1 month I think, they started on March 24. By the end of it, there were news on TV that NATO was going to enter Kosovo and we did not know when or how. We had already returned to our apartment. We were also sleeping in our own apartment because there were no bombings in the city anymore and we felt safer.
BG: Did the police ever show up, where you afraid that someone would come?
GM: I remember once being at my friend who had a computer, we were playing Mortokomba. The police came to do a registration of the civilians that had remained. They registered the parents, the grandparents and the sister of my friend. And I was not registered. And there was now the doubt “Is it better that Gent was not registered or is it worse?” But is was not something… They got the information they needed and we never heard of them anymore. This was the first time the police came to our apartment although we did not see any police the entire month. We used to hang out in the neighborhood during the day, but we never saw the police. Maybe there were civilian police officers which we could not notice but not any armed ones. I remember the night when the army entered the city. We watched them with my mother from the kitchen’s window. We would open the window only a little. I would stretch my head to be able to see something, my mother was above and we would opened the window by only 5 cm to be able to see what was happening because, at the time, we could see only a small part of what is now Prishtina’s square, which was used for cars and they started coming there. That is when we started seeing the tanks coming in and we said, “Okay, we are safe now, we are okay now. Everything is okay now.” We did not sleep at all that night because of the noise from all those vehicles that were coming and because of what was really happening. Is this the night when Serbs would come into the buildings or is it still safe. The next morning when we woke up there were police officers everywhere. They were NATO forces, I do not know what nationality. They were in our road, in the main road, and that day we could all go out. I remember going out with my grandmother to buy bread. There were Serbian police officers with machine guns, and there were many international police officers, that is, NATO forces, but no one bothered us. I remember something else, before the NATO forces entered. My aunt tried for the first time to go to Macedonia, and she succeeded. We used to talk on the phone with her sometimes when they would call. There was a lot of food at my aunt’s house. We did not have any food and she used to tell us to go to her house if we could and take everything we needed. I know that my mum and my grandfather went there once to take some food and they brought it to our apartment. After two weeks they took the same road to go get some more food because we did not even have a place where we could buy food. The second time they went there the Serbian military had gone inside the house, and had emptied the entire place. My mother says that the police were inside, although she did not see them but they had heard someone walking in the house. When they noticed that someone was inside they did not take anything, they just left. So the second time they did not take anything but the first time they took food enough to last during the bombing period. This is another detail I remember, that they went there which was not a long journey but it was not an easy one.