Interviewer: How old were you when the war started?
Interviewee: Six. It’s a little weird because it’s foggy to me. I was born in April; honestly, because of the trauma and everything else, I don’t know if I was five or six at that time.
Interviewer: Where were you when the war started?
Interviewee: The situation is ludicrous. I think… I was home. Again, I’m not sure if my memories are true or it’s just a product of my imagination. I think it was Sunday and I think we were… this… me and my sister were taking bath by my mother that night… because before… we were taking bath usually on Sunday…, and at that moment, while we were getting dressed, my uncle came to the door, actually, to the window. I remember that the blinds were lowered, and then he slammed on the blinds. We were scared then because he was banging. And then, when he announced that the war had begun, and that we should take cover, it was as if it were much less terrible than the fact that we were afraid of his banging on our window. So, being at home with the family; quite an ordinary day.
Interviewer: Where did you live then?
Interviewee: In the village, near Leposavić. With family, with mother, father and sisters myself and grandma, grandpa and two uncles. Large family in one house. However, what is interesting and good came at the time the war began; mom and dad started building a house and it was just built and the house had a basement. So… uh, the moment that uncle told us the war started, we picked ourselves up, packed up, picked up the basics and we all moved into our basement. At that time, it was the only basement in the village, so tomorrow all the relatives of this twenty or thirty of us were soon housed in a basement that is.., I don’t know, maybe three by four meters large. And there was no problem – there was no problem – we settled in because we were safe in that basement. What I remember is that, for example, it was the evening when the war started and immediately they brought… I don’t know benches, and so, I think there was one bed and then there were us… children, there were about ten of us in that moment, set to sleep. We slept and somehow we weren’t even aware of the first day the war started. We stayed overnight in basement. But I remember this moment… when I woke up somewhere during the night and considering that Kopaonik is close; I think that literally the first night… this, some Antena was bombed on Kopaonik and I remember that I woke up and opened my eyes and that I… heard that sound. I mean, it’s that screech… the one when the bomb falls and I think everything was just light in front of my eyes. It was as if a bomb had fallen somewhere two or three meters from our house, and it had been a long time for me to understand that it was not our house that had been bombed, but that Kopaonik had been bombed. If the bomb was strong and could it be seen this… because of the proximity we could not say.
Interviewer: How did your parents explain this whole situation to you; that first night and the first day and the other few days?
Interviewee: Well I don’t think there was a lot of explanation there. It was for the parents in the first place… it was important for us to be safe and for… this one not to go out, and I think it lasted… for as long as I can remember for about five days. Not something much. Even after that, when it became necessary for me not to know, to go out for food or I don’t know, to take a bath or whatever, then they somehow started to go out from that basement. So, somehow, every explanation came down to how to save a life. I don’t think it was clear to our parents at that time what was going on, because, I think there were more women than men in our basement and mother… mmm… mmm… mothers only cared for children to be safe. Nobody explained to us what happened to the fathers, but that was also somehow clear. I do not know. I think it’s a hole in my memory, how did… how was it explained to me… how did they explain to us that it was a war?! I don’t think anyone explained anything to us.
Interviewer: How did the people around reacted the first few days, if you remember?
Interviewee: Well, what I remember from the surroundings is that… it may be a bit of a comical situation but at the same time terribly scary. On the day… this, the war began; while they have not yet announced the beginning, it seems to me. It happened that my two uncles were there… they were in their yard. And then it flew… this, the helicopter was, I don’t know what it was… this, but one brother who is older literally knocked to the ground the younger one to the ground because he thought helicopter was going to shoot him, to kill him or whatever. It is… this, that’s how i would explain… describing how the environment reacted… Because, I say again, many memories have faded and been lost due to the terrible war.
Interviewer: You said a moment ago that you spent more time with women during those first days of the war. Does that mean that your fathers, uncles were on the battlefield. Mobilized by the military or …?
Interviewee: Well. I mean, I don’t remember the moment when… when exactly… this one, the fathers were mobilized but yes, they were all at war. In the village, in my village, my grandfather was the only man, as far as I remember. I mean, he also avoided this mobilization based on illness, otherwise still in age to be actively mobilized. He could have gone to war, but he was ill at the time and that is why he was not mobilized. Literally… the only one, a man with… so I don’t know, about fifteen women. We didn’t even know about the others. It was very hard for me – we haven’t been for a long time – I think my sister and I really didn’t know where our father was, nor did my mother have information about where his whereabouts. Nor did he come… I think he came for two weeks, and only to… this one, take a bath, pick up things and see us. That was one day. I mean, when I say day, I mean those twelve hours, he didn’t stay home any longer. Uncles were also mobilized. Even today, I don’t know exactly where my uncles were, and I also know that… one of the two of them… I haven’t seen for sure for a month because he… as they explained then… was very far away. I don’t know exactly where, I don’t say again, even in these years, I don’t know exactly where he was deployed. This other uncle, I honestly don’t know if it’s… this, I don’t know anything. I don’t remember anything about his mobilization. All the others were also somewhere on… a thousand different sides. And what I mean has to do with it; Mother, for example, was pregnant with my third sister when the war began. And, exactly on April 23, when my sister was born, that is, a few days, two days before that, she got in pain and it was very difficult for her, considering that… that Ibar flows through the village, and across the Ibar were is a bridge. The bridge is narrow, and it was very difficult to cross that bridge at that moment. I wanted to say for ambulance vehicle …, the ambulance could not cross this bridge, pick up the mother… and take her to the hospital. And my grandfather was the only man in the village. Everyone else was women, and how can now a woman, I mean, the mother got in pain and… I don’t know, she’s moving… this birth and it all lasted for a few hours while mother called the clinic. At first, they did not want to approve her ambulance, since it was not safe to get there. So they sent, they reported that they could not cross the bridge; so someone taken her to the bridge. I honestly don’t know. In the end, they somehow took her to the bridge and my mother “I don’t know”. She gave birth that day or the next day. And I remember her saying while she was in the hospital that… this one, she heard the sirens a few times and that they had to flee to the basement and at that moment…, when she gave birth. I think the siren sounded that day and the baby was not with her. The sister was not with her and she had to flee without the sister to the basement not knowing where… where is baby, where is… where is the sister. And it was just so weird. And I’m sorry, for example, because these, I don’t know how many… this, and maybe even ten years after the war, many pictures from my head have been erased so much that I don’t have them now… I was six years old when the war started and somehow it would be natural for me to remember “this one, what this one looked like”, the sister when mother brought “this one” home. But I don’t have that in my head. I think I only remember… to remember some parts when I see one of the photos. However I just lost the whole picture.
Interviewer: How did you as a family see that, the approach of your father and your uncles in the war; on the battlefield? Were you afraid for them of not coming back or…?
Interviewee: Well I remember that I… I mean, not the moment they went…, into the war; a little later, when I thought about it, I remember that my first reaction was fear, my personal one. Where are they, what are they doing, and how are they?! Then I was very angry… like, why my father and why I have to… worry about whether father will come back alive and not only my father but… this, and… and uncles and at the same time; I mean, all the men I knew. Somehow you don’t care about just one. Everyone is in the same place and you take care of everything. I think this is…, again, this is the situation with the war. None of us even thought much about it. It was only important that they return…, alive and well, and that… I don’t know … I know that we… this, we were always happy because the village is close… this, the main road and when we hear… this, on TV or someone reported that our army is retreating, I remember how happy we were, because… like, it was not clear to me for a long time what it means that the army…, is retreating and why it is retreating. Because of the fact that the army is withdrawing, I think the army is withdrawing, because of that I was very scared, because if the army withdraws, who will protect us. But, for example, the mothers were happy that the army was retreating because that meant that maybe one of the husbands would come home. So it was that news were followed and the news around us were followed and it was taken care of, how they were; do they have to eat ?! Are they alive?! For me, for example, after the war and when it was all over somehow, I think, a couple of years after all that, I talked to my father and, for example, I never managed to extract any information from him that… or some a more picturesque depiction… what this war looks like. But I know that… what I remember him telling me when… I don’t know now, at my age of ten… is that it was scary, that people were screaming and that somehow it was happening in the dark. I don’t think it’s clear to him today what all he survived in those days and months.
Interviewer: We talked earlier that you are the oldest daughter in your family and did you have that role in the process… in those moments when your mother gave birth to the youngest sister and did you have an obligation to the middle sister or other children who were part of your families?
Interviewee: Here’s the problem. I don’t remember that. I mean, I don’t want to invent and leave it to the logical conclusion of the answer, but I don’t really remember what my role was in “this, that” in that period. However, I know that they told me this, that my mother told me this, and I remember. For example, I learned very, very early on that, I don’t know, how to cook and that… ufff… to do various… different housework…, and I know that my mother pointed out all her life how she could rely on me and how is… how could I do this… how I was someone responsible, in that sense. I believe it is also part of the war.
Interviewer: Yes. I would go back again…, to my fathers and uncles who were at war. How long did they stay there? What time did they spend? The whole period of the war or…?
Interviewee: Dad came back a little earlier. Just before the end of the war. I don’t know when exactly he was mobilized, but I know that for example… this one, he wasn’t there when his sister was born and in two months, as far as I remember, now it’s based on stories, in two months I think he saw my sister once or twice, and with that…, yes… so it was probably some two months… I don’t know… sometime from April to probably…, early June. I’m not sure. And my uncle, he came back, stayed a little longer. We really cared about him, because… another picture I remember… he was at some point… this one, I don’t know where and I don’t know how… he had a car accident… and we didn’t know anything…, about that. Only at some point when the situation had calmed down, we children had already started playing and we went down to the Ibar. I was not in that group but there were other children and then two brothers came back… two brothers came back and… uh, my mother, my grandmother was told how… uh, my uncle is going… uh, he is passing Ibar with his head wrapped and bloody. It took him for sure… so I don’t know… five minutes to… I think five minutes to get to himself and to understand what happened and then my uncle arrived already… to home. Nothing happened to him in this war, but he had a car accident, and even at that moment when you hear that someone has a bloody and bandaged head, the first thing that comes to your mind is that… he earned a bullet. So I think it was quite stressful and I, as a child beside my father, was most attached to that uncle. And I don’t think I’ve felt much fear until that moment. I think that even though thank God in the end… I think everything ended properly but I think it is the biggest fear I have experienced… this one, which the war has prepared for me; the fact that I might lose the uncle I love the most due to the war.
Interviewer: In the war of the 99th, were any of your close and distant family members killed or injured?!
Interviewee: Well, thank God not. I mean, except for my uncle, as I said, no one has suffered any physical injuries. But my mother was from the vicinity of Vushtrri/Vučitrn and her family, her grandmother, grandfather and uncle were living there in the vicinity of Vushtrri/ Vučitrn at the time of the war, while the war was going on. I remember, somewhere, in May, June, they were simply expelled from their house, from their land. We at our village, the environment was a bit calmer at that time, so we were able to go out and I don’t know, to play and somehow normalize our lives. However, I remember that “my mother was still afraid for her family”. My two aunts, who are also married near us, and then at some point during that fear, my grandfather called my mother, called us and told her, we are leaving, here we will come to Leposavic, “we want to stop by, I don’t know, make us some coffee and prepare water for us”. And at that moment, I was with the children on the street. I remember exactly where, what and how. And, for example, I didn’t know about this conversation between my mother and my grandfather, but I saw grandfather going towards our house. I was happy because it was not clear to me as a child at that moment what was happening and that it was horrible and that they were “now refugees and looking for” a new home. I was happy when I saw him, I ran…, to call him. However, from that stress and from that shock, my grandfather did not recognize me at that moment. He didn’t know who I was or what I was. He called me and greeted me but I did not see that… that at that moment he knew that I was his granddaughter. This is where my memories of that day come from. I know from stories that it was… that they tried to take everything they could from their home. I know that they picked up the windows and that they had two tractors at the time, and that’s why they managed to pack some things on the tractors, and they moved to Serbia. And what matters to me now, as someone who grew up, is that I, for example, have never experienced their new house as a place where, where I want and love to go. I go to them where they live now, just because I want to see them, but it’s theirs, I’ve never had it, I’ve never felt being at home there. However… uh, later my… my destiny led me to…, get a chance to go back… to go back… to their… to their old place and honestly…, no matter what at the time when I was… this, where were no anymore Serbs in their village and there was no longer a house where they lived. I remember this because… uh, I was old enough to remember what their village… how their house looked like, and then I visited again 20 years years later it didn’t look like what I remember. But, regardless of that…, it was better for me in the vicinity of Vushtrri/Vučitrn than where they live now. And all my life I was convinced and it took me a long time to understand that, for example, doves live everywhere, because that bird reminded me for a very long time of Nedakovac; to their…, village and whenever I heard it, somehow it was full of my heart. In a moment I would have before my eyes their house and all those experiences that my sister and I had…. we had it then visiting them.
Interviewer: Was there any attacks, bombings, riots in the vicinity of your village where you lived during the war of 1999, in vicinity or at some distance?
Interviewee: Well, I already mentioned that Kopaonik is close and that bombs were heard from Kopaonik very often. But I can’t remember that there was any major armed attack. But also as a child I remember, for example, that we are …, to answer the previous question, now, I remember, they explained to us, for example, that the army is hiding in the woods. Um, and then I… I really understand that picture, the picture… I remember very often… this, I looked at those forests…, at those hills and imagined that… at the same time it was a way for me to calm down because I imagined that maybe my farther is somewhere nearby, and on the other hand, when night falls then I somehow could imagine that we were in danger from those forests. So…, that was some of my maybe childish way to calm down and see things on myself…, a peculiar way. What I remember is that I was six years old at the time and I was supposed to go to preschool in September and then to first grade the following year. And I remember watching on TV, for example, that the school… uh, news that my future school was demolished and it was just as hard for me as… how now and why right now when I have to go to school and how am I going to go to school and so on with some questions and then it turned out that it was actually fake news. That it is… that the school remained untouched. I don’t know what happened at that moment and why they were… why such a story was published, but I remember because it was directly related to my future and to what… I think, it prevented me from… that fact prevented me from realizing what that I wanted to go to school and get an education.
Interviewer: Did you follow… when you already mentioned the fake news… did you follow the media during the war?
Interviewee: Well, I honestly remember from the media that we actually found out on TV that the war had begun. The TV was on and then, then my uncle also informed us, and we also saw on TV, that was the same announcement on TV and the same declaration on beginning of the war. But I don’t remember if we followed the news…… I think as a child I didn’t… I also remember our parents talking to each other about it and bi they would say they bombed this here… I heard on TV that and that …. TV was not so important to me in those years because… somehow to me… I’m very glad…, now that I remember and when I think about those years… I’m glad that they are somehow, I don’t know how, but it seems to me that our parents played their role very well because, for example, even in those years, maybe I didn’t know, maybe fifteen days after there was something from the beginning of the war, this, more limited movement, but I remember for example that we even at least it seems to me, they somehow managed to give as watching cartoons and play and hang out. And that’s why I say that TV in that period was not a source of terrible news, but somehow entertainment, but this, publication of that news, for the school, was through TV. That’s what the beginning is… advertising the beginning of the war on TV and this news for the school are two things that I remember and they came from the media.
Interviewer: Were there any consequences or… as I would say… Was there talk of war in the years after the war, that is, a few years after the war? Did you feel someone… as a family or… as an individual, did you have any difficulties …?!
Interviewee: Well, it’s me… so I don’t know how many years after the war but, I remember those years were really hard. Father and mother worked, for example, before the war. But after the war, she lost her job because her job was again in the vicinity of Vushtrri/Vučitrn and she did not have the possibility to go to work. It was financially difficult. In those years after the war, my parents started working on the house and we, for example, did not have enough, very often not even for our clothes. It was very difficult… the parents did not have the means, for example, to prepare us for school. We wore, I don’t know, second-hand things or things we borrowed from older relatives or whatever. Financially, that’s how father, again, I skipped father, he worked in that period, but in the factory, but there was little work. Which immediately means that the salary was lower while the needs remained the same. Nothing changed before and after the war, in terms of human and existential needs. But again, in that sense, I think… we somehow managed and again, as children, we somehow were worried much less about it and we were not drawn into so many stories about our difficulties. After the war, these are the things I remember and what, for example, made it better that period for me, when my parents couldn’t afford, I don’t know, sweets, chocolates and other things. In that period after the war KFOR came to Kosovo…, they are often…, as they say, the camp was in the village next to mine and they often patrolled and toured… the surrounding population. Whenever they would come, they would bring either toys or sweets or something that … is, I don’t know, that’s when my childhood was much nicer. And I remember that at some point we got a full package of sweets and first my sister got it. I didn’t because I wasn’t, with the soldiers. I cried and then, for example, my mother went to the soldiers and asked them to give us another package and explained the situation to them, and so I received my gift. And that package, well, because of the shortage and everything else… for example at this moment, if I had that package, I would probably eat those sweets in three days. And then it lasted for us, so I don’t know, it took a month to have it. Because otherwise we don’t know when we will get such a package a second time.
Interviewer: How do you look at the whole period of the war from these present times? What are your feelings? Do you think you have “strengthened” and… ?
Interviewee: Well, I don’t know. Now at the age of twenty-eight, when someone asks me: “How was your war?” It’s terrible, and horrible, and it’s a lot of trauma. A thousand things are still returning today as the consequences of the war, and that is the situation when I was almost in Belgrade and I heard the police siren and the rotation. The first thing that went through my head was that it took me back to those years, the nineties. Ninety-nine, two thousand, in fact. So, when that feeling of that something still returns – this one, which shakes and, I don’t know, it’s scary and horrible, and it’s indescribable – it’s unbearable. I honestly don’t know and I don’t know what it’s like to live in a stable society because, given that I’m ninety-nine when it was also a war period, when there was inflation, then ninety-ninth, and then, I don’t know, all that year two thousand… uh, brought, it’s all kind of for a couple of years… was some… destabilization or, I don’t know, armed attacks, or war, or whatever it’s called. So it is not clear to me now in these years what it means to live in a stable society where your existence is not under question. I would not like to state the facts and all those things that influenced the beginning of the last war. I have no understanding for any war, nor do I have an understanding for the suffering of civilians and innocent people. I think that civilization has advanced and that all these issues can be resolved in a non-violent way, and that we are matured enough as a civilization and that we no longer have to fight for territory. To divide, or whatever, whatever it is… that question of territory can be resolved in another way, without suffering… in war… because first of all war cannot be without casualties. Both the side that provoked the war and the side that reacts to the war have victims in the war. Both sides have victims, but it is very scary when you think that a large number of these victims are civilians. People who neither wondered nor decided, nor chose war. So, I’ve been pretty angry for twenty-odd years, after all these happenings it could probably have been different.
Interviewer: In the last twenty-two years since the end of the war, that is, since the beginning of peace, has the situation in terms of peace and stability in this area been moving in the right direction? What is your opinion?
Interviewee: Well, honestly… I think that in the last… maybe five years has been pretty stable. I mean, it’s not stable, but it’s calmer compared to previous years, and somehow you can live more freely, with huge restrictions, you can go here and you can’t here. If you go here, beware like this or, if you mix with, I don’t know, Albanians, then take care of how you behave and similar things. Because they taught us, simply, I don’t think our parents taught us. I think that life and experience have taught us, to know how, when and where to behave, and therefore it somehow limits you. You are not what you are where you are. But again, I don’t know, I don’t think it has anything to do with reality, but my feeling is that, for example, no matter how calm it is now, no matter how many events there are, in terms of violent events, or whatever I call them, I still don’t have the feeling that I can feel completely safe in Kosovo, because somehow, I always expect that something can happen from some side. And I think the only solution is to get used to live with it. Because, I say again, we as civilians somehow do not have a direct influence on how the political situation will be resolved, but we can learn to live with it and that our lives do not stop because of that.
Interviewer: Lately, or in the time after the war, have you had contact, cooperation, exchange of getting acquainted with other ethnic communities, for example with Albanians?!
Interviewee: Well, I did. I mean, very often in different circumstances and on different occasions I was in the same company, meaning, I cooperated with Albanians. And considering that… uh, I work in the south and basically go through the Albanian neighborhoods every day and I have the opportunity to, I don’t know, not to speak because, I don’t know the language, I don’t know Albanian, but here I meet one way or another I have not had bad experiences with Albanians so far, nor have I had any situations that I could call bad.
Interviewer: Do you think that we should work on the greatest possible cooperation between civil society and the non-governmental sector and the government sector in the process of getting to know each other and on some reconciliation and cooperation, at all levels?
Interviewee: Well, first of all, I think, what I can do from some experience… but I have a strong desire, for example, to learn Albanian. I think it will make many spheres easier for me. I live in Mitrovica and, for example, it would be easier for me to sometimes address, say, Albanians in their language and not want them to try to learn Serbian. Because, I think that communication would certainly be easier. As for other levels and other improvements in relations between Serbs and Albanians, somehow I think it is very important to start with personal experience, because if we do not want to progress in that relationship, I think that even if we are hiding behind an NGO or what’s more, and of any association, that even in that case we will not be overly successful.
Interviewer: Thank you so much for the interview. If you want, you can remain anonymous, if you can’t tell us your name and surname.
Interviewee: Well, I want to remain anonymous.
Interviewer: Thanks again.
Interviewee: You’re welcome.