Interviewer: Visar Kukaqi
Interviewee: Elisa Shasivari
V.K.: Hello, can you please introduce yourself?
E.Sh: Yes, of course. I am Elida Shasivari, I am a mother of two children. I was married to the late Kujtim Dula. I am an actress and I was born in Gjakova where I still live. And, I work in the theatre of Gjakova
V.K.: Can you tell us your story during the war in Kosovo?
Of course. We can go through it briefly and mention the main points in order to encompass everything. Let’s begin the story from the 24th of March, or even earlier. All of us who were present during the war know that it was an extremely aggravated situation: lack of food, lack of safety, and lack of everything else. And then we made it to the 24th of March – NATO Bombing Day. Unfortunately, on the 24th, my late husband was executed by the Serbian paramilitaries and he was the first civilian victim in the city of Gjakova. He was kept inside the house while we were forced out. I was there with my mother, my mother-in-law and my two children, who were babies – we were taken outside the house. So, this happened on the 24th but we weren’t able to bury him until the 28th of March. On that night, I went to my uncle’s wife, who was close to my house. The situations are difficult to describe or talk about, only the ones who have been through all these know the feeling and are able to talk about them. So, the next morning I went to Teqa e Madhe, because they kept the doors open for any refugee, to all those who happened to be in an extraordinary situation. I came across a large number of people there; people who came from the villages some time before we arrived there. We stayed in Teqa e Madhe till the 2nd of April, since a day before, on the 1st of April, we decided to move out – we were the first group who went to Albania. We have heard about this group moving to Albania, and then we decided to go with them. We dressed up the kids, got prepared, and went to Albania – it was an extremely long line. The journey had different obstacles. Somewhere in the suburb of Gjakova, at the Tomb (the graveyard), they took all of our documentation, and there were instances of psychological violence as well as physical violence. I am talking about my own personal experience – then we crossed the border. It was one difficult journey, under difficult conditions – the only possessions were the clothes we had on, and I was carrying with me my little children, my daughter and my son. The moment that we crossed the border we were psychically more peaceful, and I prayed for us not to have a large number of victims. It was a great number of people out there.
My husband had started to work with OSBE a mother earlier, a month and a half. I couldn’t tell who might’ve been present because they all had masks on. This means it was not possible to identify them. But, when we crossed the border, most of us were settled in Letaj, Kulaj, Krume, and later on we also went to Tirana since we were a great number of people. Gjoshi’s family welcomed us to Tirana. We stayed there for 10 days. Unfortunately, half of the group remained in Tirana, while the other half were sent in Pogradec by trucks. Only the people who have undergone this situation know how it felt. Later on, we went on to get reunited with other family members in Pogradec. We also stayed there for 10 days. From there, a friend of our family, even though the borders were closed, he most probably gave them some money, and helped us to move to Macedonia. We initially stayed there with a family for 10 days. Then, I went to Skopje, in the suburb with a family that came to pick us up; this happened because I went to the theatre to ask for help – a small room since I was with my mother and my children. But, there was a family willing to help us, so we stayed with them till the 22nd of July. But, it was the 23rd of June when I first decided to go back to Gjakova and see the place. After the signing procedures ended, during the period in Skopje, the sisters Qiriazi, Safete and Igballe Rugova came there with a project about women. I contacted them, and they asked me to collaborate. It was an unusual situation; the kids were traumatized, so then I decided to work with them. Even during that unusual state of being I still had to start working because the children were innocent. I had important interviews, maybe because I was a public figure and knew what had happened. But I had to work in order to survive. On the 23rd of June, it was the first time when I decided to come back to Gjakova, and see what’s left and where to come to. Gjakova had been ruined. When I went to Çarshi, it was the first day they’ve started to clean the roads. There were foreign journalists, there were some interviews going on, and I do have some pictures of how Çarshia looked like. But, I got back there on the 22nd of July, although I had some requests to stay where I have been staying. I had some offers to work in the theatre, televisions, radios, and they even were thinking about my kids to start school there when they’d reach the age. Yet, I was convinced, even though there were many obstacles to overcome, to get back and live in Gjakova and raise my children in their own town. It was a period of time that will never be forgotten. And, to this day I still recall those moments, the traumatic moments won’t fade away. Luckily, my children were toddlers. My daughter remembers some scenes, but since they were little those memories got faded. But not at us, the adults, especially now during this pandemic period. When we had the lockdown last year, the reminiscing happened – you see the whole situation although you know you won’t face the same difficulties as it happened in the war times. But, we were destined to go through it.
My husband was executed on the 24th, but we only buried him on the 28th. He was the first civilian victim, who was followed by other victims, his nephew and uncle of Zherka’s family, then (inaudible) the fourth. Then, we got back here, and after a while they came for expertise. I wasn’t in the mood to give any statements, but they insisted on that. There were many rumors about who was the first civilian victim, because on the following day there were many people missing in this part of the city in Çarshi. They went through with the expertise since the house was also burnt down. And they asked me whether I wanted to partake during the process of expertise, and I said yes if it’s permitted. After the expertise they brought me the certificate and claimed that they knew who murdered him but we do not know the exact person. This is because they all had worn masks and it wasn’t possible to recognize the people or have any specific doubts on who could’ve been. Then, when we got back to Kosovo we went through many difficulties. Gjakova was burnt, I didn’t have a house, all the houses, my husband’s, mother’s, and brother’s houses were all burnt down. I then got settled in an apartment somewhere in the center of the city – the apartment was offered to me. I stayed there for three years. I then faced new obstacles after the war, even though I unconciously knew what would happen, but I didn’t know that it would go to that extent. I didn’t get any help from the government of that time, or from Gjakova, not a single brick was offered to me. I worked on my own to build up the small place where I still live in. I worked hard to be where we are today.
V.K.: Can you please depict for us the psychological state or describe the days when you were a refugee
E.Sh: Sure. Before the war started, especially during the days close to the war, I have watched TV and the media to keep track of what’s going on. We were already psychically unstable and tired. Then, we based on the situation that happened in the war in Bosna, where two of my husband’s uncles were killed. So, more or less we knew what would happen in Kosovo as well. I personally was too tired. At two in the afternoon everything was closed, the cafeteria, the stores in Çarshi – even the lights were all turned off. I was then thinking what if one of my children gets sick and I won’t be able to take them to the doctor although the medical center was near. There were many police patrols out there. But, when we got out of here, after all that happened, you’d still feel better psychologically since there’s no violence and you won’t be waiting each moment for someone to come and kill you. But the terror scenes will forever remain in our memories. You are broken and not calm spiritually. Even though you lose a family member nobody would support you. At least I am speaking for my own story, I haven’t got any support – I didn’t have a place to stay. Wherever I went to seek help their response would be “You can do it on your own, you’re strong – you can do it”. Too many people misused the situation, which continues to happen up to this day. The beginning was very difficult for me. When my kids started growing up they wanted to know the story of what had happened. Fortunately, I could keep myself together and started working so that my children could have a life as they were completely innocent. I have worked in radios and through the radio programs I was able to put away my negative energy. It wasn’t easy, especially the times when I had to play comedy parts considering my emotional state of being, but I didn’t have another way out. When they saw me in different interviews they questioned me how I was able to do so. Under such circumstances, with two young children, to go to different camps and play comedy parts for other people, (in Macedonia) when none of their family members were missing. But I didn’t have a way out, I had to raise my children somehow. I remained strong since I am an optimistic woman, I faced the reality and I knew that there’s no going back. It wasn’t our fault. It was a good thing that I participated in different interviews, maybe because my husband was the first civilian victim, or maybe because I was an actress. The moment when crossed the border to Albania every other person offered me their help, they helped me carry the children. And then is when told my mother that I have worked till today, but from now on I will be working even harder. And the hard work pays off. Different interviews helped me express all the stress I had inside me. In the beginning it was too hard for me, I couldn’t sleep, I had a dried throat, I was traumatized, I was shaking, and it was hard for me to even cry. But after having many interviews I’ve learned to overcome these situations. Now I am able to freely speak up for every detail, and fortunately I haven’t forgotten the slightest detail that had happened in the war. But, since this is one short interview I am not speaking about each detail.
V.K.: How do you feel now after 22-23 years since the war period?
E.Sh: Ermm… It’s simple. I keep close to my heart each difficulty I went through, and I came to see that that was my destiny. I am an optimistic woman, my children are innocent, and life must go on. But, when I see unfair treatments, and people who complain about small inconveniences, to me that’s absurd. I still feel the emptiness, and the fact that the government till today never supported me made me believe that I need to work on my own. This is the way I educated my children, and they are fine up to now, I hope they’ll continue to be so.
V.K.: Now that the children have grown up and built their careers and families, how is their life after the loss of their father during the war?
E.Sh: The children are still young. They were little. I had consulted some psychologists and I also had decided on my own not to tell them the whole story until they start school. Because when they start school they have to write about topics when the teacher will ask them about their mother and father. So, I have thought that I needed to talk to them before they start school so that they’d be mentally prepared. There were many cases when children in the first, second, or third grade found out their parents were missing. The children are innocent, they need to know. When my daughter started school I had planned it out to go out with her and tell her the truth. But, fortunately she asked me “Elida, are you going to tell us about dad?”. And I said yes. I started explaining to her that the war has its aftermath, some people get killed, some people go missing, some people end up in prison. And, your dad was killed during the war, but he is buried and we know where his grave is. I only had 24 hours of hardship with them, as they followed me around the house that day, even in the bathroom. But they are proud of their father even though they did not benefit a thing from this situation. We usually talk about the misuse of the father’s name, because there are people who have done that. My daughter told me one day she’s happy I didn’t claim that her dad was a martyr. I responded that he wasn’t a martyr. And then she said “Elida, we’re grown ups now, and we know that there are cases when they claimed those people as martyrs, but I personally wouldn’t be able to keep my head up high”. But I would never do that. I was honest, fair, and open to anything. My daughter is an English Language and Literature graduate and doesn’t have a job because we are not part of any political group – unfortunately or fortunately. My son will need to work, because you cannot make with an average wage that the municipality offers you while you need to provide for two students at the same time – in Kosovo’s conditions. But I’m being fair and I’m happy with their achievements. I still continue working at the theatre and we are a very democratic family. We don’t gossip around the house, we’re only focused on our lives.
V.K.: Talk about your experience as an actress before the war
E.Sh: In the pre-war period there were different conditions. I work in the theatre since 1982, which means I wasn’t 20 yet. We worked on different plays, focused on five parts. Two of them were of Albanian literature, one of Yogoslavia’s literature, and two others were foreign plays. And of course there was always one play for children. An entire ensemble worked together, we were one extraordinary group, even though under difficult circumstances. Armed policemen were always present when we had rehearsals, especially in the last few years. They needed the play’s translation even of the foreign plays. You can imagine the feeling of walking on the scene for the rehearsals surrounded by men with walkie-talkies. When we wrote plays for children, e.g. “Besimi i humbur vështirë t’fitohet”, we were out there in different cities but they wouldn’t let us perform if we didn’t translate the whole text. They always wanted to stop our cultural activities. This play had characters like the fox, chicken, cat; it was a children’s play, for the first to the fourth grade. But the situation was as such and we had to overcome it. Now, we are in a different situation and under different conditions, no matter that the art and culture were never valued enough. I have five more years till I retire, but the artists never grow old. I am too optimistic, I love life, and I believe I’m going to live long. Despite the theatre, I also work on other projects, mainly focused on comedy. I also hold meetings with other women, which is something I did quite a lot in the post-war situation. It was really needed. I was among the first people who founded the organization “Nëna Terezë” – the branch in Gjakova. I also had my own humanitarian organization after the war. When working on the radio I called for people to help those who are in need, like with clothes, because we all know how the post-war conditions were. There were too many cases in the villages of Gjakove. Moreover, I worked on a project with Malteser. It was a project for women which included some comedian parts of performance and recitations. It was difficult, especially when I had to work with young women who were facing hardship moments – I often got to forget about my own self and my situation. But, there were also cases when the women had better conditions than I did, at least they owned a house. I didn’t even have a house, let alone other things. But, I had to work. I won’t stop doing these activities, and I’m going to write a book because we have too many severe cases, especially in the municipality of Gjakova. There are cases when all the men of a family were murdered, executed, martyrs, where the brides either left the children at the father’s house or didn’t have children at all. It means that a whole family was gone, with no heirs. Ferdonije Werkezi is a well-known case of this kind. I have written a monograph, together with professor Muhamet Rugova. Two of our friends – a woman and a man were the donators. She isn’t left with much, but it’s important for her story to never be forgotten. She lost her husband and four sons, two of them are re-buried, while she doesn’t have any information about the three others – where they ended up. She knows that they will never return. So, I still have some meetings with women, but it was too difficult at the beginning. I was in a worse situation than they were and I still played comedian parts for them. They asked various questions, you could talk to them, and now we are here… But, we mustn’t forget about our history, our past.
V.K.: Except for the loss of your husband, which is a big loss, can you please talk about the loss of possessions that were burnt during the war?
E.Sh: A very good question. Despite working in the theatre, I also worked on the radio where I wrote different comedian parts and projects. I had a great number of plays for the radio, in Gjakova, in all of the radios, the texts and a great number of pictures got burnt. And nowadays, when we want to take pictures, I do not have the will to save them as I did before. We also had many videotapes that we no longer have. It’s not my fault they got lost, but it’s difficult to start and archive stuff from the very beginning. Also, many pictures at the theatre got lost, more than fifty percent of them. Those were amazing memories that we can only talk about now. I feel sorry that my children cannot see any of the pictures of different characters in the different plays. But, this is life. The whole population is innocent, we can only put the blame on the political issues, the leaders. But, I hope something of this kind will never happen again.
I: Since your husband was a civilian victim, did you benefit or got support anyhow from the government?
E.Sh: No. After I got the certificate from the doctors, after the expertise, I had to declare it at the Center for Social Work. My husband was announced as a civilian victim, and even though they knew he was the first civilian victim, I got 168 euros as the only benefit ever. The children’s education, or them having any priorities up till now, no, none.
V.K.: What do you think about the interethnic situation between Serbs and Albanians living in Kosovo?
E.Sh: There are no Serbs in Gjakova, but those who live in Kosovo, let them be. The young generations are not the ones to be blamed. I do not put the blame on the people, since I’ve always watched and read the news. The politicians are the ones to blame. For instance, it is not our fault when our children choose to go anywhere in the world, and just because they are Albanians won’t have any benefits. So, the people are innocent, but I hope that what has happened here won’t happen ever again anywhere in the world. The peace, the freedom of speech, freedom of human beings, the right to live wherever we want, and the fact that we can do anything we want is enough. Gjakova had lost a lot during the war – unfair situations when Serbs from the furthest parts of Serbia came to harm innocent people. They had planned too many traps, which was something we kind of expected from them. But when we returned from the war there were many difficulties in Gjakova – not a single brick was offered for me to build a house. I had to do it all on my own to provide shelter to my children. Maybe someone could be happy with the others’ misfortune and you have to go through all that. You had to face people who had taken their masks off and showed their true selves. Unfortunately, they are great in number.
V.K.: How difficult was it for you to continue life after you came back from Albania?
E.Sh: Quite a lot. I stayed in an apartment near the court of the city. It wasn’t my apartment, but I had the chance to stay there till I got to build my own house. But, every single day I went to the house where my husband got killed. It was tough, but I had to fight. I know various cases when people cannot even cross the roads where these misfortunes had happened, but no, you have to face it. I was able to overcome this obstacle without any psychologist’s help. They’ve asked me whether I had the chance to talk it over with others, but no I didn’t because you have to talk to your own self first. You need to continue life and raise your children, because the children are innocent. I decided to continue living under the conditions I had without doing any improper actions. Today, my daughter is 25 and my son is 24. Another thing to consider is the mentality – the obstacles when the children go to school and their friends know that they’ve lost their father. I also lost my father when I was 5. It wasn’t easy, because the mother is both mother and father of the house. It wasn’t easy because you’d always remember the way you grew up. But, it was a bit different back then. The school where my kids were enrolled had many other similar cases like my childrens’. In every grade there were two or three children who had lost their father. So, one needs to be careful when telling them the whole story. As I said, my daughter was in the first grade and my son didn’t start school yet, and I had to make it clear to them that this is the aftermath of war, not only in Kosovo but anywhere in the world. And by this, they were better prepared mentally and stronger. When they were asked about their father, they told them that their father was killed in the war, which means they were strong enough to face it. We usually speak about how we should overcome hardships in life. They should know that when I die one day they need to take control of their lives and need to be strong to build a life on their own. Since our country didn’t help us up until now, there’s nothing left to say. There were many discriminations among children back then. I remember when I wanted to take my children to summer schools, since I wasn’t employed, so my children who were in real need, and many other children as well, were not accepted. But, kids from rich families were. This was a true disaster. But, fortunately, I got to face those people. Yes, many people misused the aftermath of post-war situation. I don’t know….
V.K.: Do you believe in any improvements in the near future about the war that happened 23 years ago?
E.Sh: Years pass by, but as I said, the people are innocent. I personally got to give birth to my son in Belgrade, and the medical center worked fairly no matter that I was Albanian, since there were different communities in the hospital. We were treated as patients. Life goes on – life was difficult there too, in 1997. The politics is to be blamed. But, there should be improvements in the future, but we know about our political situation in our country. There are big damages. At least an apology from the institutions should be asked for to ease the pain. And the large number of missing people must be found. It is a big burden for those who do not know the grave of their beloveds. Or, at least to tell the truth if they were burnt, killed, or whatever happened to them – to know something. Even though many cultural activities are held, interethnic, different exhibits of art, but an apology but be asked for – publicly. It is necessary, in order to try and ease the pain of those mothers a little. Fortunately, even in this misfortune I was lucky. I was lucky to bury my husband on the 28th. Only after four days. I know where his grave is, and when there are times I miss him and want to visit his grave, I get to go there with a bunch of flowers. But for those who don’t even have a grave, it’s so hard. I’m speaking as a mother, not only as Elida, but as a mother. My husband was killed, but I have my children. What if something happened to them. There are times I speak about the period from the 24th of March, I felt myself lucky even if only one of my children could survive. No one was safe at any time till the moment we arrived in Albania. So, I have my children, I continue to live my life with them, but what about those mothers that have lost their children and do not know where their grave is. It’s so hard, so hard. We should all put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and see how would you react in those situations. And our government did nothing. Although different politicians were at the head of the country, they still did nothing. That’s because they didn’t get to lose close family members and do not know the pail. An old proverb by Nastradini says that only those who have experienced what I have, can come and talk about it with me. So, these mothers should have an answer, or have their children’s bones buried somewhere because it is something too hard to live with.
V.K.: I thank you for your time and for sharing your story.
E.Sh: Thank you for the invitation! I am always willing to tell my story even in the smallest details, at any time. Since the time was limited maybe this is enough too.