Bjeshka Guri (interviewer)
Lavdi Zymberi (interviewee)
Acronyms: BG=Bjeshka Guri, LZ= Lavdi Zymberi
BG: Can you tell me something about yourself?
LZ: Yes. I am Lavdi Zymberi. I am 30 years old. I come from Gjilan. Now, I have moved to Prishtina, where I live and work.
BG: Do you remember anything about the war? What are your first memories? What was the situation?
LZ: Yes. I was 11 years old during the war. Old enough to remember many things. I know that, perhaps I cannot mention dates… but I know that we used to go to school until some time. The schools were open even though the war began in Drenica, and the situation was tense. But, here in Gjilan we continued to go to school until late. I know that there were some refugees at the near houses that came from the area of Drenica, some families from a village called Rezalle. They first moved to Gjilan, then, they went somewhere else. I think that they went to Macedonia. Then, when the situation began to get tense in the region of Anamorava, the schools were closed. We stayed home, without any activity, without any other developments. I remember the people began leaving the neighborhoods, the shops under the ownership of Albanians began closing. Thus, it started a period when it was difficult even to find food. I know that from the neighborhood we lived in, then called “Çënar Qeshme”, now “Arberia”, we had to go to the “Dheu i Bardhë”. There were roma people who used to sell all kinds of things. So, we had to go there. I know that I used to go often with my dad. As we rode the bicycles there, and we had to pass near the police station. And I remember it was quite sunny, and even though my eyes would hurt, I remember that I tried to keep them open when passing by the police station so that I would not give them any reason to stop us… to ask why I was closing my eyes. I was very little, but I had that feeling that it was dangerous and I had to be careful and try to keep my eyes open while passing by the police, besides the blinding sunrays. Passing by that way was unavoidable, because it was the shortest path connecting the two neighborhoods. I remember that we started to buy some food then. Thus, my parents started to buy foods including flour, sugar and other elementary things that we would be in need of. And we decided to stay home because we heard that in the Macedonian camps, people were in need of food, that there is not enough food. So, the adults decided that… the children were to agree… we would stay home. So, there was a feeling that even if we died we would not die of hunger, but we would die in our home. I remember that days before the bombings, or perhaps after, I cannot say for sure, the Serbian military and police began their inspections. My uncle was part of the illegal move at that time. He was in prison for 9 years. Now, he lives in Switzerland and has been living there during that time too. But, the Serbian authorities chased also the family members and not only the main person. I remember them coming to inspect our houses, if they could find any guns among my uncles or my dad. It was scary to see them holding their guns. It was really scary. But, they did not do anything, besides the psychological fear that they caused among us at that time. The big night was when the NATO began the bombings. Our neighborhood “Çënar Qeshme” is situated in a lower position than the other neighborhood “Zabeli i Sait Ages”. And there was a barracks. A Serbian army barracks. So, they had our neighborhood like in the palm of their hand. They could see everything that went on here. I remember that when the bombings started, we were all happy, because in a way Kosovo began to be liberated. And we went uphill to see the bombings. But, at the same time NATO bombed the Serbian army forces, they bombed an area just next to our houses, in the neighborhood. And when we realized that we were being bombed at the same time, then I started to fear, to have that feeling that if they hadn’t bombed a bit further, they could have hit our houses. And I remember myself that night returning home and putting the pillow over my head terrified by the bombing. When my father saw that I was scared… we are five children…. I experienced it more intensely, we decided to leave our houses. We decided to head to Macedonia. The problem was that we had one car only, my dad’s car. The two other uncles did not have any other transporting vehicle. And as we know, it is hard for us Albanians to leave other behind. We left. Some by car, some on foot. They walked from Gjilan to Llovca. Llovca is a village in the municipality of Gjilan. Now, I do not know how long it took us to arrive there, but I know that during the way we could see those holes that they prepared to put the anti-tank mines. And I remember that my father told us that the police and army were probably in the mountains, seeing us leave, and it was convenient to them that we were leaving, in a way that was a sort of clearance. The night fell until we arrived in Llovca. And a family went out and offered us to stay at their house telling us to stay there because it was already dark. They told us that we could leave the following day and that we could get some sleep there, and then we would decide what we would do the next day. My dad returned to take the others who were coming on foot. I remember the TVSH news because we did not have any other channel at that time. Therefore, at the same time that the bombings began…
BG: How did you experience that?
LZ: It was quite a torment… seeing that your house could be bombed. Our houses were in a further area but again, it was a torment to see in news your place being bombed. We were in danger, and we had to leave. And another thing was that in the TV were news about families being there… they announced every time refugees left, they told where they were, or about families being searched for. It was quite a torment. At the same time, we did not have any news about my uncles, my mother’s brothers or sisters, my aunts. And we did not know what was happening with them. We watched the news, all of us. It was a sort of silence. Perhaps it was the only time when children and adults together were staying in front of the TV. A thing that does not happen lately. So it was the only time when all of us, every time news were broadcasted, we stopped and listened attentively trying to get any news about our other relatives. The following day, my father and my uncle returned together with my sister and brother, and some other cousins. They returned home. Now, 20 years after, it seems quite a stupidity to go back empty-handed to a place that was not safe…
BG: Why did they return?
LZ: To protect the houses. It is illogical because you can’t… how are you going to protect the houses? If the enemy has guns and you don’t have any, you can’t protect the houses. But the idea that it is your place, your house… and even if you die, it’s better to die in your house rather than die of hunger in the streets. They returned. We continued staying there, my mother, my uncles’ wives and some of the children who were younger. The family who hosted us in Llovca, like the all the Albanian families who have the hospitality as a virtue, treated us very well. They looked after us. We had some food that we took from home, but they did not leave us without food too. They made place for us in a big room in the second floor and all our family stayed there. And as children, we were not aware of the situation … we went to the village, we walked… we watched the news in the evening. For 4 nights during our stay in Llovca, someone would come from Gjilan every day to visit us. Either it was my father with my uncle or my uncle and brother. And I remember that once, they came very tired. They had come by bicycles, my brother and uncle. And we told them not to come anymore, unless they come to take us, otherwise, it would be very exhausting to make all that way from Gjilan to Llovca for such little stay. We were alright, so their coming was unnecessary. But again, the waiting… I know that we have waited for them for two days to come and take us because at a certain point it became tiring staying there. I remember that the road to Llovca passed through an uphill at the entrance of the village. And from that hill you could see if someone was coming or not. And when I and my uncle’s son saw my father coming, it was a very happy moment for us. Perhaps the only time we were happier it was when Kosovo was finally liberated. So, on 25th we went to Llovca and on the 29th or 30th they came to take us, and I remember myself running back, saying: “They came to take us homeee”, and the happiness of getting back home although it was still unsafe, but however we felt that we were back home. That simple. And, they came and took us. We returned home. That period of bombings continued, so we had to be ready at any moment in case we had to leave again. I remember that for a long time we slept in a house that my uncle had built then, because it was safer, with stronger concrete. And we used to sleep with the clothes on all the time, always ready. So that if they came and told us to leave the house we would at least be wearing our clothes. The bombings by NATO continued. I know that we used to wander around the neighborhood, there were only a few people left. That because the majority left either before or after the bombings started. As children that we were, we wandered around, finding chicken eggs. We had to do something during the day. Or we played football… It’s impossible to stay inside 24 hours… okay, you sleep, but what then? We could not go to school because schools were already closed. Thus, things were happening this way until the NATO forces entered and I remember that there were two important moments in our life: when the Serbian forces left from the barracks situated in the nearby neighborhood. I remember that we as children went to the streets. We used to make the “peace sign” with our hand, our fingers (laughs)… We were not aware that they still were holding guns, they could have shot towards us. But they used to make gestures expressing their “We will kill you” or “ We will slaughter you” attitudes. But there were no incidents. I remember that we were so happy seeing them leave. The other important moment is the entry of French forces. They entered our neighborhood, I guess through Presheva. Or, I do not know, that road leads to Presheva. This was also a moment of great happiness for us, and in a way it was like: “We are OK now, we are alright. We are free and nothing else will happen”. Shortly after the army forces entered, I remember that I had written a banner reading ““NATO, UÇK…” (laughs)… and we went to the school where the KFOR forces had settled, at “Abaz Ajeti” School… and they had sieged the school, and had the army guards all around the school, and we shouted “NATO, UÇK, thank you” … with these little English phrases that we knew. Because the French forces had continued further. The American forces had been situated in Gjilan. And with that little English that we knew, we went and thanked them… thank you, trying to speak in English, to show our gratitude and how good we were feeling. It’s hard to pass through these memories again. My memories are nothing in comparison with those of the people who have experienced much more of the war, seeing their family members get killed, raped, or slaughtered. But again, it is that feeling of fear that you never know what will happen after a minute, what will happen the following day or…
BG: How did the war affected your life, and in what way do you think it affects your daily life now?
LZ: If we think that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, perhaps we can say that it has made us stronger. But, of course, it is something that you can never wipe out of your mind. And it is something that makes you sympathize with those who have experienced the same thing, with other wars that have taken place, and which continue to take place. It makes you feel more sensitive towards people who have experienced even worse things. But on the other hand, it’s difficult to think and talk about it because we as humans only want to remember the good things and talk about good things. And war is not a good thing, and we try to suppress those memories and not remember them, because it is a torment for us to do that. Perhaps the war has suppressed our feeling a bit, not wanting to talk about that period. Even though it is important to talk and mention these things, because we have the post-war generations that will reach their 20ties and they do not know how it was… and I hope they will never know what it means to experience the war… but again, it is important for them to know. I remember the last summer with my nephews in Velipoja, they had a sort of a shooting range there with the picture of Milosevic there, and my nephews were too young to know who was Slobodan Milosevic. Therefore, things should be made clear, people should know what happened, what was done, without national prejudices. But, it is difficult to talk and re-experience that period once again.