Interviewer: Rita Berisha
Interviewee: Sabri Hasani
R.B.: Let’s start with the period just before the bombings. How do you remember that entire period?
S.H.:Before the NATO bombings, we expected for the worst, considering what had happened in Bosnia. In the village where I live in the northern part of Mitrovica, we were surrounded by Serbs. There’s a Serbian settlement between my village and village Gushavc. Shortly before the NATO bombings, a lot of Serbian paramilitaries were positioned there, with red uniforms, white uniforms, and we were just waiting for an atrocity to happen. And it did. Right after the NATO bombings, on March 24, 1999, numerous people came from the city of Mitrovica to my village, assuming that it’s safer. We knew it wasn’t, because on March 28, 1999, the Serbian paramilitaries murdered 4 people in the yard of their own house, they were my neighbours. After their murder, we all left our houses because we expected that they start a massacre. We went 2 km south of Ibar for two hours. That’s where the population was concentrated. We were around 25 people staying in one room: my family, my uncle’s family, and my neighbours. There were 25 of us in a single, 4×5 meters room. It wasn’t large. We stayed there for 4 days. All we had to eat was potatoes. The owners of the house weren’t rich. And we were constantly afraid because we felt that we were safer there but it was actually the same unsafe situation everywhere. Later, after 3 nights, we saw that we couldn’t survive there as we didn’t have anything to eat. So we returned home again, although Serbs started burning down some houses in the outskirts of the village. We stayed there for three nights in a house. Then we figured that we can’t really stay there because they started burning down the houses closer to the centre of the village where my house was. And very few families were left in the village. Then we went to the city of Mitrovica, in a house of a later-to-be a very well-known public official in Mitrovica. He had previously left to Montenegro. He had left the keys of his house to his neighbour in case anyone needs sheltering. There was also food, until they’re safe. We stayed in that house, with my uncle’s family and the family of a neighbour… We stayed there for two weeks. The conditions in that house, to be honest, weren’t bad, but we heard every day about people being killed. It was incredibly unsafe.
R.B.: Could you ever leave the house? How safe was it?
S.H.:We could only go out to the yard. The city wasn’t unsafe at all, we could only go out to the yard, not any further. Then, after 10 days or two weeks, we were massively evicted from there.
R.B.: Sorry. Yes, you were saying that you were evicted.
S.H.:Yes. There’s a part of the city called Tavnik, we used to call it “Te Bibi”. The entire population was forced to move there. To be honest, we didn’t even know where to go. But we decided to take the road to Albania. We thought they would let us go there. We went to Shipol. They took us to a school in Shipol. We stayed in the desks that night, in incredibly bad conditions, hungry, thirsty… It also started raining that night, it was very cold. We stayed there in the dark that night. In the following morning, they told us to return home. When we walked down to the main road, they said, “No, go to the bus station because we will take you to Montenegro by buses”. When we approached the bus station, they changed our direction again towards Shipol, the same road. They kept us walking in circles. This was a very difficult day because there were victims on the sides of the road, which they had killed. We had to walk past them, and we could see masked paramilitaries burning the houses. Then we continued walking towards Albania. We kept walking until evening. We arrived in village Qubrel with a lot of struggles. I had my two-year old daughter with me. I had my father, mother, wife, and a two-year old daughter. I carried her in my arms the entire time, and some clothes we managed to get from home. We took turns with my wife and dad to hold my daughter. We held her in our lap, and covered ourselves with an umbrella. We took turns to hold her, to protect my daughter. That night was extremely difficult. We were cold and afraid too. The following day we started walking again. We arrived in Gurakoc. We spent the night in a workshop, or auto mechanic’s workshop. I don’t know what it was, but it was dark.
R.B.: Were there a lot of other people or was it just your family?
S.H.:There were thousands of people from Mitrovica walking in a line who were massively evicted on April 15. Now I remember the date because people go to Kukes, by buses, every April 15, in memory of that day. We stayed in Gurakoc for a night. The next day we walked to village Gremnik, Klina. Ironically, all the residents of that village had escaped to the woods, and we settled in their houses. We actually visited them after the war, we stayed there in an oda. We stayed there for 6 nights, collecting food left in their houses. We caused harm to that population, but not on purpose, just for survival. We ate enough not to starve. After six days, they told Milosevic has signed capitulation and the war was over, “Now go back to Mitrovica”. We knew the line of people walking had continued to Albania, but we returned to Mitrovica, only this time through Skenderaj. They stopped us at the entrance of Skenderaj. They divided 250 people, men only, from the rest. I was one of them. I was holding my daughter in my arms. He told me, “Give your daughter to your wife, and go there.” Knowing what they did in Bosnia, we just expected they would shoot us… They took us to the secondary technical school in Skenderaj. My family didn’t know anything about me. They kept us for two weeks there. They didn’t torture people in the school, apart from the last night. But they did interrogate us by groups. They would take us to the police station which wasn’t too far from the school. Those who were unlucky were really badly beaten there. We could see them returning with swollen hands, swollen faces because of the abuse they had suffered.
R.B.: What did they want to know? What did they ask you about?
S.H.:The ones who suffered the most were the people who came from the war zones. I was from the area of Suadoll, where there were no KLA, because it was in the northern part surrounded by Serbs. You couldn’t even organize there for that… So, when they interrogated me, they asked me in details “What’s your job? What did you study?” They even asked me about who my uncle is, and where they’re from. Details. But I was lucky because the inspector was Bosnian, and he didn’t keep me for long. Later, two paramilitaries came the last night. We could see they were drunk. They were looking for someone from village Vaganice. According to them, when they passed by on a Geep, the villagers fired at them with shotguns. So they were looking for anyone who was from Vaganice to torture them. They beat a few men but they survived. The following day, they got us in trucks that transport animals. Obviously, we didn’t know where they were taking us. I forgot to mention, the biggest struggle in that school was food. They gave us to eat only once a day. They used to bring us one fourth of a bread and a small piece of cheese, called zdenka. We survived on that, once a day. But for three days they didn’t bring us anything, not even that. For three days! When they got us in those trucks, we didn’t know where they were taking us. It turns out they were taking us to the prison in Smerkonica, where there were also other prisoners. The biggest torture happened in Smerkonica. I didn’t suffer any torture myself, fortunately, but I did see them beating, abusing people. For instance, they told a father and a son to hit each-other, and obviously none of them could do it. And they told them, “I’ll show you how to hit!” And they hit both of them, with a shovel handle. We could see them from the prison windows in the the prison yard. It was that on the one side, and on the other I didn’t know what happened to my family. Later, they told what they went through not knowing what had happened to me. They even heard rumours that we had been shot in Skenderaj. A week after staying in that prison, a massive imprisonment took place in Mitrovica. Now, there were about 3600 people in prison. It turned into a trench. It wasn’t a prison anymore because there were 40 people in a room, for sure. You couldn’t even lie down, you just had to sit. There were no beds, only concrete. A week later, as I was saying, when the massive imprisonment took place, they brought my father, my uncle, and my cousins to the prison. Obviously, we couldn’t meet because the pavilions were separated. I saw my father for the first time through the window, and I found out he was alive. The most touching story is when my father saw me. Because I didn’t know what had happened to my family, but my father had heard that I had been shot. It was harder for him. And he saw me through the window. The people who were with him say that he couldn’t stop crying for a long time when he saw that I was alive. They kept us there for two more weeks. They interrogated us, tortured us. Then, they took us to the technical school from there. We also ate only once a day there. The worst thing was that they took us to eat, and the soup was very hot, on purpose. It wasn’t even a soup, just hot water with a few pieces of potatoes. And as soon as we would start eating, they would come and say, “Get up! You’ve eaten enough! Your time is up!” So we had to get up, and all we could take was that piece of bread. We dipped it in salt and ate it, to keep ourselves alive. And, because I never had enough to eat, I couldn’t properly empty my bowels for a whole month. Two weeks later, they got us in buses. As we were getting in the buses, a bus guardian asked a police in Serbian, which I understood, “Where are you taking them?” He replied, “I don’t know, probably to shoot them.” He said it very calmly. We got in the buses. They didn’t allow us to keep our heads up, so that not to look outside. But we knew what direction the bus took. When we saw we were going towards Prishtina, we thought they were taking us to Niš, in the prison in Niš. When we passed Prishtina, we thought they were taking us to the prison in Lipjan. When we passed Lipjan, we thought NATO had announced that it was sending its troops to Kosovo, so they were going to use us as defence before their tanks. We approached the border for about 5 km. They took us out of the bus there, and told us, “Get in line! The border is 5 km away from here. Do not return to Kosovo ever again! Leave and do not return anymore!” A lot of people suffered a lot in those 5 km because they wanted to torture people as much as they could in those last few moments. We went to Albania. But when I went to Albania, I was very sad because I knew my entire family was here, my mother, my wife, my daughter. I knew my father was in prison because they didn’t send all of us to Albania. I was really sad because I didn’t want to be the only one to survive. What kind of life is that? And I knew we wouldn’t return anymore because we saw how the situation was here. There was a large number of refugees in Kukes. There were apparently 600,000 refugees in Kukes. Their number was many times higher than the size of the local population. Obviously, different humanitarian organizations provided assistance and didn’t let us starve, there was enough food. But, we were really sad about our families. We were also unsure about the future; what are we going to do in Albania? No money, nothing. We had nothing but the clothes we were wearing. Not even identification documents, because they made us leave them there otherwise…
R.B.: Did you reunite with your family in Albania?
S.H.:I didn’t, because my wife, mother and daughter didn’t leave Kosovo. They returned to Mitrovica, and stayed at my aunt’s house, my father’s cousin. They had a house in the city of Mitrovica. But there were only women and children there. They talk about how much they suffered. They suffered mostly for food and fear of what was going to happen. They had burned our house. My aunt’s house was very close to ours. My father was released about eight days later, if I’m not wrong because I’ve forgotten. It’s been 20 years. My father was brought to Albania, the same way as me, by bus. That’s when I met my father again for the first time, after more than a month. It was a very emotional moment. We hugged for a long time. Every time I think about it, it’s a very, very touching moment. Even the ones who were present cried too. However, we were still sad, we didn’t know what happened to my mother and wife. They took us to the Hamollaj camp, in Durres, since the number of refugees in Kukes was large and they couldn’t accommodate all of them. And more refugees kept coming. So they sent some of us there. It didn’t matter to us whether we were in Durres or Kukes, it was the same. In Durres, I met my sister and her family. Her husband and father-in-law weren’t there either. My sister had gone through the same thing as my family, as her husband and his father had been separated from their family. They were brought to Smerkonica too, they were in the prison as well. So, I met my sister in Durres. I didn’t know she was there. One of my cousins told me, “I’ve seen Valbona. She’s there with her children.” I asked, “What do you mean with her children when I’ve seen Faton in prison?” Faton was her husband. “They didn’t come to Albania. How come she is here?” It turns out the police had gotten her family in a tractor and when they had gone further, the driver had told her husband and his father to get off the tractor, while the rest was taken to Albania on pretence that the tractor couldn’t handle that many people. So they came to Albania, while they were sent to prison. We stayed for a month in Albania. On May 22, if I’m not wrong, we arrived in Albania. On June 24, we returned. We tried to return right after the Kumanova agreement was signed but we couldn’t find transport. On June 24 we found a van, we paid for it and returned.
R.B.: Did it bring you to Mitrovica?
S.H.:It brought us to Mitrovica. I went to my uncle’s house. His house wasn’t burned. My mother, wife and daughter were there.
Shkova te shpija e dajës, atij i kish pshtu shpija n’qytet aty. Aty ish kon nona, gruja edhe qika. Qika kish fillu me m’harru, sem njihke se dy vjeçare o kon. M’kqyrke diqysh si çuditshëm. E dike që diku m’ka pa po kush o ky njeri nuk e dike. Masanej sigurisht iu ka kthy kujtesa, e s’mu dajke.
R.B.: E qysh o kon fshati kur je kthy?
S.H.:Fshati o kon komplet i djegun. Bile Jetoni, pas luftës ka ardh me na vizitu. Komplet, komplet o kon i djegun. Nuk e di a kanë pshtu 2-3 shpija edhe ato kanë pshtu se kanë qëndru vetë ata paramilitarët. Shtëpinë e kom ndërtu prej temelit t’re. Osht dasht me e ndërtu se s’kom mujt me riparu kurgjo n’to.
R.B.: S’ka pas kurgjo për me riparu a?
S.H.:Kurgjo s’kom mujt me riparu. Prej temelit o duft.
R.B.: E ku ke nejt n’fillim si je kthy?
S.H.:N’fillim kom nejt te kunati i hallës n’banesë tij. Ai ka qenë n’Gjermani e derisa o kthy ai unë kom nejt n’banesë tij. Po mandej n’pranverë veç fillova me e ndërtu shtëpinë. Me ni shatorr rrishim derisa e ndërtum shtëpinë po ish vera, nuk ish fort problem. Masi ish mandej liria, nuk e ndishim as të ftoftit as kurgjo, në krahasim me luftë. Kjo është n’pika t’shkurta historia.
R.B.: Faleminderit shumë!