Interviewer: Rita Berisha
Interviewee: Sebush Demaku
R.B.: Hi! Thank you very much for sharing with us your war story. Can you first tell us where you were at the time, who were you with, what were you doing? Where were you working?
S.D..:At the time, I was working in the Institute. I started working in the Institute in 1998. We started off well, until they started displacing people from their jobs. We had also opened a small shop earlier because we weren’t employed. My wife was displaced from the Paediatrics Clinic to the Infectious Disease Clinic, until the Court decided to return her to work. People started leaving. Two days before the bombing, we decided to escape to Macedonia, through Presevo. But the problem was, my wife was still working. She was on her night shift that day. So we postponed it for the next day. March 24 came. It was 7:30 pm. We watched the bombings on the news, and we were happy, thinking we wouldn’t have to leave our houses. My neighbour and I bought some beers to celebrate. We didn’t know that beer would be like poison to us! I went to work. I met professor Rrustem Berisha and the director. He said, “You’re discharged from work. You have to decide yourself about what you will do from now on.” On March 29, we sent my children at my cousins’ living in Dardania, and my sons at my other cousins’ in Dardania as well.
R.B.: You were living in the Hospital’s Neighbourhood, right?
S.D..:We were. We’d been living there since 1973. Everyone slowly started to leave. The problems started. The police would come to conduct checks. Once, when the police came checking the neighbourhood, everyone left, and they killed everyone they saw on the street. When the situation got worse, we decided to go to our children. That day, the police came to my neighbourhood around evening. We decided to leave. The police came and started shooting, so we thought we should leave. Jahir left with his family in his car. I left on foot and we decided to meet somewhere. My wife was also going to come with her car because she had had to get some food for the children. When we left, Jahir came across them and changed his direction. He didn’t go by the Hospital. He escaped but I didn’t see him. We were all organized. He went a completely different way. When I saw them, I escaped too. I went in some neighbourhood houses, from window to window, until I found a basement where I could hide. I met other citizens there because everyone had escaped when the police came. My wife was coming after us; she thought we had left already. She didn’t know anything, so she encountered the police and they stopped her at the roundabout. According to her, when they saw her, they yelled out, “Easy! It’s a woman.” They asked her where she was going, they took her car keys, and they let her go. She told them she was going to see her children first and then to work. So they told her she could go. We remained in that basement until 11 pm. My friend wasn’t there. We thought he was somewhere else, and that my wife was with them. A young men came to the basement through another basement and I asked him “Is my wife there?” He said, “No, there’s only uncle Jahir with his children.” I was stunned. I didn’t know where she’d gone. Around 10 p.m. Jahir came there too. The moon was shining so brightly; the night was as bright as a day. Jahir and I were wondering what to do, and we decided to return home in the neighbourhood, without the children, just him and I. Jahir left his children at another house he owned near the neighbourhood. When we returned, my mother met me and asked me, “Where is your wife?” Because she knew she was going to escape with us. I told her, “I don’t know. Where is the car?”. She replied, “She left on her car.” It was night. Where should I go? I went to my room, and I waited. I couldn’t sleep all night because of the police patrols. We could see them through the window, going through the neighbourhood. The morning dawned. I woke up to go to my brother’s house, near the Outpatient clinic. I thought, “I’ll go look for her, she must be there.” She wasn’t! In the meantime, I saw a group of people wearing white clothes and holding a white flag. I went to the yard, and I saw them saying, “Let’s make a group and go to them with a white flag.” The white flag indicates…
S.D..:Surrender and permission to leave. The man who had been killed was one of those men’s father-in-law, so they wanted to go and take him. He was even offering money to go with him. Nobody wanted to. It’d be hard to go even if he was your own grandfather. So they decided to go. In the meantime, a police officer came on his car. He was the chief officer for that neighbourhood, and he asked me, “What are you doing here?” I told him what had happened to me, and that I’d heard the police had shot a woman in a car and killed her.” That’s what we heard. He said, “No, we did see a red car but no woman was killed. Where was she going?” he asked. I told him, “Our sons and daughters are in two different apartments in Dardania. We were going to meet there, to unite.” I was with my car. He said, “Look, I have to stop at the hospital, to provide them an ambulance to take the body. Get in your car and drive behind me.” When we went to the entrance of the hospital, I stopped in the pavement. He said, “Wait here until I leave with my car.” He was with the police car. There were many police officers there with tanks and everything, but I waited. When he came back, he told me, “Now drive before me, because I don’t know where you have to go, and I’ll drive behind you.” I can never forget that, that’s what happened. When we went to the bridge, at the Bill Clinton square, where my cousin was living, I told him, “this is the apartment.” “Okay,” he said, “go see if they’re there and come back and tell me.” When I opened the door, I saw my wife wasn’t there. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I was afraid the worst had happened. Then, I saw my sons from downstairs. My cousin came out and said, “She’s here. She just went to the post office to ask about you. Her brother called her, and she’s looking for you.” I waited for her, and we reunited with our sons. Our daughters heard we were there, and came to see us in the afternoon. I told them, “Okay, you stay there. Tomorrow we’ll meet again.” We spent that night there. We decided to go take our daughters and bring them at my cousin’s around 11 am. My wife walked with our two sons in front, I walked behind them. When she went to the building, the police stopped her. They asked her, “Where are you going?” She told them, and they said, “No one’s here. Everyone has left.” They had sent everyone to the train station. We didn’t know anything. They had waited for 5-6 hours until the train arrived and then left for Bllace. All we knew was that they weren’t with us anymore. My wife then went to her brother’s to look for our daughters. We didn’t know they had left by train. Morning dawned, and we didn’t sleep all night. We didn’t know anything. That night was awful. Everyone was worried for their children. Our sons were with us. When we woke up, we found out they had left by train because my uncle’s son told us they had left to Bllace to, but we didn’t know where they would stop. The people living in the same building as my uncle decided to collectively leave for Bllace and they found a bus to take them there. The bus would leave at 10 a.m. My wife went to Jahir’s to take his son Artin, because Lorik wanted him to come with us. “We have to take Artin, we can’t leave him here!” So my wife went to take Lorik, Jahir’s little son. They went on foot. When she went there, they didn’t let Jahir meet my wife because he’d be sad. His wife told her, “Ryve, I’m glad you’re here. I can’t let Zafer come. Let’s stay here with the kids.” So she returned home. Can you imagine, at 2 p.m., on the same day, she went again with my son. Lorik told her, “Let’s try again. Uncle Jahir will let Artan come with us this time.” They went there at 2 o’clock. Then, his wife told him, “Zafer, go talk to her yourself or let me go with the kids.” Do you understand? Jahir’s wife told Jahir that. Jahir stayed with his mother. She was blind, he couldn’t take her.
R.B.: So they decided he would stay with his mother, while his child and kids left.
S.D..:Yes, I left my parents here too. They dind’t want to come. So, Jahir’s children came. The bus to Bllace was going to leave at 3:15. The neighbourhood had organized it. At 12, another group took the bus. My car remained. I had an agreement with a Serbian neighbour whose house was next to mine. Before the war, he asked me to sell my car to him. I told him I’d sell it to him for 8 thousand Marks. Now, when I saw I couldn’t go by car, and we didn’t have money, I called him and he arrived with his son-in-law. I told him, “We had a deal. The time has come. Here’s the car. If I come back and you want to give it back to me, good. If not, it’s fine. Here’s the car. I’m leaving anyway.” He said, “I have 2500 Marks here.” I told him, “The car costed 8 thousand Marks, you can have it for 4 thousand. Because I can’t sell it anymore.” He gave me 2500 Marks. I was more comfortable with those 2500 Marks when we got on the bus because I had Jahir’s children with me and mine too. They were 4 of them, we were 6. An experience I never forget is when we got out of the bus in Elez Han. We had to get off and walk to Bllace on the railroad. I saw the police breaking the doors of Albanians’ houses, which we often see on TV too. Kicking them with their legs and rifles to get in and steal. They stopped us, asking “Where are you going?” They knew very well where we were going. He said, “You can’t go because it’s mined. They’ve put mines on the railroad.” An officer, who was Romani because he knew Albanian, said “uncle, you seem to be responsible of them. Be careful, it’s mined.” They didn’t let us go. I gave him 100 Marks, and he let me go. When we went to the railroad, they stopped me first. I was holding Lorik and Artan by their hands, the rest were behind me. We started walking on the railroad. We could see some small holes where they’d put mines on the ground, and he told me “It’s up to you.” We started walking. When the train approached, we slowly stepped on the sides where pedestrians wait, until the train left. We continued walking. When we arrived in Bllace, everyone tried to find their relatives, the ones who had gone there earlier. Two girls recognized me and said, “Uncle, are you Merketa’s father?” I replied, “I’m not. If I were, I’d know where she is. I’m not her father anymore.” They said, “Calm down, your daughter is here. That’s why we’re asking you because your daughters are here with their uncles. They haven’t left yet.” Someone else said, “No, they left this afternoon.” They had left for Gostivar.
R.B.: Weren’t you in the camp in Stankovec?
S.D..:No, we weren’t yet in Stankovec. I’ll tell you now. When I got on the bus at 3 o’clock, it was raining. We had to sleep there that night. We decided to leave in the morning. Some people went to apply for an asylum. I went to see what was going on. Further away there was a hill that led to the road. I saw a police officer and I told him about my situation. Some people managed to cross that hill. As soon as you’d get past the road barrier, you were okay. So, I got my sons, my cousin gave me his sons too, and I slowly walked until I approached the police. I gave them some money, and they let me go. Can you imagine, when we passed the border, everyone else pushed and passed too. Everyone! I just signalled to my wife to come up, and they came. It was 3:15 o’clock. When we passed, they got us in buses. They kept us in the busses for eight hours, under the sun. Eight hours! Until evening, around 9. We didn’t know why, but they had started setting up the camp in Stankovec, waiting to see if they’d let us in. We set off on buses, 8 buses, from Bllace to Gostivar. We didn’t know anything. No one would tell us anything. Someone said they were taking us to Greece, someone to Turkey, someone to America. When someone mentioned America, Jahir’s wife started crying, saying “What did I do? Why didn’t I stay? They will take me to America and I’ll get lost with my children, while my husband’s here.” I told her that we were all together. On the outskirts of Gostivar, I remember it so well, a group of people stopped the buses. I saw it myself. They stopped us at 9, saying, “We’ll take them.” Not just us, I’m talking about eight buses! There were eight buses. They took over. The police asked, “Who’s going to look after them?” They said, “We will. The people of Gostivar will shelter them in our houses.” Before the imam called the morning prayer, they took all of us to the mosque. It was around 3 or 4 in the morning. They took us to mosques, and provided food to whoever needed it. The following day they asked us where we wanted to go. I remember I went to find out where my daughters were. I had my sister’s phone number in Germany, so I went and called her. I went to the post office. she had tried to call me a few times, and asked me where I was. When I told her I was in Gostivar, she said “Don’t go anywhere. Your girls are there.” She told me my daughters were there because we didn’t know anything at all. She told me, “Don’t hurry. Stay there and look for the girls because they’re in Gostivar, in a village.” We felt more calm now, and we reunited with the girls.
R.B.: How did you find the girls? Who helped you?
S.D..:People in Gostivar.
R.B.: They had kept records.
S.D..:They had kept records of the refugees. They wrote down everyone’s names. When we went there, we found them. There was no space there for us. I went with my wife and children in Nresne.
R.B.: Where is that?
S.D..:Nresna is… Prespe, sorry. They called us because there were too many people here. They gave us a house in… I forgot the name of the village. We stayed in that house until June 10. We had food. Then some activities started in Gostivar, for those who wanted to integrate, and send kids to school to help them get away from that trauma. My cousins were there. We were an entire community there. We used to go out together in Gostivar. Debresh was the name of the village. Later one day I met Rita’s grandfather, Rrustem Berisha, my colleague, and we stayed together for two months straight. I also remembered when they asked us if anyone wanted to seek asylum.
R.B.: Right, to go to America and other countries.
S.D..:Yeah, you could seek an asylum for America or anywhere else. We applied but we didn’t get an answer. Two months later, a team came to interview us, to listen to our story, and what we were planning to do, whether we wanted to go to America or somewhere else. We were listed to go to Canada, because my cousin who was living there applied for us. Afterwards, a foreigner came to see us with a young man from Prishtina who translated for him. I told him my entire story. In the end, the one conducting the interview told me, according to the interpreter, “Uncle Sebush,” – the young men called me uncle because it turned out we were acquaintanceS.D..:my wife and his mother had worked together in the Paediatrics, so he committed to my case, and said, “Uncle Sebush, he loved the fact that you told him the real story, everything you said so far, you didn’t lie about being tortured or something else happening to you. You told him straightforwardly that you escaped and the problems you had. He’s asking you to wait and in two months or so you’ll be in Canada.” By June, the negotiations started, there were rumours we would return to Kosovo… And the NATO troops entered in Kosovo. So, I returned on June 6. My son returned earlier with Jahir. Jahir waited for him in Skopje. My oldest son went back with Jahir’s kids. My wife and I returned on the 6th.
R.B.: What do you remember about Prishtina when you came back after the war?
S.D..:When I came back to Prishtina, it was quiet as the grave. My parents had suffered I lot. They’d come to our house, they’d ask about us, and asked for money. But it’s in the past now. We came back with a lot of struggles; we came back to poverty. I forgot to tell you about our application for asylum in Canada. They looked for us after we returned to Prishtina. When one of my uncles went to apply for family reunion, because his wife and son went abroad, they went to apply at the Canadian Embassy. They asked my uncle about us when they saw we had the same last name. And, my youngest uncle told them, “No, they’ve returned to Kosovo. They’re not going abroad anymore.” He didn’t have a bad intention, he just told them, “they don’t have to. They’ve returned.” I don’t know if it was a mistake or not but I’m happy we didn’t go to Canada.
R.B.: You’re happy you didn’t go to Canada?
S.D..:For my age, yes. I’m not talking on behalf of my children. Maybe it would have been better for them if we’d gone.
R.B.: Can you tell me about your relationship with the host family?
S.D..:It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t difficult either. When we went to get bread – we were enrolled to get bread – my wife used to go. There were a couple of houses in the yard. The imam’s son gave me his house. He lived abroad, so I lived there alone with my family. I used to do some garden work. He used to help us with some produce. But when my wife would go to get the bread, he would tell me “Why don’t you go to take the bread? How come you let your wife do it? It’s a strange village.” I told him, “It’s not a strange village. It’s our village!” I worked and I used to plough the fields. If I may tell you a funny story…
R.B.: Of course.
S.D..:My youngest son used to hang out with their boys. They had a horse and used it to work the land. He used to go with them. The horse even stepped on him once. When he would come back in the evening, they would always bring something, and I’d tell my family, “Lorik is working like a cow all day for us, and we just eat.” They supported us a lot, especially the families. I have many friends in Gostivar. Rrustem Berisha, my friend from work, lived nearby too. Two months went like twenty days.
R.B.: Was it easier once you reunited with your friend?
S.D..:Much, much easier. There were 3-4 friends from work there, including my cousins. So it was easier to pass the time with them. Sometimes we’d cry, sometimes we’d play. If you think about what other people lost, our situation was much better. I’d like to share another problem I had while I lived in the imam’s neighbourhood. The five houses were surrounded by walls. He had a very fierce dog. He would let it off his chains at 8 p.m. to wander around the yard. My friends would call me to go out in Tetovo in the evenings. Once, we went there with three of my friends at daylight. One of them told me, “I’ll tell you what way to go so that the dog can’t see you.” When we returned, I remember we climbed the wall at the gate, and I didn’t see where the dog was. I climbed the wall and jumped on the dog! And that’s when the dog got scared of me, he was the one running away now. He never ran after me again. We became friends. So, in general, we had a good time with that family. The war was over, we returned here. I’ve visited them. I’ve invited them here. They came, all of them to see us. They brought us everything for the house when they came to visit us. And I took them on a journey to see Kosovo. They stayed for two days. We should never forget that. My parents aren’t alive anymore, but we still stay in touch.
R.B.: With the new generation.
S.D..:They took great care of us.
R.B.: Thank you very much!