Bjeshka Guri (interviewer)
Acronyms: BG=Bjeshka Guri, VK=Vetim Krasniqi
BG: Tell me what was the situation before the war, what do you remember?
VK: I was 17 at the time and I was in high school. Schools were in houses. I attended high school in homes for two years. We had problems, when we went to school, we had soldiers on the streets, the police harassed us, some were tortured, but we often had to go to school like that, we were not allowed to carry bags, we get a notebook and we would hide it somewhere. After a while I didn’t know where to go, the situation got worse. The roads are starting to close completely. We had a case when they threw a hand grenade in the yard of the Gymnasium and then the school decided to cancel the whole process and they closed it completely. Where I used to live, with another neighbourhood___________, there was a big family, 10 houses, 8 from the family. When I say family, I mean relatives. We had a big yard. 7-10 meters so, I don’t know exactly, they had a big closed door, when the situation became worrying, when they closed completely, we closed that door and there was no access. We usually spent time in the yard, and there were movements of soldiers and police. The post office was working at the time. The post office distributed pensions, as far as I know, electricity and water bills. At that time, the post officer came to my house and brought us a letter, and also for my cousin, because we are the same age. The letter is to enlist in the army, because in the time of Yugoslavia, at the age of 18, you went to the army, and at the age of 17 to enlist. Recruitment took place in Nis. Recruitment is when you go, to check, check your mental state, if you have something … it is decided whether you are for the army or not. In fact, before that, let me tell you why we decided to leave. I did not intend to go to Albania, I did not intend to do that at all. But when the situation worsened in that neighbourhoods, where they dropped hand grenades twice, it traumatized us a little, but this letter from the army made decision to leave, the postman scared me a little because he was_____, and those soldiers and policemen who were there, they asked him what it was, but the postman told them to share the electricity bills, he didn’t tell them what it was. If he had told them then that it was for the army, they had a reason to go inside and take us away, since they were taking people to open the trenches _______. This letter came to me and my cousin, as it arrived, that postman told the police and the army that these were invoices, not a call for the army. That was the reason why my cousin and I had to leave, so that the Serbian police and army would not take us away. The next day we decided to leave, even though we are 17 years old and since then we have threatened our families, we have been telling the families “let’s go, come on”. We decide the next day, me, his cousin, brother and immediate family. While others stayed there. That letter made me run away.
We even went to the bus station, the bus station was … there were a lot of people, a lot of buses, they were organized. We went in the direction of Po____, but as far as I remember there were many police and military checkpoints. Buses could not go to the border, they had to stop, maybe more than 5-10 kilometres back, people had to continue on foot. From there, at every checkpoint, they stopped people, harassed them, took their money. We managed to pass two points by our bus, if I remember correctly, there were 5 points, we reached 2 or 3 points by bus, there was no need to walk. Then we started to walk a bit. The driver of the bus was a Serb and the person who was in our group knew each other, and this led to no harassment at 2-3 points, and then we were close to the border. There were a lot of people in the bus, maybe 50-60 people, we got out and then continued towards the border on foot. I didn’t walk much, maybe 1 mile, so to the border. My cousin and I were the first to go there at the border, while the group was behind us, there was no search even at that border, they had no one, no one alive, no soldiers, no relatives. They must have been inside. Even we tried to escape, before someone stopped us, now or to wait for the group. My family and cousin’s family were behind. It was a bad moment then, when we looked left, right, it was a mountain, we could see sniper soldiers. While on the lower right side were the people they took away, to dig holes for them, trenches. Even this cousin saw his brother downstairs, they caught him and he was digging holes like this.
BG: What are these holes for?
VK: We called them trenches. These are pits that they dig to set mines or barricades for war, these people are only for services in the army_______ it was hard for him when he saw that, they were further away, it was 1-2 kilometres, but they saw each other. He was not alone, there were others, but fortunately after a while they were released.
It was a little difficult for him there, in a moment of confusion, whether we were running away or not. The group was behind us, there was no one alive at the border. What we decided was to walk faster, we had two bags on hand. There was also one large shoulder bag. As we were approaching the border, they stopped us, there were two Serbian policemen, but somehow, they didn’t check us, they just told us to continue. Then we got to the ramp, and my bag got caught on the ramp, and I thought the police stopped me … then when we crossed the ramp, I stayed in that no-man’s land, that area was neither Kosovo nor Serbia, and there was a lot deep holes and a few barricades, but no soldiers, and luckily we didn’t continue because we stayed to wait for the group. Those policemen who came out of the border facility, completely stop the group_____, they normally have money, they took their passports, they took their ID cards, I could see a lot of license plates, passports, clothes _____.
Why do I say fortunately that we stopped there and did not continue, because there were several people in the group who were in the army during Yugoslavia and they told us not to go there, there are mines, and all the way to the border of Albania. From there they send us to Kukes, my grandmother’s family is from Albania, and they are from Kukes. _______. My grandmother was born in Prizren, but she her origins are from Kukes. My father’s aunt also had an apartment in Kukes where we stayed for 2 to 3 weeks. Now we worked there for 2-3 weeks, distributed aid, there were Arab organizations that distributed aid. Kukes also had a camp, tents, where we shared help, while I was a distributor with this cousin of mine and another one. A truck would come, pick us up and go to camp, keep order, help people. I did this job for 2-3 weeks, until the time came to go to Tirana.
BG: What was your experience with the distribution of aid, what was the atmosphere like?
VK: There you are somehow … I have an apartment in Kuks, luckily in the apartment and with my family. Those in the tents had bad conditions, and when we went to share the help, I felt very sad ….. it was for everyone, everything, there was a lot of help from the organizations. Now I don’t remember if it was an Arab organization, I don’t remember who, when, what … but there were many other organizations, there were many journalists. The Kukes was in trouble, there was everything, there were strangers, when it came time to distribute help, it was somehow … I was very sorry to see that suffering …. or give it to me, give it to me …a lot to see, it turns out, we couldn’t make order …. I felt very bad when I saw those people suffering, my people, what are they doing because of one jar of ajvar and the like. I had to keep order until we put that column in the system, that order, it was a mess, it felt bad, and then the next day everything was fine. It was necessary to maintain a certain schedule, there were columns, we all know where and how much help they get, there was for everyone, there was a lot of help, especially regarding food and clothes. Immediately after that, the Kukes police helped us with these iron barricades to make a column, after that everything was fine and I did it every day from morning to evening, 2 to 3 weeks if I remember and after that we went to Tirana.
In Tirana, I have relatives where they provided us with an apartment for rent, normally. We stayed there until the end of the war. There is another interesting detail from that time. Tirana did not accept refugees as refugees. Whoever went to Tirana was taken to the city stadium …. Arsllan Rusi, it was a basketball stadium. We had no documents or proof that I had an apartment there, that we were going to a rented apartment. You weren’t right, you definitely had to go there in … and we had to go illegally, otherwise you couldn’t have done it. You could not enter Tirana as a refugee, as we did from Kosovo. Then, with a help of an organization … if I’m not mistaken, UNICEF, with their help, we entered Tirana. Only my immediate family. While the other relatives stayed in Kukes. They did not want to come to Tirana and they had nowhere to go, while we had a small apartment that our grandmother’s relatives provided us with a small apartment and that was to Tirana. Then in Tirana, with the help of our relatives abroad, they helped us with money for rent, food and other things, and we spent maybe a month in Tirana, because we were doing something, something, we were thinking about the army, but for the then army asked for many requirements, age is much more important, they did not approve under 18 years. It is the Kosovo Liberation Army. They did not accept under the age of 18 or you registered and they told you, we will inform you … then if you are the only child in the family, they did not accept. So they had some rules. After I met a soldier in Kukes, they had an office in Kukes, I don’t know what they told me, they registered there and we went there with my cousin, but precisely because I am only one child, I was not admitted, because they told me I’m the only child, you can’t and there are a lot of requests, come again next week, after 10 days … then we went to Tirana and it was over.
It was also good in Tirana, where I could constantly meet many residents of Kosovo. Stress was all the time. I don’t know what was happening here, I had my whole immediate and extended family with me, but my grandparents were here, we communicated with them all the time. I had to go to the post office to call them, the connections used to work, sometimes they didn’t, we watched TV all day, they gave information as they were, family X arrived well and healthy, and we read those subtitles in the lower part all day. This family, that family has arrived … there is one detail that I forgot to mention. When we arrived in Kukes, they took our data, names and surnames, not the documents because the police already took them from us, but only who you are … and those data were broadcasted on television, satellite TV TVSH, if I’m not mistaken. The X family arrived in Albania. It was the way of informing people and families who could not communicate by phone. Usually we didn’t have a phone, we went to the Post Office, the connections in the post office often didn’t work, and then we called relatives in the west, those from the west had communication with Kosovo, and that’s how it was. And that was all.
We stayed in Tirana, if I’m not mistaken for 2 or 3 months, I don’t know the exact date, I’m not very good.
We went to school, to high school, where the Sami Frashri school was open only to refugees, and there we were divided into classes, according to age, and we were there for 2-3 months.
BG: What was the atmosphere like at school ______?
VK: For us who were in the barns, this school was a little interesting. We were all there together, so we were all together, there was no Albania, there were only Kosovars. Only the professors were from Albania, but they didn’t have any program plans, they didn’t have real books, it was an idea and they thought that we wouldn’t stay there for long, but that as students we had some basic information. We did not have diaries, there was no registration, registration was done manually. Then they told us that all this would be regulated, but then the war ended.
Then I had the experience that I wanted to go abroad, to the west. There were two ways with ______, since they went a lot, illegally to Italy, but they have other ways, usually by boat, but they were very expensive. Yes, it was very expensive with a boat, the difference is 5 times more expensive than with ___________. but it was a risk. But you would cross the sea with _____, I am like the only child in the house, my family was against it, but they agreed that I should normally go by boat, also illegally, but it is better. There were groups of people who made these organizations, and my parents agreed that I could go, but when the time and order came to go, at that moment the capitulation of the Milosevic government was signed, that they were bombed for 74 days, and Yugoslavia was bombed. and a capitulation is signed. When the capitulation was signed and when the army and Serbian forces in Kosovo left, NATO entered and from that day, we arrived in Kosovo in 2-3 days.
BG: What is the experience of returning?
VK: I was surprised, I had the opportunity to go to Italy, because I did not go, because of the signature. Then we decide to comeback. After we travelled by the old road, the old road was dangerous, through the mountains. It took about 8-9 hours for 100 kilometres, through the mountains ._________________. I also had no reason not to go that route, why not go back ____________________. There was one van, there were 8 people in the van, there was a family from Prizren, it turned out that they were also from Prizren, even when we came here to the border, because we saw German soldiers, police and lot of people in uniform, we have great indescribable joy and I remember when my father opened the window and screamed with joy. It was a great euphoria, that we saw family members, you know they are well and healthy, and it was a great joy. something ….. you think it’s all over, there’s no need for____, you’re free, I also think that part of ‘99 and the next two years were perfect, because we were a generation like those before us who experienced the previous system, we survived it as such, when there was pressure and torture, but we experienced freedom. There was freedom, there was no state, no police, nothing, there was something indescribable, I don’t know … it needs to be experienced.
I don’t know how to describe them, they have to be experienced, it’s a great joy and that’s all. When we came here, we actually got bad news, for example that they did it, killed it, took it, someone was lost, it is not known _________,. This is war and war and it is happening
BG: Personally, what effect do you think the war had on you? VK: I was 16-17 years old, at this age you are a little out, and I do not know where, what, fear is mixed, mixed in those moments ….. and I had it, when the police harassed me when we went to school, for example. You were also harassed by people, civilians, who were not of Albanian nationality, because those were the times when you felt humiliated, and you had some fear of such people, because that system ruled at that time. Even pressure, torture, everything, even from your fear, such a life, you pass into life, relaxation and freedom …. for me it was very strange, but I can personally say that the previous times were not good, especially for young people, especially not only for young people … but for everyone. I don’t know how people lived, so all the time under pressure, all the time under stress … I don’t know how they lived. The 80’s were a little freer, but after 90, 92 and 93 I don’t know. People are very humiliated, and that’s not good, that’s, I don’t know, this is my experience that I had, there are many other things, I don’t remember many things. I don’t remember many things, I remember when we climbed on the roofs of houses to watch the NATO bombing. The place where I lived was near the barracks, when they bombed we went out to watch, we knew so much … there were bad moments and … but we were all together.
The whole family is alive, together, closed, and only the elderly could provide flour, bread and that’s it. I mean we couldn’t, that’s it … I don’t know how to say, that war period, this was, more or less like a pandemic that closed us down. That’s how it was. Only then did you wait for someone to come, for someone to take you out of the house. Normally, I slept with clothes, it was like sleeping in your pyjamas, but something was happening every day. Every day you see NATO bombs or you hear gunshots up close. Hand grenades in your yard, where your car is completely destroyed, all the time under pressure, all the time awake, with schedules, someone is sleeping someone stays awake, there were moments when, since the houses in Prizren are very close to each other, either There were cases of jumping from another neighbourhoods, over the roofs of houses, people came to my house to take shelter, to escape … because the army was chasing the young people there … all the time there was something similar, and there was great fear, we listened news that they took this one, took that one ….. the information could not be obtained as a day, there were only 2-3 channels … TVSH if I’m not mistaken, there was one radio station, I know the name of that radio, there we were getting information … and that was it. I mean, this is how it was during the war.
Moderator: Thank you very much