LETTER FROM KOSOVO (#1 of 3)
By Peter Lippman
July 11, 1999
Peter Lippman lived and worked in Bosnia from September, 1997 to July, 1999. In March, 1998, he visited Kosovo to observe the non-violent movement for Kosovo self-determination. At that time he was arrested, jailed, and expelled by the Serbian authorities.
After finishing his work in Bosnia, he went to Skopje, Macedonia to interview Kosovo Albanian refugees. Click here for Peter's letter from Skopje. There, he decided to return to Kosovo.
I am sending this journal from Prishtina, Kosovo. After I last wrote I realized that all the important information that I wanted was in Kosovo, so I decided to come here. In some ways the situation is unstable, but it is gradually stabilizing. As you'll read below, most of the refugees have now returned. Reprisals are taking place and there are many people displaced. Some of them want revenge, and this is not a good place to be a Serb or Roma for now, and probably for a long time to come. While this is not a preferable outcome, it is a natural consequence of the last ten years' history.
Albanians with whom I have so far had contact are upbeat. They feel saved by NATO and think this is a step towards independence. Meanwhile I see some disturbing similarities between Kosovo and Bosnia (see below) but there are significant differences. The main one is that for the most part Kosovo is not a partitioned province. It is also more of a protectorate than Bosnia ever was. This puts the main responsibility, for now, in the hands of the occupying force. KFOR has a chance to do things right and not repeat the mistakes and carelessness of Bosnia. Whether that will happen is up in the air.
I wrote in my last journal that I wanted to figure out what was most important and go there and see it. That is in Kosovo. At the same time I realize that it is extremely difficult to know the truth in a short time. Everyone has another version of the truth. Either the KLA is heroic or cowardly. Either the Russians are innocuous or the downfall of an autonomous Kosovo. Either Kosovo is doomed to be taken over by profiteer-politicians like Bosnia, or the future is rosy.
Everyone here has part of the truth. It takes practice to sort it out. So I tend to record what I hear without arguing and without swallowing it whole. I hope everyone who reads this will do the same. Gradually the picture will fill out.
I am conveying a lot of quick impressions and anecdotes from a very intense visit. The last four days felt like ten.
* * * * *
Thursday, July 8, 1999
Dardan's sisters Flora and Safete were visiting with their kids. Flora, from Prishtina, has three little kids, and Safete one. With Dardan's three and Ismail's three, there were ten in the house. The kids loved it. For them the war and displacement were a kind of vacation. They were playing with little paper airplanes that they had made. They had drawn the NATO insignia and UCK (KLA) on them.
I heard more clarification as to what happened to Ismail's family in Pec. Ismail was separated on the street from the rest of his family. He went to Rozaje in Montenegro alone. When Dardan called him there and asked him how he was doing, he said he was "fine." But he was actually in shock. He didn't know where his wife, parents, or kids were. After five days his mother came with two of the kids, and after two more days his wife came with the other two kids. He assumed that his father was dead.
Safete told me how the people who were kicked out of Gjakova (Djakovica) were in a column at the border, and there was a double line of Serbian soldiers two kilometers long that they had to pass through. These soldiers were stopping people and taking their valuables away.
Now Ismail is back in Pec in his wrecked house. By profession he is a jeweller. Dardan doesn't think that there will be much market for his jewellery for a good while.
I visited an old friend in the Skopje market, Idriz. He is a barber. He is Albanian but also speaks Turkish, as do many Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo. He told me that some people were driving to Turkey, investing 500,000 DM in locks, and taking them and selling them in Kosovo. Many locks in Kosovo were broken when Serbs broke into stores and houses to loot them before they left. And the locks in Macedonia were all sold out. I looked for a mobile phone to rent before entering Kosovo, and there were no telephone numbers available. NATO had bought up 10,000 numbers.
Yesterday Teresa got us a ride to Kosovo from Susan from Australia, who has been hired by CARE to make a film in Kosovo about two people who are returning from exile. We drove up in a convoy of three vehicles. Besides our convoy there was continuous KFOR (NATO's Kosovo Force) traffic all the way from Skopje to Prishtina, almost one long convoy of troop trucks, armored personnel carriers, trailers carrying earthmovers, and a few tanks. Our driver passed as many of these as she could, but it still took 2 1/2 hours to arrive, one hour extra.
We passed through the border mountains at Blace, where 50,000 refugees were stranded in the mud in April and May. Now there was no one. This was also the border crossing where Teresa and I were deported by the Serbs in March of last year. We drove through rolling hills of brown-green grass and scrubby trees, then farmland: California with scythes instead of combines. Here and there a horse-drawn cart, families working in the fields, men wearing white felt caps instead of straw hats.
There was no problem getting through the border crossing. As you leave Macedonia the harried patrols wave through all foreigners, and they harass Macedonians for a few minutes. The UN controls the entrance to Kosovo, but there was no control point. Anyone can enter who has gotten out of Macedonia.
We passed the town of Kacanik, where there had been a massacre. Here and there we saw a few burned houses, but no scenes of whole villages destroyed. You can't travel that far in Bosnia without seeing such a scene. In Kosovo there was such destruction, but not on this main road. Here and there we saw a few burned houses. Parts of the woods next to the road, near the border, were lined with yellow tape warning of mines. Further on, there were clumps of children with nothing to do. They would wave at us, sometimes flashing the victory sign.
We passed Lipljan, where Teresa had spent a few days as guest of the state. There was a house without a roof, and a tent next door for a family to sleep in while the house was repaired. We came over a hill and suddenly there was Prishtina in the valley ahead. Entering the town, we saw a small crowd of men sitting on the sidewalk selling gasoline in glass and plastic bottles. A little further on there were men selling four-foot-high stacks of cigarette cartons. Going through the town, we saw no war damage. Here and there was graffiti: "UCK."
My impression from the traffic on the street and the people walking around was that life looks normal. From Bosnia I know that this normality can be a thick hard veneer that hides a deep trauma.
While driving to our friends' house we saw graffiti from before the war: "Kosovo is Serbian." We passed the large field where the university buildings are found, including the strangest looking library in the world, an odd honeycombed monstrosity that is fairly painful to look at. I took pictures of that last year, but those photos had to be deep-sixed in a hole in the back of a bus seat as I was required to leave the bus at a checkpoint in Mitrovica.
On that same field was the "church built in anger," as Teresa called it, the long-term construction project of a huge Orthodox church built by the Serbian government on university property to spite the Albanians. It is not finished now and I can't imagine when or how it will be finished. A tall crane still stands next to it.
We landed at Ibrahim and Violeta's house, where Teresa and Dan had stayed last year. I found Liri, a student of Middle East Studies who had gone to Istanbul last October to study Turkish. He escaped the entire bombardment and the accompanying cruelty of the Serb forces here, and just returned two weeks ago. With him was Agron, the son of the family whose house I stayed at up the hill. He was also in Turkey. He told me that the Serbs had looted his house and destroyed the piano that his prodigy brother, Veton, had practiced on.
Drita was visiting from Zagreb. She is an Albanian journalist who has lived in Croatia for the last 25 years, and has not been able to visit her home for nine years, since the Serbian government removed Kosovo's autonomy. During that time her parents both died - her mother, only a month ago.
Drita had nothing good to say about the KLA. She criticized them harshly for being a Marxist-Leninist, anti-democratic organization that is now maneuvering to take over power in the province. According to her, there is now a reckoning going on between KLA and FARK, the military wing of the LDK. LDK is the party of pacifist leader Ibrahim Rugova. It is incongruous for this party to have an armed wing, but this is a development from the last couple of years. The LDK/FARK competition with KLA to some extent represents the conflict between the city and the village in this culture. It is a conflict that is also very present in Bosnia.
Drita told me that the KLA leadership stems from the disturbances as long ago as 1981, and that it has been cultivating an insurrectionist approach all along, after the fashion of Che Guevara. She also called them Stalinist. According to her, now they are going around killing Serbs in Prishtina and taking away their apartments. Similar things happened in Sarajevo during the siege. Three days ago, KLA members tried to kidnap the FARK/LDK minister of security.
Drita said, "There will be more trouble, because the KLA doesn't want to give up its power. During the war they said, 'I'm the boss.' But they said it to the Albanians, not to the Serbs. They feel inferior to the intellectuals and to Rugova. So there is a possible civil war between the extremists of the villages, and the intellectuals of the cities. The villagers never truly assimilated Islam under the Turks, and they have a feudal way of living. Then they looked up to Enver Hoxha, as if he were the chief of a tribe."
I told Drita that we were preparing to do a project on women's leadership in Kosovo. She said, "You can judge the circumstances of a society by the situation of women. And judging by the women of Kosovo, we are truly in the dark here."
I asked Liri and Agron how they feel now. Liri said, "We are glad. Now we can think without pressure. Before, the police would stop you and beat you up. If they didn't beat you up, you were glad. That was normal. Now we can think about other things. But now there will be a fight, between the KLA and the LDK.
* * * * *
In the evening Teresa and I went to a meeting of NGOs organized by the UNHCR, the High Commission for Refugees. There were dozens of organizations there, represented by 200 or so people, almost all foreigners. The meeting was conducted in English.
First there was a security briefing by British KFOR soldiers, who control this sector of Kosovo. We were told that the Prishtina airport is open, and that there are no problems on the main roads. There has been an increase in house fires (14 in the last day or so), and a couple of bombings. There was a peaceful demonstration in Mitrovica, to the north, of Albanians who are being prevented from moving back into the part of town that is now controlled by Serbs. The demonstrators marched into the north (Serb-controlled) part of town, and there was a bit of tension.
We were also told that 14 buses of returning refugees arrived in Gnjilane. Some Serbs were attacked in Ferizaj. In another place, there were some Albanians who were drunk and they were firing weapons into the air. KFOR confiscated their weapons. In Pec three houses were torched, and a man was killed by a mine there. In Orahovac there was a demonstration of 5,000 people protesting the presence of Russian troops. There was some looting in Obilic. A booby-trapped car was discovered in the south of Prishtina.
The British spokesman said, "There are a lot of people doing things that they shouldn't be doing. There are Russians who are drinking and getting into argy-bargy with the locals. Poor behavior is something that KFOR will not put up with."
I note a difference in the atmosphere and mood of international workers here and in Bosnia. Here there seems to be an optimism, generally more energy and friendliness. People are just getting to know each other, feeling their way. They are all startng a new job, networking. In Bosnia international workers have less time and interest in each other. They are more jaded. The reality of the difficult job has long since set in. There are reasons why the job may be easier here. The fact that Bosnia is divided is more than a complication. Here, there won't be the same kind of obstruction to return and reconstruction. If KFOR can put a stop to the violence, things will go relatively smoothly.
A spokesman for the UNHCR told us that its priorities were aid distribution and minority protection. He said that in four to six weeks, they may be able to make damage assessments of 75 per cent of the war-affected villages.
* * * * *
On the way back from the meeting I took a little tour. Behind the meeting hall was the bombed-out police station, about 8 stories of wreckage. I walked around front to the UNIMiK (UN Mission in Kosovo) building and asked a British soldier where the jail was. A young man there, a local, asked me why I was looking for it. I said, "Re-living my past." He said it was right next door, but if I wanted, he would take me upstairs where I could get a view of it. We went up to the fourth floor and looked down on the inner courtyard where we had been allowed to walk in circles last year for 15 minutes, two times a day, freezing and looking down at the ground.
My acquaintance turned out to be Bojan, a local Serb. He asked me why I was in jail and did they mistreat me. I said no, they didn't touch me, but they were beating up Albanians. He said, "Well, maybe they needed it." He told me that most of the Prishtina Serbs had left, that there were only 40 or 50 families left, people who had nowhere to go. Most have gone to Kragujevac or Nis. He sent his family out. He was a former policeman who now has a job here as a translator "for someone."
Bojan told me that he is supposed to go to Kragujevac and get married, but if he goes there, he will have no future. He said that here, he has a job. I asked him if he was concerned for his safety. He said, "I am scared. They are going into Serbs' apartments and killing them. Everyone who did something wrong has left. They are not going to wait around for the KLA to kill them."
Bojan apologized to me for what happened last year. I told him I didn't need it. I found it curious that he was able to admit that some Serbs did something wrong.
I walked up the street to look at the jail. It looked deserted. A couple of the front office windows were broken out.
* * * * *
Saturday, July 10
I went up the hill to Velania neighborhood to visit Veton and Agron and their parents Vlera and Driton, whose house I stayed at last year. Veton and Vlera stayed here during the bombing, Agron was in Turkey, and Driton was in Macedonia. When I was with them last year they used to watch the news on television often. Now there is no television, and not much other furniture either. It was stolen by Serbian policemen.
Vlera told me how Veton and she were required to take new identification cards during the NATO intervention. She showed me the cards, known as "green cards," written only in Serbian, in Cyrillic. She likened these cards to the Nazi system of recording Jews' whereabouts and forcing them to wear the Star of David. During the bombing, Vlera said, Albanians had to show these cards when they would go shopping. Sometimes they were refused service because they were Albanian.
Driton asked me what I thought of the flight of the Serbs. I said that if people were guilty of war crimes, it was probably just as well that they not stick around, but that I felt sorry for the average innocent frightened Serb. Driton said, "They all participated. All the men from age 15 up were mobilized. How can we live with them? Ibrahim (Vlera's brother) came so close to being shot, in front of his family. How can his young son Hashim ever feel comfortable with Serbs again? It is a nation with too much pathology.
"There were no Serbs who stood up and opposed what was done to us. Maybe they thought it and were afraid to say it. But even Vesna Pesic (leader of Serbian democracy movement) said to Adem Demaci, and he later told me this, 'Kosovo will never separate from Serbia.' But now we will have independence. The problem in Mitrovica is a small thing. KFOR will take care of that. America has saved us. I know, they acted in their own interest, but we were very lucky."
Veton is a musical prodigy at age 15. Last year he gave me a private concert of Beethoven and Mozart. But he can no longer practice at home, because the police wrecked his piano. He and Agron took me upstairs to see it. On the outside it looks fine, but when they opened it up I could see that most of the felt-headed hammers that strike the strings were broken off. Agron said, "They couldn't carry the piano downstairs to steal it, so they wrecked it. That was a smart policeman who did that. Probably he knows how to play the piano."
On the way out Agron showed me his aquarium that the police had tipped over when they left. He told me that he used to have 15 fish. Then he pointed down the street to a burned house. I asked whose house it was and who burned it. He said, "Some gypsies lived in that house. The father was a policeman. He was going around shooting in the windows of Albanian houses. So when KFOR came, some Albanians burned the house."
Fejza told me that before KFOR came, Roma (Gypsies) were working with the police. The police, according to her, would go into an Albanian-owned shop or house and take whatever they wanted, and then Roma would come in and take the rest. This kind of activity was taking place before and throughout the bombing, sometimes in broad daylight. Fejza said that Serbian police and soldiers were removing great truckloads of furniture from Albanian houses even after the KFOR troops started arriving, figuring that the KFOR troops would just assume that the Serbs were loading up their own possessions.
Now there have been many reprisals against Roma, and some have been displaced. There are several thousand in a collective center, actually a school, at Kosovo Polje. They are asking to be resettled in Serbia.
I went across the street to visit Ibrahim, who had just returned from a conference in Romania. Ibrahim is a professor of engineering. He was visiting with his friend Agim. Agim used to own a plastics factory on the edge of town, but the Serbs burned it down during the NATO bombardment. Agim told me, "The factory was right next to a military installation. The Serbs lit my factory on fire and filmed it burning, and then broadcast footage of the fire, saying that NATO had missed another target. I watched this on television and saw how the flames were coming out of the windows but the roof was intact."
We talked about the present chaotic transition phase taking place in Kosovo. Ibrahim was more optimistic, Agim less so. I asked Ibrahim what he thought the prospects were for a decent economy to be developed here. He told me that it could happen if people act both wisely and quickly, without pretensions for great exports. That there should be a focus on agricultural development.
Agim was talking about the people who were taking over other people's flats. Displaced Albanian villagers have been moving into evacuated Serb-owned apartments, but also those of other Albanians who have not yet returned. Not only that, but some profiteers have been taking over more than one flat. One man took over 12 flats, but the KLA kicked him out.
* * * * *
Yesterday the UNHCR put out a "first cut" survey of housing damage around Kosovo. They estimated that there are around 2,000 villages in the province. The survey covered 141 villages. In these villages, 73 % of the population was displaced because of housing damage, 21 % because of problems with supply of food and services and 7% because of fear for their security. The numbers don't add up to 100% because some people listed more than one reason for their displacement.
The survey noted that 40% of the water supply in these villages is poor, in some cases due to human or animal corpses in the wells. The wheat supply is 40-50% of normal, the corn supply 10-20%, and about 50% of the livestock has been lost. The survey expects the population to stabilize at 1.7 million, where it used to be around 2 million. 18 per cent of the houses were undamaged and lightly damaged, where that figure before the NATO intervention had been 62 %. The percentage of irreparably damaged houses was 13 % before the war, but now is up to 36%. These houses were for the most part torched by Serbian paramilitaries.
The UNHCR survey cited one of its most urgent tasks as winterization. It estimates there to be somewhere between 45,000 and 90,000 damaged houses. Some of the worst damage is in Pec. There, 40-45% of the houses in the city have been damaged, and in the Albanian-inhabited suburbs, close to 90% have been damaged. The figure for Gjakova and Mitrovica is around 30% damage.
* * * * *
The news in Kosovo yesterday was that they discovered the biggest mass grave yet, of approximately 350 people, near Pec.
Teresa and I have begun to do interviews with activists in various non-governmental organizations. We went to see Ariana at the Humanitarian Law Center, an organization that has been recording human rights abuses and war crimes since 1992, first in Belgrade, and since 1996, in Kosovo.
When we entered the office there were a half-dozen men looking at several lists of names written in the Cyrillic alphabet. These were lists of Albanian prisoners who were taken to Serbia during the NATO bombing. The men were looking for their relatives. Some of the prisons listed were in Vranje, Novi Pazar, Zajecar, and Prokuplje. Ariana told us that just between 8:00 and 10:00 that morning, 50 people had been in to look at the lists.
Ariana told us that the problem of the prisoners was one of the issues they are concentrating on the most now. The figure most commonly cited is that there are around 5,000 prisoners. The list that was just released only includes 1,500. There are said to be 1,200 from Gjakova alone. There is a great fear that those not on the list may be subject to all kinds of inhumane treatment, including execution. Albin Kurti, a student leader and friend of ours from last year, is one of those arrested who was not on the lists.
Ariana's office had nothing but a tiny desk, more like an end-table, and three chairs. All the furniture and computers had been stolen, some of it by her Serbian landlady. Ariana told us she did not have the heart to report the theft to KFOR.
We also visited the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, another organization we had met with last year. It is located in the same office as before, in a courtyard next to a mosque in a poorer residential district a bit away from the center of town. On the way to the office we passed the home and office of Bajram Kelmendi, the human rights lawyer who was murdered, together with his two sons, early during the NATO bombing. There was a red-bordered death Agronce on the telephone pole in front of the house.
The Council has a staff of ten. It collects information about human rights abuses and war crimes. Before the bombing it had an unpaid informant network of approximately 2,000 people in the towns and villages around Kosovo. Six of its paid staff were killed last year. We were told that the international organizations that have flooded the town are relying on the Council's information. The person we interviewed said, "They get the money, and we get the praise."
There is currently very little funding for the organization. We were told that the OSCE human rights division has brought in 500 employees, and that it would make more sense to train and pay local people. The Council is losing some of its employees to international organizations. A translator at the Council earns around 300 DM a month, while a housekeeper for the OSCE may earn three times that much.
Today we interviewed Dom Nash, a priest at the Catholic church. He told us that Kosovo had had a Catholic Albanian population of around 75,000 before the NATO intervention, but that it was currently closer to 20,000. There are only several hundred Catholics left in Prishtina at this point. Father Nash spoke of the "flood of negative energy" that exists now, and how this has to be channeled into something more positive. I asked him about the revenge attacks. He responded, perhaps somewhat defensively, "If you had lost ten people in your family, what would you do?"
* * * * *
Fejza told me what happened the night Ibrahim was almost killed, in an incident that people have referred to several times. His house is around the corner from Fejza's building. Many relatives, neighbors, and friends were living there during the bombing, having come from areas of town and villages that were less safe.
Next door was an Albanian family that was fairly well off. Both houses are rather nice, but the house next door to Ibrahim's is twice as big. These houses apparently attracted the attention of the paramilitaries on the night that the Russians came into Prishtina ahead of KFOR. Some paramilitaries came to the house next door to Ibrahim's and shot out the windows with their automatic rifles. They rounded up the members of the household, of whom there were around a dozen, and robbed them. They shot several of them, killing the head of the household, who was a shoemaker, and wounding several others including the grandparents. One son was shot in the leg with a dum-dum bullet.
After this happened the paramilitary soldiers took one of the sons from the house at gunpoint and led him next door to Ibrahim's house. They demanded that Ibrahim pay money to ransom the neighbor. Ibrahim got all the hard currency and jewelry that everyone had in the house and gave it to the paramilitaries, who then went on their way to the other neighbors. There were two Serb-owned houses across the street, which weren't disturbed.
This all happened after midnight. Two days later, the KFOR troops arrived and stationed themselves on the street immediately below the Bucinca apartment. Fejza told me that she felt like they were her sons.
* * * * *
My friend Lucky dropped by this evening. I met Lucky last year when he was working with the Independent Student Union. When the bombardment started, he and his family decided to stay in their home in Mitrovica. He explained to me, "We didn't want to leave, because if all the Albanians left Kosovo, we would have done Milosevic's work for him." However, Lucky and his family were soon driven out of their house. They stayed in an uncle's house in a suburb of the town for two weeks, and then that suburb was shelled. Lucky said he wasn't sure whether it was shelled by Serbs or Romi. He said that the Romi had been given automatic rifles and rocket launchers.
After the shelling the Serbian troops came to the suburb and formed a U-shaped cordon around the neighborhood, and forced most of the inhabitants (many of whom were already displaced) out of the house. They were then forced to march towards Gjakova, clear across the province in the west. This march took four days. There were approximately 75,000 citizens of Mitrovica on the march, forming a column 12 kilometers long.
When the column of people neared Gjakova, they were stopped and ordered to turn back. Serbian security forces were accompanying them and telling them where to go. At night they slept near military installations, serving as a human shield against NATO bombs. Either they would prevent the installations from being bombed, or if they were killed, it was good anti-NATO propaganda.
When the group was turned back, they slept in a field near Klina for around seven days. They were able to rummage through half-destroyed houses and find a little food each day. Lucky told me that they found a field of onions and that was their meal for several days in a row. "I hate onions now," he said. He told me that he was pushing his mother in a wheelchair the whole time."
Lucky told me, "Near Skenderaj (in Drenica) the police took away 200 men. I was not among them. Then when we neared Mitrovica they took away another 40. I managed to return to my house, which was robbed but not burned. I found some of my belongings in the house of a Serb family that had since left. These were primitive people, villagers. But there were educated Serbs who robbed too, a family both parents were doctors.
"We stayed in our house for three weeks. We watched through the windows and saw what the Serbs were doing to the Albanian houses. The women were stealing women's things - tablecloths and such, the men were stealing cars, and the children were stealing children's things, toys."
After a time the Serbian special police came to the neighborhood at 6:00 one morning and took away all the men between age 17 and 50, including Lucky. They were told that they were going to the center of town to "get new identification." This was in mid-April. The men were taken to the jail in the center of Mitrovica, and the next day to Smrekovnica, a jail about 10 km from the town.
Lucky told me that he was beaten very badly in Mitrovica, but not at the second jail. He was fortunate there, because there were two compounds at Smrekovnica. One was run by jail guards, the other by paramilitary. He was in the first one, but people in that one heard the screams of people being beaten in the other one. Two people died there.
Every day 200 people were sent into town for interrogation in Mitrovica. They were taken to improvised police stations at the elementary school and a technical college, because the police station had been bombed. (This gave me some satisfaction because I was held there myself for a half day last year.) Lucky told me that this was the most terrible experience of the whole period. In a sports hall the 200 men were forced to kneel on a metal pipe with their hands behind their backs and their heads on the floor all day.
After five hours Lucky was called into an interrogation room alone. He was not beaten. He was fortunate that the police did not know that he had been studying in Prishtina and had been active in the student union. "It seemed that they were confused," he said. They could have called the secret police in Prishtina and found out about me. But they just asked questions like my father's name and profession, and where I was born, and my father, and his father before him.
"They just wanted to determine that we were not from a village in Drenica or other places where the KLA was active, which would in their minds implicate us as being active with the KLA. Maybe they didn't care about who I was, as long as I didn't fight."
Lucky was then returned to the sports hall and had to wait on his knees for two more hours while the rest of the prisoners were questioned. He said that he could not walk comfortably for two weeks after that. He and his group were taken back to jail, and the next day were driven to a spot six km. from the border point with Albania between Prizren and Kukes. He told me that he thought they were going to be executed there, but the Serbian police just ordered them to walk to Albania. They were beaten a couple more times and then arrived at the border.
When Lucky entered Albania he wanted to let his parents know that he was alive. He told me, "Since I had no way to call my parents I tried to get filmed on television. I chose Reuters because as an independent news agency they have a wide distribution. I got in front of their camera and a neighbor of my parents saw me. Their television was stolen but the neighbors told them I was alive.
"Later my parents had to leave Mitrovica and went to Ulcinj in Montenegro. I got a job in Tirana with the provisional Kosovar government. I then came back to Kosovo and celebrated my birthday, July 1, in liberated Prizren. I first went to my house two days ago and everything had been taken or broken. The windows and doors were wrecked too.
"On the north side of Mitrovica the Serbs are in control. That is the bigger section, where all the large apartment buildings are. The Serbs were only twenty per cent of the city, but they have most of it now. And most of the houses in the other section, where the Albanians are now, were wrecked."
I asked Lucky if he still goes by the nickname Lucky, and he said that he does. I asked, "Do you feel lucky?" He said, "I do. I was never pessimistic. While I was in jail I was damaged physically - I lost ten kilograms during this whole ordeal - but not mentally. I recovered from that. I spent my time thinking about how I could protect myself from wanting revenge, from becoming 'primitive.'"
I said, "It's a natural response to want revenge." He said, "Remember, my father, my mother, and my sister are all alive. If they had been hurt I might be thinking differently."
I asked Lucky what he knew about the apartment stealing that has been going on. He said, "Besides displaced villagers, there have been some citizens of Prishtina who have been taking apartments. These are people who left during the bombing and came back when KFOR arrived. Some of them have taken five or six apartments, and are now renting them to foreigners. And there are wounded KLA soldiers who have no place to live."
Lucky told me a little about his hopes for Kosovo. He said, "It is important to rebuild Kosovo with an open border, where people can move freely back and forth between here and Albania and Macedonia, like they do in Europe. We can show that we can behave like Europeans."
* * * * *
Second letter from Kosovo
Peter Lippman's other correspondence from Kosovo and Bosnia