Friday, Mar. 27 Sarajevo
I can write my journal after being away from it more than two weeks. It's daunting. I am back from Kosovo as of the night before last, but it took me until now to dig out from under massive e-mail. It's good I didn't take my computer to Kosovo. There would've been problems. I took notes instead. Now the notes are gone. I will try to recreate from memory.
During this trip I was moved almost to tears by what I saw practically every day. Sometimes it was because of extraordinary things I witnessed, but other times it was because of ordinary things done under difficult circumstances.
I hope we can help these good people.
Monday March 9, 1998
It took me a long time to decide whether to go to Kosovo. When the violence in Drenica started, I changed my mind a lot. I can't say I had to go or needed to go. I just wanted to go, very badly, to be near history, to witness, to add a voice. I thought about being brave or stupid, whether they are the same, what does it mean. How does luck figure in? In the end, when I found out that the roads were open and that some of the other people from Peaceworkers were still going, I went.
I got out to the bus station. It had been a warm several weeks and I wasn't worried about cold weather. At the last minute I ditched my long underwear. Very bad move. It was raining as I caught the streetcar to the station, and took the bus to Zagreb.
Tuesday, March 10
I got to the "Yugoslav" embassy in upper Zagreb just before they opened at ten a.m. There was already a crowd and I received number 52 in the waiting line. It was chilly and I chilled out in the shade with other people with unknown stories wanting to go to Serbia. I got nervous around noon because the embassy closes at one and I didn't want to stay another day in Zagreb.
I got into the embassy, a residential house, at 12:30. I was out with my visa five minutes later and $45 poorer. I took a taxi to the bus station and just caught the 1:00 bus, the last one for Belgrade. I arrived at the Belgrade bus station just after dark. I walked up the hill to the office of Women in Black. A half dozen women were there preparing for a demonstration for the next weekend, against the carnage in Kosovo. They put me to work selecting slogans for their signs and leaflets. The intensity was such that I felt like I was in an SDS office in the late sixties, preparing for the next anti-war demonstration.
These are smart and brave people. They are part of the real opposition, not the populist Milosevic wannabe's who led the big demonstrations in Belgrade last year (with the exception of Vesna Pesic, of course). The democratic, progressive opposition in Serbia is small and fragmented. But I have a feeling that with work, and timing, it will grow.
I was very moved by these women leaders. They had been demonstrating out on the streets about Kosovo for a couple of weeks, in the face of harassment and physical abuse. I have to use the word noble to describe them. They are connected with the best historical stream of resistance and justice.
On their bulletin board was a quote: "It is easier to hate injustice than to love justice." I walked around Belgrade a bit after dark and the next morning. Memories flowing over me. This is where it all started for me, personally. Radost (the folklore ensemble I was traveling with) arrived there first on its tour in 1981. The old Hotel Balkan, where we stayed, is just up the hill from the Women in Black office. I felt the presence of all the young, lively, innocent dancers from a simpler time in my life. Belgrade is big, imposing, fancy in places, dirty in others. Like a capital. The pedestrian mall in the center is pleasant as always. I remembered sitting at the outdoor kafanas with friends in 1981. Later, living up north in Novi Sad, I used to escape to Belgrade once in a while to buy a book, have a pizza, walk around.
The city feels the same. Someplace you just want to pass through, before it rubs off on you. The only change I noticed in my short time there was that there are many books related to Russian things in the stores. Playing up the "traditional bond between Serbia and Russia," which was more like fear when I was there in the 80s. Otherwise, I could feel in the air the dominant current of dominance, like other federal capitals I had seen. Clean and far from the scene of the crime. But I could also feel the undercurrent, or maybe I just imagined it, of young rebellious energy, rock music, anarchy, smartness, freedom, contempt for rotten leadership.
Wednesday, March 11
I caught the morning express for Pristina, south through the gentle hills of Sumadija to the plains of northern Kosovo. Here I felt a twinge of nervousness, fearing that there would be a checkpoint. However, the bus rolled into Pristina with no obstruction. I took a taxi to the office of the Independent Student Union. The driver saw his opportunity and charged me double.
While waiting for Albin Kurti, one of the student leaders, I sat in front of a computer. A student showed me photographs from the internet of the bodies of victims of the Drenica massacres. There they were, lined up, partly wrapped in sheets. Young men, old men, girls, women, boys. A woman missing part of her head. Many people riddled with bullets. Not pictures I'm used to looking at. The Albanians were trying to keep these bodies from being buried until they could be examined by an international health organization. But the Red Cross head had received death threats and had left town. That day the Serbian authorities came and forcefully buried the bodies in a mass grave: 46 people, including 14 women and 12 children. Later they were exhumed by the Albanians and given a Muslim burial. This was only part of the death toll from Drenica. I met Albin, who took me to a nearby home where I was to stay. This was in Velania, a comfortable neighborhood in the hills about a 15-minute walk above the center of town. Most of the homes in this area are not too old (10-20 years?), multi-level, and seem to be inhabited by middle-class Albanians - lots of professors, and probably former directors.
Everyone is "former-" here, since they were all fired in 1990. I was left alone by my hosts, so I called my old friend E, who had stayed at Carla's and my apartment in New York in 1989, and whom I had not seen since 1990. E is a journalist, therefore well connected to information but very busy. That day he had tried to go visit Drenica, but was turned back by the police. E picked me up and took me to his place to see his family. His father lives there, and his sister A was visiting, with her husband. A, whom I met in 1990, is also a journalist. I remember her wearing one earring. She got fed up with losing half a pair and having to throw the other out, and now wears non-matching earrings or just one. She showed me a magazine she has been producing, named "Eritrea." It sounds like the African country, but is also the name of one of the Muses. We sat and talked. E's father had a theory. Last month the Macedonians announced that they would open a corridor through Macedonia to Albania if there should be a refugee problem.
The Albanians agreed to this, but the Kosovo Albanians protested the decision as a failure, not a solution. E's father's theory was that Milosevic, in planning the attack on Drenica, had hoped to scare hundreds of thousands of people into fleeing to Albania, thus creating some kind of "solution" to the Albanian problem. E's father maintained that the plan failed because the people were brave and didn't leave.
It was cold in Kosovo. E lent me a coat and drove me to the restaurant where I was to meet David Hartsough, director of Peaceworkers. The other two colleagues who had arrived from California were there, Dan Perez and Teresa Crawford, both students. Another man, Andrew (last name?) was present also, as was Albin. E greeted the group, saying,
"Twenty years ago I was a student and met with people at this restaurant to plan resistance activities. You carry on."
The restaurant had a big "7" on its front window, but that was not its address. There was a name, "Andina," but no one called it that. Later I found out that it was called "Fatoni," after the founder. The student union was in the middle of trying to decide whether to hold the demonstration it had called for the coming Friday. There had been a series of student demonstrations since October, demanding that the schools which had been closed to Albanians in 1990 be reopened. The student union called itself a "non-political" organization, focusing just on the schools. But there was a crisis going on because of Drenica, which overshadowed the school issue. The student leaders were considering calling off the demonstration. I asked if Albin thought they had the support to hold a sustained series of demonstrations, and he said yes. David was talking about non-violent resistance. Albin said that the reason a lot of young people wouldn't form an army was merely because they had no guns. He also said, jokingly, that perhaps the most non-violent solution of all would be to off Milosevic.
Back home, I spent the rest of the evening getting to know the kids who live in the house where I was staying. L, age 14, a music student who plays classical piano, a little rock and classical guitar, and wears his hair long. N, around 20, a dental student. Both kind and friendly. There were three other students boarding there, all from Prizren. One physical education student and two law students. All friendly, interested to know what I was doing there, and here in Bosnia, and ready to tell about their lives. I sat in my room, given up by N. There was a big American flag on one wall and a German one on the other. In spite of that I slept well. Each flag had an Albanian flag, red background with a black double eagle, pinned to it. On another was a kind of print tapestry with a biker in the middle, and the U.S. and Confederate flag on either side. Fortunately it was mostly covered up by notes, diplomas, and other pictures. A guitar with no strings sat on one chair, and books about dentistry lay around the room. On yet another wall was a handwritten phrase: "Being brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble." Another clue.
Thursday, March 12
I went with David to the office of Koha Ditore, the local independent daily Albanian newspaper, to meet with its editor, Veton Surroi. Veton had been an activist and a journalist for a long time, and had recently traveled to the US to consult with politicians there. He was also beaten by the police during the first large demonstration after Drenica, on March 2. The Koha office was entered by the police at that time, and the journalists who were there beaten and harassed. One jumped out a 2nd-story window to escape violence, and broke a leg. David and I waited for Veton in a visitor's room with Andrew and several foreign journalists, some from Hungary, who kept coming in and out. Before we had a chance to meet with Veton, Andrew, who speaks Albanian, left with some of the journalists to visit Drenica. We sat in Veton's office with him and another editor, Y.
We had a short talk with Veton, who seems to be even busier than the other journalists these days. He is a quiet, deadly serious man with a voice lower than the floor. You had the feeling not to waste words with him. David was asking about possibilities for action, trying to feel out the situation. Veton, speaking of the students' indecision, said, "There is a leadership vacuum. The students need to move. When you jump into the water, you don't look to see whether it's hot or cold first." David asked what Veton thought the demands of the students should be. He said they should call for security and an end to the violence, but not for independence. He also said that the students should organize sustained protests. Speaking on the reason for the attack on Drenica, Veton said that the point of the attacks was to strengthen the Serbian position before upcoming negotiations, and to unite the Serbian population behind Milosevic. I offered my usual and only advice, not to have too much hope in the international community to solve problems in Kosovo. People say they know that, but then they ask what America will do for them. I had been hearing that there was resentment of Rugova among intellectuals, for not doing much of anything.
This has been interpreted as a Ghandian response to the Serbian regime, and that must be partly true. But many Albanians have lost their patience now, and those who aren't already advocating violent resistance, are calling for real active non-violent struggle. The students are in the forefront of this struggle at this point, though they aren't the only leaders. I asked Veton whether he thought Rugova would become less passive. He said, "I don't know. And frankly, I don't care." Speaking of what was needed to help Kosovo, Veton said that troops should be gathered around Serbia's borders. David asked if he meant NATO troops. Veton said, "Who else? The Warsaw Pact?" Veton excused himself and we continued talking with Y. David asked him if he thought it was true that people were not participating in more violence because they couldn't get guns. Y said that guns were easy to get, probably more easy than bananas. Another version of the truth on the army.
He said that probably the UCK (the "shadowy" Kosovo Liberation Army) probably amounted to a few armed groups who had gotten organized to defend their homes from police, and then decided to branch out and attack a few police stations. This attracted a lot of attention and generated a lot of propaganda on both sides, but did not constitute an army.
This was the day that the vice-president of Serbia, Markovic, was coming with a delegation of politicians to hold negotiations with the leaders of Kosovo. They had apparently sent an open letter of invitation to Albanian leaders to meet with them, but Rugova and representatives of other parties refused. Veton said, "They didn't specify who they wanted to meet with. They could just as well meet with a pigeon-lover's club." The Serbian press played up the boycott. They claimed that they had come to meet without preconditions, but they had already ruled out any adjustment of borders, involvement of an international mediator, or change in the constitution. David and I walked over towards the LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo, Rugova's party) office to meet with one of that party's officials. The official was absent but there was a small crowd in front, mostly journalists waiting to get a scoop on the LDK's absence from the negotiations. We ran into Dan and Teresa, recovering from jet lag, standing there with an interpreter, L, aged 19. L means something like "birth" in Albanian. Dan, a Chicano, explained that it meant "pretty" in Spanish. I concurred. Lacking what else to do, we went to L's apartment and met her sister E, 23. E is studying English in college, and L is enrolled to study
French, but has reservations, maybe wants to be a graphic artist. I briefed Dan and Teresa on the meeting with Surroi, and the sisters listened. Afterwards we asked them for their opinions on what I had shared and on the general situation. They stressed the need for more action, criticizing Rugova as too passive. They made the distinction between passive and active non-violent resistance, and expressed support for the student movement. I asked how much support they felt there was for an armed response of some sort. E answered, simply and quietly, "Did anybody ever win a war? You can conquer territory, but still, everyone loses. There is a better way."
The sisters told us what happened with the schools nine years ago. The Serbian authorities introduced a curriculum to be taught only in the Serbian language, and that would teach only Serbian history and culture, not Albanian. After that, many Albanian professors left the schools, and the rest were fired. E told about how many of her friends had left the country. L talked about how she was not able to have a normal teenage-hood, since the things that teenagers could do in the present atmosphere were severely limited. The theater, the disco, and the swimming pool were reserved for Serbians only. E and L's parents came in and we talked. Kemal is a professor. His main thesis was, "It's good to have powerful friends." He was counting on the United States, model of democracy for the world, to help out. I wanted to voice a different opinion but had to leave.
In the evening Dan, Therese, David and I went to a restaurant to meet its Serbian owner. This man, N., had been active in socialist politics during the Tito period. When Milosevic came into power, changed the Yugoslav constitution to remove Kosovo's and Vojvodina's autonomy (1989) and started firing Albanians from prominent positions, N protested. He then lost his job. He told us how he had had to smuggle things from Macedonia for a year and a half to make ends meet, and then he founded this restaurant. His children also lost their jobs. Some of them, as well as other Serbs and Albanians, work at the restaurant. It is a fine comfortable place with tasteful 1940s blues/love songs on the P.A. system. We sat for several hours with N and some of his friends - N-a, a high-school English teacher and translator, and a (former) professional couple, Albanians, whose names I missed. N told us that he thought Kosovo should become a third republic within Yugoslavia, with open borders with Albanian and Macedonia, because that would reduce the tension. There aren't too many Serbs in Kosovo speaking this way. David asked him what would happen if he spoke this openly in public. He said, "Probably the same thing that happened to Adem Jashari." This was the alleged leader of the alleged terrorists, who was killed in the Drenica massacre. Others have been advocating the same solution, including Adem Demaci, known as the "Mandela of Kosovo," who spent 28 years in prison. He is the leader of the Kosovo Parliamentary Party. The U.S. has rejected any change in Yugoslavia's border, meaning secession for Kosovo, but Gelbard (U.S. envoy to ex-Yugo.) actually expressed support for a third republic last week. Of course, this is fantasy as long as there is fascism in Yugoslavia.
After having chatted for a couple hours and after many expressions of profound friendship between the Albanian gentleman and N (when asked how long they'd been friends, N said "As long as I've known him"), the Albanian man said he had a disagreement with N. He said it would be sufficient for Kosovo to remain in Serbia, if it could regain its earlier autonomous status. David and I took a taxi home, having been warned to keep off the streets after dark. Another high fare for the driver. Back home I learned that the students had decided to hold the demonstration as planned the next day. In spite of the late notice, everyone in town seemed to know about it by about 10:00 p.m.
Friday, March 13
In the morning Dan, Teresa and I went back down to the restaurant to meet another interesting person with stories to tell. This was X, who used to be the director of a nearby industrial plant. He had been educated as an engineer. X told us how he was fired in 1990, along with most of his Albanian employees. There were only a few, such as drivers, who kept their jobs, he said. This man's wife had been a political official, and she was fired around the same time. At this time the entire legal infrastructure was "cleansed" of Albanians: police, the courts, and the provincial parliament. The couple now owns a store that is doing poorly, because people don't have money to buy nice things. X spoke of the strain on the economy when people weren't allowed to produce, and everything was imported. But he stressed that this was a conflict between the Albanians and the government, not the Serbs. He said that he would be in the demonstration that day. He had been beaten in the one March 2nd. I asked X if there were Albanian leaders that he trusted. He said that he trusted Rugova, but that Rugova has not done much. X has three children, including one studying in the States. He said it was difficult to explain the situation to his 10-year-old, who, because of the WWII movies he sees on t.v., asked if the Serbian policeman were Germans.
He saw current footage of Palestinians in Hebron throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and asked if those were Albanians throwing rocks. X supported a new republic in Yugoslavia for Kosovo. Andrew showed up for a spell and told us about his trip to Drenica. He went as translator with a couple of hotshot journalists - one from Newsweek. They saw some bombed-out, burned out houses. Not many people. They continued into the woods. There were people concealing themselves there who, when they saw that Andrew's crew were not police, came out to talk to them. After we talked about an hour, I noticed a couple of men sitting near us, noticing us the wrong way. As we were leaving David and I went into the restroom, and one of the men went in too. He came out of the stall and asked me where I was from, what I was doing there. I said I was visiting some friends. He asked, what kind of friends. I said, "old friends," and excused myself. After he questioned some of the others, I resolved to hold meetings away from the restaurant in the future.
In the afternoon we met up with David and walked up the hill behind the U.S. Information Service office, on the opposite side of town from Velania, in a neighborhood called Dragodan. The four of us bought some lunch food and sat on a sidewalk talking about contingency plans for the demo. Buddy system. What to do if someone gets busted. There was a little nervousness because at the March 2 demonstration, right after the Drenica massacres, there was violence. Among other things, someone had driven a car into the crowd, injuring four. People tried to grab the driver, but the police intervened. Many were beaten. This demonstration, however, was on a hillside, off the road. No one could drive into a crowd, at least, although there were roads nearby where police could come. The demonstration was called for 2:00. We arrived about an hour early, and the rally began a half hour early. All the earliness, apparently, was to get around potential roadblocks. By two there were masses of people there. No one could count them because you couldn't see the whole crowd from anywhere. It wrapped around houses that were on the edge of the field. We couldn't even see the center of the crowd, from where speeches were being made over an inadequate P.A. system.
David and I found a good spot to watch from - the first floor balcony of a half-built house. From there we could see the hillside, downtown Pristina, and the hills on the other side. Nice view, sunny but cold day. People covered the ground, every balcony, the roof of every shed, in the trees, and they climbed up a power transmitter tower. Signs and flags were everywhere. Mostly Albanian flags, but a young boy waved an American flag. Signs: "NATO s.o.s." "America, wake up," "Paqe, Liri, e Pavaresi" ("peace, freedom, and independence), "Nuk Jemi Terorist" ("We are not terrorists"), "Drenice, jemi me ju" ("Drenica, we are with you"), "Am I a terrorist? (with a picture of a young boy) and "Serbian police out of Kosova." People held up the V-sign, a symbol for freedom for the Albanians. There was chanting: "RUGOVA!" There's something about those three syllables, independent of meaning, that makes a perfect, powerful- sounding chant. And people would chant "DRENICA!" and clap three times. There was also a song, whose words I didn't catch, in 7/8 time with a nice modal scale.
I thought of the saying from the Spanish Civil War, about how they have the guns, but we have the best songs. Bujar Bukoshi, a student leader, gave a prepared speech, then Albin delivered it in English. We could barely hear it, but people were cheering. The rally broke up after less than an hour, and people started filing down the muddy hill towards town. We waited a bit and started following. We could see the march stretching ahead of us a kilometer on Qafa street, now renamed after the Yugoslav Army (JNA) by the Serbs. All of a sudden we saw people scattering at the bottom of the hill. At an intersection, folks were running in every direction. The parts of the crowd before and after that intersection kept going. After just a few seconds, the march went back to normal, and kept going. We started down the hill again. I asked myself, "Am I really doing this? Will I regret this? Why does it have to be on Friday the 13th?" But, stupidly, bravely, or luckily, David and I kept going and there was no further incident. We never really solved what had happened. There were rumors that a car had hit someone, or that some bricks had fallen from a building. It is clear though, that people were skittish, and that all it takes is for a couple of people to start running, and then everyone panics.
Estimates of the march ran to around 100,000 people. When David and I got to the end of the march, by the big yellow national museum, we ran into someone he knew, Nick Hill from the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. Hill is a couple of notches below ambassador, has been in Belgrade 1 1/2 years. We walked him back to the USIS so we could chat. He told us this was his 41st trip to Kosovo. He made it clear that there was no intention of military action from NATO or the United States, regardless of any statements Clinton and Albright had made. Hill struck me as a plain-vanilla liberal, all feelings and no fingernails. He anguished about what the U.S. could do. He told David, "make a suggestion and I'll put it in my report." He admitted he had winced when Gelbard called the Albanians terrorists a couple of weeks earlier, that he wouldn't have put it that way, and that Gelbard himself regretted it. He said, "We're doing all we can." There is logic to his position. The U.S. can't do much without Europe, and no one wants to intervene militarily. In the imagination of Western diplomacy, the only two options left are sanctions and fearsome pronouncements, with a preference to the latter.
We all regathered at the student union office, where I took advantage of their e-mail, Friday evening. It was hard to concentrate and it took me more than an hour to write two pages, because interesting people kept coming in from all over Europe. Some Serbian students from Belgrade arrived. Some American students from Central European University came. Three more Peaceworkers, Albert, Bruce and Allison, the latter two coming from Sarajevo, showed up. Some other internationals from Sarajevo, including S, a Japanese man who had been to college in Ee and had seen David Lippman perform there, then gone on to work in Mostar, Foca, and now with OSCE in Sarajevo. Small world, indeed. There must've been a crowd of 20 internationals and 30 students in and through the offices, with Albin and Bujar talking to us and the press. Our people bought some groceries and we ate. Then Albin announced we were going back down to the restaurant we called "7." This overpriced but friendly hangout was becoming our meeting point. There were complications when we would say, "lets meet at `7,' at 6:00," etc. We had a several-hour wind-down with all manner of friendly conversational combinations taking place. Albert, Bruce, Allison and I were staying in the same upper neighborhood, and we caught a taxi home. The driver refused to accept payment.
I talked to the guys at home and heard N's story. He had been pulled off the bus by a cop back in early November, right after the second big student demonstration. The policeman had come on the bus questioning people, pulled N and his friend off, and told the bus driver to move on. He asked N if he was a student. N said no. The policeman said, "Let's have a look in your wallet." He found a library card in N's wallet. He asked N why he had lied. N said, "Because I know you don't want us to be going to our schools. (The Albanian parallel university classes have carried on since 1990 in houses, storefronts, and basements.)
The policeman asked, "Were you at the demonstration?" N said, "I know you won't like it if I say no, nor if I say yes, so have it either way you want." At this the policeman started beating N's friend, who had not talked at all, with his fists. He hit N, and then clapped both his hands on N's ears, causing damage to an eardrum that took N a month to recover from. He then asked his partner to bring him a billy club. The partner said he didn't have one. N thinks he said this because he didn't want to contribute to the violence. Then the policeman took his rifle and started beating N with the end of it. I asked how long this lasted. N said, "I don't know - till he got tired, about fifteen minutes." N said that he thought maybe the policeman recognized him as a professor's son. He also said he thought maybe the policeman was drunk, and that if he had been seen by higher officials doing what he did, he would have been punished.
Besides all this, N and the others told me of some beatings that had happened after the demonstration that day. It seems that stray people wandering home after the demonstration were pulled into the halls of apartment buildings by police and beaten there. In one incident that happened to a friend of N's, she and a friend were taken into a hall by a policeman who started beating them despite a neighbor's complaints. The neighbor then went out into the street and, luckily, found a foreign journalist with a camera. She dragged the cameraman into the hall, at which point the policeman let his victims loose.
Fri, 13 Mar 1998 20:14:27 +0100
I am writing from Pristina, Kosova.
I will try to share my impressions and some of the things I have learned in two days here. It has been a packed two days, but I will write a little off the top of my head, whatever I can get out in a few minutes.
It took me three days to get here - I had to get a visa in Zagreb. I stayed over in Belgrade at the office of Women in Black, a group of brave people who have been holding regular demonstrations against the police terror in Kosovo. This group has been in existence in the first wars 7 years ago.
I walked around Belgrade a little, not having been there since 1989. It was big and clean, at least relative to Sarajevo. It made me think of Washington D.C. - Federal and impressive and far from the evil it sends out.
I am here as an affiliate of "Peaceworkers," a California pacifist activist group run by D.H., who has made a few trips here and has all kinds of connections here. We came in response to an invitation from the local student union, who organized a protest demonstration for today. We were invited to participate as international observers, perhaps to influence the police in that way, to prevent violence. Also to witness and report.
As you may know, the schools here have been closed to Albanian students since 1989. The students started organizing protest demonstrations last October. This has been the first organized non-violent protest in about 7 years. Two demonstrations in October and one in December were attacked by the police. Today's protest was planned over a month ago. I have been staying with a family with a couple of sons who are students. I have been learning about the situation from them and some translators, as well as various folks that D.H. set up for us to meet with. The students have an underground school system that meets in people's houses and is supported by a parallel tax system organized by the Kosovo parallel government.
Young Albanians anywhere in Kosovo can be picked up by the police any time and taken to the station for "informative discussions." Torture and disappearances are not unusual. Beating is routine. One of my hosts was beaten for having a library card. He told me that you could be beaten for not knowing the Serbian language. The big change, of course, is the massacres that happened in the Drenica area in the last two weeks. This pushed the school issue to the background and changed the focus of today's demonstration.
Drenica is an area west of Pristina,. Ten or 11 villages there were surrounded and attacked at the beginning of this month. Around 80 people were killed, including many women and children. Of 46 that were buried two days ago, there were 14 women and 12 children. The Serbian government has promoted this as an "anti-terrorist" campaign, but it was pure terrorism. The attacks against Serbian police here in the last couple of years have been characterized as those of an army. From what I read in the Bosnian press, probably similar to the coverage in the U.S. press, I believed there was an army. I am glad I came here, because now I see that it is hard to say definitively that here is an army. There may be some small groups that got together to defend their homes in their villages. Drenica was a center of that kind of resistance but not the center of an army. If there is anything like an army, it has no center.
An American I met here went out to Drenica yesterday and today and found bombed and burned-out houses. People are still hiding in the woods there, afraid to go back to whatever homes they have left. Five thousand Albanians have fled to Montenegro, and others to Macedonia. But most are staying, making an Albanian version of steadfastness. There are a lot of theories about why Milosevic pulled off these massacres. One thing that's certain is that it plays well to his constituency. The "opposition" is completely united behind him now. The Kosovo issue has always had this effect, since the beginning. People are saying that the massacre happened when the police got out of hand. But I'm not convinced that it was unintentional. Another popular theory is that it was committed in order to soften up resistance among the Albanians, to make them inclined to negotiate and make concessions on their sovereignty. The opposite is the case.
It also may be that Milosevic did not expect as much bad press as he has gotten now internationally, or pressure from the West. But there's not much the West can do short of military intervention. The threat of sanctions may actually be something that works in Milosevic's favor, at least as far as strengthening his domestic support.
We have been meeting with local journalists and other educated Albanians of varying ages. Two salient ideas they have expressed are the desire for a peaceful solution, and the hope for international intervention on some level. There is no possibility of military intervention unless a real war breaks out here. The West's interest is to keep hostilities contained, not to make justice happen for the Albanians. They aren't really interested in how many Kosovo Albanians die or are tortured, as long as there's not a war that spreads towards Greece. They don't want hundreds of thousands of new refugees on top of the Bosnians and Albanians already in central and western Europe. It is hard and sad to tell people here not to expect some kind of sincere moral reaction from the West.
One of the most eloquent moments happened yesterday as I and a couple other "Peaceworkers" were sitting in the home of two sisters, young women who have been translating for us. I asked about support for the underground army here, and for war as a solution. E. said to me, "Did anyone ever win a war? You can conquer territory, but everyone still loses. Anyone with a little sense knows that's not a solution." There are other opinions, such as those of the people I met in Sarajevo, who said, "We're fed up and we're ready to die for a better future." But the sentiment for war apparently is not prevalent, at least in Pristina.
One of the few options people here have is to do what they did today, that is, create mass public events. People have lost their fear of police violence. Public protests keep the issues in the press, which helps put pressure on the government. I don't really believe fascism will end here as long as Milosevic is in power, but nonviolent action can mitigate the situation. The student leadership is just finding its way, but it has a lot of support. Rugova, the president of the parallel government, is also popular, but he has been losing popularity because he is inactive. He has a reputation for not having done anything for the last seven years. As one of our wise young translators said, "There is passive non-violence and active non-violence." Only the latter can make a difference."
Today the demonstration took place. It was called for a hillside spot. This was wise, because it was safe from attack from cars or tanks. It was quite a scene. The whole hillside was covered with people, maybe up to a hundred thousand. There were a few speeches. It lasted not more than an hour. People of all ages were there. Signs: "We are not terrorists." "Drenica, we are with you." "Serb police out of Kosovo." "Peace, Freedom, and Independence." "Stop killing pregnant women." "NATO S.O.S."
Fortunately, there turned out not to be any problem with police violence. There were not even any police around. A couple on the route downtown where we subsequently marched. I think there is really too much international attention on Kosovo at this point.
- Peter Lippman
Sat Mar. 14
We met with C from Balkan Peace Teams this morning. The group is a good one - has a team in Belgrade and two in Croatia. BPT follows the political situation and comes down to Pristina monthly. It tries to get Serbians and Albanians talking to each other. There has been some success with this, but it is a risky proposition for the Albanians. Carey spent some time evaluating the student movement, criticizing them for failure to speak to the Serbians. She thought they should at least have some of their signs in Serbian, so people can understand what the demands are. Certainly it would be good if Serbians could have more alternative information about the conditions the Albanians are living under, because they are (mostly) terribly brainwashed. But it is risky for Albanians to reach out to the Serbs at this point, because of the potential for being ostracized by their own folks. Carey told us that the average age of the Albanian population is 25, that most young people are unemployed, living in villages, supporting the UCK, and have access to guns. Another point of view.
In the afternoon we met with D, a Serbian man David had met through an earlier BPT worker. D has a family with a couple of kids and runs a gym. He has always had Albanian customers and friends that he would go to the kafana with. He told us that everything was nice before the UCK started shooting policemen. People got along just fine. He said that there didn't use to be such a population disproportion between the Albanians and Serbians (about 90%/10% or less) but that many Serbs have left for better conditions. Also, "the only two things Albanians think about are sex and guns. They have lots of kids. If they have two wives they can have ten, fifteen kids, and Serbs will have two or so. And they all make sure to have guns. It's traditional with them. We Serbs don't like guns. I don't know, maybe it's because of Islam." All this from someone David saw as a "good human being." I have known that "good human beings" are involved in the system of fascism. I suppose it is because their brainwashing and their fear allows them to do horrendous things because they think they have to. That's the way it was in Germany. D said, "Did you see the pictures of the dead in Drenica? They looked like monkeys." (I had watched Serbian tv at my family's home, and only pictures of men were shown, along with displays of a large collection if weapons allegedly taken from the scene.)
He said, "In the U.S., what do you do with your terrorist problem? You hunt them down and kill them, don't you? It's the same here." D looked at me. He said, "You don't believe me, do you. I can feel it in your vibrations." The others had been trying to smile and just listen. Perhaps I failed to exude an air of sympathy or impartiality. Maybe I'm not good enough at that. I was thinking of my Bosniak friends who had been in concentration camps. D continued, "You know, in this situation, I have to be careful. I have to watch what people are thinking. I have to know martial arts, maybe have a gun. Do you think I have a gun?" he asked me, feeling his pocket. I faked, "I'm here to listen, and I'm glad to hear what you have to say," feeling I'd heard enough. D said he would leave Kosovo if he had somewhere to go. At the end, he asked us why we all had mud on our shoes. We went home and cleaned our shoes. Later in the week some of the folks went back to meet D. I heard that he said he wished that the Albanians would get their autonomy, so that things could calm down. In the evening we learned that there would be another demonstration the next day, organized to coincide with the Albanian Catholic mass.
Sun Mar 15
We made our way down the hill to where the demonstration was to take place, near the center of town. As before, it started about a half hour early, with people coming from all directions. This time they were carrying pictures of Mother Theresa and unlit candles symbolizing the dead at Drenica. There was supposed to be a stationary demonstration, but it kept moving, in a big circle around downtown, past the university library, back to the center. There were easily 100,000 people again. There was clearly an organizational deficiency. At some point the police got in the middle and separated the march. Now there were two big sections. David, Dan, Teresa and I were with the front half. At the front of this there was a line of seven men wearing t-shirts, each with a letter. Together they spelled D-R-E-N- I-C-A. They would stop every once in a while for photographers. The crowd marched to the center of town and stopped. There, an older man shushed everybody quite. I have never seen so many people so quiet. The intensity of the concentration, the loudness of the silence, made me feel faint. The man went around lighting all the candles held by the people up front. He walked away, lighting a cigarette.
As the march broke up, a lot of people moved off, probably home, into the poorer, older section of town. We followed, not really knowing what was happening. When we figured out that the march was over, we headed back. We later learned that the back half of the march had turned back, gone to the Catholic church, and lit its candles there. I stopped in a little grocery store to get a drink. When the store owner realized that my friends and I were foreign observers, he invited them all in for a free drink. He tried to give us food too, bananas, whatever was at hand. It turned into an impromptu meeting, with me translating, and the others asking questions. The store owner was a high school math teacher who was minding the store for his wife on Sunday. He earns about 60 marks a month as a teacher (this from a 3% tax paid by Albanians to the parallel government on top of what they pay the Serbians). He said that the only way he and his family really survived was by receiving help from a brother in Germany. David asked the owner if they had any Serbian friends now. He told us that he and his friends regarded the Serbs as humans, but were "unable to love them" now. We left as he told us that "we want our rights, and we are cultured people." I felt sad that someone would feel he had to tell us his people were cultured.
In the evening Dan, Teresa and I visited L and E. We had a true comic relief evening. I told nearly every joke I know. All the light bulb jokes (a new genre for the sisters), knock-knock jokes, New York jokes, Bosnian jokes, musician jokes, everything. We laughed. I couldn't even finish a joke, from laughing. We were treated to dinner around 10:30 p.m.
Mon Mar 16
At the beginning of the day there was a women's march. About 20,000 women tried to walk to Drenica, 30 or 50 kilometers, carrying loaves of bread in the air. They were stopped about 5 k out of town by police and turned back. Afterwards they marched around town trying to find someone to take the bread. Maybe the police thought there were guns, or perhaps tanks or airplanes, concealed in the bread.
We visited the Dean of the Philology Faculty this morning. His office is in the small upstairs room of a house donated by a mosque. He explained to us that the department teaches English, French, German and Russian, in principle, but that interest in Russian has died off. English is by far the best-attended program. Students (or their families) pay for their own tuition, so the English section is able to support itself and give some money over to other sections. The French section is second biggest, with the German section still in development. In addition to this part of the Faculty, there is also an "Orientology" department that covers Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman/Balkan studies. Since the university staff lost the use of their facilities in the fall of 1991, the Dean told us, classes have been held in private homes and shops scattered around town. Elementary school rooms are available on Saturdays. After the staff was dismissed, it took a few months to organize a parallel university system. By the next school year two full semesters were held. The Dean told us that the Serbian students hardly fill a small percentage of the school, since they were less than ten per cent of the student body.
I have heard that the Serbian government is encouraging students from Kragujevac, Belgrade, Nis and other places to go study in Pristina. This applies especially to students who have a hard time academically in Belgrade - they receive easier studying conditions and better marks in Pristina. We were also told that the Albanian professors are far better qualified than the Serbian ones. It was explained to us that in 1990 the professors were given instructions requiring them to teach only in Serbian, only Serbian history and literature, culture and arts.
This was a program of assimilation. The same was true in the lower schools. The professors and teachers were given a choice of accepting the situation or leaving. Those who did not accept it were not paid. Most of them ended up being fired. The usual contacts and cooperation between universities are at a reduced level. U.S. institutions have not recognized the credentials of the University. There is some cooperation with Turkey, Albania, Germany, Austria and Italy. Serbian and Albanian students used to study each other's language; now to each his own. I think this is a very sad situation, especially for the Albanians, who can only lose more by not understanding the dominant tongue of the region, regardless of how regressive the politics are. Of course, most Macedonians and Slovenians have also stopped studying Serbo- Croatian. Some students who can't afford school receive stipends. Tuition is only 70 DM a semester. Living costs in Pristina, however, are relatively high compared to the rest of Kosovo - 200-300 DM a month. So if students commute, occasional absence is tolerated. Also, it is not unusual for a student to take a lot longer than 4 years to finish. The Dean felt that the level of education is reasonable, but that it suffers for lack of facilities (especially the medical department) and books.
In the afternoon we dropped in on an English class taught by a young assistant professor, L. There were about 12 students. The class was in a concrete storefront with a pile of coke-bottle crates in the back of the room, behind a standing blackboard. The students sat on makeshift wooden benches that bent and creaked as you leaned on them. Lumi, seeing I was older than my companions, asked if I was a teacher. The first thing that came out of my mouth was that no, I was a carpenter. That took some explaining. We sat and talked for a while. We heard that the students want a non-violent solution but that they want it soon, and won't wait forever patiently. There were a couple who expressed the readiness to participate in an armed resistance at some point. One said, "If a policeman comes into my house and hurts my father or my sister, then I must fight." There was also the hope expressed that the West would come to the rescue. Bruce, in his best state-department tone of voice, explained that "we weren't going to intervene." It was a harsh but correct answer. Albert, feeling sorry, said he felt that there would be an independent Kosovo in a few years. I wouldn't know. I asked, Ncing the hats, coats, and gloves that people were wearing, and seeing their breath in the air, if it was hard to be a student. The answer was yes, that foreign schools didn't recognize them, that it was expensive (books especially), and that there was little hope of a job after finishing. We took L out to a spaghetti restaurant for lunch afterwards. She had a cold and seemed sad. She had been shivering inside the "classroom." She was a friend and former teacher of E's. L lives near Pec (Peja) and commutes. But because of the violence in Drenica, she was not able to go home for now.
Coming home in the evening I heard L practicing the piano. I went in to listen and he made a little concert for me. He played me Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, all three movements of it, without notes. It was impressive. I asked how long he'd been working on it, and he told me, "Since the beginning of the year, only I haven't had much time." Then he played me Tchaikovsky's March Alla Turca, which sounded easy after the Beethoven piece.
Tues Mar 17
Several of us went to the Center for the Defense of Women and Children, near the upper neighborhood where I was staying. This is a little storefront with several offices where special needs of women and children are looked after. At the time we arrived, the staff was in the middle of trying to cope with a real refugee crisis, of what to do with dozens of people from the Drenica area who had escaped there or were stuck in town.
We went into the main office and were met by V, a pediatrician who donates time to the organization. She explained to us that she was going to speak to us standing up, because she was so tired that she would fall asleep if she sat down. V explained to us that the Center provides medical counseling and sex education to women and young people, as well as contraceptives. They also provide instruction in human rights and conflict resolution. V told us that the right to health care was taken away by the government nine years ago.
There are 15 women who work at the center, putting in long days. There are 50 to 70 visitors a day, and two workshops are week held a week, on such things as contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (std's). There are up to 60 people attending each workshop, and all of the junior and senior high school students have come through the Center.
The Center organizes protests, and lobbies on human rights. It serves both Albanians and Serbian women. There has been some discomfort on the part of the Albanians when Serbians would come to the Center, but it has since been mitigated. V said she considered it a success that the Serbian women, who have access to better care than the Albanians, would come into the Center.
V said that women and children were the most vulnerable in Kosovo society. She told us that she was the first doctor fired from the hospital, on August 13, 1990. There were 2,300 fired, and that since then Albanian women were afraid to go to the hospital. All of those who lost their jobs were hard pressed to be able to afford medical services. We were told that 72 per cent of working people had been fired from their jobs.
Fewer than 3 per cent of women are currently working, according to V. Women make up 38 per cent of college graduates, but most are at home, and the Center is trying to help them. Among other problems, there is an increase in domestic violence, as men's frustration rises. Women have few options on how to deal with this problem, since they don't have their own money, and the law doesn't protect them.
We were given some depressing medical statistics, which V had on the tip of her tongue. 26 people died from polio in 1996. Infant mortality among Albanians is estimated around 50 per 1,000, but it is probably higher. Std's are on the rise, as is teenage pregnancy. This refers to pregnancy among young married women. The birth rate is higher because more women are at home with less to do. There has been a 1/3 dropout rate from high school for young women. More than half the population is under 19.
It is difficult for outside donors to get supplies through to Kosovo, because, if the police let material in at all, much of it may be stolen by the police. The Mother Theresa clinic is one of the few institutions receiving any supplies.
V said that aid organizations were not able to get into the Drenica area. She said that now an orphanage is needed. She said that aid organizations, responding to various requests, say "It's not in our mandate." She asked, "What are they here for?" I couldn't help but respond, "Their careers." V said, "I was trying to be polite." The Center is harassed by police, who park in front of its door and frighten clients.
I sat by the computer, listening to V. On the screen was a list of Drenica refugees who needed places to stay. V told us she believed that Kosovo should become a demilitarized area. As we left we learned that a boy of 11 from Drenica had just shown up. Both of his parents had been killed, and he had escaped by walking alone through the woods.
In the evening we all went to visit the Media Project. This is a group of young women who, with the guidance of some older women, learn journalism. My friend A is one of the counselors. We met with about 8 of the 30-odd women in the group. The atmosphere reminds me of a kind of mutual motivation, self-help society. The women talked about gaining self-confidence through the friendship and support they received from each other. On the wall was a big slogan in English: "I want. I know. I can." The dominant idea was to improve oneself to change the world.
The women of the Media Project work together on the magazine "Eritrea." They learn graphics, layout, photojournalism, and writing. They also have classes in conflict resolution. I asked if they received harassment from paternalistic men. One of them brushed this off, "Oh, those are just people who have nothing to do." Someone asked if there was a possibility to study abroad, or was it too expensive. One woman said, "It's not a problem of money. I went to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade twice to get a visa. But they refused me both times. So my passport is still a virgin." Another woman, exuding confidence, said she was going to go study political science in Florida, and come back and become president of Kosovo. I made sure to shake her hand.
The seven or eight young women sat around casually, leaning on each other. One young woman with dark looks had been a monitor at the women's march the previous day. She was walking along the side of the march keeping order. A policeman came up and said, "I'm the only policeman here," and kicked her as hard as he could in the leg.
A came in and spoke. She said, "I don't believe the propaganda about the `terrorists.' I have never seen the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army). Serbian television shows police cars with bullet holes in them, but where are the terrorists? I'll tell you where they are. If I go to sleep every night knowing that the police can break into my apartment, and disturb my family and my children, that's psychological terrorism."
I went out afterwards with E, A and her husband, then dropped in at "7" to see what some of the others were up to. Tired of taxis, I walked up the hill without a problem.
Wed Mar 18
There was a morning demonstration this day called by the Youth Forum, a branch of the LDK (Rugova's) party. This is interesting because when the demonstrations started in October, Rugova had opposed them. The demonstration was called to last for a half hour and remain downtown. Again it started early, lasted longer, and moved out around the town. I followed it up to the top of the hill behind my neighborhood, then had to leave. I heard later that it wound back around to the poor neighborhood. There was a dangerous incident there. Someone drove a truck to the crowd, trying to get through. The driver stopped and started yelling, and someone from the crowd jumped up to his window and was harassing him. Someone else threw a rock and broke a window, but others were trying to restrain the crowd. The driver then gunned the motor and took off through the crowd, scattering people in every direction. David was there and got knocked over. He said it was a miracle no one was killed by the truck.
Dan, Teresa and I went with E and L to visit the Mother Teresa women's clinic in the poor part of town. We entered the house converted into a clinic and were given white coats to wear. We sat with the head nurse and a doctor, who told us their stories. In 1990 all 600 doctors, nurses and other workers on the staff of the ob-gyn department at the Pristina hospital were fired. The nurse told us that she was given 5 minutes to leave, and when she asked for a reason, she was told she had to ask fewer questions. The doctor told us that she was told to leave by a policeman who came in wearing a white coat and holding a gun in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. This is a surrealistic image but believable to me after my experience in jail. Most of these cops do not behave like grownups.
Other doctors had the same or worse experience. One doctor was in the middle of a complicated operation when a policeman told him to leave. The doctor said that he couldn't leave until he finished the operation. He was then handcuffed to a radiator and beaten.
Since the firings at the hospital women have been afraid to go there. They fear mistreatment at the hands of Serbian doctors, who sometimes prescribe unnecessary operations. So they have their kids at home, or go to a private clinic if they can afford it. Mother Theresa was founded only in June 1996, and is the only charitable ob-gyn clinic in all of Kosovo. It is staffed by volunteer medical professionals, and also performs surgeries.
The clinic is pitifully small for its demands. There are on average 15 births a day there. Women sometimes have to double up on a bed. They are allowed to stay only 2 hours after giving birth, because of space problems. People having surgery can rest 2 days. The clinic has 150 square meters, and we were told that 4,000 square meters would be adequate. We looked around. It was a quiet day. Most women in Kosovo were having their babies at home this week, because of transportation disruptions due to the massacres and the protests. There were only three newborns. They were in a separate room, like a little pantry. They were all swaddled up and spacy. To keep them warm, there were 2-liter soft-drink bottles filled with warm water between them.
My impression is that the parallel medical infrastructure is nowhere near as organized as the educational one. Of course, the educational system can get by with fewer resources. There has been a jump in infant mortality - we were told it doubled. Prenatal care is minimal. Many women see a doctor for the first time when they are about to give birth, if then.800 babies have been born at Mother Theresa since the beginning of the year.
Mother Theresa receives assistance from Mercy Corps and Doctors of the World. It treats both Albanians and Serbian women. Fewer Serbian women come in because they have access to other facilities, but apparently the Serbian doctors are under-qualified. At the time of the Drenica massacre the police took control of the hospitals. The few Albanian care-givers remaining were not allowed to treat victims from Drenica. Autopsies were not allowed.
Thurs Mar 19
I witnessed one more Albanian protest demonstration this morning. It began again in the center of town with people coming in from every direction. This demonstration was called by the students and was more disciplined than the previous two. People marched down a main street and came to a big intersection. At this point about six policemen holding their automatic rifles in the air stepped out and formed a line in front of the protesters, to prevent the march from going further.
Everyone, thousands of people, sat down. There was a silent standoff between force and non-violence. The power of 50,000 people sitting still visually overwhelmed the six policemen, standing with weapons. This is one of the strongest images I will retain from this week.
I overheard two Serbian women next to me, watching the sitdown, saying that the Albanians were acting. I asked them what this was all about, just to hear what they would say. Of course, they asked me where I was from. When I said that I was from America, one said I was lying, because I didn't look like I was from America. I showed her my passport. Then they told me that the Albanians were acting, that they had been oppressing the Serbians for 30 years, and that they ran the economy. That all these businesses, and all the nice restaurants, were theirs.
The policemen looked stupid. There was nothing they could do. At exactly 12:00 noon the demonstrators started whistling and rattling their keys. Keys to unlock the jail, like in Chile. This went on for about a half hour. My companions and a couple of dozen journalists wandered behind the line of policemen, taking pictures. After a while the protesters started to get up. They started walking around the policemen, slowly and calmly, in exactly the direction the police had tried to prevent them from going. A single old man stood next to the policeman on the end of the line where the people were passing. He had his back to the cop, almost touching the cop's rifle. He was holding his hands out, controlling the crowd, making sure they passed without incident.
There was nothing the police could do, even though a couple of armored personnel carriers had rolled up earlier, full of helmeted cops who filed around somewhere behind the crowd. Observers (snipers?) stood on the roofs with binoculars, but nothing happened. The journalists made this possible. The demonstrations this week were the first without major violence.
However, later we heard that there was violence in other cities. During a demonstration in Pec/Peja, someone started throwing rocks. Snipers started shooting. A man was killed and five others wounded. There was shooting in Djakovica also.
In the afternoon we watched a Serbian counter- demonstration. There had been a small one the previous day, and we heard that people were being bussed in from around Serbia for today. This is an old tactic dating from Milosevic's "anti-bureaucracy rallies" of the late 1980s. The demonstration started with a large rally and speeches on the lawn in front of one of the faculty buildings. Teresa and I tried to get close to the speakers but found ourselves stuck in the middle of a potentially unfriendly crowd, so we backed out without saying anything. We stood watching at the edge of the crowd. People were holding Serbian and Yugoslav flags, some with the nationalist symbol, a cross and four Cyrillic S's ("Only Unity can Save the Serbs"). After a while the crowd moved out to the street. Carey and I ran along ahead to watch. There were fewer journalists than at the Albanian marches. We walked along for a few blocks, then found a good vantage point where the whole march was turning a corner. Most of us from the team were there, plus a very few journalists. We saw signs:
"Kosovo is ours," "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia," "We will never give up Serbia," "America, don't betray us," "One school curriculum for all of Serbia," and a swastika, with the words "America" and "Germany" written over it. People held up their thumb and two fingers, a Serbian nationalist symbol.
People were singing songs too. Especially the old one, "Ko to Kaze" - "Who's lying, who's saying, that Serbia is small?" It goes on in successive verses to recount the history of wars that Serbia has fought in. 1914, 1945.
The march kept going. There must have been about 50,000 people. It was hard to imagine how that many Serbs could come out of the woodworks in Kosovo, but also hard to imagine how very many thousands could be bussed in. At one point some people were eyeballing us and the journalists and started yelling, "Profiteers!" "Go home!"
There is a word they use in Bosnian to report the kind of mood we witnessed - "euphoric." It was a euphoric hate scene from ignorant, fearful people.
We started leaving. An older woman followed us, yelling, "You are shit! You should be killed!"
That evening, the six of us were invited to dinner at L and E's apartment. I walked down the hill and the first thing I saw was several carloads of Serbians carrying flags, singing songs, and rolling around town loudly. It rattled me a little.
L and E's mother S cooked us a many-course meal. There was soup, stuffed grape leaves, salad, sausage, something that L called "chicken with pajamas," and much more. It was a sweet time, memorable for me because I was leaving the next day. I made a little toast. I thanked David for his hard work and for sharing his contacts with us. I thanked the others for being comrades and sharing the intense learning experience. I thanked L and E for being tirelessly helpful. And I thanked K and S for their hospitality, and wished that we could be together again in better times. I asked them all to wish me luck getting out of Kosovo the next day, that I wasn't happy about the prospect of crossing the border into the Republika Srpska alone. I ended by saying I had a feeling we'd be seeing each other again.
Albert, Bruce and I decided to walk up the hill together afterwards. Within minutes I saw trouble coming like a bad dog, but too late to avoid. Albert and Bruce were walking ahead of me. I noticed that they were catching up to two big, really big guys, one with long hair. I knew they were Serbians. I knew they would notice us. It was too late to do anything. Sure enough, as Bruce passed them the bigger one said, "Where are you going," and grabbed him. Bruce said in English, "I don't understand." I said, "Let him go." The big guy said, "English? why does your media tell lies about us?" He let go of Bruce and tried to grab me, putting his arm around my head like it was a pumpkin. He must've been drunk. The other guy wasn't getting involved, fortunately. I pulled my head free and the three of us ran down the street and around the corner like three blind mice. As we were taking our leave the big guy yelled, "I KILL YOU! I FUCK YOU!!" We kept running on a full stomach for a couple of blocks. But they didn't follow us.
Albert said, "You're leaving just in time, Peter."
Fri Mar 20
I walked down from Velania all the way to the bus station, about 45 minutes. A little nervous with my daypack, but nothing happened. I got on the bus to Sarajevo. It was a bus line based in Pale. The arrangement was to travel to Serb Sarajevo, then change buses, and be in town by evening. There was a slight delay. We stopped on the road outside of Pristina for about a half hour. I didn't think much of it. It was some kind of a checkpoint. A policeman spoke with the driver, and then we were off. There was another checkpoint coming into Mitrovica. A policeman got on the bus and checked everyone's i.d. There weren't many people - a few Serbs, a few Albanians, and me. When the policeman got to me he looked at my passport and asked me why I didn't have a registration card. I said I left it at the hotel. He said ok, as if to leave. Then he changed his mind and said, "let me look at that passport again." He decided to take me off the bus, and then he called other police. Another one came and looked at everything in my pack.
Fortunately I didn't have anything particularly incriminating. I had visualized this moment before I left Bosnia. I didn't have a computer, an address book, any literature whatsoever, no computer, no books about Yugoslavia. But I had some film in one pocket and Pristina phone numbers in the other, and my 18 little pocket-notebook pages of notes in another.
The policeman looked at the contents of my pack. I could have been a plain vanilla tourist, except for where I was coming from. He saw my camera, which was empty of film. He asked where the film was. I said I hadn't gotten around to taking any pictures. He said in a skeptical tone of voice, "Brko (a nickname for anyone with a mustache), c'mon, don't mess around." So I pulled one of three rolls of film out of my pocket, and handed it to him. Then he made me take out everything from my pockets and put it on the car. He didn't notice the other film, or my telephone number list. He decided I was to go to the Mitrovica police station.
The policeman told me to get on the bus and get my things and come with him. By this time he was harassing the other passengers, yelling at the Albanians, demanding to look at their things. He even yelled at the bus driver. I put my things back in my pocket and went on the bus. I deep-sixed the film and notes in a convenient hole in the lining of a seat, collected my other belongings, and got off.
The cops put me in a car and drove me a couple of kilometers to the Mitrovica police station. They walked me around the station, not watching too closely. I found the opportunity to ditch my telephone list in a garbage can when no one was looking. At this point I thought I'd get a fine and be let go, maybe even get back on the bus. But no such luck. They kept me in an office room for three whole hours, questioning me intermittently, typing a report with two fingers.
There were two officers, a man and a woman. Sometimes a third came in. They were deeply displeased with me for the story about the hotel, which they soon disconfirmed. They accused me of being a journalist. They hated the fact that I had been with Albanians. I gave them the Peaceworker line, about coming here to see both sides because I didn't believe the press, but it didn't placate them. The man kept making calls to Pristina to find out what to do. >From time to time he went out of the room, leaving the woman to guard me. They didn't handcuff me, though. The woman tried to make friends. I told her how I had studied in Novi Sad. I told her I was working in humanitarian aid in Bosnia. I worked on switching over to the ekavski (Serbian) dialect, which I hadn't spoken in years. She was curious about little things about living in the U.S., like could you make a living working for Amway, and why did I take vitamins. We, or rather she, talked about the Albanians. She asked me what they said to me, did they want independence. I said some of them just wanted autonomy. She said, "They have autonomy, it's in the Constitution." She rehearsed the other lies about the Albanians, the guns, how rich they are, and so on. At the end she was friendly. I asked her to tell the man something good about me and let me go, but she said she couldn't.
Finally there was a decision to return me to Pristina. The man put a gun in his pocket. I told him that wouldn't be necessary, that I was the least dangerous person around. He got a partner, and took me back in the car. We arrived in Pristina and they left. I asked the man to tell the Pristina officer that I was a good guy and they should let me go. He said "You're a good guy," and left. I sat in one room while an officer typed up another report with two fingers, and then I was moved to another office briefly. There I saw David Hartsough. I had hoped not to see him. He had been called in and was trying to convince the officers that he believed in their humanity, or something along those lines. The officers were yelling at him stuff he couldn't understand, "We're not idiots," etc. I said to David, "It's no use arguing," and then was whisked out of the room. Apparently he got through their ice a while later, as probably only he could.
I was told I was going before a judge. Two cops accompanied me to the court. They were mildly sympathetic and bored. They couldn't have cared less that I hadn't registered. They wanted to know about life in America, the Sonics, had I ever been to Las Vegas.
I finally met the judge. Really, she was a magistrate with a secretary in a little room. She asked me if I wanted an interpreter. I said no. Did I want a lawyer. I didn't think it would make any difference, and she said the same, since the facts were not in dispute. So I said no. I gave her the Peaceworkers line, no anti-Serb talk. She said, "I will take your cooperativeness into account while I am making the decision." She also then told me there would be a jail sentence, not a fine.
I was told to wait in the hall with the two policemen. One of them was trying to be kind. He offered me a cigarette. I said I didn't smoke. He said, "c'mon, light one up anyway," as if it would be the greatest treat. Another policeman told me I was going to get ten days. I doubted it.
After an hour or more I was given the sentence on a printed piece of paper. Ten days. I had a hard time believing it. I wanted to make a call. The "judge" said I could do that at the jail.
I was taken to the jail, and stood in the cold foyer for a while. I was leaning against a wall with my hands in my pockets. A fat man came out and yelled at me not to lean there. To go stand in the corner. With my hands behind my back. Another man with a pinched face came and yelled at me, what was I doing in Pristina. I didn't try to answer. He yelled, "In America if I came there, I would have to register! Why didn't you register!!" I started to say something. He yelled, "SHUTUP!" So I did. I was taken in a room where I was to hand over my belongings. A tall young officer came in, Mile was his name. He was yelling at me too. Everything he said was in a loud voice. By this time I really didn't care if anyone was yelling at me. It all, especially Mile, just seemed to be overgrown boys who were bored with their work and felt it necessary to intimidate whoever walked in the door. I was bored too.
I put everything I had on the table. My money, my wallet, my clothes. My toothbrush and toothpaste, which I had smuggled into my pocket when I was told I was going to jail. Mile yelled, "Oh, just as if he knew he was going to jail!" He yelled out the name of everything I had. He counted my money and noted it down. Probably a month's pay for one of these shmucks. Mile said he was going to frisk me, and that if he found anything, he was going to kill me.
After a while I realized Mile was having fun, and wasn't really taking himself as seriously as the other cops. Others wandered in and out. Played with my flashlight. Looked at a tape I had bought on the street. Not an Albanian tape (that would've been incriminating). Alabina - an Arab woman, I think, who sings Arabic with some flamenco guitarists from Spain. A natural combination - I'd been hearing it in the kafanas in Sarajevo, but never saw the tape. Got it on the street in Pristina for 10 dinars, a little over a dollar. Someone joked about the tape, called it "Albania." Everyone laughed. Mile let me have my soap, my extra clothes, my toothbrush, and, luckily, one of two medicine ventilators I carried for my lungs. I asked if I could have the other, my books, and my vitamins, but no dice. I was given a receipt for my belongings, and taken back in the freezing foyer. Pinch-face asked me if I wanted a haircut. I said no.
They walked me to a little barber-room at the end of a hall and buzzed off my hair. Dark curls on the jailhouse floor. I didn't care. I just wanted to make a phone call, but didn't feel comfortable asking. A guard walked me to a cell and opened the door. I was shocked at what I saw. Seven men with shaved heads standing in a row, looking at the floor. The look of meekness, intimidation, demoralization just about took my breath away. Without thinking about the guard, I said, "What is this, do you guys have to stand this way whenever someone comes in?" Someone said yes. The guard pointed to a paper on the wall and said, "These are the house rules. Read them. You're in jail now." I said "I noticed," and he closed the door.
I introduced myself to the men, all Albanians, and shook hands. I apologized for not speaking much Albanian, but they all spoke Serbian. One man's hands were all swollen up like hamburger buns. He had a cut on his face and was moving with difficulty. They asked me what time it was, but I didn't know.
The men were all speaking in whispers. They wanted to know a little about who I was, but didn't talk much. There was nothing to do. There was a chessboard, but they said that if they played, the guards would knock it over when they came in. Dinner came. Brown glop with white bread. I sat and tried to read the rules. They were in Cyrillic with many typos, and badly written sentences to begin with. There were 74 points. Point #1: These are the rules. Point #2: Obey the rules. Point #3: The guards enforce the rules. And so on. Most of it was fiction. About visitors, reading privileges, telephone, letter writing, radio, special food. None of that happened. The real rules were not written down. Whispers only. Make your bed when you get up at six and don't get back in it until 10:00 p.m. Don't nap. Don't ask for anything. Those were the rules.
Some of these men had been beaten. I didn't press why. There wasn't any reason, after all. There was a dark man, a kind man, a young man, a hurt man, a boy of about sixteen with ears that stuck out. That was how I remembered them, because I couldn't remember all their names all at once. The kind man and the dark man adopted me, talked to me, and told me how to act right. I asked if we could speak openly. One said, "You can, but we can't." Later a man with hair and a dark green suit came into the room. I had seen him in the "courthouse." I assumed he was a lawyer, and was about to ask him some questions. But it turned out that he was a Serb who had been arrested for fighting at a bar. He was the only one in the room who would talk, and he kept talking. Soon they came and took him for a haircut.
The police were entering the room every ten minutes, every half hour that night. Each time we had to jump up in a line with our hands back. At the change of shift more guards came in. One was particularly mean. He only yelled. He asked the boy something. The boy answered in Albanian. The big mean man slapped him hard on one cheek and told him to speak Serbian. The poor kid didn't know much Serbian. He slapped him hard on the other cheek. His hand whizzed by my face. I didn't like him. He questioned the young man. "Were you in the demonstration?" "Yes." Slap. The young man knew not to lie, or it would have been worse. The mean guard left, satisfied for now.
A little later we were told to organize our beds. There were six bunks and three extra mattresses for the nine of us. We moved the table, laid out the mats and lay down. I took a mat and was comfortable.
The Serb and the hurt man started snoring immediately. Loud snores. Outlandish snores. The kind man got up four times to shake them, but it did no good. It was impossible to sleep. I dreamed about bears circling the campfire.
Sat Mar 21
- My birthday. I had been worried about spending my birthday on a bus - that's why I left Friday. This was different than a bus.
We got up and made the beds. The Albanians were obsessed with making the beds, military style. Not a wrinkle. Perfectly folded blankets. It was something you could be hit for. The kind man talked to me a little. He said he was from a village near Mitrovica, a big mining area. He said he was a kind of mining instructor. His wife was expecting in a few days, but he had a three-month sentence. He didn't specify the charge. I learned that most of these men had arrived the day before, which accounted for some of the excitement the previous night. The kind man told me that in his village, there were a thousand miners who were now unemployed.
They soon moved the kind man and the Serb out of the room. Too bad about the kind man, but good about the Serb. No one really wanted to talk as long as he was around. I asked if I would have the right to a phone call. The young man laughed, "That's why I was beaten." He had asked to make a call the previous day, when he was arrested. Later he and I and the boy were taken to the shower together. In the shower, there was only one towel and one bar of soap. If you didn't have a towel, tough luck. I saw the bruises on the young man's back - horrible black and blue. They were all below the belt. Back in the room, I asked if it hurt. He said, "Yes, mostly when they were hitting me. Now it's hard to sit down."
After breakfast we were taken outside to an inner courtyard to walk. It snowed lightly on our bald heads as we walked single-file around the courtyard. There was a watchtower and a catwalk above us. We walked around silently, hands behind our backs for about 15 minutes, then went back in. We went out again after lunch. The hurt man told me not to look up.
The day went slowly. It was cold. We took turns hugging the radiators. The men were all kind to me and offered me the radiator and a chair. We took turns pacing. Not much talking. I thought about the book Papillon, how the prisoner was able to go places in his mind. I leaned my head against the radiator and went places. To Carla, first of all - the warmest thing I could think of. I'm not used to sitting still and thinking, but luckily I have a lot of places to return to in my mind. It worked. I thought about my history, people I'd known, and what I'd seen the last week. The time went by.
I wasn't unhappy. I was just worried about people wondering where I was. I figured that since David had seen me, he would alert the USIS and they would get on my case, someone would notify my family. I hoped very much not to see the other Peaceworkers. Every once in a while we talked a little. I told some of the guys what I'd seen, in a whisper. About Mother Theresa, the Center for Human Rights, the demonstrations. About Peaceworkers. The dark man said, "What are you for?" "Liri e Pavaresi" (peace and independence), I said. He smiled and shook my hand. The hurt man told me he works in Switzerland, and that he was beaten for coming back to Kosovo. I believed him. He had a hard time taking off his coat or lighting a cigarette. He and the young man smoked the most. I learned to say "happy birthday. "Urime dakL," approximately.
Occasionally someone would put his head down on the edge of the table. Not on his arms, just on the table. The hurt man wouldn't let me nap on the radiator, because he was afraid I wouldn't be able to jump up if the guards came. We played a little chess after all. I waited, since I'm not very good. I ended up playing a game with the young man. I was so bad he was making my moves for me.
Guards came and went. Lunch was edible - a surprise. We hugged the heaters. With no warning, a guard came in the early evening and told me to grab all my stuff. I was being moved. I didn't have time to say good-bye to the guys. On my way out I flashed them two fingers, but they were lined up, looking at the floor.
I was brought into another cell, where I recognized David, Bruce, Albert, and Daniel. David had been told Friday to come back with everyone to register the next day. When they came back they were arrested, "tried," and thrown in the clink. They had just gotten there, and still had their hair. I wasn't happy to see them, and they weren't happy to see what was going to happen to their hair. We sat and I explained the rules, and told about what I had seen. The guards came in to take them for haircuts, and used me for interpreter. David, always ready with a corny joke, asked a guard if I was going to get a birthday cake. Back in the cell, we sat and talked, had dinner. David asked what was for dessert. A guard outside was walking back and forth, singing happy birthday in English. We played a little chess. These guys weren't as good as the Albanians. I found a domino set and we played that. Dan and Bruce were moved to another room. Later we were all taken for a medical checkup in the jail. At this point I felt that the guards must be feeling some heat to do things correctly. I was translating and a guard was watching the whole time. Any serious illnesses? Any operations? Bruce gave the whole history of his deviate septum, as if the doctor cared. He listened to our hearts, our lungs. He had a Hippocratic oath on the wall, translated into Serbian.
I was last. I told the doctor I had asthma, and could I have my other medicine. He listened to my lungs, and gave me the news that I didn't have asthma, and therefore didn't need my other medicine. I had wanted to tell him about the hurt men in the other room, but at this point decided he wasn't a doctor.
At shift change Mile came to visit us in our cell. He just wanted to chat. When he was about to leave, I said, "Listen, whenever you're in the area, just drop in on us. You don't need to call." He sat down. He didn't know whether to laugh or be mad. I don't think he was used to a prisoner making a joke. He said, "Look. I work here, I can do whatever I want. That's my job."
We went to bed. That was the only place it was possible to be comfortable.
Sun Mar 22
We sat and talked, David, Albert and I. We told our life histories of how we got involved in progressive work. Albert's story was short, mine medium, and David's long. We learned how as a teenager he had met Martin Luther King. How he hitchhiked across the U.S. one winter and almost froze his ass. How he used to go out and get busted every weekend during the Vietnam war. He demonstrated in Moscow against nuclear weapons there, just for a change, and got himself banned from the USSR. You had to respect his crazy determination. But I realized we had embarked on the "David Hartsough Guaranteed Bust Tour."
Without notice we were called to the office to meet with a U.S. embassy officer, Gil Sperling, down from Belgrade. He took our messages and promised to call our families. This was his job. He also recommended that we file an appeal, and that this would give the Serbian government a face-saving way to let us go in the face of much pressure from the diplomats.
The warden had interrupted his weekend to come back and be polite to Sperling. We were treated to some real juice. We then met with a Serbian lawyer who we hired to file our appeal the next day. He was pretty sure we would be released, possibly with a fine. The jailers came and gave us towels, soap and toilet paper. Things were looking up.
In the evening the mean cop who liked to hit came back and yelled. He was too far gone to break his habit for a bunch of Americans. The radiators were off all day and we froze.
Mon Mar 23
In the morning we were moved to an upstairs space where we weren't confined in one cell. There was a large room with bunks, a small room with a table and TV, an outside area where we could walk, and a restroom. There were about 8-10 men in the room, other prisoners. Albanians and three Romi (gypsies), and a man I recognized as the "food" server. I asked if we could speak openly, and he said yes. But the man next to me hit my knee with his knee. We talked with the men. We learned that we had passed through quarantine and moved to the general prison population. This would have happened earlier except for the weekend.
We learned that the men were in jail for various things: "misuse of a uniform," forgery, cutting wood in the forest. Most received sentences of one to three months. The food server commented that the guards acted correctly. We talked about ethnic relations a little. He said that he was a Serb, and these were Romi and Albanians, but everyone got along and didn't think about that. Then he went out of the room.
The men asked me if I had seen S (the hurt man). Another man had spent a total of 17 years in jail, remembered when Demaci was there. He spoke French, had lived in Switzerland, and was planning to go back when he got out. Another man spoke German. Someone pointed out that there were two men in the room who had university degrees in economics.
The man next to me was holding a towel to one of his eyes. He had been welding in the jail shop the day before, without a mask, and had hurt himself. He was getting out that day. He started whispering to me. He told me that he had been beaten for being a member of the LDK. He wanted to know where we were going to be when we got out, so that we could meet and talk. I didn't know. We had found out that we were going to be deported for three years. Rumors were going around that we were going to be released that day, but we didn't want to hope too much.
My friend from the LDK was released. About an hour later we were called down to the warden's office, and given our belongings. The guards had taken my Albina tape. The woman giving things out said, "now you're free." It wasn't quite true. We were driven around town in two cars, back to our homes to get our things. Except for me, since I had all my things. Therefore, luckily, my hosts were not involved. We saw Dan and Teresa's hosts briefly. I asked them if they had been mistreated because of this. They told me not to worry about it, whatever that means.
We headed south for Macedonia, about 60 kilometers away. We were told that Milutinovic, the president of Serbia, had pardoned us. We didn't get a chance to pay our lawyer. On the way we picked up Teresa at the women's jail in Lipljan. She was in a little better shape. Conditions there had been better, although she had been alone for two days. She got a pen and some paper, and wrote in tiny letters, like the Lord's prayer on a penny. Later she was put in with a few nice prisoners, and taught them to swear in English. We were dropped at the border and walked across, with a stamp in our passport saying we were to meet back in Pristina on March 23, 2001. We were surprised to see some friendly men in black suits from the U.S. embassy in Skopje, who had come to pick us up. They took us to the embassy, treated us to dinner, and set up a press conference. It was over.