Arberi

Kosovo in the eyes of war photojournalists

German NATO soldiers are given a hero's welcome by Kosovo Albanians in the city of Prizren on June 13, 1999 (photo by Wade Goddard)

German NATO soldiers are given a hero's welcome by Kosovo Albanians in the city of Prizren on June 13, 1999 (photo by Wade Goddard)

Before Kosovo, Ron Haviv and Wade Goddard had reported on the wars of the 90s in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They knew that similar rudeness awaited them in Kosovo. Through many of their photographs, the world learned about the violence of the then Serbian forces against the Kosovar Albanians - about the murders, the displacements, the destruction of property...

Fall, 1998. Some Kosovo Albanians, displaced by the war, were getting ready to bury a 5-week-old baby who had died on the mountain.

A witness to this event in Drenica - the central part of Kosovo - was the American photojournalist of the war, Ron Haviv, who documented it through photography. 

Same year, same region. Albanian civilians executed - children among them.

A shocked boy looking at the dead, who could have been his family members.

Also sitting nearby is Wade Goddard, also a foreign photojournalist.

"I was shocked. I didn't work as usual... I took a few pictures, but it was one of the most shocking things I had seen... Children executed in the forest", Goddard recalled today for Radio Free Europe.

The two colleagues reported on the 1998/99 war in Kosovo - the first for the newspaper "Newsweek", the second for the "New York Times" and then "Newsweek".

A quarter of a century later, the road brought them back to Kosovo, at an event in honor of the 25th anniversary of the country's liberation.

Both are happy with what they see today. 

"Understanding the mentality of the Kosovars, their resilience, their desire for a homeland, for a successful homeland... [I am not surprised today]", says Haviv for Radio Free Europe.

"A very large number of displaced people returned to Kosovo [after the war], as soon as they had the opportunity, they did not stay in Canada, or the US, or Europe... Their return home showed that this would be a story of inevitable success", he says.

On the streets of Pristina, he says that he noticed a billboard with the inscription "Free Ukraine" - a message from Kosovo to the country occupied by Russia.

He says he hopes that the Ukrainians will one day be "successful in the transition as Kosovo has been".

"Amazed" by, as he says, the "dramatic transformation" of the country, says Goddard.

"When I was in 1999, the center of Kosovo [Prishtina] was a provincial city, now it's a metropolis, it's beautiful," he says.

"Funerals of children, women, civilians..."

Before Kosovo, Haviv and Goddard had reported on the wars of the 90s in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

They knew that similar rudeness awaited them in Kosovo.

"Sometimes it was very brutal, sometimes very peaceful, depending on where you were physically," says Haviv, then in his mid-30s.

"You could drive down the main road and see villages burning on the left... you could drive another ten minutes and see children playing outside," he recalls.

Through many of his photographs, the world learned about the violence of the then Serbian forces against the Kosovar Albanians - about the murders, displacements, destruction of property... 

However, in Haviv's memory, a special place is occupied by "funerals of children, women, civilians...".

"I talked to many, many people, many soldiers, many children, families, about their dreams, their hopes, their wishes... People were shocked by what was happening to them", says the 59-year-old today.

"I didn't know that I photographed Adem Jashari"

While talking about the war years, his colleague, Goddard, inevitably recalls a stay in Drenica, where he says he met the founder of the then Kosovo Liberation Army, Adem Jashari.

"... but during the interview he said he was Adem Jashari's brother, and I think he did this for security purposes."

"I later found out it was Adem Jashari because I recognized him when I saw [and photographed] his body, after he was killed months later," Goddard says.

At that time, in the early 30s, he also documented events all over Kosovo - from student protests in Pristina, civilians killed in the Drenica area, hungry children, soldiers on the front line, destroyed properties and refugee camps.

"When I remember Kosovo, I have in my mind the murdered children and the images of the people who were suffering", says the photographer from New Zealand.

"The memories of that pain and suffering that Kosovars went through are unforgettable..." he says. 

From the country then at war, Goddard and Haviv left at the end of March '99, when NATO started bombing the targets of the Serbian army, with the aim of stopping the violence in Kosovo.

The two photojournalists moved across the borders to document Kosovar refugees in Albania and what was then Macedonia.

There were hundreds of thousands placed in camps and private houses.

Haviv remembers that he often visited some children in a camp in Kukës, Albania - a few kilometers from the border with Kosovo.

"They and their families were trying to survive," he says.

Joy, happiness...

NATO stopped the bombing on June 10, 99, after Serbia agreed to withdraw its forces from Kosovo.

Two days later, a NATO-led peacekeeping mission began deploying to the country.

As the foreign soldiers arrived, so did the refugees. And, together with them, the two foreign photojournalists.

"I remember Liberation Day when the troops passed... There was joy and happiness. It was diametrically opposed to the time when I was photographing in Kukës, when people were fleeing [from Kosovo]..." says Haviv. 

"I really don't know how I felt, I don't remember... I was just gathering information...", says Goddard on the other hand.

"Everyone came out on the street to greet and meet the German soldiers as they passed through Prizren. I'm sure it was the same across all borders. I remember the happiness of the people... I also remember seeing the Serbian military forces leaving Kosovo... We passed them," says Goddard. 

Haviv expresses his conviction today that the reporting done by journalists - whether local or international - during the war in Kosovo, influenced the speed of the actions of the great powers to stop the war.

"I think that Kosovo is actually one of the clearest examples of the power of journalism," he says.

Kosovo came out of the war with over 13.000 people killed; with thousands missing, over 1600 of whom are still unaccounted for; with thousands of victims; with thousands injured...

The photographs of these events and others, Haviv has summarized in the book "Blood and honey:

A magazine of the war in the Balkans", which was published in 2000.

Haviv, who lives in the US, also leads a foundation whose mission is to transform visual journalism.

"True democracy must have a free and educated press, a press that works with integrity, for the pictures to be believed, for the audience to believe in the news they are watching," says Haviv. 

Goddard now lives in Croatia, where he runs a photography museum.

He documented the suffering of Kosovo Albanians more than 25 years ago in his book "The War of Kosovo", which was published in 2018.

"7-year-old Gentiana and 5-year-old Donjeta Deliu were executed together with their mother on the morning of September 26 in the village of Abri... Serbian forces shot women and children at close range as they tried to escape," is part of Goddard's description of put to one of the photographs documenting an event in '98.