Culture Supplement

"A cloud of smoke rises from the Airport in Slatina"

Zenun Celaj

Albanian refugees arrive on foot in Macedonia, in April 1999, after being forcibly expelled from the train in Kosovo (Photo: AFP)

The camps with Kosovars in Albania and Macedonia are shown through television screens in our homes. I don't know who has it more difficult: those there, us here, or those with guns and hundreds of thousands of children, women and old people displaced in the mountains. Ibrahim Rugova turns into a tragic personality of Kosovo. He appears on the screens side by side with Milutinovic, always with a disgusting smile. In front of the cameras, he declares that "we have found a common language for the solution of the Kosovo problem" at a time when the whole world was confronted with it, except for countries ruled by dictators", wrote journalist Zenun Çelaj in the war diary on April 29, 1999.

Wednesday, April 28

A cloud of smoke rises from the Airport in Slatina. Even in the sky, which appears between the windows from the north, black plumes of smoke are visible. Before that, the noise of the planes was heard, then the detonations. But from where I live, you can't see what was shot.

Despite the blows, the anxiety persists. Indeed, the coward died several times, but the brave only once. This is the advantage of the latter. Although I count myself among the first, I am determined to stay here. I love Kosovo more than anything.

Thursday, April 29

The camps with Kosovars in Albania and Macedonia are shown through television screens in our homes. I don't know who has it more difficult: those there, us here, or those with guns and hundreds of thousands of children, women and old people displaced in the mountains.

Ibrahim Rugova turns into a tragic personality of Kosovo. He appears on the screens side by side with Milutinovic, always with a disgusting smile. In front of the cameras, he declares that "we have found a common language for solving the Kosovo problem" at a time when the whole world was confronted with it, except for the countries that are ruled by dictators.

Arianiti tells me to go to Macedonia too. "Even so, you can't do anything there: you can't fight, you can't stop following people" - he tells me.

Today, the two daughters of Nehat (Islam) left for Macedonia with their husbands. They go by buses, which are driven by Serbs. They guarantee the departure. Each passenger pays 200 DM. "Kosovatransi" rents buses for DM 500 per day.

Valdetja bought bread twice. We have enough bread. Ibrahimi's Mevlydja had also cooked at Sabriu (Kadriu). It was Mejit Syla with Ibrahim Demir. Mezhiti informs me that Adnan Merovci had returned from Skopje, where he had apparently gone to find people for "the government requested by Milosevic".

I thought I saw Ramiz Kelmendi among the refugees. I don't know anything about it. I heard Migen's voice.

Friday, April 30

The day has lengthened and the weather has warmed up. The bombing lasted longer than I thought. We are also getting used to this life. Nehati's daughters and husbands had arrived without a wound on their feet. Alban Bujari will follow in their footsteps tomorrow. They all went. The heart is also emptying.

Today, the two daughters of Qaza also left, but they had not found a place. They will try again tomorrow. We will be calmer without them. It is being said that the Serbs are violating the Albanians.

I talked with Elez Biberaj. He told me that if I go out to Skopje, then he will take care of me. But I am determined to stay here. My brother's son-in-law, Fadili, tries to convince me to try running away. I was wrong to tell him that according to the information relatives can attract the refugees to America. You can seduce him.

I was very disturbed by the announcement that Eminja, the daughter of my thesis from Klina, was in Tirana. She and her sons wanted to know about Rama (Morina) where he could be. I still don't know anything about my sister, Zylfije, and her two sons and their families. I get the news through my son, Arianit, from London.

Saturday, May 1

I was woken up by NATO's powerful detonations. We cannot know which targets were hit. Belgrade does not inform, and foreign media have no way of knowing.

I could not get in touch with the boy, Arianit, by phone today. I was very upset.

Albani has crossed the border. On the road, in Çaglavicë, four armed Serbs had stepped in front of the bus, pulled four young men out, laid them on the ground and put the muzzles of the machine guns to their necks. Shefqet Mustafa, who had escorted him and his son, told me that the Serbs had initially asked them for ten thousand marks "Do you like to see your sons killed? If you want them alive, pay?!” They had collected 300-400 DM and finally released them.

The television screens of the world's centers show the images of a bridge that has been hit, of a bus with people killed. It is announced by Albanian sources about a massacre in Meje i Gjakova.

I went to the neighbor, Kirxhiqi. We talked for a long time. I do not understand how it is possible that he does not understand the whole tragedy that was happening to the Albanians. "The Vatican has made up its mind to exterminate the Serbs" - he tells me. I discuss with him without fear and call the thought ridiculous. Vinka, my wife, is more pragmatic. She says this is a tragedy for all of us.

Sunday, May 2

Fadili's aunt, my brother's son-in-law, put the fever in my core today. At seven-thirty minutes the doorbell rang with such urgency that I only said the police would be there. He had come to visit his nephew. I learned from him that Isuf Ulaj, a cousin of mine, a neuropsychiatrist, had also gone to Macedonia, but his children and parents are in Vuthaj.

Valbona, my niece, came to inform me that tomorrow they would leave together with her husband's parents and brothers.

- Do you have any additional reasons? - I asked her.

- Everyone went! - answered me involuntarily.

Fadili nods the Kajtaze decision. Only Valdetja objects. The husband gets angry: "You will be responsible if something happens to our children!" Now the dilemmas of going or not going relate to me. My brother's daughters don't want to leave me alone. I try to free them from this burden. I tell them that now Ibrahimi and Mevlyden are here. Yes, I was left alone, I have bread, you went, even for two months. I'll do it somehow.

Today I have the symptoms of my old disease, Zollinger Syndrome. He squeezed me like ever, how can I do it?

Ibrahimi and Mevlyda went to Nehat Islami. He is left alone with his wife and mother-in-law. It's not learned like that.

Monday, May 3

Fadili and Valdete are ready for the road, but they still don't know what means of travel. They said that no bus had gone yesterday. Valdetja and Qaza went to the director of "Kosovatrans" if they could secure the trip there. The Kajtazis from Aktashi announce that the whole neighborhood was ready to go.

Today I felt as if I heard the voice of my granddaughters: Bardhë and Rozafa. "You too, grandpa...!" it seemed to me that they scolded me. I got emotional and almost cried. The rest of the day kept me worried. The conversation with Ilira in Struga weighed me down even more. She had talked to Lirak at the front and he had told her that the people were facing starvation.

Valdetja returned and seemed glad that she had not found a way to escape.

Something unpleasant happened to me today. Myberaja, the sister of the owner of the apartment where we talked on the phone, seeing that her brother's apartment had been turned into a telephone exchange, told me that only I had the right to use the phone and no one else. In the meantime, Emine Alaj, the wife of Sadri Alaj, came and when I told her this, I saw that she did not believe me. I felt very bad. She could not talk to the children today. How far did he come back? "You were always ready for the key" and he didn't tell me that I was the one who didn't want to give him the keys. I was relieved by her behavior, as much as I could understand the anger.

Tuesday, May 4

At six in the morning I turned on the radio. I was interested in the outcome of the Chernomyrdin-Clinton talks. Only one sentence gave hope: The views of the Russian mediator and the Alliance are coming together..." for a quick solution to the Kosovo problem.

The girls of Qaza, Rudina and Dafina, who are trying unsuccessfully to escape from Kosovo, left today by bus. Qaza returned very upset. He puffed and lit cigarette after cigarette. The tears went away. I cried too. Now we have become like a family. Fadili is even more eager to run away: "Well, don't separate the men from the women and the children... I can't do it anymore".

RTS trumpets the attack on a bus by NATO planes. I don't believe it was shot by NATO. If it had been shot with a rocket, there would have been no pieces left of that bus, my mind tells me, like the one in Lluzhan (between Pristina and Podujeva) days ago. The NATO spokesman denies Serbian claims about the bus attack.

Kirxhiqi had paid the bills for electricity and water on behalf of my brother.

The conversation with Arianit brought my spirit back, but I soon became worried. I found out that Hivzi Islami had left. When I hear about intellectuals who still remain in Pristina, I feel brave and optimistic: "Here we are..."

Wednesday, May 5

Fadili and Valdete have their bags ready. Brands have sewn them into clothes. They received bread and non-perishable food. They wait for the opportunity. Early in the morning his son-in-law came with his wife. His confession sounded unbelievable. He had been kicked out of his house in Dragodan and then for a month he had wandered through the mountains - Gllovicë to Mareci, and from there they had followed them back to Pristina. They had gone to a foreign house, because they were not allowed there. The woman still had open wounds on her legs from the long journey of two days and two nights.

Fadili with Valdete and the children leave suddenly. We all cried. The parting was painful and there was no hope of seeing each other again. Valbona also came to inform us that she would also leave by train tomorrow. I greeted them with tears. Her father-in-law, Halili (Kajtazi), told me how the Serbs had entered Dr. Ukmata's house and had beaten him, his wife and sister-in-law, because he had no money to give them. He told me that this case had also spiritually broken Zekeria Cana, who has remained in Pristina and sometimes takes courage and goes out and fights with people who want to leave.

I barely spoke to Arianit. I am very worried about loneliness. After everyone left, I closed the door alone. I took calming steps and lay down to dream of another life. But Qaza came and took me. I spent the whole afternoon there. In the evening, the bell suddenly rang. They were Valdetja and Fadili. I was overjoyed. They had gone by bus to Kaçanik, from where they were returned to the police station in Ferizaj, and then to Pristina. "After we returned safe and sound, I'm marking that driver" - said Fadili, while Valdetja as if she could hardly wait to complete him: "We won't try to go anywhere." She then told me how well they had been received in Ferizaj. The people came out on the streets and gave us bread, water and all the good things, - said Valdetja.

The news reports that Ibrahim Rugova with his family and relatives, who he had at home, arrived in Italy. D'Alema and other Italian officials had come out to meet him. Now he is no longer obliged to speak as others tell him. Let's see.

Milosevic gives signs through his spokespersons that he will accept the demands of the international community.

Thursday, May 6

The G-8 has approved the framework of an agreement on Kosovo, which should be the basis for the Security Council resolution. It is important that Russia also voted for him. Hopes are raised. Nehati and Ibrahim also came to share the optimism with me. Qaza celebrated with whiskey. When I mentioned the son to Nehati, whom she has not seen for several years, her eyes filled with tears. He did not know that Dardani had come from Canada to the KLA. There is no other son.

Rugova spoke. According to foreign electronic media in the Albanian language, he demands the withdrawal of Serbian forces, the deployment of international forces and the return of those who have been persecuted. Not a word about "house arrest" as foreigners have treated his keeping under police control. Adnan, the bodyguard, continues to speak on his behalf.

Not even Valbona and Kajtazët went. Macedonia has closed the border and it has done well.

To be continued in the next issue of the Culture Supplement

Excerpted from the chapter "War diary: Hell before freedom" of the book "Journey to the Past" by Zenun Çelaj, KOHA Publications, October 2020. The title of this article is from the Editorial Board