Culture Supplement

May 1999: The police entered the houses and raided and beat the Albanians

The war in Kosovo

An Albanian girl ignites the spark of peace on Wednesday, May 5, 1999, shortly after crossing the border in Bllacë. More than 700 refugees have been expelled from Kosovo over the past month, many with horrific stories of abuse by Serbian forces (Photo: Associated Press / John McConnico)

"It's been fifty days since I left this building. I was gripped by a spiritual crisis that I had never experienced before. When I went to the sixth floor to talk to Arianit, I found written on a white paper on the door: "Stop, police!" I turned back with a broken spirit and without any hope that I would be able to establish contact with the boy again", wrote journalist Zenun Çelaj in the war diary on May 16, 1999.

Friday, May 14

Fadili's son-in-law and sister tell chilling and unbelievable stories about people's suffering, murder, burning of houses, looting.

Someone had entered Nejdet's apartment again through the balcony door. I couldn't investigate if he was missing something.

Saturday, May 15

Vediha Topçiu, a language professor and Mybera's older sister, told me that in the neighborhood where she lives, the police had entered homes and raided and beaten Albanians. Riza Smaka had been badly beaten, while Asllan Pushka's passport had been torn. She was very shocked. It bothered me too. Rusha of Rrustem Ulaj told me that they had killed Beqir Prelvukaj and his brother, while they had kidnapped his granddaughter and now they knew nothing about her. He did not know the details, except that they had been killed by people wearing masks. Beqiri was the husband of one of my cousins. Lived in Vitomirica. He had come here from Martinaj e Plava many years ago. My cousin, Sanija, almost escaped. The desert is now sixty-five years old.

Sunday, May 16

It's been fifty days since I left this building. I was gripped by a spiritual crisis that I had never experienced before. When I went to the sixth floor to talk to Arianit, I found written on a white paper on the door: "Stop, police!" I turned back brokenhearted and without any hope of ever being able to make contact with the boy again.

Monday, May 17

Last night, as usual, we stayed with Qaza until one after midnight. He brought the ice, and I brought the whiskey. Unfortunately I don't dare to drink. The night was quiet. Like clockwork, I fell asleep at six, but I wasn't sure if I woke up by myself, or by the crack of a machine gun.

Selajdin Skeja came in the morning, Nejdet's friend, that is, the owner where we use the only phone that I know is left in the district that I know. He and his relatives used to come for the key to that apartment, since I kept it. When I was explaining to him that his friend's apartment had been cordoned off by the police, he started laughing: “I wrote that 'Stop! The police', so as to scare those who break into houses, if they are not the police themselves. My mood is back, as I will still have my phone to talk to my relative's sons.

Tuesday, May 18

I spent the whole day "walking" the radio stations on a transistor to find out if the diplomatic initiatives to find a solution to the Kosovo issue had borne fruit. Nehati, who came again, as always covers pessimism with rafters and substantiated predictions: "This one will be ready for any compromise, as long as he stays on his feet..." (he is talking about Milosevic).

Ibrahim Rugova denies signing with Milosevic and that makes me happy. But, I despair with the reasoning: "I did it to save the life of the family..." I remember Adem Jashari who sacrificed himself and the whole family for the liberation of Kosovo. Bukoshi causes confusion with actions and statements. It does not occur to me that that man leaves national interests for his own career interest. The statements of our political leaders abroad warn of new divisions between them. It seems we don't deserve better than we are.

Albanian refugees are waiting to cross from Kosovo to Macedonia at the border point in Bllacë, Saturday, May 15. For ten days there was little movement, but on Saturday (May 15) the wave of refugees resumed (Photo: Associated Press / John McConnico)

Wednesday, May 19

In the neighborhoods from Kodra e Diellit, they announce that control has been strengthened. Qaza tries for the seventh time to know about the fate of his brother, about whom nothing is known since May 1. All those sheltered in Kodra e Trimave, who had previously been expelled from Llapi, have been ordered to return to their homes. He doesn't even know what's going on.

Jashar Kabashi visited me and told me the story of his expulsion from the apartment. "Guess what, the neighbor told me very coolly: I need it!" Jashari told me.

Thursday, May 20

The ringing of the doorbell was unusual. It fell long and early, in the morning before seven o'clock. I got out of bed, put on a pair of winter socks, put on my pants over my pajamas and opened the door, very sure, without looking at all, that it was the police. They were surprisingly well behaved. They asked for my ID and information about who lived with me. I told them all. I just didn't tell them I was a journalist. When they asked me what my profession was, I answered: "Graphic worker". I quickly wrote the answer to myself: even if they found me out, they wouldn't be able to tell me that I had lied too much. Journalism is related to graphic works. It was clear that they were not policemen from Kosovo.

They went inside and looked at the rooms. They legitimized my son-in-law and niece. He was told to get ready. He is young, around 35. I told them that he did not know Serbian. "Don't worry, it will come back!" I saw him when they put him in a cage with some others, whom I did not know. Valdete and I remained silent, scared and upset about Fadil. We were afraid that he would never come back. On the way, they had also taken Qaza to the solitaires. Neither one nor the other had done anything. But thousands of other Albanians, among them women and children, who were killed, had not done anything either. They returned around 15:00 p.m. They said that there were dozens more at the police station, in a basement. All the time they had been forced to keep their hands behind their necks. They tried them with paraffin, they did not use weapons.

Yesterday they also took the sons of Halil Kajtazi, Besimi e Veliu. But until Besim was released, Veliu was not.

Friday, May 21

Ukë Rexha and Rrustem Ulaj came. I have both of them cousins. We talked for a long time. We also returned to the past.

I talked with Ilira in Struga. Granddaughters, Bardha and Rozafa, made me cry. "Grandpa, what a good voice you have! When we come, we will be alone together, a lot, a lot..." - they expressed their love for me. I didn't have the strength to say a word.

It is announced to kill in Dubrava Prison by NATO bombings. NATO has not denied the attack neither in Dubrava nor in Koshare, when seven were killed and 20 members of the KLA were wounded.

Saturday, May 22

A gloomy day, without electricity, without water, with announcements of deadlock in talks to find a diplomatic solution to the armed conflict in Kosovo.

Dalip Limani told me that it is likely that Zaim and both sons are alive.

The deportation of Albanians to Macedonia and Albania has continued, after an interruption for who knows what reason.

Sunday, May 23

"Voice of America" ​​announces the release of over 600 prisoners from Smrekovnica Prison. At least now they are known to be alive. Strange, Serbs on one side arrest and kill, on the other they release prisoners. Come on, be smart and explain?! The scenes shown on television tell of the horrors these people have experienced. They say this even in front of the cameras. They claim that there are two thousand more prisoners left in Smrekovnica.

Monday, May 24

We woke up without electricity. NATO has shot power plants and substations in Serbia and caused major disturbances in the energy network throughout Serbia, as well as in Kosovo and Montenegro. We have bread in the freezer and we will thaw it.

Alija, Qaza's granddaughter, returned from Podujeva, after several days of wandering in search of her father, who has been missing since May 1st. Everything is like a bad dream. People speak differently. Someone saw him riding the bus shot by NATO on the bridge of Lluzhan, and some say they saw him inside the bus. Others say they were there when the bus left, but they didn't see it. One says that he had seen him in Pristina, healthy and well-dressed. In the hospital morgue in Pristina, they provide information about several dead, but no information suggests that any of them are Qaza's brothers. To consider him dead or to keep him alive is a dilemma that leaves the whole family sleepless.

An uncle of Met, the nephew of Qaza, who lives in the neighborhood above the railway, at Jamia e Llapi in Pristina, tells of an endless column of tired people who had gone to the train station during the night, without umbrellas, bags, shoes and other items left in the space where the bus station used to be, near the Prishtina Television building.

Someone again entered Nejdet's apartment.

The brother from New York suggests that I leave like everyone else. I'll give it back, I'll stay here like everyone else.

Continued in the next issue of the Supplement for Culture Excerpted from the chapter "Diary of war: Hell before freedom" of the book "Journey to the Past" by Zenun Çelaj, KOHA Publications, October 2020.

The title of this article belongs to the Editor

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