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Romea.cz to report from postwar Kosovo

Prague, 26.4.2011 19:18, (ROMEA)
PHOTO: Lenka Kučerová

During the month of May, news server Romea.cz will be dedicating a column exclusively to Roma in Kosovo 12 years after the war. Two correspondents for the news server, Lukáš Houdek and Zdenka Kainarová, will leave at the end of April for Albania and then for Kosovo, where they will focus primarily on the complicated situation of the Roma minority there. Members of this minority were placed in IDP camps after the war at the end of the 1990s. During the past decade, several dozen such camps have been established throughout Kosovo. Residents of these camps, most of which were built by the UN, have encountered or are continuing to face very poor living conditions.

The conflict in Kosovo

The conflict in Kosovo at the end of the 1990s was the result of several centuries of clashes, disputes, and tensions between various ethnic groups there. Since the 14th century, Kosovo Albanians and Serbs, supported by disagreements between Christianity and Islam, have been clashing on that territory.

The 1990s conflict was a civil war conducted primarily between the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and Serbian military units. It was distinguished in particular by both parties to the conflict committing the organized genocide of civilians there. Once the Kosovo Liberation Army had been labeled a terrorist organization by the US Envoy to the Balkans, the infamous former Serbian President Slobodan Miloševič started military operations aimed at gaining control over territory previously controlled by the UCK which had been "purged" of its non-Albanian population.

More moderate parties in Kosovo, however, were also fighting against the UCK, such as the Democratic League of Kosovo, chaired by Ibrahim Rugova. The UCK responded by liquidating its fellow Albanians and even some representatives of its own ranks in order to quell this resistance and weaken its influence.

At this time the murder of Albanians by Serbian armed forces was an everyday occurrence (see, for example, the massacre at Racak), as was the liquidation of Serbian families by Albanians. Many Serbian families lived in isolated enclaves in Albanian settlements. Serbian forces then started expelling Albanians from the country en masse (estimates are that as many as 723 000 Albanians left Kosovo). At the end of March 1999, the member states of NATO decided to take military action. The bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO ended on 10 June 1999.

Until 2008, the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) administered the territory in collaboration with NATO military units called KFOR as per a UN Security Council Resolution. Kosovo announced its independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008 and is currently recognized by 75 other governments. To this day, Serbia has not yet recognized independent Kosovo.

Roma and the war in Kosovo

Roma people were among those expelled from their homes en masse. Roma people were also charged by both parties to the conflict with collaborating with the opposite side. They therefore became the targets of their non-Roma neighbors' rancor. Roma people living in Serbian enclaves probably encountered the greatest difficulties; in addition to Romanes, most only spoke Serbian as a second language.

When the Kosovo Albanians began to return to their homeland in large numbers once the NATO bombing was over, some formed small groups to exact revenge for the injustices they had suffered and committed mass murder against both Roma and Serbian people in Kosovo. Roma people were again expelled from their homes in almost every village in Kosovo and their settlements were burned to the ground. The corpses of local Roma people who did not manage to flee lay in plain view on the streets. The world ignored these developments. According to various sources, KFOR was unable to control the situation.

Back on the same old track?

The majority of Roma people who were expelled have already returned to Kosovo to take up residence in their abandoned homes. However, to this day many of them still live in IDP camps, particularly for security reasons. According to several analyses, non-Roma neighbors are still very hostile to Roma people, viewing them as the "Serb collaborators." Several fatal attacks on Roma people have been committed there in recent years.

There have been several reports of the IDP camps in which Roma people lived until recently having been contaminated by arsenic or lead. In some cases, these camps were built in the immediate vicinity of lead mines. In one such camp, a former military base called Osterode in the northwest of the country, almost 500 Roma people were exposed to critical levels of lead poisoning.

Filmmaker Sami Mustafa, who was born in Kosovo and still lives there, told news server Romea.cz that today the IDP camps no longer officially exist. "The situation is better today as far as the quality of housing is concerned, but economically and security-wise I am not completely sure," he says.

Kosovo and Romea.cz

Two correspondents from news server Romea.cz will be focusing in their reports primarily on reflecting the current situation in those camps where Roma people are still living. The harsh memories of the civil war period and their subsequent return to their homes are a sensitive topic for those who lived through that time. Depending on the amount of trust they can establish, correspondents hope to focus on this recent history as well. They will also do their best to describe the problems of Roma people from Kosovo living abroad who are unable to return to their homeland because they lack the necessary documents to prove they are originally from Kosovo. Lastly, the correspondents will conduct interviews with interesting Roma personalities who live in Kosovo and are doing their best to improve the situation for Roma people there.

Gwendolyn Albert, Lukáš Houdek, Lukáš Houdek, Zdenka Kainarová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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