Through the memories and stories of women survivors of the Kosovo War I invite the reader to explore the difficulty of facing reality. Their stories tell of violence and uncertainty, but also of bravery, creativity and humour in the face of extreme hardship. They raise questions about what we can learn about the troubled and violent past when we, as listeners or readers, allow ourselves to be exposed to others’ painful memories and stories. What does it take to imagine their pain and sense its shadow within us?

Grieving Loss, Remembering Hardship, Building a Nation. Commemorating the Massacres in Krusha e Madhe and Pastasel


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It is March and the anniversaries of the massacres committed by Serbian forces in Krusha e Madhe and Pastasel in 1999 are nearing. They are commemorated on the 26th of March in Krusha and 31st of March in Pastasel. In 2008, shortly after Kosovo had declared its Independence from Serbia, my husband and I had the privilege of attending the anniversaries – ceremonies and emotions that have edged themselves into our memories never to be forgotten.

At the time, women in Krusha and Pastasel described living through the month of March as a great emotional challenge. The anniversaries of the massacres were the […]

The Power of Photography: The Miracle of Survival


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Slap

“Here you see the mourning family of two brothers who died…”

Slap

“This is a real mass grave…”

Slap

“In this mass grave you can see my teacher and another teacher…”

Slap

“This is a burnt corpse that we found…”

Slap, slap, slap

“Here are mourning women…”

Slap

“Another mass grave…”

Standing around a desk in the primary school of Krusha e Madhe we looked at photos of corpses piled on top of one another, skeletal remains alongside decaying clothes and personal belongings. And beside these were forensic experts clad in white jumpsuits their faces obscured by masks, and villagers with shovels in their hands, and grieving relatives. During the Kosovo War, villagers […]

Portraits


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It was usual to find portraits of ancestors hanging in the living rooms of each of the family compounds. Acting like a family tree, they represented people’s heritage and brought attention to their patrilineage tracing decent through the male line. During the Kosovo War, Serbian soldiers had wilfully destroyed many of these portraits by removing them, ripping them apart, or burning them. These symbolic acts sought to ridicule the Albanian menfolk, to negate families’ rights to their land, and to interrupt their sense of origin and belonging. All that remained were the faded marks of the picture frames where once the portraits […]

The Photo Album


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I

I am looking through a series of matt photos that are organised in an album. They have each been carefully placed behind individual plastic sheets that are now torn and offer the photos only a little protection. It’s the 1980s. The photos portray families with serious expressions imprinted on their faces looking into the camera. Others show gatherings of families sat together around coffee tables laden with fizzy drinks and snacks. There are others of men and women posing casually next to their first car, or of a young couple embracing in front of a national monument, and of men posing variously […]

Living in Ruins


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After a long day of pickling peppers and cooking ajwar in the yard, Arieta[1] joined me on the shilte, a foam mat spread out on the veranda. As we took in the last rays of the evening sun Arieta reflected on her day’s work and the hopes she harboured for the little pepper factory she was building. She shook her head and sighed: “I could have never imagined this only a few years back…” Only two years before, a humanitarian aid organization had arranged a meeting with other war widows on her compound to set up a business to process […]

The Tape


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Apart from the wind the only sound that can be heard is the grinding of metal shovels breaking the rocky earth. About 30 men are digging graves one by one in rows next to the other. It’s about to rain. Suddenly the camera is pulled around and begins to sway uncontrollably back and forth over the ground. Colours converge into combinations of green, brown and orange. There is soil, then grass and then, unexpectedly, fabric comes into view. The picture steadies. Two rows of dead bodies wrapped in blankets can be seen. With his camera now firm in his hand, the cameraman, […]

Commemorating the Massacre in Pastasel


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Serbian armed forces systematically attacked villages in the municipality of Rahovec, expulsing civilians, shelling and destroying homes and properties, and killing livestock. Carrying their children and supporting the elderly, many escaped toward the village of Pastasel where the inhabitants offered them shelter. By then, two thousand people from the surrounding villages and the municipality of Klinë had gathered there awaiting their fate with fear and trepidation.

On 31st March 1999, the armed forces closed in on Pastasel. The villagers and refugees wasted no time fleeing to the nearby hills. Most of the men hid separately from the women and children in order to […]

Commemoration: The Massacre in Krusha e Madhe


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In one of our many conversations about the Kosovo War, the late village representative, Kadri Dellova, told me: “The massacre of Krusha e Madhe is still fresh in my mind as though it had only happened yesterday. All these years later, I keep seeing the horror, the violence. Believe me, it looked like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our village was so very much destroyed. Massive killings, rape, stealing women’s jewellery, people’s throats were slit with knives – this is all part of the history of Krusha. You cannot imagine how a normal human being can do something like this.” It is difficult to […]

“I had accepted that I might die – this allowed me to continue helping.” The Testimony of a Doctor


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“Come in!” we hear in response to our gentle knock on the door. We enter Dr. Cena’s modestly furnished office in the heart of the community health centre.

“Take a seat,” offers Dr Cena as he indicates two black chairs facing a desk that is covered with paper work.

“Coffee?”

“Please” Luriana and I nod as we take our seats.

He gestures to a health worker passing by in the otherwise empty hallway who soon returns with three steaming cups of Turkish coffee. Dr. Cena, a middle-aged man, exudes authority and kindness as he welcomes us warmly. We had met several weeks ago at an event […]

The Start of the Kosovo War and its Defilement of the Everyday


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Anduena[1] looks affectionately at her son sitting snugly in her lap, and says, “For him the war is like a fairy tale. He often asks, ‘Mother, tell me about the war.’ I don’t like to talk about it, but I tell him what happened. When I finish the story, he says, ‘Oh, I am so glad that I wasn’t born then.’” This moment prompts Anduena and her mother-in-law, Lule, to share their memories of the Kosovo conflict. Sitting on the brown shilte[2]opposite me, the two outspoken women tell me about the spread of violence and fear, […]