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You have to leave this house
Interview with Nenad Gudjic, a Serbian refugee from Kosovo.
(8-7-00) Interviewed by Ken Freeland, Rich Fishkin, and Gregory Elich.
Translated by Milan Gojkovic.
Transcribed and edited by Gregory Elich.
Belgrade, August 5, 1999.
[Freeland] We are privileged to have with us this evening Nenad Gudjic, a refugee from the Pristina area of Serbia, and a very capable translator, Milan Gojkovic. I'd like to start by asking you, Nenad, to give us a little bit about your background: your growing up in Pristina, a little bit about your family life, and what led you to leave Pristina.
[Gudjic] I was born on the 6th of December in 1965 in Pristina, to a Serbian family. My family originated in Kosovo a few hundred years ago. We are from a village near Pristina. My father moved his house to Pristina, and that is where I was born.
[Freeland] Your father and your mother are both Serbian?
[Freeland] What led you then to leave Pristina?
[Gudjic] The difficult situation dated back to 1981, when the Albanian separatist movement started to become stronger and stronger. That was the period of communism, and at that time those separatists were [pro-Enver Hoxha] communists.
[Freeland] Can you describe any incidents that you personally experienced, that led you to feel not secure in Pristina?
[Gudjic] In the 1980's, the ruling politicians in Kosovo were Albanian and Albanian communists and they created that insecure feeling. I felt that feeling, in all kinds of situations. It was just beginning at that time.
[Freeland] How long have you been out of Pristina?
[Gudjic] I left Pristina a few months ago. My third child was born in January, and then I left Pristina because there was no place for me. I couldn't do my job. I couldn't make a living there. The situation was very bad.
[Freeland] In your experience, that was because you were Serbian, correct?
[Freeland] Now I understand that you have a brother that still lives in Pristina?
[Gudjic] Yes. My brother stayed in Pristina to try to secure our property there. Actually, all that my family, my parents, and I have is in Pristina. My brother is protecting the property. I felt that Albanians suppressed me, especially when I started to date my present wife, who is Albanian. She felt pressure from the Albanian community, because they didn't like the fact that I was dating an Albanian girl. That was the first time I felt an especially strong pressure.
[Freeland] Where is your wife now?
[Gudjic] In Belgrade.
[Freeland] I understand that through your brother, you are able to keep pretty close touch with the conditions in Pristina, the living conditions, especially for Serbians. I wonder if you could describe for us what it's like right now for Serbs in Pristina.
[Gudjic] All Serbian-owned property in Pristina has now been given to Albanians with the help of KFOR. Actually, they said this is some sort of "tough justice," or "tough revenge." So they just inform us that Albanians are coming in Serbian houses and taking over Serbian homes, but they do nothing. Serbs in Pristina were protecting Albanian properties when Albanians left during the bombing. For example, in my father's building, ethnic Serbs were protecting the ethnic Albanians when they left Pristina during the bombing campaign. And now in my apartment in Pristina, live ethnic Albanians. They just moved in.
[Freeland] Let's see if I have this right. On one hand, NATO is saying, during the earlier period, the Albanian houses were burned or expropriated by Serbs. But you're saying that they were actually protected in many cases by Serbs. And now when they claim that they're protecting the Serbs from the so-called revenge of the Albanians, in fact they're promoting this revenge by making a policy that Albanians can take over the houses that belong to Serbs.
[Gudjic] In my case, for example, I lived in a building where 15 families lived. Five of them were Serb, and ten Albanian. During the bombing campaign, the ethnic Albanians left the building. The reason they left was because of KLA activities, especially in Pristina. The KLA was also very active in Pristina. They appealed to all Albanians in Pristina to leave their homes.
[Freeland] But I did understand correctly that NATO's own forces, the KFOR forces, are encouraging Albanians to take over the homes of Serbians? They' re actually permitting this openly?
[Gudjic] After the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army and Serbian security forces, Serbs in Kosovo were left in a sort of vacuum, waiting for KFOR, waiting for the KLA, waiting for Albanians from Albania to come there. And that is what happened. The KLA came with KFOR and together with bands from northern Albania, they created chaos there. Those who killed Serbs were armed by NATO forces during the bombing campaign. They were helped by NATO forces in Albania.
[Freeland] I just want to clarify that earlier point about this so-called "tough justice," that apparently from what I understood, that NATO forces are openly permitting the expropriating of Serb properties by Albanians.
[Gudjic] The problem with KFOR is that they don't react in situations when Albanians enter Serbian houses, when they killed Serbs. They are just there. They don't shoot back. So that means that they are not actually encouraging, but they don't react either. They have a force and they have the task to react and protect Serbs but they don't do that.
[Freeland] So we could say it's a kind of tacit permission.
[Gudjic] Something like that. But we don't know what is going on behind the scenes. Is KFOR negotiating with the KLA? We only feel the consequences of those actions, but we really don't know what's going on there. Before the war, there were about 40 to 50 thousand Serbs living in Pristina, and now, I think there are only about 1,000 who have stayed.
[Freeland] Only one out of 50 is there now?
[Gudjic] Yes. Yes. So please tell me what is KFOR actually doing there?
[Freeland] Sounds to me like ethnic cleansing. Let me ask you another question. You were talking earlier about Serbs feeling unable to use their own language at this point in Pristina, that they're speaking only English. Can you explain why that is the case?
[Gudjic] My brother is still in Pristina. He is isolated in his building. The United Nations, KFOR, and the OSCE, and other international organizations now present in Kosovo wanted to create a so-called balance, because they realized that only ethnic Albanians are working for them in Kosovo. Only Albanians are translators there. Only a few Serbs are living in Pristina now. They called my brother to work for the United Nations. He knows English. Now my brother is working for the United Nations. Because telecommunications between here and Kosovo are cut, the only way I can talk with my brother is to call him by mobile phone. There have been many occasions when he couldn't speak Serbian with me because he was in the street. He was afraid someone in the street might hear him talking in Serbian. My brother feels like he is a walking target. Very ugly incidents have happened in Pristina. For example, there have been cases where Serbs asked for bread or milk while shopping. After they left the shops, someone would kill them. KFOR didn't react to any of these incidents. That is a fact.
[Freeland] KFOR witnessed this and they don't react?
[Gudjic] KFOR is very passive in chasing perpetrators of those crimes. Actually they do nothing.
[Freeland] So it would be like going to the police station and telling them that somebody committed a crime, and they yawn and say 'big deal.'
[Gudjic] Yes. Something like that.
[Freeland] It sounds like you are someone who obviously has no racism to your name. You're married to an Albanian woman. I don't know what more profound statement anybody can make that there's not a racist issue here. But yet, you and all your kinsmen seem to be visited by a very serious racism in Pristina right now - to hold onto whatever you had, whatever your families were able to accumulate. Of course, at this time, it sounds like it's a life and death battle right now. Is that a fair way to summarize it?
[Gudjic] Something very interesting is happening now. I lived in Pristina for 33 years. Now, on the streets of Belgrade, I saw a few of my Albanian friends who escaped, as I escaped, from Pristina. They are living now in Belgrade without any problems. These are ethnic Albanians of my generation who escaped that chaos.
[Fishkin] Is there any paper trail? Anywhere? Do you know what a paper trail is? Documents? Any kind of documents from any people?
[Gojkovic] About what?
[Fishkin] Well, about the situation. About if there's any letter saying you have to give up your apartment.
[Gudjic] Mainly the following happens: three or four men with guns enter a Serbian house and say you have to leave this house in five or ten minutes. Sometimes people are in their pajamas, without any documents. If they don't obey those orders, the terrorists just shoot them in their own houses. Here is the latest example. The father of my friend Nikola Novakovic lived in a part of Pristina called Funceni Bre [spelled as pronounced]. He had a house there, and he stayed there. A few people just came into house and they called him by name, so they knew him. They said to him, 'You have to leave this house.' He was in his pajamas, having breakfast. He said he didn't want to leave his house, so they shot him right there.
[Freeland] They shot him, and then was it reported to KFOR?
[Gudjic] It was reported to KFOR. They came and made some sort of report, and that was all.
[Freeland] What is the situation with the fellow's house now?
[Gudjic] A prominent fighter from the KLA moved into the house. He earned it during his fight for freedom.
[Freeland] That's said with more than a little bit of sarcasm.
[Elich] Has your brother told you what life in Pristina was like during the NATO bombing, and how much damage resulted?
[Gudjic] Life in Pristina during the bombing campaign was normal. We had enough food and water supplies - both for Serbs and Albanians. The problem was that the bombing campaign was constant. It lasted for days and days and nights. The most devastated areas in Pristina were residential areas where Serbs or Turks lived. NATO hit residential areas where Albanians lived only as collateral damage, as some kind of mistake. They didn't do that deliberately. But they deliberately hit residential areas where Serbs and Turks lived. They bombed some parts of town where Albanians lived in order to make those Albanians leave Kosovo and create a so-called humanitarian catastrophe, so as to justify Western actions. When Albanians were leaving Kosovo during the bombing campaign, Serbs provided assistance, giving them food and water. When the situation changed a few months later, and Serbs had to leave Kosovo, Albanians shot at refugee convoys, they threw stones at them. It was a very ugly situation.
[Freeland] It's not that I doubt your story, but I would like you to tell others that are listening and watching what you're saying tonight, how can you tell the difference between deliberate bombing of an urban area, and an accidental bombing of an urban area? How can you say for sure that NATO bombs were directly targeting the Serb houses whereas in the case of Albanian houses it was simply misfired weapons?
[Gudjic] At the beginning of the bombing campaign, the residential area of Pristina where Albanians lived was hit in order to destroy those houses so that those Albanians would flee. During the middle and end of the bombing campaign, NATO usually hit residential areas inhabited by Serbs and Turks. So there was a difference. In the beginning, they hit mostly areas with Albanian inhabitants, and during the middle and end they hit mostly the Serb areas of town. I would also like to mention the Serbian villages in Kosovo which were bombed constantly and very heavily for 78 days. Serbs felt that difference. At the beginning of the bombing campaign, NATO was bombing primarily Albanian houses, causing Albanians to flee from those houses. After that, NATO didn't bomb those houses again, but they started to bomb Serb houses. So the Albanian houses in Pristina were only bombed at the beginning of the campaign. In the middle and end of the campaign, that was a safe area to be.
[Freeland] Would you describe the bombing of the Albanian homes in the beginning of the campaign as massive bombing? Was it very significant bombing? Can you give a brief description of the level of bombing that you are aware of?
[Gudjic] It wasn't massive. It was more to scare them, and to fulfill their objective.
[Freeland] So they basically token bombed enough houses to scare the Albanians away so that they would leave in large numbers.
[Gudjic] Cluster bombs were dropped only on Serbian villages and in areas where Serbs were living in Kosovo.
[Freeland] So none of the Albanian homes were cluster bombed?
[Freeland] I want to thank Nenad Gudjic for sharing this very deeply tragic story, which is probably just the tip of the iceberg of what Serbs are experiencing in Pristina and Kosovo right now, and our very capable translator, Milan Gojkovic. Thank you both.
[Fishkin] Oh, one more thing! Do you have anything to say to either the people of the United States, or to what we refer to as Uncle Sam!
[Gudjic] My grandfather lived in America for 25 years. He lived in Chicago.
He returned to Kosovo to establish his family there. I am very familiar with
Americans and I like Americans, but I don't think they are aware of what their
administration, the people running their country, is doing in the world.
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