After the War: Youth in Kosovo Speak Out

MITROVICA, KOSOVO -- Cabra was one of the first villages in Kosovo to be completely destroyed. During the war the Yugoslav military mounted artillery on the hills above the village and shelled it day and night and then brought in bulldozers to reduce this once prosperous village to rubble. A tent city is all that remains.Shkumbin Hasani, a 16-year-old ethnic Albanian lives in what is left of Cabra. He said that even before the war life was hellish in this Albanian enclave in a predominately Serbian part of Kosovo."We were always attacked by the Serbs," he said. "We would have to take the school bus to Mitrovica and sometimes they would use tear gas on the school busses full of Albanian kids." In his experience, the war brought families closer together."During the war the I stayed close to my family, we all did, we were so terrified at the thought of losing them," he said.But now things are changing. "Now we play football with the Danish soldiers and they say they will build a soccer field for us," said Shkumbin. "I feel good now, and now we are free."And now we are free. Perhaps this sentence best describes the mentality of young Albanians in Kosovo.Pristina's streets are festive on a Saturday night. Young Albanians flood the streets and bars. After years of brutal oppression they can roam the streets freely and speak their language in public without fear."Before the war I was scared to go out at night because the Serbian police would beat me, take my money and call me a terrorist," says 19 year old Civil Engineering student Hedon Blakaj. "Now I feel like the most free man in the world, I can go to bars and walk the streets until 5 in the morning and no one will ask me anything" he says.Bleckai says that being a student made you a target for police persecution because the students were a strong force of opposition to the occupying Serbs. " If the police caught us with books from an Albanian School they would beat us and maybe put us in jail, " he says.After 1989 the Albanian student and faculty were removed from the Kosovo education system and the schooling of Albanians moved to private homes, the students fiercely opposed this."We wanted to reclaim our school and for this they called us terrorists," says Blakaj. "For ten years we were kicked out of our universities, only now we are returning, " he continues."We protested to reclaim our university" says 20 year old economics student Besnik Krasniqi.Many students and faculty were so infuriated with the Yugoslav governments repression of Kosovo Albanians that they took up arms and fought with the Kosovo Liberation Army. " Taking the schools away from the young people is a crime, it was a big reason for us to fight them," says Lulzim Latifi, 27, who teaches Physical education at Pristina University and fought in the KLA under the Name "Totti.""There were a lot of students in the KLA, and you made a lot of friends, before the war Totti was my friend, now we are like brothers," says 19 year old Mentor Kastrati, an Economics student and fought under the name of "Avniu." "It is a good feeling to have our schools and dormitories back," he continues.Student groups now say they are moving on to other struggles now that the Serbian occupation has ended. "We are trying to find out what happened to some of the people from our student union, we know 12 from the law school were murdered and some are in prison in Yugoslavia, but we are not sure how many," says Gani Lajqi, 23, president of the Independent Student Union of the University of Pristina.One group has a creative way to deal with the local problem of the lack of garbage collectors. "We make parties to raise money, and then we buy baskets for people to dump their garbage into and flowers and vases to put around the city and make it more beautiful," says Rramir Shala of the youth of Prizren.Some young people say it is difficult for them to transition back into normal life after all they had been through in the war. "We are now studying for our exams, it is very hard to get back to student life after all we have seen and been through in the war," says Shemsie Bresilla, 22 year old economics student. " It is so good to be back in our schools and to hear people speaking Albanian in the Hallways," she adds. One young woman says that she was in Germany at the time the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign began, she returned in the beginning of August."Three days before the bombing began I left to Study language in Jena, Germany," says Remzije Shahini. " I did not find out where my family was untill three weeks later when they made it to my sisters house in Macedonia, they said they hid in our house for a night, but left Kosovo because it would be impossible for them to live like this," she says." In April 100 Kosovar refugees came to Jena and I tried to comfort them, many had seen the worst things imaginable, rapes and murders, one woman said she saw a Serbian soldier laughing at a woman giving birth on a train compartment crowded with refugees going to Macedonia," she says.She says that seeing Kosovo transition from Serbian rule has been a dramatic experience for her. " It was such a good feeling to see the Albanian flag blowing in the wind above Kosova, it was always a dream of mine, I could not believe it was true," she says.

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