Fifteen-years-ago at one of the elementary
schools in Kosovo there was a lesson in the Serbo-Croatian language for
the first-year-pupils. Because it was their first week at school, their
teacher asked them to introduce themselves once again:
"What is your name?"
"My name is Merita Muharemovich." The teacher paused at her desk for
a while, and tried to correct the mistake Merita had made by giving her
family name the way she did, since, in the class register it was written
That same afternoon, having learnt about Merita's introduction in her
class, all the members of her family were laughing loudly at her "sophistication."
You see, Merita was the only Roma first-year-pupil at her class.
This is only one little piece of the mosaic that is Merita's eight-year-long
school life. But it illustrates very well her wish to identify herself
with the other children in the class. This situation was the same too for
other little Roma children in the Albanian school district. Here,
Merita's family name would have been Muharemi, the name, incidentally,
formally registered in the official city records. Then again, if she were
to belong to the Turkish section, her name would be put down as Muharemsoy,
with the Turkish ending -soy.
It is well known that the Turks and Albanians who
worked in former socialist/communist administrative departments in Kosovo,
and who wished to increase the numbers of their minorities, entered "official"
Albanian and Turkish-sounding family names in the books registering new
born children. They were also changing the names of almost all of the registered
One very strange, even incomprehensible -- though finally "accepted"
phenomena (according to Roma) was their partition among the inhabitants
of Kosovo. Even after the Second World War, Roma had to change the family
names in order to be recognized (e.g., Kalo). During this period, Roma
were given family names of Turkish, Serbian and Albanian origin, and whose
meanings were often degrading: one of those still existing is "Delibalta,"
which, translated from Turkish means "A Crazy Axe," or, e.g. the name "Vragovich,"
which in Serbian means the "Born of the Devil"; "Choulanjee" refers to
Roma as being of peasant origin, though in a very pejorative way, and the
family name "Karach," widely popular among Turkish administrators, is equivalent
to the English word "Negro."
The most-widespread surname amongst Roma families, which has somehow
incorporated some Albanian influence is "Berisha." Generally, it was not
only simply a matter of using Roma for the purpose of creating more Turks,
Albanians, or today's old-fashioned Yugoslavs.
It was also the practice to attack Roma in order
to break Romani identity in the region of Kosovo. This allowed Romani families
to be divided in the same way as the non-Roma families, from day to day
creating more and more nations and nationalities within Kosovo.
It makes most sense to conclude that in the states of the former Yugoslavia,
during the whole time that they were in turmoil, changing and re-forming,
during all the warfare, Roma were, and still are, divided by religious
and ethnic partition; and that's why they couldn't be seen as being politically
homogeneous -- why they couldn't take a strong stand against the fratricidal
Ever since Roma came into Yugoslavian territory, recorded for the first
time in 1362 in Dubrovnik, the Balkan peoples have been violently fighting
against the "easiest" nation, playing their war games in order to establish
their own national states. Such symbiosis and assimilation of Roma (as
well as others) resulted in the country of Byzance in the Middle Ages,
particularly during the Turkish period. This procedure was further exacerbated,
even by way of force, because the Roma, depended on their environment.
Many also moved into different ethnic groups in order to hang onto the
bare necessities of life or, depending upon their situation, were forced
to migrate to western European countries.
One of the political games intended to destroy Romani identity and to
make scapegoats of the Roma occurred in Prishtina in October 1990. The
news media reported that in the capital of Kosovo and in Metohia, there
was held the inaugural meeting of the Association of Egyptians of Kosovo.
Many citizens were amazed, asking "where did the Egyptians in Kosovo come
from?" At the Association of Egyptians' meeting, it was announced that
no political ambitions were entertained by the Kosovo Egyptians, but instead
their principal aim was to watch over their national identity and, in particular,
to protect it from Albanization, to which the members had been subject
over the years. However, a certain number of them declared themselves Roma.
It appears that in Kosovo there live about 100,000 "Egyptians."
Ali Krasnichi, the notorious Romani writer and
Rom activist from Kosovo, said: "It is public knowledge here, that the
Ashkalie are those Roma who have been Albanized in earlier times so that
now, their mother tongue is Albanian. I knew that a certain meeting of
Egyptians was held in Belgrade in early October, 1990, related to the celebration
of one of their holidays, at the Egyptian Embassy, and that there was also
present besides the 'Council of Egyptians' from our country; those from
Ohrid in Macedonia. For we Roma, this event was very painful. Hitherto
we fought for our own affirmation, and today, individuals are assigning
us to other identities. From that time we have consistently appealed to
the Serbian authorities, in order to obtain for we Roma from Kosovo and
Metohia, the status of nationality and thus avoid that division among us."
And more: the well-known Sadriya Avduli (54) didn't hide his fate at
that time by wishing to declare himself as an Egyptian: he said "We, the
Roma in Kosovo, have experienced a great many things; do you wonder why
I wish to declare myself 'Egyptian'? It means I'll procure jobs for my
family, I'll obtain more rights here! And believe me, I don't know for
what other reasons I would declare myself Egyptian." Meanwhile, such political
immaturity has created the most incisive costs for the Roma. It is absurd
to speak about "one nation representing four nations" (Albanians, Turks,
Serbs, Egyptians) since the majority of the people knows that these are
perhaps "the gates to fortune." In this pyramid of lies, nurtured between
Macedonia and Kosovo, only those who engage in the dangerous trading of
political and religious deceit, are called "Roma." In Kosovo and Macedonia,
this initiative found much larger support than the Romani emancipation
idea. And it is not difficult to find the answer to what purpose might
be of use for the "Pharaonic Group"--members in Kosovo who sowed their
origins with the seeds of lies ... "which will serve the purposes of the
human and national zoologist classes once their time has come." Roma activists
in Kosovo find the most serious damage of Roma unity in Kosovo to be the
inventing of the Egyptians. In the 1990s the "inflammatory" Kosovo witnessed
a situation in the town center in Prishtina in which a Romani girl who
had stopped at the entry, when a racist Albanian nationalist came up to
her, poured gasoline over her hair, and set her on fire. With this act,
the "inflammatory" stage rose to a higher level.
The "cold war" between the Serbs and the Albanians of Kosovo is already
well known to the international public. During the demonstrations
in 1989 as well as afterwards, many Roma were forced (or misled) into siding
with the interest of Albanians and, like the Albanians were also persecuted
by Serbian police and politicians and deprived of the right to work. And
Roma who didn't want to or didn't participate in the "Albanian Affair",
were put under psychological pressure by Albanian community, even by their
colleagues and friends ... Yet at the same time, Serbian authorities recalled
Roma to respect the Serbian-Yugoslavian state affair. Avoiding complication
of a political situation in Kosovo, the Serbian police concentrated on
watching the political system and the integrity of the region. Kosovo Albanians
changed to a more "peaceful" way to solve the political conflict, by leaving
their jobs as a "protest against the introduced political regime."
At this moment it is important to remind how the
generally proclaimed "brotherhood and unity" of Yugoslavia survived from
the 1960s and later, promoting the idea of a multicultural policy, although
the results of periodically taken censuses always had serious political
implications. Considering censuses to be the "ethnic keys" pertained especially
to the regional and local levels of state administration.
This was implemented by creating ethnic quotas for manipulating resources
such as jobs, scholarships, apartments or key positions in administration
which were proportionally divided among different nations and nationalities,
depending on their individual national percentage: if, for example, a factory
in Kosovo needed ten workers, from ten unemployed people there would be
taken five Albanians, three Serbs, two Turks and one Rom - meaning a person
merely declaring to be a Rom, or a "real" one. As it might seem, the structure
of the "ethnic key" was created in order to divide the sources properly
and to weaken old ethnic tensions. At the same time this way was not universally
beneficial. Actually, it created the "political base" for assimilation
of Roma by Albanians, Turks and Serbs in order to have "a piece of bread."
Many officials in important positions in Kosovo preferred members of their
ethnic group to others. Inter-ethnic relations were getting worse from
day to day, causing frustration among Serbs and political agony for the
Roma. It was increasing the policy of revenge from Albanians during
the time of Rankovich's regime (the fifties and sixties) which was a very
difficult time for them. Since the nineteenth century until today in Kosovo
there has been a model of inter-ethnic relations that always results in
the domination of one nation over another. Albanians as well as Serbs were
exchanging their leading positions back and forth, each time preferring
theirs and discriminating against the others.
Today's events are the result of more than twenty years of an Albanian
population explosion in Kosovo. It is their numerical domination
which has caused Kosovo's being "overpopulated" by Albanians, from the
The background of Roma has never been really clarified.
Roma adapted themselves and consequently identified with the dominant Turkish-Albanian
culture. In censuses Roma were registered as Albanians; since 1990 the
Yugoslavian Egyptians have interrupted the process of the Albanization
of the Roma, since they claimed that they preferred to be "Egyptians,"
not Albanians anymore!
Identification of Roma with the Albanians was "a free, positive choice,"
especially after the Second World War. In the beginning, Roma acted as
the population that could be easily identified with the Albanians. Though
if we pay more attention and consider why it was so, we might say that
this identification was caused by economic, social and political pressures
upon the Roma.
We have to acknowledge the numbers of Yugoslavian Roma registered in
the census during the seventies to be able to say with some irony, but
at the same time very strongly conclude, that "many of the officially registered
Romanians, Albanians, Turks, Slovenians, Serbs, Macedonians and others
have a very obvious Romani physiognomy." These are the ways in which Roma
are hiding their origin behind more respected identities, and because of
this they are creating a better chance for survival. But despite this sort
of "mimicry" Roma are never fully incorporated or totally assimilated
into the group they identify with. I want to remind about the official
information of the census from the year 1981, when in Kosovo 34,000 people
declared themselves to be Roma.
The number was so small because during the census there was strong pressure
upon Roma not to declare themselves to be such. According to estimations
made by Roma activists and organizations, at that time in Kosovo there
were four or five times as many Roma living there. Under pressure from
the majority of the inhabitants, Roma hid themselves by posing as members
of other nations and nationalities. As a result, when there is a
discussion about the number of Roma living in Kosovo, the most realistic
estimate seems to be that that they make up 10 percent of all the inhabitants
there, a figure confirmed by Roma intellectuals, associations and activists
Regardless of who the instigators of the Yugoslavian
wars have been, again history is repeating itself. It has yet to be said
that Roma from Serbia are fighting against Croatia and Bosnia in the ranks
of Serbian army, and by doing are fighting against their own brothers,
against their own Roma -- just in different parts of Yugoslavia.
Or, is it necessary today to ask what would happen if there is a war with
Kosovo, or larger, more serious, common escalation of armed conflict ...
would Roma be in between or are they already in between two very different
groups of interests. The latest events, which actually happened in this
period of fighting in Kosovo, showed Roma murdered at their own homes while
doing their every-day work in villages or in their homes.
Although Roma dress just like the other villagers in Kosovo, during
the last conflicts between Albanians and Serbian police, in Drenica and
other villages there were blameless Roma killed directly in the yards of
their own homes. Roma in Kosovo aren't armed, just as they weren't armed
in Bosnia: when one of the state representatives of Saudi Arabia was asked
why his country doesn't help Roma Muslims in Bosnia he answered, that it
was impossible since there are also Roma living in Christian Serbia!
This kind of opinion couldn't be heard in the early nineties when Muslim
societies (individual Muslim states) greeted with pleasure the "Egyptians"
living in Kosovo and Macedonia -- at a time when Yugoslavia was not yet
It was supposed that Islam would have a stronger influence among Roma,
if Yugoslavia survived transition. This sort of speculation about Roma
doesn't come only from the Islamic side. Roma, according to their number
are, in the broadest sense of the word, minimized in Kosovo.
Who would be able to say that a pupil Merita Muharemi, according to
her name and surname, is not an Albanian? Roma, from earliest times, have
been forced to change, to alter their personal names. Since the time of
Great Albanian chauvinism and nationalism in Kosovo it was easiest to "convince"
Roma to change their names and surnames. If the latest concerns in Kosovo
should rise to new intensity, we might suppose that Macedonia would very
soon fall victim to the similar process of distracting the political architecture
and this would be fatal for all southeast Europe. Multinational war would
destroy the already very unstable Roma; the solution would be infinite
and a new genocide of Roma would begin.
If there is a war in Kosovo, Roma would once again
be blamed, the same as in the Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian one, for their massive
non-participation in national-ethnic-civil war. Regardless of who'll be
the final winner in Kosovo, Roma would be stigmatized as deserters, traitors,
people who don't want to fight ... but why, and for whom, don't Roma want
to fight in those kinds of war? Until when could Roma keep their neutrality,
according to general concept of war?
Bosnian Roma, returning back home after a long time, having been moved
out against their will and wish, found their houses robbed, sometimes demolished
by their own neighbors ... unlike other Muslims, Roma are not welcome,
they are ignored and hated, they can hardly communicate with their former
co-inhabitants. Sometimes it seems more difficult then it was before the
war, there is really great fear among Roma about picking up their lives
again in their native towns.
During these days, when there are difficult nights and days in Kosovo,
Roma are not safe from dangerous situations and happenings. A Rom from
Prizren was brutally murdered by his Albanian friend under quite mysterious
circumstances. There's a rumor among Roma telling about the murdered Rom
who was too close to Serbian police and so as such he betrayed his Albanian
Many Roma women don't feel safe going outside their houses, since they
are more and more often attacked by the Albanians. The beaten women have
nobody to complain to. Serbian police don't react to incidents connected
with Roma and they are not sufficiently protected by the very police who
"watch the public order and peace" ... there are also Roma amongst the
latest refugees from Kosovo but again, just like in the Bosnian war, they
face incredible difficulties by being recognized as the ones whose lives
are endangered as well as the others and accepted by a host country. Roma
in Kosovo don't have any organizations to protect them. Right now there
are the voices saying that "they have no right to leave Kosovo, there is
no place for more refugees in Albania and Macedonia." They are not organized
enough to deal with this very serious issue. If we speak about any political
power, Roma don't have any in order to influence the current situation,
regardless of the fact that most of them voted for Miloshevich and his
party. It's important to note that Roma couldn't build such a powerful
structure since they were under very strong pressure from both sides. Let's
go back in time a little way to the beginning of the seventies, and remind
ourselves about the Yugoslavian Constitution which since 1974 guaranteed
autonomy status for Kosovo. After one and half decades, in March 1989,
"Belgrade arbitrarily rescinded the status of autonomous province that
it had according to Yugoslavian Constitution of 1974." Shortly, Kosovo
is again connected and by law unified with Serbia. Thanks to this act the
situation got more dangerous for the future of the region, according to
the situation in Bosnia. Roma weren't involved in the big game but
"somebody" counted on their service. It can only be supposed who is preferred
by Roma in Kosovo.
Besides the fact that it's possible to analyze Roma inclination, whether
it is towards Serbian or more to the Albanian side, in this case I'd say
Roma are inside a sandwich ready for very hungry "wolves and eagles." The
opinion of Roma is occupied by one complex question: what will be the status
of Roma in Kosovo, if Kosovo and Metohija stays "under Serbians" and again
would be given its autonomy from the Constitution in 1974; or what would
be their status if the Albanians bring to reality their dream of legal,
accepted Republic of Kosovo?
Roma don't have adequate answers and, guessing,
they have confused thinking about their legal position, citizenship, what
state's citizens are they going to be? Would they face the destiny
of Czech Roma (born in Slovakia) who lost their citizenship and ongoing
questions without answers? Maybe it's easier for understanding this problem
which makes Roma so scared if I can give several details of life in Kosovo
directly connected with Roma what could also provide some answers to Roma
about their future everyday life.
After the 1989 year when Kosovo was "returned" to Serbia, the everyday
life was many times bringing Roma into mat-position: everything switched
to the official Serbian language, Roma who got Albanized or who used to
be educated in, until yesterday legal, language of one of the nations (Albanian,
Serbian or Turkish) had to face unexpected problems. Roma who didn't speak
the Serbian language - which was again established as the only official
one, Roma who lived and are living in using the Albanian language at once
forbidden somewhere, so those Roma faced similar problems to the Albanian
ones. In this time, Serbian physicians used to send Roma patients to the
Albanian ones who, protesting against new status of Kosovo, were fired
from their former working places. Serbians didn't stop on this level
of assimilation of the Albanians: by "simple" restricting of usage of the
Albanian language they changed the score in that match; there was a time
when the Albanians promoted the Albanian language as "the most important
one of Kosovo"; people had to speak the language of God, i.e. Albanian.
Roma, living since the early nineteenth century, surrounded by competitive
assimilation, living between two parallel state structures - official Serbian
and the illegal and clandestine Albanian administration, Roma lost the
fight for time and space which would let them get politically organized
in Kosovo. They are between two fires.
Thinking about eventually organizing themselves is not characterized
by being parallel with anything at all, but there is a growing dissatisfaction
related to both sides. The latest form of "a state inside of a state"
and the situation in Kosovo destroyed the tiniest hope and belief of Roma
in a democracy ruled by Miloshevich and Rugova. During the nineteenth century
Serbs created their own educational system, one never accepted by the Albanians.
On the other hand the school system organized by the Albanians is the most
astonishing achievement of the illegal Albanian administration. Roma received
one more blow; the generation educated in the Albanian language disappeared
into thin air, and many Roma children who had to switch to new Serbian
schools got lessons about the "low-quality education" Albanians have provided
since the early seventies, when education in Albanian was legal. In such
situations there is no place for Roma pupils and students because of the
"war conditions" of Albanians, who also made stricter criteria for their
illegal schools and universities. There was strong competition among the
Albanians themselves for getting to the parallel Albanian university, separated
from the Serbian one. Entrance examinations used to be very difficult and
rigorous. For Roma wishing for an education in the only possible alternative
-- the Serbian language -- it seemed to be just a bad dream or a lost hope.
Roma students could no longer reach their aims of life. Those of them
educated in Albanian learned Serbian as minor, while those learning in
Serbian were profiting in the time, but what would be the future ... An
extreme situation which, since the early 1990s has been worsening from
day to day: Serbian and Albanian families who had good relations lost them
for an indefinite time, Serbian and Albanian neighbors now ignore each
other as if they had never known each other. Polarization of the society
is visible, and can be seen in the streets, walking areas are divided by
lines to sectors for individual nationalities. At markets Serbians buy
goods from the Serbians, Albanians only from the Albanians regardless who
sells more cheaply. Cafeterias and bars are divided into Serbian and Albanian.
To avoid an explosion in Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, the chairman of the officially
unrecognized Republic of Kosovo, had already asked representatives of
the world-most-powerful states for special protection through UNO in 1994.
Roma activists in Kosovo haven't yet started talking
about the protection of Roma in Kosovo. But the hidden exodus of Roma has
started again. Today's conflicts in Kosovo seem similar to those first
seen in Croatia, Bosnia and elsewhere, but also to the ones in Israel and
Palestine: that sort of inter-ethnic, civil war will burn down the guiltless
Roma who, in those dangerous war games in the Balkans, have no place or