Tirana 20 June 1999
So I was again a bit too positive about my own country, it
seems that a lot of other organisations are having the same idea,
that refugees leaving Albania can take everything which was given to
them along with them. Thus including the tents and the things in them. But in
the swimming pool camp here in Tirana this already led to a
clash with the police who is doing the protection there. When the
refugees wanted to leave with those things the police said that
they had to leave the things behind. Now the refugees don't
know what to do. Are they allowed to take it with them, like
the camp management said, or aren't they allowed to? Or has the
police simply not been informed about it yet, and is it stopping the people at
its own initiative? Or are only the people who are leaving
in a more organised way allowed to take stuff with them?
Since it is Sunday today the campmanagement wasn't reachable.
And so we couldn't figure it out.
Although refugees are leaving still, a lot will stay it seems,
people from towns like Peja (Pecz) haven't got anything to go
back to. In that town the destruction has been so total that up to 70% of the houses is damaged and 40% or more can't even be rebuilt anymore. As far as the latest official
reports say. It is maybe strange for you outside to realise but
we, here in Tirana, are not very aware of what Kosov@ looks like at
this moment, only when you have a television with foreign
channels are you able to see what foreign camera teams who are running around in Kosov@ have been able to film, and we don't have television in our house. So we get our
reports from refugees who have been looking at their houses, or
have relatives who have been up there, and put a picture
together of what has happened and what their houses look like.
Apart from that we get reports from other organisations, which
have field teams in Kosov@ already, especially our contacts
with IRC are very useful. Their field team is reporting back
in great detail, so by reading it and knowing Kosov@ a bit I can
get myself a good picture of the situation. Which is practical
since I am planning what we can do in Kosov@, and that is not
that simple. Nevertheless we are now still in Albania and it
looks like we will stay here some more months. Besides, even if the
project of Balkan Sunflowers will start anywhere else in the
Balkan, there will still be enough refugees left for us in Albania to
work with, and it is needed since most organisations are really
leaving faster than anybody expected.
The situation in Przen seems to be quiet, that is actually a
town where lots of people are returning to now, but in Pristina
it is not safe yet, snipers in the evening make it impossible
for anybody to go on the streets. How the situation is in the
northern part is unknown, that is where the French are going.
But untill tomorrow evening the Serbian army still has the right to be
there. But the telephone system is working. That means of course
the telephones which were there before the war and in houses
which have not been destroyed. Before the war most telephones were in
Serbian houses. Not many Kosovars had a telephone. But they
always knew somebody who had one and via their self organised
system they were able to get every message across. I mean the
Kosovars had a total organisational system built up, parallel to
the Serbian state system, with their own lines of communication, their own
government, schools, hospitals, etc. Thanks to the restored telephone lines one of our translators had the luck today to be able to talk with her mother for the first time in more than two months, all that
time she hadn't known whether her mother was still alive or not.
Some kids in one of the refugee camps in Tirana where our
volunteers are working also got the message that their father
is still alive today. But at the same time other, bad, messages
are coming through as well, fathers and husbands which have not been found
yet. And will maybe never be found. But people don't give up
At the same time the Albanian newspapers more or less proudly
announce that big groups of refugees are now in Serbia, but
that Milosovic forbade them to come to the big cities. It should
not be shown that the proud Serbs are running away. People are
said to be complaining in Serbia, saying that Milosovic betrayed
Although it is sunday today we just got a huge delivery of
leaflets which should be distributed around Albania. This material
has just been produced last week and was put together in the last weeks. It
is a nice and workable information leaflet for Kosovar
refugees about what they have to do and where they can go when they
are in Albania, which organisations they can contact for what.
The big joke of course is that these leaflets are arriving at
the moment that the people are leaving. Our translators from
Kosov@ had a really big laugh about it. Those are the
paradoxes of the moment.
Since we have started our work in camps three weeks ago I get requests from other organisations
almost every day about whether we are able to start working in other camps too. And that is
flattering in a way, but at the same time not easy, since we hardly have
volunteers enough for the projects we are already running and
also moneywise we are not so rich that we are able to support
all this. At this moment I am concentrating a lot on the Way
Stations. But we ran into some problems today already, the
Albanian volunteers want to have money for going and working there. Some of them have now been active in Kukes for already three months without pay and that is hard for a student here from Tirana. It is
similar as it was in Croatia and Bosnia, what can you ask from
people who coincidentally live here and are willing to help, but
are not willing to end up in financial misery themselves.
So we divided the tasks between the Albanian Youth Council and
us, they try to organise money for their volunteers, we do the
rest. That at least put some responsibilities off my back.
Nevertheless I am a bit gloomy about their chances to
generate money from any of the aid organisations around here.
This sudden change of the situation means that all money
allocated to do projects here is like money which is somehow
thrown out of the window. Every organisation was just getting
set up and getting their things in place to stay here at least
over the winter and now this no longer seems to be neccesary anymore.
Apart from all the camps, the money which is put in hiring
staff and appartments and offices, too, is money they can use elsewhere
and at the same time they have to build up a whole new
infrastructure in Kosov@.
Downstairs I hear the volunteers are busy opening the boxes with
all the teddybears and dolls we got the other day from Amurt,
they'd like to know a bit what we have and what we can do with
it. Each two or three minutes I hear roars of laughter coming out of
the living room when they found something else. The last thing
I saw was a teddybear dressed up in Swiss clothes and which indeed
jodled too, wonder in which place in Kosov@ that will end up. From
Amurt we have got a lot the other day, those Ananda Marga
people really do a great job around here. I am impressed how a
small group can get so many things going. They are so different
from other "religious" groups working here. Yesterday in Mullat
camp our volunteers bumped into the "dynatics" or whatever it is they
are called. In reality they are the scientology church
going from camp to camp and handing out the books of Hubbard,
or whatever that guy is called.
The Germans in the group were rather surprised, in Germany
this "church" is more or less forbidden. The problem of all
those small religious groups here which are busy converting new
people to their church is that they more or less disturb the
balance between the three original religions here, catholocism, orthodoxy and islam. Those exist next to each other without any big problem, none of them will try to take
believers away from the other. But since six years new groups came here and are actively and aggressively winning believers for their groups. And now due to the crisis they have
expanded their "hunting grounds" to the refugees. Albanians and
Kosovars are people who have lost almost everything, but
here in Albania especially also their beliefs, at least their
belief in the future, communism didn't bring it, and the eight
years of capitalism weren't that great either. The experiences
they had with the free market system, especially with the
pyramid schemes (which are considered a normal part of
capitalism here - in fact capitalism is seen here as the situation that you
don't have to work and money comes in by itself, I don't know
who told them it was like that) didn't really inspire the kind of trust that would make them
still believe in it. Their churches promised a lot, but even
their priests were involved in the pyramide-schemes. And now these new
"churches" are coming, especially those from America, they have
money and good ideas, so they are the hope for the future, if
nothing else works why not try a new belief.
I have seen it happening all over the eastern countries, but I
never saw it happening so aggressively in refugee camps. One of
the main problems here is that people are more or less able to
walk in and out of camps without the campmananagement being
aware of it.