O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 28 June 1999

Tirana 28 June 1999

Today I had a long talk with one of the Kosovars which works on our office. She is from Pristina and the news that now returning Kosovars are looting Serbian houses and killing remaining Serbs has made her think a lot. Especially the messages she got by telephone and which are not in the paper, that people in Kosov@ are looting the houses of Kosovars who haven't returned yet. Even when she could, in a way, still have some understanding for what her people were doing against Serbs, she couldn't understand that this was also done towards their own people. The only explanation I could give her was that as far as I know this is normal after a war. Not something to be happy with, but a reality to be faced. The Dutch weren't much better after the second world war.

But she kept saying that this is bad publicity for us Kosovars. If we do the same as the Serbs, we will lose a lot of the sympathy we have gained in the last months, she kept saying. We talked about Serbs and Kosovars living together in the future. Her answer was clear, she thinks it is impossible, but nevertheless there is no other way, they should live together. This is the same kind of answer I have heard so often in Croatia and Bosnia. For her the situation is very realistic. Her aunt lives in a part of Kosov@ where now Serbs are returning (refugees which are being pushed back out of Serbia), which have to stay there, since KFOR (NATO) can't guarantee their safety in the rest of Kosov@. Therefore the Kosovars from that area are not able to return to their houses. A situation almost similar to that in Bosnia (be it a bit smaller). Although this is not in the peace agreement, the KFOR troops, in this case the French, have decided to do it this way.

As for the official figures, for those who have followed the exodus in my diary the last days it is maybe interesting to know how it is being translated in the statistics. There were about 475.000 refugees in Albania officially (about 50.000 more unofficially). Officially 235.000 have left the country since the bombing has stopped. That means that 240.000 are still here. The biggest part of the people who left were those who stayed with host families, the estimation is that the amount of people in host families went down with 95% within the last week. Especially since a lot of people had to pay rent for another month (July), and that they refused.

NATO and UNHCR declared on their weekly briefing that they still plan to start the official return at the first of July. Tomorrow they will do a test run, as they said, with 500 refugees from Kukes in order to see which problems they are facing. If that works out fine they will start with returning 3000 refugees a day. That would mean that the whole operation would take at least 70 days, I wonder if refugees will accept that. The main problem however is not the transport, but the fact that they simply don't have places in Kosov@ wich are safe enough to bring people to. Thusfar only the towns of Pristina, Prizen and Rosovac have been declared safe zones. They will return refugees back with all the goods they brought here and the goods they have been given during their stay here, this was an answer to the question I had put forward during this briefing. On my question if that includes the tents, he, the UNHCR spokesman answered, that indeed that includes also the tents, but that he hopes that not all the tents are as heavy as the ones of the HOPE tent camp in Fier (400 kilo each).

Other questions were what happens with the border passing in Morina, what are the regulations there. So far there are NO regulations whatsoever, you can transport everything into Kosov@ without any check. But the Albanian government is busy preparing to set up custom regulations soon. The only problem is that coming out of Kosov@ into Albania is hard via Morina. Basically it is a 2 line 1 way system during the day, and only during the night people can pass the border back into Albania.

The last important issue on the briefing was security, which is a new and growing concern. The situation was unsafe before the refugee crisis started, then during the crisis the situation became better. Most of the security rules in the camps were tight and the police kept to them more and more. Now the refugees are leaving this, too, is changing back again. Already a report was filed that a police guy ordered a campmanager at gun point to hand over his car to him. One of the reasons of this sudden change again is that people in Albania see that the bird laying the golden eggs is quickly pulling out of this country and so they'd like to get a piece of the cake before they are all gone. It was once again stressed to us to be aware of this. Also that a lot of the bad stories which are going around are rumours which are not true. The security desk from UNHCR has already prepared a database of rumours, which later on turned out to be of a totally different nature. Like a report that a girl was taken from a camp by four guys and that she was screaming and crying. When the UN security checked it, it turned out that the girl was taken to a dentist.

Coming back from the UNHCR briefing we couldn't continue for a while in the area around the "park of youth" in the middle of the town next to our house. Not that much park is left there, a few hundred illegal restaurants and bars have changed the thing into a kind of nice Tivoli area in the middle of Tirana, where everybody is going in the evening, especially the youth. Since a couple of months now there have been talks about clearing the park. Yesterday (on monday there are no new newspapers in Albania) a huge article was in the newspapers explaining that NATO (AFOR) and Albanian police will start to clear the park totally in the coming period. The reason is that NATO wants to build a huge HQ there. It sounds rather strange, since it is far off from NATO's mandate, but there are more strange things written in the newspapers here which people believe. So this evening there was a huge demonstration against these plans. "Don't destroy private property", "Protect the free market system", etc. As I said these cafes and bars are illegal, they were built without permission on ground which belongs to the town, run without paying taxes and not obeying any health or other regulations (so far for free market system). All the bars in park were closed (for half an hour, too long is bad for business). The illegal bars and restaurants on the other side of the street, in another park, were open of course, doing great business for once, all the people sitting there looking at the demonstration. The biggest problem for traffic was by the way not the demonstration, but the police which was there in almost bigger numbers, making sure that the demonstration was properly done and so on, and with their actions they created again a huge traffic jam, as always, giving the whole thing an even bigger impact, you noticed the effects of the demonstration all over the center of town.

Just before the UNHCR briefing I went to the NGO informal meeting, which was more or less an incrowd Dutch affair. Two persons from the Dutch embassy here and somebody from the Dutch War Child organisation. One of the Dutch embassy guys just went down to Vlora this weekend to visit the Dutch/Belgian camp there and was very, very positive about Balkan Sunflowers activities there. He made an official embassy report about it, sending it to the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs, so hopefully this will have positive effects on our funding in the future. The guy from War Child is in Tirana to estimate the need for playbuses, they collected in the Netherlands a big amount of money to prepare a few buses in order to drive around Albania and doing social activities in refugee camps (a plan which we also had a few weeks ago). Their first bus will come in a few weeks from now, and the second in a few months from now. He is still hoping that refugees will be in the country by then, since his donors have made it very clear that this money is donated to work with Kosovar refugees and not with Albanian children and youth.

After the demostration I met with Altin from the Albanian Youth Council in Drilloni. His first words were that when I told him a month ago that we should start in the near future to organise activities in the winter of this year for bringing Albanian and Serbian youngsters together he didn't believe in it. But now that he has heard the news of what is happening in Kosov@ now, especially in the north, he thinks that this is extremely important and possible to do. I couldn't believe my ears. One week ago he was still saying that I was a dreamer that I believed that within a couple of years Serbs and Kosovars were able to talk with each other, even when that seems to be impossible at this moment. Now he is saying that the youth should start soon to take a strong position in this reconciliation process. Things are often changing so fast that you think that in this country every new morning nothing will be like you had left it the day before.

wam :-)

ps. by the way our financial situation is suddenly changing for the better a bit. We have been offered a couple of grants today, which suddenly changes our complete situation. At least for Albania all the losses we have made so far are now nearly solved. The thing is now to get new grants for going into Kosov@. But we will start in Kosov@ in a different way. First of all we have built a name in Albania, even though we haven't been able to blossom out to our full extent we have built up good contacts with other organisations. And on top of it we have already an office in Pristina when we go there. Hopefully our friends from Ljubjana, which are now there, will be able to build up an internet server in Pristina the coming week, so I can continue writing a Pristina Diary as soon as I arrive there.

ps Some of our volunteers who should arrive today by airplane couldn't come, there is a strike in Rinas airport, although nobody was able to explain what the strike is all about.

wam :-)