|CYCLES OF REVENGE|
July 30, 1999
HENRY KISSINGER: Revenge and rebuilding in Kosovo. At the Balkan summit today in Sarajevo, President Clinton and other leaders talked about rebuilding the former Yugoslavia, destroyed by years of warfare, but in Kosovo acts of revenge from the war just ended are taking place daily. We have a report from one town from special correspondent Martin Himel.
MARTIN HIMEL: The flames of revenge in Kosovo. 20 miles East of the town of Mitrovica, a Serb home has been set ablaze. Next door, an ethnic Albanian family has returned home after two and a half months of hiding in the mountains. Arben has started to rebuild. He would not give his last name, because he burned his Serb neighbor's home.
ARBEN: (speaking through interpreter) The Serbian nation is really weak. They are really sick people, bad people. They not only committed massacres, but they looted and mined houses. That's why we burn them, so they can't come back, especially those Serbians whose hands are very dirty.
MARTIN HIMEL: The Serb neighbor had run away when Arben and other ethnic Albanians returned at the war's end. Arben's friends helped with the reconstruction and the burning. They said the Serb neighbor used to shoot at them from his porch. Thousands of ethnic Albanian families have returned to Kosovar towns and villages like this. Many of them share Arben's powerful feelings of revenge. Garden fences used to separate Serbs from Albanians in Mitrovica; now it is a bridge and river that divides them. Serbs are concentrated on one side, ethnic Albanians on the other. French KFOR soldiers stand guard on the bridge. When KFOR came to Mitrovica, its goal was to allow Serbs and Albanians to live in security, but ethnic tension has forced KFOR to alter its tactics. The troops had blocked the bridge and had divided the city, preventing Albanians and Serbs from crossing to each other's neighborhoods. Later, KFOR reopened the bridge, but the rival communities fear there will be bloodshed if they dare to visit or live on the other side of the town unprotected. This bridge does not just separate two peoples, it separates different cultures, different religions, different mentalities and very different views over how to solve this very prolonged conflict. Before the war, Mitrovica was fundamentally an integrated city. Some Albanians lived in the predominantly Serb downtown and some Serbs lived in the mostly residential ethnic Albanian quarter. With the onset of war, Serbs expelled most Albanians and destroyed many of their homes. When the fighting stopped, returning Albanian refugees drove Serb residents out of what were mostly Albanian neighborhoods. Albert Kunushevci and his Albanian family came back to Mitrovica. He's desperate to cross the bridge, but he dare not.
ALBERT KUNUSHEVCI: I know, and it is sure, two of my friends were crossing bridge and now they disappear. Nobody knows where they are.
MARTIN HIMEL: Kunushevci owns what was once the most opulent bar and cafe in Mitrovica. It is across the bridge in the Serbian part of town. The Serbs destroyed the cafe during the war. The neighboring Serb cafes were naturally spared Kunushevci's fate.
ALBERT KUNUSHEVCI: It was very expensive cafe, the most beautiful cafe in the city. Now it's all destroyed. It was some Serbs. I don't know, it was police or civilians. They go into my cafe, they destroyed everything, stole some good things like studio, satellite and other; I feel very sorry because now I don't work nothing, and I don't have money to rebuild the cafe, and I know what's going to happen in the future. Maybe I'll have to work something else out. Who knows?
OLGA ILLIC: It's over there. Just opposite the school. Just opposite the school. It's old house.
MARTIN HIMEL: Olga Illic feels she's under an Albanian siege. Everything she and her family ever owned is on the other side of the bridge.
OLGA ILLIC: We are not afraid of Albanians, because we live here. You can be a witness that they can cross the bridge whenever they want. They can go to a market, to a shop, to have bread and milk which they cannot buy in their part of the town, but Serbs are not allowed to go by themselves and mingle through the town without protection.
MARTIN HIMEL: Destruction surrounds Illic's house. Her home was spared because she is a Serb, but with the war's end, revenge started. Returning ethnic Albanians expelled Illic and her family from this home, and a family business that had been active for three generations. Illic and her family fled across the river to her parents' vacant apartment. Moments after they had left, Albanians began looting their furniture store.
OLGA ILLIC: On the 20th of June we have to go, because the people with masks came with the message that we have only two hours to get out. Then we just came here to my parents for few days. For two days things were taken out of our own house, our furniture store. (crying) When we went to give a statement to the Gendarmerie, they asked for the - to say how much it's worth, the value of the house and everything. So my father-in-law said it is worth the work of a hundred years because it's the house of his father and grandfather and also the work of his and his wife, and now ours. (children singing)
MARTIN HIMEL: The cycle of revenge goes on. Violetta and nine other members of her Albanian family moved into Illic's home. Serbs had burned down Violetta's house during the war. Illic may never see this house again. What Albanians and Serbs have in common now in divided Mitrovica is a disruption of family life. Kunushevci, his wife and child, along with ten other displaced ethnic Albanians, are living at his friend's home. There's lots of time to talk, and the talk always deals with the losses-- the material loss and the far more painful personal loss. The neighbors often come by. Sebiha Bushbjakhn has been searching for her brother. He disappeared along with a friend's son. Thousands of Albanians like them have been suffering a terrible fate of uncertainty. Bushbjakhn showed Albert where the Serb police had opened fire just outside the gate of her home. They took the boys, promising they would return in the morning. That was last June 5th.
SEBIHA BUSHBJAKHN: (Translated): I don't know what to tell you. Everything they did to us, the Serbians did it. If those that are innocent think they can live here, we can also live with that. But they didn't leave here a place for themselves to live, a right to live here. As you can see, they ran away. If they feel clean, they can stay. We always lived with them and trusted them. That was wrong.
OLGA ILLIC: Some of them lost family members. We lost family members. It's very hard to forget. Maybe by time, but you cannot persuade someone who lost a child at 20 that he can be your friend. A lot of people died on both sides. You can see these funeral notes everywhere around the city. You have massive graves in Belgrade as well. You have massive graves in Krusavac, in Nis, everywhere the bombing was. So national -- the international community did the same thing the Serbs did in Kosovo.
MARTIN HIMEL: Many of Mitrovica's Serbs have been keeping watch on the bridge from the Dolce Vita Cafe. Many feel trapped. They want to leave for Serbia. 150,000 Serbs have already fled from Kosovo. Illic had originally left with her husband and child for Serbia, but she returned alone, because she has a job and must support the family.
OLGA ILLIC: It's not safe. It's not safe for my baby to come. I had to come here, because there is no possibility for Serbs from Kosovo to find jobs in Serbia. I'm a teacher, my husband is a teacher, we work in a school. We are lucky that our child is still small so she doesn't have to attend school because a week ago almost, the official proclamation from Belgrade came that no Serbian child from Kosovo can be enrolled in any school in Serbia.
MARTIN HIMEL: After the killing and burning, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation.
ALBERT KUNUSHEVCI: The Serbs who did the terrible things-- nobody likes to live together with those Serbs. Normally we want to live with democratic people. It's not good to burn the homes for revenge, but people was very nervous, you know? And they started to burn homes because -- just revenge, nothing else. We have nothing against civilians, the Serbs. We are just against the regime of Serbia.
OLGA ILLIC: Never. Well, I think there is no possibility for Albanians and Serbs to live together anymore. The best solution is to divide Kosovo into two parts. But surrender is a very grave thing. After the occupation, this is total surrender, capitulation with occupation. And our leadership that signed this deal, leadership which has no credibility among Serbs signed the deal which leaves no possibility for Serbs to stay here if something doesn't change. (Chanting)
MARTIN HIMEL: At night, Albanians take to the streets. They dance and sing to a future without Serbs. Meanwhile, Serbs stay put at home. Once a dominating and oppressive power, they have become a frightened minority trying to find a way to leave or survive in post-war Kosovo. (Cheering)