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A Serbian Diary from Kosovo

Editor's Note: This diary, written by an ethnic Serb living in the western Kosovo city of Pec, was found in her home after she left Kosovo with other ethnic Serbs in June 1999. The woman, in her 30's, gives an account of events in Pec during NATO's air war on Serbia and Serb forces in Kosovo, from a Serb civilian's perspective. The diary contained few specific dates. Excerpts of the diary are presented here with explanatory notes in brackets. The diary was originally written in Serbian.

In these grim days, heavy like a leaden sky, I find escape in writing; that is my flight from this insanity, that's my escape from rude reality. This is in some way the diary of what is happening, my point of view of everything that is going on. Everything started on March 24, 1999. I say "everything", but what I actually have in mind is this madness and insanity. This is not a war, this is the dirtiest thing one could invent and then do. There are many madmen who freely walk on this planet, but unfortunately, there are so many who rule it. We live in a bleak time, in which the shells instead of kisses are being counted; this is the time in which the song of birds is overcome by the sound of planes and missiles. A strange time; instead of violets, we smell gunpowder.

Everything started on March 24, 1999, if I remember correctly. The first missile was dropped, and our whole world was distressed, all of Yugoslavia. The first missile - the first victims. And how many more will there be? For how long is all this going to last? I am afraid that all those predictions that say that it will last for only a few days are nonsense. I take all that with a grain of salt. I don't believe that something like this can happen on the threshold of the 21st Century, on the threshold of the new millennium. I don't even trust the announcer on the radio.

The first sirens were heard in Pec. Awful. I don't have other words for it. Suddenly general panic ensued. The women and children run to the shelter hastily. I have to admit, I, myself, am in a panic; I feel afraid. I spend that night in the basement of a building of my mother's friend. The town was completely darkened. The silence was upset only by the vibration of the planes. Red light flashed in the sky from time to time, lasting a few seconds, and then it became dark again. The planes flew overhead, sowing misery, death, devastation. The speaker on the radio broadcast says: "Last night, the fascistic powers bombed the heart of Serbia, the heart of Yugoslavia. There are many casualties." It is cold in the basement. I shuddered at all those sights. Countless numbers of children, a pregnant woman with a baby. Babies. Coldness and dampness. I am wrapped in the blanket which an old woman gave me. From time to time, someone reports that they are flying over Pec. At the same time, houses are burnt. Pec is aflame everywhere. Perhaps the houses are burnt in order to distract the planes? Dawn arrived. I've made up my mind not to go into the shelter, to the basement ever again. If this is fated [God's will] let me perish in my own house.

New news, the electricity will be cut off. A curfew has been put into effect from 7AM 'till 7PM, and that applies to the whole province. Because of the increased fright among people, railway and bus transportation has been stopped. The schools are closed. The pupils are dismissed. With a short "good luck" and "so long" the children are dispersing from the school yard. Many of them turn around as if they wanted to see their school once again. Because who knows, maybe even tomorrow in its place it will be ashes. I couldn't help crying.

That day I was promoted, I put on a white uniform and became a nurse. I will show all my knowledge and skills. Many nurses from the children's department have been transferred to the city hospital. There are many wounded soldiers, and we need reinforcement. I work in the dispensary from 7AM 'till 1 PM. The events in Pec are being talked about for hours. And everything would be somehow all right, if the sirens were not heard, and quite soon the black bombers. And then the fear and panic settles in. I thought that what the children are most afraid of are injections, but I was wrong. They are much more afraid of planes. Children and their mothers cry. Do those from above (planes) know what they are doing? Can children's cries reach them? Do they have hearts? Cowards, I can't find other words for them. From the height they drop death and then leave arrogantly. The news of the new casualties reaches us with the speed of the sound. Bloody battles are being fought at the border. The most difficult one is on the border of Kosara. The ambulance sirens are heard daily. There are many wounded; many are not alive. Many of my fellow citizens are gone, many of them from my generation. It is only the third day. And how many more days, and how much more blood?

March 25, 26, 28, 1999

It is a dreadful scene. It is appalling to look at the neighbors-since-yesterday leaving. They are leaving, and they don't know where to and how. For some of them I have no pity. They [Albanians] asked NATO to bring them freedom and democracy. The sound of automatic fire pulls me back from sleepiness. The glass breaks. Shattered glass flies in all directions. We are withdrawing into our "shelter". I've been thinking, while looking at the columns of people, why one asks for more in life. Who wants more … (loses what he already has). Memories are rushing back, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984. Disturbances in Kosovo, demonstrations. I was in middle school. I was fearful, and dreaded going and coming home from school. We were, of course, escorted by militia. There were fights going in the school and street everyday. How and where have gone all these years in constant fear! On Graduation Eve the militia was protecting us. In the hotel, only Shiptar (in Serbian this is a derogatory term for something or someone Albanian) music was heard. Even that night, they succeeded in spoiling our event. During the first fight in which I took part, we gave a good account of ourselves. And every fight and commotion was on the national basis. We "Skinje", as we were called by them, were a stumbling block or a thorn in the eye. Why? We were only where we had a right to be. We did not harm anyone or insult them. Nevertheless, they saw in us our Serbian blood. Those days passed. In 1984, I attended the university in hopes that everything would be different. Alas. Even there we were deprived of carefree attention to our studies and camaraderie. Again columns of demonstrators; the town was in a total state of chaos. The night silence was fractured by the sounds of cans, pots, and pans being beaten. All that was a sign of protest. At each gathering of the demonstrators, there was a reason given, but the hidden one was "Kosovo - Republic". Today, I observe them but in another role: heads bowed, endless lines, few of them carrying a bag or a suitcase. The most essential items can be put in a simple sack. The people are fleeing from the attack of the swarming black bombers. They wanted NATO to come and now they flee… the Army has taken over. From some unutterable fear, blood seems to freeze in the veins. They are going through houses. They search to see if anyone has hidden himself there. I heard many details about Pec. Much of the place has changed, disappeared. The town has completely changed its appearance. Many houses were burnt down and only ashes remain. There is no longer a "narrow street," now it is "ash alley." Kapesnica Street has become "Burning Pipe." No sleep tonight. Houses are on fire around us. Tonight we are passing the test for firefighters. If we save the house, we pass the test with highest grade. If only those others would stop circling their over flights. Their roar shatters my eardrums. I am in water up to my knees. But I am not cold, or maybe I do not feel the cold. If only the dawn would break… the sun will rise if there is a God.

Today's news of the wounding of Ivan has moved all of Pec. Children were playing and one friend injured the other friend. He was taken to Nis. One does not know for whom to be sorry, for little Ivan whose life is in danger, or for Stefan faced with facts of the horrible truth. Does this have to happen now when on all sides people are dying? Now both families are confronted with such horror. On the morning news announcement: "As a result of wounding by shell fragment from the enemy's bombs, a boy from Pec lies in critical condition" in the hospital in Nis. The following news spread through the city: "In the houses of many prominent Shiptars (Albanians) were found entire plans and lists of the Serbs to be killed." (According to the report), all this was planned for the 27th of March. It was planned for their great holiday so that instead of sheep (which are ordinarily slaughtered), the Serbs would be sacrificed. The authorities found 3000 knives, 500 axes, 3200 baseball bats, and not to mention quantities of sniper guns, bombs, snipers … Neighbors who until yesterday were our friends, were put in charge of our street. All this which was planned was reported to police by a Shiptar who had a conscience. For that reason people began to move elsewhere. Each house where guns were found no longer exists. A surprising fact: at the houses of the same people "who would not trample on an ant," chain saws and thousands of butcher knives were found. The people are revolted, angry and out of their minds. People have lost their humanity. Of myself, I would not wish to write - I have turned gray-haired, like an old woman. Now in town there are no hairdressers or photographers (as it comes to my mind), in town there are not any of those things. The town has changed its characteristic looks. Cafes, stores, post offices do not function. Bread, milk, meat, fruit … there is nothing available. But "the heavenly people" [nebeski narod - a common way Serbs describe themselves] are managing; barter still exists (two bulbs of garlic for two eggs, oil for flour, potatoes for lard…). Today I succeeded in obtaining two loaves of bread. There were a thousand people in the line, but I succeeded. I will try to bake some bread myself since I have flour… I will make an attempt - come what may. I can tell you that bread makes my tongue beat my brains out. And I make "NATO" pie from stale bread. Today at the clinic I gave injections and I had one wound to bandage. Now I am entirely dedicated to this, since all the nurses were taken to the hospital. At the same time I am a receptionist for a doctor and I work in the center for injections. I have asked the chief of Dispensary II to pay me compensation for my dedication and work.

Today they opened the meat shop "Brka." I have asked them to put aside bones which I will give to the dogs in the neighborhood. These animals have been abandoned by their owners. I am sorry for them. I am afraid they would go rabid because of hunger. There would be even greater horrors. If someone could see me carrying a big bag of bones through the streets. Oh the irony of life! While others are carrying [looting] furniture units, refrigerators, satellite antennas, television sets… I am carrying bones. The people have rejected God, turned their backs on Him, and are busy looking. They say these are patriots who are breaking into the houses of Shiptars (Albanians), and a traitor is he who does not do that. Let them call me a traitor, but I will not stain my hands. I fear for the future of children whose parents teach them how to steal, how to loot, and to set houses on fire. What will come out of those kind of persons in the future? What recollections will they have of their childhood? They do not play soccer or roller-skate. Their play consists of breaking into homes and taking all they can carry, and then, with a liter of gasoline, destroying everything.

Tonight, I am alone in the house. At midnight, they called us on the telephone to tell us that my aunt's house was burning. My family left. I am alone. Not very pleasant. Despite the fact that we have been alerted, I am afraid. I sit in the dark, I light my candle and try to conquer my fears by writing. All at once, the silence is broken by the sound of the planes. Bomb blasts are heard. Crying, I run out of the house. I have my diary in my hand and my dog. But in the yard it is more fearful. Black night. I have never been more afraid in my life. I am crouching in one corner of my bed. The telephone rings at 1:32 AM. Who is calling now? I sense it is not good news. Something is happening. I have no strength to pick up the phone. After a few moments, I answer. I hear my mother's voice. She tells me to not be afraid. They are on the street … extinguishing a fire. Lock yourself in. They bombed the barracks. I feel relieved. I go to sleep. At 2 o'clock, I am awakened again by the sound of the planes, then a bomb blast, then another. The window panes are shuddering. The atmosphere is horrible. There is no longer any sleep. At 3:15 am, explosions again. That means it is exactly as I heard it would be: they are taking action every hour. First rumors that Pec will not be targeted because of its position proved to be wrong. Because this night they bombed us three to four times. Finally the long-awaited dawn. Finally I sink into a sleep.

With the morning's first rays of light, the first bad news. In Kosara (Kosara mountain, along the border with Albania, was scene of fierce battles between Serb forces and KLA guerrillas) many are wounded and many are dead, but they did not permit the entry of terrorists on our territory. In Radovci, Salipur (reference to Vidomir Salipur, a commander in the militia unit, Lightening. He died in a KLA ambush in early April) was killed. He was known as "big shot". He spread fear among Shiptars (Albanians). The story goes that mothers would put their children to sleep singing to them "Sleep, sleep, so that Salipur does not come." (This is my free translation.) Vojvodic was killed today. It is too dangerous to recover him. They say the battle for his body will last for many days. Nothing intelligent comes to my mind anymore. The only questions which arise are who is next, how many more young men, how many more lives…?

A deep silence covers the town. Black flags are waving throughout the town. There are no other colors but black. How many more mothers will be dressed in black? On all sides, houses are being set on fire. As an expression of revolt, several houses are set on fire to avenge one soldier. They say 5,000 houses should be destroyed. Naturally, tonight there is no sleep. We are waiting, but we do not know what for. We are waiting and praying to God that our house is not set on fire. Where would we four go, to whose home could we move? And how would the night be in a strange house? I cannot do that. I do not want what is not mine. I am ashamed of what I see before me. A crazy time is upon us. The thief is not ashamed of his deeds. On the contrary, people of conscience are ashamed. Often in these situations one hears: "What are you looking at? Are you sorry for Shiptars' property? Maybe you're a spy…?!" Maybe because I am taking a tranquilizer, or because of everyday spectacles of this kind, I have become so inured that I don't hear or see anything. I know that this is the best solution for this time. At night, when they are tired of their looting or when they are planning further "operations", silence falls across the city. I retreat to my shelter and I let the tears flow… Does the same merit apply to those who defend their country from evildoers and those who plunder? Judging from current events, I am afraid that the latter will have much more merit. If they were to give the medals for looting, 95 citizens of Pec (unknown reference) would be awarded.

If only my parents had been willing to go away from here, believe me, I would have been gone too. This is the second Vukovar (a town in eastern Croatia pounded to rubble by Serbian forces in 1991). I've heard in the dispensary that they set to fire Beba's (a psuedonym) house. I couldn't believe it. I am crying, but I know I cannot help it. I do not dare go there to see it with my own eyes. Who would have minded? I called the colleague who is her neighbor. His enigmatic answer made me even more suspicious. I came back home crushed by grief. If there is God, and yes He exists, everyone will be punished in due course. It has been relatively peaceful in my neighborhood today, so I'll spend the rest of the day trying to put things in order in the house, during the daylight, because they cut off the electricity around 7-8 PM. The scene I witnessed a few days ago still upsets me. A house was on fire in the neighborhood, the roof was about to crash, and the "mother," if we could call her that, was instructing her son how to get into the house and take out the armchair. "My son, take the armchair, it will be such a pity to let it burn." After a few minutes a wailing: "Woe is me! Woe is me! My lovely armchair is gone." That night I spit on that woman and gave myself an oath that I would never allow myself to witness those scenes. And I haven't crossed the threshold of the gate ever since. Today the sky burst. Even God is crying watching all this. Is it possible that yesterday's friends shoot each other because of someone else's apartment, someone else's belongings? Isn't it one of God's commandments not to steal and not to do evil? The clouds have burst. It's leaking all over the place. The tiles on the roof have been disrupted, because of the detonations. It is of no importance, at least I can sleep peacefully tonight, and there will not be fires. In this outpouring, nothing can be set on fire.

I've mastered cooking to perfection. How to prepare lunch for several people out of a few potatoes, a little bit of onion, a small chunk of meat, and beans. One chops everything, sauté everything together, adds spaghetti, and the meal turns out to be superb. For days I cannot find anything in the stores, let alone fruit. I feel like eating apples. The other day I bought two pounds of lemon (that's how much one is permitted) and I ate them plain, without sugar. I take vitamins. I am scared because I am loosing my hair, and my breast hurts horribly. I've been told just now that a house in the neighborhood is ablaze. (I cannot either see or hear anything from my room). We call fire emergency for the tenth time. First you dial 92, and leave a message who is calling and why. After that you dial 93, and tell them that the police department has been informed. By the time they check the record of your call and arrive, most often without water, the neighbors will have finished half of the job and there will be little left of the house. Everything is so trivial. It is uncanny: while they are setting on fire the houses during the night, the planes are droning as if they were anchored up there in the sky, waiting. Is this a year of Satan, 1999? Have those people I come across come from hell to spread evil? If it hadn't been for this war, I wouldn't have ever realized that people can be such beasts. Today, I counted how many families have stayed clear before God. And I know you will laugh at this, but there are about ten Montenegrin families. The rest… lucky are the people who are not here to see their "honest" friends in the real light. The worst robbers swear and give oaths they would never do something like that.

My street was quiet again today. I say "today," but in a few hours everything can change. I take the opportunity to jot down something in these rare moments of peace. Maybe you've noticed that I rarely record the dates. That is because the days are so much alike, the same as two peas in a pod. Only when something major occurs do I mark the date. The days are flying. I like the mornings the best; I get up with the first sunlight; around 5:30 am. Those are the rare, quiet moments. The whole city smells of fire. I haven't gone to the other parts of the city and I don't know how it is there, but in my neighborhood all sorts of things are happening. The other night we were between four fires, completely surrounded. We keep an eye on the next-door-neighbor's house. It hasn't been robbed and burnt as yet. The other neighbors do not show understanding, but everyone behaves as he or she likes. We ran out of the batteries for the radio, so we can hardly hear anything. When we have electricity, we can catch something, but from 8 PM. to 7 AM - nothing at all. I am dying for clean air, clean water, sound sleep, I am dying for a normal life. Sometimes I analyze myself: I've changed, I've become in some way serious, I look at the world with different eyes. I see everything as black. I wasn't like that, my nature was optimistic. And now? I begin to cry in a second, my hands are shivering, I often cannot move my left hand. But it will pass, thanks to 5 mg of Bensedine; otherwise, who knows what would happen! I am aggravated when I hear what's happening: a car passes by and machine-gun fire kills passers-by; no one knows why. At one point several terrorists were in town: then they were after them. Then they retreat into shells. One can't live because of the automatic fire.

In every step, danger lies in ambush, in every step death lurks. Thank God, life is so dear to me that I don't take chances. Most of the time I am at home. Sometimes I go to the corner of the street. Today we have survived another "horrible scene". My late uncle's brother dropped by at my mother's place with the same old stories, how he is in a kind of hurry about real estate property, how he wants to call on people and take his brother from his tomb. We have forgotten about Shiptars and NATO, that is how badly we are disturbed by his visit. If I ever shoot somebody, it will be him. First of all, young men and children are dying, and all he cares about is possessions, or maybe he is afraid that we can take them away with us. He is such a scoundrel. The news on [Serbian] TV comes every 55 minutes. The same pictures, the same maps, the same information, only the number of casualties increases. I moved from my "shelter" into another room, because my TV is still working. Now the announcement says that the transmitter was bombed. Maybe we will not have TV programs. That will be so good. When I recall the first days and the movies about the Second World War: Kozara, Neretva, Sutjeska, … I feel like puking (During the Nato air strikes Belgrade television broadcast old Yugoslav films glorifying the fight against Nazi Germany's occupation of the Balkans during the Second World War. The locations were scenes of major battles in which the Communist Partisans survived against all odds.) I couldn't distinguish the bursts of fire. They were shooting near the house and partisans are shooting in the movies. One loses one's mind. I've begun reading a book but I have no concentration. I give up.

Just as we set out to the cemetery, the airplanes began cruising. Since any kind of gathering is forbidden , we give up. Today, I bought a box of cigarettes for 100 dinars [around eight dollars]. I am delighted. As there are no vegetables, we cook nettles which I adore. I'll make it as I do spinach, and it will go well with mashed potatoes. Nettles - as if it were 1941. My late grandmother used to tell me a story about how she had fed eight children with a handful of polenta and nettles. History repeats itself.

I said to myself a thousand times: Damned Shiptars (Albanians). They made us all unhappy. They don't give a damn thing, they are safe. They asked for NATO and they saved themselves. Those from above - they do not give up. The word is that the Americans and British bomb Novi Sad and Serbia, the Germans bomb Pristina and Mitrovica, and the French bomb Pec. And because the French "like" us, we are not being hit as much. I don't believe this.

Today, Ranka went to Belgrade with her son-in-law and her sister to visit Ivan. The child is recovering from his wounds. They left around 9 AM, but I heard in the early afternoon that Ivan's condition had gotten worse, because the hospital was bombed. Because of the stress, all his stretches were torn. And the next morning, I learned that he died.

The peasants brought their goods to sell on the sidewalks in front of the Police building. We were able to buy some cheese, spinach, and some onions. I was laughing out of despair. We talked about strawberries, cherries - but these are only abstract nouns. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that the pastry shop was open. It goes without saying: we bought some cakes and "boza". One can also order a cheese pie, but the line is too long. The burek is made for the army, and only what is left is given to the citizens. I am looking at the map of Yugoslavia. The story goes that Kosovo will be partitioned. There are three options, and I prefer the second one. The first option: Metohija goes to Shiptars, Kosovo to Serbs; the second one: Decani, Pec, Istok, and Klina will belong to Montenegro; Podujevo, Pristina, Mitrovica to Serbs. And with the vertical line cut through the territory all the villages (such as Djakovica, Orahovac, Prizren) will be given to the Shiptars. In the village near Pec, four young men were killed. I don't know them by their last names. When someone explained who they were, I felt very sorry. One boy was so young that I couldn't believe he was in the army. He had just stepped into life. Again the wave of funerals. And that is what happens week after week. There is a break of a day or two, and then it starts again. We heard two explosions this morning. It seemed they came from the direction of Montenegro. They targeted Savine Vode right at the time when the bus was passing by. There was an army check point in Savine Vode. They targeted the army. Many people are dead, many wounded (reference to a Nato air attack on a bridge in northern Kosovo in which a passenger bus was struck. More than 30 people, including women and children, were killed. Nato commanders said they did not intentionally target the bus). Only the sirens are heard in the town. People with cars go to Savine Vode to take wounded to the hospital. No one can utter a word. First news: 17 dead. We don't know who they are. The speaker pleads on the radio: "All citizens are asked to, regardless of their blood group, come and give blood." Many lives are in danger. Panic envelops the city. I am afraid, recalling that I could have been on that bus. Fortunately, Jovo (a pseudonym), didn't leave. Her uncle went instead of her. And I - I didn't feel like traveling that day. That must be fate. I hope that the wounded will survive. Seven funerals in one day in Pec. Many other dead passengers were from Djakovica. Two families were burned in their cars. One woman from Decani was wounded. We'll go to the hospital to visit her. Her life is not in danger. The piece of shell went through her ribs. I feel sorry for all these people, especially for Dedic. Ever since his childhood, he was always unhappy. We went to the same school. He was a great pal. The funerals are tomorrow. One has to endure all this. Nothing but funerals. The smell of incense spreads through the city