The war events of 1998-1999 were also discussed in Sanja Zlatanović’s interviews. One of her respondents explains how he was pleading with a Serbian paramilitary commander to spare several Albanian houses, telling him the story of his grandson who was saved from drowning in a river by a neighbor from one of those houses. The commander agreed to spare the houses, he too was moved by the story. Zlatanović notes that her respondents, older Serbs from the rural regions of Kosovsko Pomoravlje, use the term “Shqiptar” as a straightforward ethnonym without the derogatory connotation that this word has in the public discourse in Serbia. Younger respondents are using the term “Albanian” instead.  (the respondents are R1 – a man born in 1928 in Žegra and his wife R2 born in 1934 in Čerkez Sadovina. The interview was conducted in 2006.)

R1: When the first demonstrations happened, my older grandson was six. There was heavy rainfall, and my old house was right by the river. This was before Easter, so it was…

R2: A week before Easter, exactly …

R1: Well it was cold, there was a thunderstorm, heavy clouds, the river rose from Karadag (inaudible), and reached our village. And there was a garbage dump, behind our barn. My house was right there. And now the child came out playing with a stick. And the water just begin swelling.

R2: It ripped up everything!

R1: Trees, stones.

R2: Trees, it tore up trees!

R1: Terrible water, like you’ve never seen! And the child froze there and all of a sudden everything fell into the water (inaudible). And no one saw it!

R2: The child, our grandchild, fell in. And when he fell in, my sister’s grandchild was with him. And she came home.

R1: She didn’t speak yet, she only knew a few words.

R2: ‘Nino’, she called my daughter-in-law. ‘Nino,’ she says, ‘D. fell into the river’. And I know he always goes out and gets his feet wet and he’s afraid to come back wet. And G. jumps up, my daughter-in-law, storms out, and when she opened the door – it was like a sea. And the little girl was six months old, that little girl, and we put her into a plastic bathtub to give her a bath. And the child called, she left, and I stayed. I waited and waited, she’s not coming back. I waited and waited, nothing. And we had our house painted before Easter. The bathtub was on a big chair, so I put it down so it doesn’t fall, and I went out to see where they are. There’s a street that goes right down to the river. It’s not a big street, same as ours. And when I went down to the river, I see this one…

R1: I was dredging sand!

R2: He was dredging sand.

R1: By the river.

R2: And now I’m thinking, my daughter-in-law must have taken the child and she’s heading back to the house. And this neighbor ran up to me. He says, ‘Where have you been M.?’ I said, ‘Deki surely got his feet wet and G. is taking him back to the house.’

R1: He’s afraid to come back, he’ll get spanked.

R2: He’s afraid to come back, he’ll get spanked.

R1: He’s six.

R2: ‘No,’ he said,’ the river took him!’ ‘What?’ ‘The river took him!’ ‘Good lord!’, I said. ‘Go tell your daughter-in-law to get back, I left the little girl in the tub,’ I said, ‘she’ll drown too!’ She ran down the same way. When I saw her running down, after that I lost my bearings. This one came. I was screaming and shouting. And he goes: ‘There he is, in the water!’

R1: My son was driving back from work.

R2: And M., my son, came back from work. People surrounded him, shouting ‘Hurry, hurry!’ And he says, ‘It must be dad, he must have done something.’

R1: The water took him away!

R2: And I was really sick, I also have epilepsy, so he is thinking – either it’s mom or dad, and didn’t even think of the child. ‘When I saw the gate is open,’ he says, ‘full of people. What happened?’ And the child walked in.

R1: The child was in the water for twenty minutes, it carried him for about a mile.

R2: And imagine, he says…

R1: Still holding his stick. Hold on, you can’t tell that story.

R2: I can’t. I get too upset.

R1: Those Shqiptars Građolci, what can I tell you, we were like brothers. They were dredging sand.

R2: And they saw him.

R1: And they saw him, they thought it was a doll. He was caught in a whirlpool, the boy. And one of them said, ‘That’s not a doll, that’s a child!’ Not even a parent would step into that water for his child…

R2: And they went in.

I: They went in? A man went in?

R2: Yes, a young man! Young man! He wasn’t even married yet!

I: He got in?

R2: He got in!

R1: He got in! He couldn’t get the child out. And others grabbed him to save him from the whirlpool. He was lucky, the whirlpool would have…

R2: They wouldn’t have found him!

R1: Nothing would be found.

R2: Such speed!

R1: Fate! And then another one goes in, grabs the child and puts him over his shoulder. (inaudible – talks about how the water carried the other person as well.) He tried one riverbank, than the other, he couldn’t get out. With the child on his shoulders, the water carried him some 500 yards. When they were passing a willow tree, he managed to grab on to a branch. And the others were running alongside.

I: To help him get out?

R1: Yes, they were running after them. And they passed him a stick, and pulled out the child and him. And now I got there, my garden was there, my plum orchard. They came up and they were carrying the child. […]

R2: And they asked him, he says: ‘Kujna je, kujna je’ – in Shqiptar. And he says: ‘I am Serbian’. The child managed to speak.

R1: (a few inaudible words) the first demonstration of Shqiptars in Žegra.

R2: The first time there were demonstrations. […]

R2: They took out three jars of mud out of him.

I: Out of where?

R2: From his lungs.

R1: And then they brought us gifts!

R2: And they brought us gifs.

R1: They bring us gifts! Shqiptar women! […]

R2: Afterwards, when they came, like a gayret, they came to visit us.

R1: They got together, ten-fifteen people, they have those good manners.

R2: Their customs are great! […]

R1: Immediately they started calling us: ‘blood brothers, blood brothers!’

R2: Right away it was ‘blood brothers’. We called each other ‘blood brothers’. […]

R1: And then an old man gets up, and he says, ‘Oh, D.! Your great-grandfather, he says, ‘who lived in the Ottoman times…’ ‘Now the time came,’ he says, ‘even if our strengths are not that great, the time came for your grandson. And if anyone saved him,’ he says, ‘that was God. So there’s someone left to remember us,’ he says. “Well, when you pass by my house, you must turn and say hello. We have always loved each other, and now we have to love each other even more.’

R2: ‘God would not allow us to drift apart,’ he says […]

R1: ‘You have to,’ the old man says, ‘turn your head to my house and say hello,’ he says. ‘If he was saved, it was God that saved him,’ he says. ‘But what remains among us is a blessing, that your grandson was saved by our hand.’

R2: Yes!

The conversation turned to the events of the 1999 war and the exchange that this Serbian family had with Serbian “volunteers” who burned down Albanian houses in the village.

R1: Well, now, to tell you the truth, now I did them a favor (inaudible sentence). When I told this story to the volunteers…

I: And they wanted to listen? Did any of them want to listen?

R1: I told the story to their commander. ‘You know what,’ I said, ‘here’s the thing.’ And I told him everything about my grandson, I won’t repeat it again. ‘Not even a parent would jump into that water, but they did. So if you could do me a huge favor, these houses in a row, these six or seven houses, these new houses, brick houses, I beg of you. ‘ […] They obliged, they didn’t burn them down.

Source: Sanja Zlatanović, Etnička identifikacija na posleratnom području: srpska zajednica jugoistočnog Kosova, Etnografski institut SANU, Beograd, 2018, pp. 310-4.



Image courtesy of Milan Bogdanović

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