Continuation. See the first installment in the May 12 issue.
Big laundry mat
Kosovo was once considered Yugoslavia's poorest province. However, the situation has recently changed thanks to the world's most progressive democracies. Of course, myriad sacrifices were made along the way. Many Kosovo residents were exiled or sent to reservations, which the European Union refers to as "enclaves." Humanitarian mission representatives don't like visiting Serbian ghettos. The reservations are an unpleasant sight — especially compared to the rest of Kosovo which is a perfect example of good peacekeeping.
Kosovo is crammed with cash. EU and U.S. humanitarian organizations are making significant contributions to the economy. Albanians are also sending huge annual remittances from Western Europe. Part of this money is earned from criminal activities. But Kosovo can't yet cope with these substantial money streams. The funds are poorly managed and large sums are invested in outlandish construction projects, such as 100-meter swimming pools in entirely uninhabited areas. Thousands of consumer goods stores stand by the road. The average Kosovo village has 5-10 supermarkets for every 500 residents, as well as three car washes and mechanic’s shops. The country's elegant agrarian landscape now has tens of thousands of newly built elite homes. Scattered among them are the skeletons of Serbian homes in ruins, covered in weeds. Albanians are dismantling these homes and using the materials to build more multilevel mega markets. One theory why these stores are built is that they are used for money laundering. They have few customers and the assortment is always e — nuts and mineral water. It's interesting to think how long these stores would have to run before covering their costs. The average land plot for these mega markets sells for 100,000 euro.
The EU can't explain why the Albanian mafia was given a republic to rule after massacring the Serbian population. But the Albanians know how to play the democratic game. Each mega market boasts a collection of small EU and U.S. flags, although the well-being of Kosovo residents is divided purely along ethnic lines — a mockery of the democratic values that the country pretends to uphold.
A Western humanitarian mission employee based in Prishtin recapped the events that had transpired in the Kosovo village, Istok. He said that Albanians had misbehaved a bit in the summer of 1999, but everything fell into place shortly after. Moscow built 48 homes in the village for the Serbians whose houses had been burned down. Today, he added, Istok is the pinnacle of peaceful coexistence of Albanians and Serbs.
Lawyer Lozanka Radoyvich told us an altogether different story in Belgrad. A massacre had ensued for a week in Istok in 1999. All the homes of Serbs were burned down or seized. Forty-three people were kidnapped. They have never been found.
As we made our way through Kosovo, we couldn't imagine the danger facing two Russian Orthodox journalists. We relied on our Serbian driver to handle all our safety issues. At first, Dushko refused to go to Istok. But we told him that as a refugee of the Grachanitsa reservation he could help us to put together an article about the real situation in Serbian enclaves, or sit at home waiting for his enclave to be cleansed.
Our jeep had already been riding for half an hour in the mountainous village Istok. Passers-by stared at us intensely. Doshko gripped the wheel tightly. His large hairy paws whitened from stress and he whispered through his teeth: "Albanians, Albanians."
Doshko visually screened everyone around us, looking for his fellow Serbs. But he didn't find any. All the sudden, the car backed up, he turned down an alley and we stopped at a house with a satellite dish that read: "Total-TV."
"It's Serbian TV," Doshko said. "Albanians don't watch it."
We exited the car. Destroyed walls of old homes surrounded us. New smaller houses had been built among them. Typically Albanians don't live in such modest residences. And in Istok the Serbs don't either, although these homes had built especially for them by the Moscow government.
All the homes sat empty and silent. The windows were covered by rags. We walked around the homes and stood next to the crumbling walls that had eroded beneath the rain. Snakes warmed themselves under the sun on concrete blocks. We were looking for the only remaining Serbian family. And we found her. An elderly Serbian woman stood looking at us cautiously.
Doshko asked her in Albanian: "Are you a Serb?"
"Yes. So?" she answered in the same tongue.
"No, really tell us, are you a Serb?" he asked again, only in Serbian.
"And so?" she repeated, only in Serbian.
"I'm a Serb from Grachanitsa! These are Russian journalists from Moscow!" he said. In half a moment we were already in her kitchen. The coffee boiled on the gas stove. Milavitsa put shot glasses and rakia on the table. The home was half-dark. All the windows were covered in blankets. She told us how she had run away from Istok, but later returned.
"I came back when I learned that Moscow had decided to help us. But the Russians outsourced the work to a German company that hired Albanians to fulfill the contract. In effect, the Albanians made money off the Russians, by building our homes and not providing us with electricity or water. This was done on purpose. But I'm still happy the house was built. Before I was living in a shed with a cow."
Milavitsa's family had lived in Istok for nearly a century. In the summer of 1999, Albanians blew up a home, fish restaurant, wine cellar and four-car garage in the village. They also stole a tractor and land. Her family home was burned. She named the dead, counting them on her fingers.
"Did you know that Serbs were kidnapped and their organs trafficked?" we asked her cautiously.
"Yes, we all knew! We knew that only young, strong men went missing. On June 10, the Albanians rounded up about 50 people here in Istok and took them away. No one ever saw them again. We appealed to both the Serbian and EU authorities for help. But they said that we didn't have any evidence. As if you can just go to a clinic where organs are being trafficked, take photos and leave!"
When we left, Milavitsa complained that the humanitarian aid in Mitrovitsa was subsiding from Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry. She added there was no communication among the enclaves. We told her that service was being held again at the Grachanitsa Monastery and some enclaves were holding up well.
Serbs give birth in enclaves
Try to imagine a Russian village in a mountainous district of Chechnya in the mid-1990s. There's poor communication with mainland Russia and transport is unreliable. The local population has no one to rely on in an emergency.
It's a long hike to the Serbian border from the Shtripts enclave. The 10,000 or so population doesn't have any employment opportunities. They're farmers, although portions of the land border with Albanian villages and locals don't let Serbs work the fields.
"They shoot farmers," said Mile Popovich, a member of the local administration. "Almost everything in our enclave is completely natural. The economy is ruined and the Albanians don't buy anything from the Serbs."
"Doesn't Belgrade help you?" we asked.
"It's hard to call it 'help,'" Popovich said. "Their policy is to move all the educated people to Serbia and help them find work. Belgrade helped all qualified workers leave. Only we farmers and workers remain. But that's okay. We'll win Kosovo back the same way we lost it. And our friends will be stronger by then. I don't think we should drag Russia into a war right now. In the meanwhile our kids are growing up."
"Do Serbs really have children in the enclaves?" we asked.
"People just understood what they need to do," Popovich answered. "There's an average of three children per family in the enclaves."
"Have Albanians tried to take Shtripts?" we asked.
"They're too afraid. We can call 5,000 men to arms in a moment," Popovich said. "The KFOR soldiers already tried to disarm us. The Poles came first. They walked through the enclave, spoke with locals and later told their commanding officers they wouldn't do it. Then the Americans came with their search dogs on helicopters. They went to each home looking for arms, but we sent our shepherd dogs after them. Then the Americans climbed back into their helicopters and took off. For some reason, they haven't rushed to disarm the Albanians... But the KLA has shot at our buses. People have died in the thousands. A lot of people have disappeared without a trace. We used to worry during kidnappings in 1999. My neighbor was kidnapped and they never found his body. The kidnapping started as soon as NATO forces came to Kosovo."
A government employee told us how to find the mother of a kidnap victim. We went to see her.
"They kept telling me my son's alive."
It wasn't easy to find her home. We wandered the streets until a local woman carrying groceries offered to escort us to Tseta Dogandjich's house. As we walked, we read the many death notices glued on the fences and lampposts. The woman caught us staring and said in good Russian: "There aren't many of us left..."
Dogandjich's story is typical in Kosovo. Her son Yakov disappeared in 1999.
"He was coming home and had to pick up some shepherds along the way," she said. There was an old Soviet TV in the corner of the room.
"Someone stopped Yakov. They found his car by the road with the doors half open. I went to the KFOR for help, but they said calmly: 'Your son was kidnapped by an independent criminal group.' The authorities didn't look for him at all. But then word came that Yakov was still alive. We asked a foreign journalist who was preparing to meet Albanian criminals to help us find him. They again told her that Yakov was alive. About one month later, some people contacted me and asked me to give them clothes and money for food for my son. Albanians have contacted me several times saying that he was alive, but they couldn't release him. Why did they want him to begin with?"
"Have you continued searching for your son?" we asked.
"Yes. We were continuously told he was alive. We met with Major Taylor who commanded KFOR in our region. He told us they couldn't find and free our son. But he added we should try to buy him back through our Albanian acquaintances. A good Albanian friend of Yakov's said that if he tried to intervene, he and his whole family would be killed. Other Albanians refused to help us, although we've managed to set aside a good amount of money to buy him back."
Soldiers of the enclave self-defense movement explained why prisoners were often sent from one area to the next speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"Many kidnap victims were found in mass graves," they said. "But they were mostly older. Young healthy men were kept in special camps. When international commissions headed to the area, the Albanians relocated their prisoners. And this is how the victims live until the Albanians receive an order for a specific organ. Then the victim is taken from Kosovo to an underground clinic."
Our investigation was nearing an end. Most importantly, we had learned that Ponte's scandalous statements were true. Many Serbs were kidnapped at the same time in the summer of 1999. The majority were young healthy men. Also, they weren't killed immediately, but kept in special camps. KP came across a woman who was examined by doctors working for the underground organ trade. She was saved by a astounding chain of events.
See the final installment in our next number.
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Read part two of this story in our next issue.
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