[The following piece appeared in the April 29 edition of Transitions. For more photos, see the post below.]
After 10 years, many Romani refugees from the Kosovo conflict can neither return to their old homes nor build new ones abroad.
By Michael J. Jordan and Shejla Fidani, 29 April 2010
ŠUTO ORIZARI, Macedonia, and POMAZATIN, Kosovo | The anguish is etched on Nedzmije Selimi’s face even before she starts talking.
In a gray-and-white headscarf and threadbare vest, she lets loose with her lament. First, she lost her husband to a brain aneurysm, which left her to raise their son alone in Kosovo, a society on the brink of war. After NATO intervened with 78 days of air strikes, she grabbed her 8-year-old boy and fled a bloodthirsty climate, south to neighboring Macedonia.
Selimi and tens of thousands of other Kosovo Roma feared vengeance from ethnic Albanians returning after their own cleansing, at the hands of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic. While the Albanians blamed Serbs for the campaign, they also accused the Roma of collaboration.
At 53, Selimi has been a refugee for 10 years. She lives on the edge of the Macedonian capital, Skopje – and on the edge of a country that has shown little hint of hospitality. She describes her struggle to raise a son, now 18, amid joblessness estimated at 80 percent for the Roma here. Since the NATO bombardment, her son suffers anxiety and nose bleeds. He hasn’t been to school in 10 years. So she goes job-hunting for him.
“It’s hard to keep a child on the right track, to teach him not to steal,” she says, on the verge of tears. “If there were jobs here, I’d gladly work myself.”
Selimi is one of the Kosovo conflict’s oft-forgotten refugees, the Roma.
Kosovo today is independent but fragile. And one of the most sensitive postwar issues is how to restore “multiethnicity,” to beat back the notion that ethnic cleansing ultimately triumphed. Most symbolically, the question is how to secure the return of Kosovo Serbs to their historic heartland while not triggering another round of revenge killings that strains regional stability.
But without the Kosovo Roma, who constituted a significant slice of the prewar population, any claim of a multiethnic Kosovo would ring hollow.