- Kosovo is a province in the Balkans, currently still a de jure part of Serbia, following a 12-week war in 1999 waged by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against the rump Yugoslavia to prevent the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Albanian inhabitants. De facto, however, it is now controlled by Kosovar Albanians and the successors to their guerrilla force, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Estimated Gypsy population today: 40,000. The 1971 census showed 14,493 Roma in Kosovo, while in 1991 a more realistic figure of 45,745 was recorded. The estimated Romany population before the recent conflict was, however, at least 100,000. During the weeks preceding the 1971 and 1981 censuses both ethnic Albanians and Turks tried to persuade Roma to declare themselves as Albanians or Turks, respectively, while the Serbs encouraged them to register as Roma, in order to reduce the recorded numbers of Albanians in the country.During World War II, Kosovo was garrisoned by Albanian fascists. Gypsies were made to wear distinctive armbands and recruited for forced labor. Many Romanies joined the Partisans. Ljatif Sucuri is regarded as having personally saved the Gypsies of Kosovo from massacre.Kosovo was a strong center for Romany culture from 1945 until the recent hostilities. In 1983, radio broadcasts in Romani began in Pristina, among the earliest in Europe, and these continued for many years, while weekly television broadcasts started in the same town three years later. There was a locally produced magazine called Amaro Lav (Our Word) and two other magazines- Rota and Ahimsa-being published in Pristina. A group of young poets received acclaim well beyond the province largely because of the efforts of Marcel Cortiade in getting their work published. Formal education was rather less successful since, although some schools introduced Romani in 1985, this was without a curriculum or any textbooks. In this region, Erlia and Gurbet are the main dialects spoken. However, many parents bring up their children speaking Albanian because of the discrimination against Roma.In spite of pressure both from Serbs and ethnic Albanians on the Roma to align themselves with one of the larger groups, the Association of Roma People of Pristina had a membership of more than 10,000. Its president, Baskim Redjepi, was a deputy in the Pristina city council, while poet Bajram Haliti worked in the Center for Minority Languages and Culture in Pristina. In 1990, following the example of some Romanies in Macedonia, an Egyptians Association was set up in Kosovo. It claimed that several thousand "descendants of the Pharaohs" live in the province.From 1981 the desire of many Kosovar Albanians for a fully independent Kosovo strengthened. Sometimes this turned to violence against Serbs but also against the Roma, whose leaders supported the Serbs. Such attacks only served to reinforce the alignment of the Roma with the dominant Serbs. When Yugoslav government tanks arrived in Pristina prior to the autonomous status of Kosovo being revoked in 1990, the Romany population unwisely turned out to welcome them.As economic and social segregation intensified, Albanians voluntarily or unwillingly had left their jobs under the Serbian-led administration and many Roma took over the vacant posts, a move that was not to endear them to the Albanians. In social life Serbs replaced Albanian musicians by Roma, while the Albanians themselves employed Albanian musicians in preference to Roma.Albanian resistance against the Serbs continued and in 1998 the central government of Yugoslavia launched an offensive against the KLA, leading some 2,000 Roma to leave Kosovo for Voivodina in northern Serbia to flee the hostilities. After Serbian troops recaptured Orahovac from the KLA and massacred some 200 civilians, Roma were used to load corpses onto trucks. The use of Roma as gravedig-gers, reminiscent of how they were used by the Nazis in Yugoslavia to bury Jews, was to escalate during the period of the NATO raids the following year.A decade later, in a rapidly deteriorating situation, the Yugoslav delegation to the Paris peace talks on Kosovo in 1999 included Albanians, Turks, Kosovar Roma, and the newly emerging minority of Egyptians, alongside a Serbian majority. Amid this claim of multi-culturalism, the delegation refused for several days to have direct talks with the KLA, whom they persisted in calling "terrorists." For the Romani and Egyptian delegates, Ljuan Koka and Cherim Abazi, their participation in the talks was to lead to their enforced flight to Serbia to escape Albanian hostility.Then came the period in 1999 during which NATO carried out intensive bombing raids. During this dramatic period when they were the victims of both warring groups, Roma were swiftly enrolled by the Serbs to help them terrorize the ethnic Albanians. Men of military age were forcibly recruited into the army and others were posted at the doors of food shops to keep the Albanians out. In self-defense, interpreted as complicity by the Albanians, the Roma in several villages marked an "R" on their doors to distinguish them from the Albanian houses when the Serbian auxiliaries arrived to burn and kill. Some Roma had worked as gravediggers before the bombing started. Now their services were called upon by the Serbs to bury their Albanian victims. But the number of victims was such that extra hands were needed and ordinary Roma were recruited for the task.Other Roma fled the country, either to escape the NATO bombing raids or because - as Muslims - they, too, were being targeted by the Serbian auxiliaries. Some 2,000 fled to Macedonia, where they were helped by Romany organizations and individual families in the face of discrimination by Macedonian agencies. More than 20,000 took refuge in Serbia, over 800 in Albania, 8,000 in Montenegro, and a smaller number in Bosnia-Herzegovina.In June 1990, after Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic agreed to peace terms with the NATO forces, the latter took over the province as peacekeepers in the Kosovo Force (KFOR). As the Serbian troops withdrew from Kosovo, they looted the houses of Albanians who had fled during the period of the air strikes. The Serbs forced the Roma to load the most valuable items onto their trucks and then told the Roma to take what was left. Undoubtedly, some did so.The departure of the Serbian Army and police was soon followed by a series of retaliatory attacks by Albanians from Kosovo and fromAlbania proper on both civilian Serbs and Roma. By 12 August 1999 the United Nations estimated that 170,000 Serbs had already fled in the days KFOR arrived, leaving only 30,000. The Roma were to follow.Many of the Albanians who returned from refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania were to take revenge on the Romany community as a whole because of those members who had actively helped the Serbs. It is not yet clear how much of the ethnic cleansing of Roma that was to follow can be attributed to Kosovo Albanians and how much to intruders from Albania proper. Whoever the perpetrators were, the Roma were now to suffer what the Albanians had suffered from the Serbs.Pogroms since the end of the conflict include the following. In June 1999 the Romani quarter in Mitrovica was burned down and the inhabitants fled to Pristina. Roma in Kosovo Polje (near Pristina) also came under threat, and 3,500 took refuge in a school. Roma and Egyptians in Djakovica and elsewhere were told they would be killed if they stayed. On 29 June, 12 houses were torched in Sitinica, a mixed village inhabited by Roma and ethnic Albanians. The Romany quarter of Dusanova in Prizren has also been burned down, as have many houses in Obilic and the quarter of Brekoc in Djakovica.German KFOR troops discovered 15 injured Roma in a police office that had been taken over and used by the KLA as a prison in Prizren. A 16th man had been beaten to death. It was alleged the victims had taken part in looting. Romany victims of Albanian violence, however, have included many who could have taken no part in helping the Serbs. For example, a nine-year-old girl, "J. Q.," was beaten in the Fabricka Street quarter in Mitrovica, and in the same quarter, three elderly Roma died in their houses when these were set on fire by Albanians.In addition to an improvised refuge in Kosovo Polje, KFOR built a camp housing 5,000 "internally displaced" Roma at Obilic (near Prisstina) in a pine forest and surrounded it with barbed wire covered with plastic sheeting. Albanians removed the protective sheeting so they could hurl insults and missiles against the Roma in the camp. In December 1999 the residents were moved to an army barracks in Plemetina. Roma elsewhere have complained that KFOR does nothing. There are countless reports of Roma seeing their homes looted and burned while British and other KFOR troops stood by unable or unwilling to help.Although ethnic Serbian refugees from Kosovo were reluctantly accepted into Serbia proper, many Roma were stopped on the border and told to go back to their homes by the police. Meanwhile, thousands of Roma from Kosovo have taken refuge in other countries. As attacks increased, more than 2,000 Roma fled to Italy in June and July 1999, but in August the Italian authorities said they would no longer accept refugees from Kosovo because the fighting was over. Nevertheless, Roma still attempt the sea crossing, sometimes with tragic results.A report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in January 2000 suggested there were some 25,000 Roma of various clans still in the province, living in a precarious state, and the new millennium has seen further attacks. One report stated that seven Roma were murdered between February and May, an 11-year-old boy was beaten and thrown into the river at Klina in March, while 16 Roma families were forced out of Ogoste by ethnic Albanians displaced from an Albanian settlement on the other side of the Kosovan border in southern Serbia.Most of the Roma intelligentsia have fled and, at the present time, it seems that the conflicts in this region have extinguished what had once been an inspirational example to Roma elsewhere. International agencies still say that life in the province is dangerous for Roma and, at the time of writing, Roma from Kosovo are generally not being returned to the area from the mainly western European countries to which many fled.As early as 2000, investigations began into the alleged danger to human life being caused by the placement and retention of approximately 550 Roma people in three camps contaminated by lead poisoning in northern Mitrovica. At least one death-that of Dzenita Mehmeti, a two-year-old child-can be directly attributed to the lead contamination. In spite of expressions of goodwill by officers of the United Nations Mission to Kosovo, the Roma have not been moved to safer places.
Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . Donald Kenrick.