Snippets of war stories and events that took place between 1989-1999, as retold via the memory lane 


by Fjolla Hoxha




The parallel education system

The intensive war took place between March 21st, 1999 and June 13th, 1999. During this time, we didn’t go to school. My father who worked as an engineer at the gold and silver factory Famipa, was the only employed member in the family. My mother, an English teacher and my aunt, an economist were both working within the parallel system of the Albanian resistance which was declared illegal within the Republic of Serbia and established starting in 1991 as a necessity to protect the civil dignity. My mom taught English at different mosques and my aunt helped gather a certain fee that was agreed to be collected from Albanians and distributed to those working under the parallel education system. The emphasis was particularly put on education and those who worked in industry and other sectors, either accepted to work under the rules of the Serbian Republic or were expelled and were unemployed. 


Roller skating through barricades

During this period of no school, I enjoyed various forms of activities at home and in the neighborhood which meant in front of our house, all the way down to the mosque, a few meters from my house and in May, I roller skated in a circle through the back road of my house. This courage was quite a success and it came not from the improvement of the situation but from the normalization of it. There was one cabin by the orthodox church but most of the barricades were plastic bottles tied with a string, which meant that no cars were allowed without the soldiers’ approval. I think there were three or maybe four barricades with soldiers sitting next to them, with large guns of course. Sometimes they were empty.


Exercises and registration

As my family started collecting food, taking the Bosnian war as an example of a long lasting one, we ended up having more food at home than ever. I was indulging in food, as one of the few activities I could do and when warned by my family about having gained weight, I remember telling them: I’m storing food for when we end up in the mountains, you should follow my example, too. After a while, I noticed this wasn’t barrable so I started exercising regularly. One hot day, maybe towards May, I saw from the window shades upstairs, while I was jumping around burning fat that a few armed soldiers entered our house. My father and grandfather greeted them politely and they set at the balcony. I heard them ask how many people and who lives in this house, my grandfather gave the names politely and they left. After the war, these lists were found in a house nearby in the neighborhood with a vast amount of torturing equipment. 


Watching paramilitaries on TV

We watched a lot of what was going on in our country on international TV: CNN, BBC,  euronews and deutche welle. Serbian TVs were playing patriotic music showing soldiers fighting to boost the patriotic stamina. We didn’t have Albanian TV as I was growing up- a few hours of program in Albanian, including the news, that’s all. I remember once watching Turkish TV, a reporter was speaking from the Serbian paramilitaries, identifying them by their level of brutality. We were required by the Serbian government to put blankets on the windows, to prevent emitting light and becoming a target of NATO bombing. I remember imagining how these paramilitaries may be walking down the streets while we were watching them on TV.


Neighbor on uniform- fridges and TVs that came to their homes

My only two Serbian neighbours were Toma and Vladan’s father who’s name I don’t remember. Toma was Vladan’s uncle and had two sons, Igor and Goran. They liked playing basketball and did so sometimes with the Albanian boys, although mostly they hung out together and separately from us. We all hung out a lot in the neighborhood during the three months of the war. When planes were flying, we were arguing whether they were ‘Nashi’ (ours, in Serbian) referring to NATO and they were counter defending saying, ‘Ne nego nashi’ (No, they’re ours), meaning Serbian planes. We shouted ‘NATO! NATO! NATO!’ quite a lot. The bombing wasn’t heard much but I remember the bombing sirens quite well. Toma was militarized and we thought that this would protect us from being expelled or raped or executed, because he was our neighbor and he would defend us and not allow anyone to lay a hand on us. Maybe he did. He sometimes brought trucks with loads of furniture, TVs, refrigerators though, which they would empty out inside their houses. That was furniture of Albanians who were kicked out of their homes.


Bread lines

Throughout the whole war, we waited in line for bread. It was mostly women because the Serbian military was recruiting men to fight on their side or to open graves, imprisoning or shooting them. We would go out at 5am and wait in line till 12pm when the truck with state produced bread came and each had the right for two breads per person. That’s why each family had a few women go out and wait. Sometimes younger boys and old men would be in line as well. People were collecting bread and freezing it out of fear that the war will last long.


Looking through the barrel of a gun

Despite my grandmother’s disapproval (she used to say, Serbs have a ‘afterwards;, meaning they always have a secret agenda), my father and my mother went and visited my dad’s coworker from Serbia during 1998, when the war had somehow already started: the Jashari Family in Drenica was massacred and the Kosovo Liberation Army was operating. 

My dad’s friend Jovica, a serb and his wife, showed great hospitality towards my parents. Duirng the discussions, Jovica said to my dad: ‘Ovaj ludak, Milosevic, hoce da tvoj i mos sin se vide preko nisana’ (this freak, Milosevic, wants my son and your son to be looking at each other through the barrel of a gun. Later, during the war in 1999, he called my father when the phones were still working to ask if we’re ok. Then we didn’t have a landline connection for about a month. When the war ended, Jovica called again and he couldn’t talk on the phone. He just sobbed- said my father. 


Two types of phone calls

My uncle who lived in the U.S. since the year I was born, was always respected very highly in my family, because he was charismatic and multi-talented. He was the band leader of one of the first rock bands in Prishtina in the 60s called the Modests, pretty heavily inspired by Jimmy Hendrix and the Beatles. He was considered wise and intellectual. He called us when the war started and talked to his sister, my mom and my dad, who he got along with very well. My dad told us after the call that he said we shouldn’t worry too much, the war will end in no time. My dad lit a cigarette from relief. A few weeks later, he called back and said quite the opposite: collect food, this war may last longer than we expect. My father lit a cigarette again. He lit a cigarette whenever an emotion was out of the ordinary. 


Playing with lizards and tv shows

I spent the last month of the war with my dad’s aunts who weren’t married. They were both in their 60s and lived in the huge Otoman Empire style house with high wooden ceilings which belonged to my great grandfather and they inherited it, since great grandfather had no sons, only daughters. The house was burned after the war by Albanian revengers as it was under the same roof with the Serbian neighbor’s house. Both of my brothers were in the house when it caught fire, but they survived somehow, so did quite a lot of furniture due to neighbors’ immediate support. People went through fires to save as much as they could. My brothers can’t stand the smell of anything burning since then. I used to sunbathe at the back yard of the house during the war, laying in the foldable polish bed and playing with lizards which came out between the cobbler stones and the tomato plants. The Serbian neighbor’s house was connected with a ‘kapicik’, a small door that close neighbors had between their backyards to enable women who were covered to move around without their headscarves. The neighbor’s house in fact belonged to my great great grandfather but he had lost it in usury. The aunts got along well with their Serbian neighbor. Their son was a dentist and the aunts were his clients. He too was mobilized during the war and later we learned that Serbian soliders stayed in their house, just one small door across from where I was sunbathing…


Sweater shopping- what a discount! …and an army truck

During the beginning of the war, before we stopped going to school, stores were discounting clothes and all there was to more than 50%. I liked a sweater I saw at the city center so I begged my mother to go buy it with me. As we were returning from the store with the sweater, a large army truck passed by and soldiers looked at us. I looked back at them with a look meaning ‘what are you looking at?’. My mother grabbed my hand forcibly and told me to look down. I remember thinking if I was to be put in a situation of rape, I would tell the soldiers I had AIDS and this would save me. I seriously believed that this is what I’d do and this would work. 



Golden Saint Sava

During the 90s, we used to go to our summer house in Turkey for three months every year. There were very specific corners on the streets where we would be pulled on the side by the police both in Kosova, Macedonia and Bullgaria and even if my dad wasn’t speeding, the police would invent some issue and ask for money. At some point, my dad figured out a trick. He printed gold plated images of Nikola Tesla, Saint Sava (I own one of each) and would give them these as a bribe. It worked almost every time. I remember saying three Kuluvallah’s and one Elhamdulilah prayer every time we went on the road and wish that one: we weren’t pulled aside, two, my mother who had a very sensitive stomach, didn’t vomit, three, our car didn’t get damaged or we didn’t get in a car accident. 


NATO bombing toilette line- white nights, green blue light and birthday cake

The night NATO bombed, March 24th, 1999, planes flew very low. They bombed a Serbian army barrack quite close to my house and the house shook. First we saw the green blue light, then we saw how the night became day, then we all needed to go to the toilette. There was only one bathroom at my parents’ old house and we were 11 people at my house now that my aunt who lived in a flat had come to stay with us indefinitely, since flats were easier to become a target and be attacked by planes. She told us she saw a few dozen horses that ran by her flat after a farm not far away was attacked by Serbian army. Her little son, became an expert in learning what stores were selling milk and other food commodities. My birthday was two days after the bombing started. My mom made a cake. 48 people, mostly extended members of the Berisha family in Suha Reka, a town 20km away from my town were massacred in their house. 14 of them were under 15 years old. That day, I had turned 15. The bombing lasted 76 days. 




This image is just a few month after. My mother worked with a news agency from the UK called ITN. Money started comming in, so did tables with food and guests...and most importantly, the brightness in the eyes came back!

There's a documentary in which I'm the main character, more like a reportage really, in which I lead the media team through my war journey: we visited my improvised highschool and then the real highschool building when I would later become the president of youth forum, we went through my notebooks, the emergency backpacks and other items that became relics of a lost time...

I am very interested in finding this reportage and seeing it from today's perspective...

I find it problematic that we were never sent the material in which I appear as a minor- I was 15 at the time but then, we didn't have internet back in the day...

This image of my family is from June 1999, just a few days after the end of the war or the liberation of Kosova by the NATO forces in June 13th. After being locked in for three months, unable to participate in public life and institutions for a decade, scared of speaking our own language and practicing our culture, we were finally able to be. I don't know if it's my perception because of my subjective bias, but we look like we've been through war...I think. How can one identify that? Just look into the eyes...they are dull and the brightness has been shot down...