Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The Knock on the Door

By an IWPR Correspondent in Pristina (BCR No 11, 29-Mar-99)
By IWPR

It was around 10:00 PM when I heard sounds of boots running up the stairs of the building where I stayed last night. (I haven't slept at home for a week.) Then I heard hard knocking on a neighbouring door. "That's it," I thought, "they've arrived."


Still, I was amazed how you really calm down when the danger comes that close. I have always been scared to death whenever I see a policemen or anyone carrying a gun (though nowadays there's a difference: Serbs only carry big machine guns). But this night it was completely different. I was cool. I was waiting and thinking: "The worst thing they can do is kill me, so nothing can surprise me." I made a decision: "I won't try to hide my identity or my mother tongue," Albanian of course. This calm thinking at such a moment took me by complete surprise.


Luckily, I then heard the running again, but now heading downstairs, and no one knocked on my door. But I just had to know what was going on, so I looked outside the door. It was a guy I have spoken to before. I met him on the street a week ago, and we passed a few words about the political situation. (What else?)


We were speaking in Serbian, and he seemed very open-minded, very "normal." And I was glad to think, as I always try, that I can't condemn a whole nation because of the government's wrong politics. There are decent people among them. Or so I thought until Wednesday.


Now he was wearing a strange uniform - neither police nor military-carrying weapons and heading out. The knock was his "friend" coming in a rush, and in the same clothes and gear, to get him. Off they went, no doubt to try to kill "at least" one Albanian or to burn any house. And for the next day I have to find another place to sleep, because I wouldn't want to run into him again now.


Until few days ago, I felt very sorry for the Albanian people suffering in the villages and all they were going through. I don't anymore. Now, I fight for my own survival. I try to stay alive and as normal as I can, though it's difficult. This morning, I almost collapsed out of breath while running towards my house to see if my parents are still OK. There's no phone, so every time I go to spend a night somewhere else, I kiss my mother and my father, and have the terrible feeling that I won't see them anymore.


Yesterday I passed by my favourite cafe, where I used to meet my friends every day. For years, we met there, chatted, found each other. We were so close that if you missed an afternoon, everyone notice, and wondered where you'd gone. Now it is all destroyed, even the chairs were taken, and it doesn't look like my cafe at all. Inside five policemen were getting drunk on whisky in the middle of the mess they probably made.


Maybe it seems ridiculous to think about this cafe now, but not for me. Too many memories, too many friends. God knows when we will gather again, and who will be absent at that time. How many of us are missing? There is simply no way to find out. Telephones in Albanian houses are cut off, and the whole town is cut to pieces by police and armed civilians. No one can communicate, no one can move. For now, only names go through my mind. I try to remember faces but I cannot. The only faces I can remember now are the bad faces I see in the streets.


As for the NATO planes, we wanted them so badly. We protested for them last year. I never dreamed that the sound of them could horrify me so much. Not because they are doing something wrong, on the contrary, but because I am aware of the consequences on the ground, and that there will be more killings.


Still for the first time last night I felt happy. The MUP (Ministry of the Interior) building in the centre of town was completely destroyed. I saw it getting burned, and proudly stayed at the window watching. Now only ashes remain where before every day the huge armoured police vehicles would begin their tours. At least something of "theirs" has been destroyed and people can finally see it.


The big mushroom that lit the dark night looked so beautiful, and when we saw the huge ugly building burning, we didn't care so much about the consequences. At last there was something good in all this tragedy that won't end so soon. The windows in surrounding apartments were broken because of the blast, but no matter. We just hope that it will go on, and that NATO planes will fly even lower tonight.


But how quickly day goes now! My friends used to call me 'Nighthawk', because I adored the night and I adored waiting for the dawn. Night was my time, but now I hate it. I will have to leave my home soon, to hide in some other place. To avoid any more knocks. I will take my blanket, stay awake the whole night, and listen to the sounds of planes, anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, and shouting. It seems to me that every shot comes from the direction of my parents' house, and it fills me with a fear that is killing.


The electricity shuts off about six pm and it is not so smart to light a candle, because that will just show that someone is inside. So everyone stays in the dark, waiting.


The author's name has been withheld in case of possible reprisal.


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