Jews Driven from Kosovo
Interview with Cedda Prlincevic, Chief Archivist of Kosovo and leader of Pristina's Jewish Community.
The interview is divided in two parts, conducted at different times. Jared Isael is the interviewer in Part One.
Jared: So you are the President of the Jewish Community in Pristina?
Cedda: It was a small community. We have all left.
Jared: Why did you leave?
Cedda: Because the political settlement became a military resolution. Pressure was on the citizens. They didn't ask which nationality you are, you were pressed to leave the apartments and the city. Even if I had a paper which said I am the President of the Jewish Community of Pristina in English and signed by the President of the Federation of Jewish Community from Belgrade, Mr. Singer, the officers from KFOR [NATO], refused to recognize that paper and I was kept imprisoned in my home for one week.
I gave it to another KFOR officer later and he said "I have other business to attend to."
The powers from Albania came inside the country. Their main purpose was to get all the non-Albanian population out. With help from Eliz Viza from Israel and from the Chairman of the Jewish Community from Skopia I was rescued, taken by Taxi together with my wife and my mother to Macedonia and from Macedonia I came to Belgrade. The whole rescue operation of my family was given to Israeli TV. Altogether there were 40 people of Jewish origin in Kosovo. They are of mixed marriage, Jewish-Albanian, Jewish-Turkish and Jewish-Serbian. All are prepared to go to Israel. To go back to Kosovo for us is too late. Even though we got a guarantee from Thaci which is the head of the UCK [KLA], that our homes would not be touched we have information that all our apartments and our houses were completely robbed and demolished. Which means UCK and Thaci do not have control.
Jared: Or they are lying. What did you do in Pristina?
Cedda: I was public employee, director of archives of Kosovo and Mutohija. There is documentation there which gives the story about Serbians and Turks and Albanians and Jews, whoever lived in Kosovo and the system which was there.
Jared: Did you ever experience anti-Semitism from the Serbs?
Cedda: Never. Neither from the Albanians. I was manager, both to Albanians and to Serbians. We were not driven out from Kosovo by Albanians from Pristina but by Albanians from Albania.
Jared: In other words a lot of the people we saw cheering German troops on the street were not the local residents?
Cedda: The same people who were demonstrating in Albania a few years ago and demolishing the whole country - they are in Kosovo now.
Jared: They have been brought in intentionally by the KFOR?
Cedda: I cannot tell you.
Jared: Put it this way: they haven't been stopped?
Cedda: No one is stopping them. And with the KFOR assistance, actually. KFOR is there, saw it all, allowed them to do what they did.
Jared: How did it happen? Were threats made after which you went to the KFOR and they said "we won't help you?"
Cedda: They came to our home and threatened they would kill us. They would slaughter us. My wife was defending me. My wife is Serbian. And she was defending me in front of the door.
Jared: How was she doing that?
Cedda: They said we will slaughter you, and she said to them "Kill me! Slaughter me! I will not go out of my home!" Then officials of Jewish community come to my home and put me in a taxi.
Jared: Your wife is a very brave woman. You have made tears come to my eyes.
Cedda: And the same happens to me here. She is very brave and I am proud of her.
Jared: OK. OK. Getting back to the people who came to your house. Had you ever seen them before?
Jared: Were they armed?
Cedda: With machine guns. They completely cleared up the building and the whole area where we lived.
Jared: Cleared up?
Cedda: The whole area of 30,000 people, they completely cleared it.
Jared: 30,000? Emptied it?
Cedda: Emptied it. Went from house to house and building to building.
Jared: Did they kill anyone.
Cedda: Initially one person, family named Kompic, a Serbian family, they killed, which was an obvious reason for us not to resist.
Jared: In other words they made an example of one family and then they said if you want to die -
Cedda: All night they were banging the doors and slamming the doors and going inside the doors and from apartment to apartment.
Jared: Was that private houses?
Cedda: Apartment buildings. Many of the people who lived there are of prominent status and social position in the city. Even Albanians who lived in the same buildings were also running away. It was not only Serbian, it was mixed nationality. This was something completely unknown in history of Kosovo. Since Kosovo is multinational, multi-confessional [i.e., multi-religious] society which lived 500 years together, there was no such level of hatred as now.
Jared: But you are saying they have sent in Albanians in large numbers from Albania?
Cedda: This is a pogrom toward non-Albanian population all around Kosovo area, Djakovica, Pec, Kosovska, Microvica, all over Metokia. Metokia and Kosovo both.
Jared: But it is not being done by the local Albanians?
Cedda: Yes, the foreign Albanians. They differ in language. A different dialect. All over Kosovo it is the same situation. I cannot give 100% that it is done exclusively by Albanians from Albania. But I have not seen revenge taken on a man from his next door neighbor who was Albanian -
Jared: Did you try to go to the KFOR?
Cedda: The KFOR was in my house when they came to there.
Cedda: When Albanians started to destroy apartments one person called KFOR and KFOR officer came inside the house, he was there with his squad. There was a whole bunch going up and down the stairs, 24 hours pressure of people going up and down the stairs, banging, entering, demolishing… they break down the door and pour in tear gas in some places and they were robbering -
Jared: Excuse me?
Cedda: Robbing, robbing.
Jared: Now, you said the KFOR men were there? Did they actually witness it?
Jared: What did they say?
Cedda: They didn't react at all. They didn't protect nobody.
Jared: For God's sake, what did they say?
Cedda: They said this is for civil authorities to regulate the problem. They were only concerned with killings.
Jared: Who were the civil authorities?
Cedda: They were not formed yet. There were none.
Jared: How did you know whether you were going to get murdered when someone banged down the door? I guess after you were murdered, you would know?
Cedda: Yes. They were just there to put documents if you were murdered.
Jared: So. Archivists?
Cedda: Yes. Last month a number of very heavy crimes and murders happened in Kosovo. Instead of getting 'European democracy' we got a non-defined form of power and - power is not the right word…
Cedda: No. Not fascism. Force. Power. Probably the historian will invent a new word for this…
Jared: It needs a new word …
Cedda: Jews have the word which is called pogrom.
Jared: Yeah. It's a pogrom, that's right. It's a pogrom. Indiscriminate brutality against a group - in this case defined by anybody who is - but wait, you say it includes Albanians -
Cedda: The population expected real security from KFOR and that's why they didn't leave where they lived…
Jared: Ahh. Boy. You were set up.
Cedda: And that's what surprised us the most. Instead of defending the population they just stand by and looking what's happening like it is not a relevant situation. During June and July 300,000 people left Kosovo which are non-Albanian population, Serbians, Turks, Gorani [Slavic Muslims] , "Gypsies," that is the Romi, also people from Montenegro. 300,000.
Jared: What about - you said Albanians from Kosovo were being harassed too -
Cedda: Yes. Those who were pro-Yugolsav oriented. Who were loyal citizens of the system.
Jared: So the people who were living -
Cedda: They could tell from the person's work.
Jared: So the people who were living in the area with you, were considered by these gangs to be collaborationists because they were living in a mixed area?
Cedda: No. Only the position of power.
Jared: I'm not sure what you mean.
Cedda: They attacked those who were not for their seperatistic movement. Not supporters of the separatists.
Jared: So they knew which neighborhoods?
Cedda: Yes. They knew. Every loyal citizen of Serbia was punished. Doesn't matter which party he belongs to, opposition or ruling party, doesn't matter. Different parties have different ideas and different religious or national characters but -
Jared: They didn't care about any of that?
Cedda: No. They have realized the plan of Greater Albania in Kosovo. From World War II, from Fascism.
Jared: During the bombing the US press says the Serbs attacked the Albanians. What did you witness?
Cedda: The war was very dirty, between the army and the secessionists...35 members of my family are here with me now. And my mother is here. And one pregnant lady, 8 months. 20 of us are without work. Left everything in Kosovo. 7 apartments and 3 houses that we owned. Some land. And all my life. All my life and I am penniless. I didn't have time, I wasn't ready to go, I didn't even have a suitcase to pack.
Jared: So for all you know some people didn't get out and are murdered. Is that true?
Cedda: Yes. All I brought was the Talmud. My mother Bea is 81 years old. And my wife. I would prefer to stay in Serbia. First I have a problem with my mother she is old and sick and what am I going to do with her in Israel now? I love Israel I was there many times but it is very hard for me at 61 to settle there.
Jared: My heart goes out to you.
Cedda: Thank you very much.
Jared: Thank you for being brave to give me this interview.
Cedda: It is very difficult but we have to say the truth. I think that people of good heart and good will, will take this interview in the best manner.
Jared: I hope so.
Cedda: And this interview should be a beginning of a different kind of thinking and nobody should be a victim in the life.
Jared: I agree with you. Before, I asked you a question but you didn't answer. The Press said the Yugoslav Army committed atrocities against Albanians during the bombing. You said the war was dirty. Could you tell us more?
Cedda: Why? Even if I speak about this, nobody trust the Serbians. Even if I say no, it did not happen, nobody will trust the Serbians.
Jared: But I don't know exactly what happened, we need to know exactly -
Cedda: Even if I say no, even if one Jew coming from Pristina would say this charge is not true, it is very hard to believe because he can be a person who has some reason, he can be accused of -
Jared: So what? So they won't believe you! Let them believe what they will but at least if you say the truth it is being said. Don't you see, the truth must be -
Cedda: I was completely out of the fighting between Army and KLA -
Jared: But you were in Pristina. You are the Chief Archivist of Kosovo. And you know! I am sure that you know! You know if there were people going around massacring people, you know from Albanian friends what was going on, you know if the Army was involved, if CNN was telling the truth or lying, you know a thousand times more than I do and if you can just tell the truth - somebody has to tell the truth for God's -
Jared: And if bad things happened, say that - just tell the truth -
Cedda: Bad things did happen. But Serbians as a people as a nation were not a nation which from the beginning of its history till this day were doing genocidal atrocities. But there were individuals who did certain things that should not have been done. But somebody is taking this, exaggerating, trying to make us the black sheep and - look, the Serbian people had no problems with the ethnic Albanians and as much as they saved Albanians the Albanians saved them especially in the latest period, but as soon as KFOR came inside and the border was opened to Macedonia and Albania lots of outside Albanians came inside and the end of it is a mess, killings. So what I'm saying is during the bombardment in the places where the people lived there was no massacre by the local population. The Serbs were defending the Albanians from the paramilitary troops.
Jared: Not from the Yugoslav Army? They didn't have to defend them from the Army?
Cedda: Never from the Army, not from the police, not from the regular Serbs. No. But with the withdrawal of the army there were paramilitary groups that existed on both sides - and that was when there was dirt.
Jared: But during the bombing?
Cedda: Then there was no massacring at all. For example in Pristina we were sitting together with Albanians in the cellar, in the basement.
Jared: From the bombs?
Cedda: From NATO. All of us together, "Gypsies", that's the Romi people, Serbians, Turks, Albanians, Jews, tenants of the same building. Together. We were together.
A later interview was conducted by Jared Israel and Nancy Gust; Nancy trains people in interviewing techniques professionally. The purpose was to clarify various questions. The most revealing information about the role of NATO troops is to be found in the latter part of this interview.
Jared: You said many Albanians fled the KLA, the gangs. Do you know how many?
Cedda: Tens of thousands. 15,000 went to Vojvodina, 30,000 to Belgrade, many more.
Jared: How did the gangs that attacked buildings know whom to expel?
Cedda: They had evidence who was who. Also they came to the offices. People were expelled from the offices. All the institutions which belonged to the government had been occupied. The gangsters were coming to work, whether municipalities, courts or universities, or whatever which were public, the post office, the civil services, they would come to the buildings and take over, take the people outside. They had a register of who was working in these places.
Jared: Was anybody allowed to stay who lived in your building?
Cedda: As much as I know in the building I live there is nobody left. If they were resisting the person was shot down.
Nancy: Do you know how many people were shot?
Cedda: For instance they found today one lady which was strangled in the bath. Ljubica Bujouic.
Nancy: She was from your complex?
Cedda: For example today two villages were completely expelled. And they went to Serbia.
Nancy: The woman who was murdered, that was in your apartment complex? How did you know that they found her there?
Cedda: It was an official announcement on the TV but I knew her. 4500 murders in Kosovo since KFOR arrived.
Nancy: According to?
Cedda: Information that is published by the Media Center from Pristina It is called the Center for Tolerance and Joint Living.
Jared: In your apartment complex were there other murders?
Cedda: There were several murders. I can't be sure because a majority left. Those that resisted were killed.
Jared: How many attackers were there?
Cedda: There were a large number of them. They were going up and down all day long. It's hard to know how many. The building itself has 11 stories and 20 entrances. It's a huge building.
Jared: Was this building singled out?
Cedda: They did the whole area of new buildings begun in 1990, completed in 1995, very luxurious apartments by our standards luxurious, new buildings, porches, all different kinds of adjoining facilities.
Jared: And were all the people who lived there employees of the government?
Cedda: The elite of the city was living in that area. A majority of university professors and managers of different state organizations, public organizations, doctors, physicians, lawyers.
Nancy: Someone might argue that, since these were luxury apartments and since this was the elite, this was just a large scale robbery.
Cedda: You cannot call it robbery, because they were taking us and they were entering, they were occupying the apartments. We are waiting now for a civil government to come from the United Nations to start with their control but we very much believe that we will not be able to return even though we are being invited to come back. We think that what is happening now will be legalized by the civil authorities when they come in and we expect a migration from the big number of Albanians living now in Europe, from Switzerland, where there is a huge number, from France, from London. And they will come from Albania. They already have.
Nancy: While you were there were the Albanians occupying the apartments?
Cedda: You cannot call it a robbery because robbery is when I'm not home and you come inside and take my TV. Right? This is robbery. But you come inside the apartment and you kick me out of the apartment, is this robbery? This not robbery, this is complete anarchy outside the system. Somebody enters by force, kicks you out, enters inside and continues to live? Not just comes there and stays a few hours and drinks coffee and whisky. And all the property inside is not guaranteed? This is like occupying the country, occupying the apartment by force.
Jared: There was a week during which you said you were imprisoned in the apartment and couldn't leave. Was that the week during which the gang was marauding around?
Cedda: Yes, the first week when KFOR came, I was inside the apartment without the ability to go outside because a huge number of Albanians came inside and I was afraid to leave the place.
Jared: They were all over the building?
Cedda: No, no, the city. Inside Pristina. The KFOR was very much concerned about the military withdrawal of Yugoslav Army but without paying attention to the civilians.
Jared: At what point did the gangs come? Ws it immediately or was it after a few weeks?
Cedda: Together with them. In other words, the KFOR arrived and the gangs arrived.
Jared: When did they attack the complex?
Cedda: They attacked immediately. When the Russians came to Pristina, before the British, to the airport, the people were expecting that they would protect them but it was not so.
Nancy: How long was it before your apartment complex was attacked? When did that happen?
Cedda: At the very day that the British entered my part of the city the gangs started to attack different buildings in this huge area. It's a quarter of Pristina, the section called 'Milana'.
Nancy: Are you saying the gangs arrived physically in the same time and place as the British soldiers? The gangs traveled with British soldiers?
Cedda: Yes. The answer is yes. Yes they came together. Yes. Over the frontier, over the route, over the streets together. Yes!
Nancy: Did they just come parallel, at the same time but independently?
Cedda: They came in different groups - not together arm by arm - they come and they go, they're here and there - very often you see them together, mingling, but each of them has a separate organization.
Nancy: But you saw them mingling together
Cedda: Yes! Yes! For example a gang comes to the building and a tenant calls KFOR and the KFOR arrives and gets around the building and then KFOR leave and the fellows continue to move around.
Nancy: Did the Albanians leave when you called KFOR?
Cedda: No they stayed. They didn't leave.
Nancy: You're saying the gangs broke into the place, moved into the places, that people called the KFOR, KFOR came and they did nothing?
Cedda: You know sometimes they had funny situations. KFOR would come and they said, the Albanians said, "we don't have a place to stay for the night" so the KFOR says "ok, so stay together in the tenants apartment."
Jared: The same apartment as the people they were trying to throw out?
Jared: Is that correct?
Cedda: Yes, yes. That's what they suggested. So the Albanians and the Serbs, or whoever was there, will live together in the same building, in the apartment and the gangsters would say if you don't leave the apartment in the next two or three hours we will kill you, we will slaughter you.
Nancy: Can you get more identification of these people? Were they not from Kosovo, did they identify themselves in any way?
Cedda: Only in the position that they were armed, and in the position of the power. Definitely they are making an ethnically clean Kosovo.
Nancy: When these people came to the building and threatened you did you call the KFOR?
Cedda: They were in the building already. When the Albanians came to my apartment the KFOR was already there. One of the neighbors, a doctor, ran and called the KFOR soldiers to come and protect the place.
Jared: Did you talk to them.
Cedda: Yes. I spoke to them.
Nancy: Do you know the name of the person you spoke to?
Cedda: The fellow, the soldier was introducing himself as Major of the British army. And when I showed my papers, the soldier said forget it, next time.
Nancy: Next time?
Cedda: The papers that said I was the President of the Jewish Community in Pristina. The soldier just glanced at the paper and said "Next time," like he didn't have time to be bothered with this. "Don't bother me now."
Jared: He arrived with a squad of soldiers or alone?
Cedda: With his squad.
Nancy: Did they do anything?
Cedda: If they helped me would I be here now?
Jared: Please don't take offence at these questions. We are asking in this kind of detail to get the clearest answers.
Cedda: It is not only me that suffered but thousands of others. People who are of the age of 80 and expelled from their homes. And they're still doing it on a daily basis. It is still going on.