“Killer, you will be forgiven”, says the poem of mother Dragica who lost her teenage son a few months after the end of the war and who still “had neither known true love nor had a chance to buy a razor and have his first shave”. Her family of four had decided to stay in Pristina after the war, believing that they would not suffer any harm since they didn’t harm anyone.
As soon as she realizes that inter-ethnic coexistence had become impossible, she is forced to relocate and work in Leskovac, Serbia, until the day came to take her whole family there. And as September and the new school year approached, she enrolled her young son in a high school there.
Today, 21 years after the disappearance of her son on that August day, the disappearance of her son who was coming to join his mother, after a series of superhuman and desperate efforts to find out about his fate, Dragica doesn’t seek justice anymore. She has only one last wish.
My name is Dragica Majstorović, maiden name Jerić, otherwise, they call me Dragana. Until 1977 I lived in Fushë Kosovë, at home together with my mother Petrija, father Ivan, brother Slavko and sisters Miroslava and Danijela. That year I met my husband, Milorad Majstorović, born in Obiliq, who lived and worked in Skopje, so I went after him and we lived there. I worked at the Skopje Military Hospital. In Skopje, I gave birth to two children. Nikola, the eldest son, who was born in 1979, and Ivan, the youngest, born in 1981.
In Skopje, we lived and worked until 1992. With the withdrawal of the army, because I was a civilian staff working in the army, we went to our hometown, in Pristina. In Pristina, I worked in the ambulance of the military garrison as a medical worker, while my husband worked with the electro-economy in Obiliq. They gave us an apartment in the neighborhood “Kurriz”, where we lived and raised our children. The eldest son graduated in electrical engineering, the youngest was attending the third year of high school “Ivo Lola Ribar” in Pristina. I finished medical school in Pristina and graduated high school in Belgrade.
My work has always been based on medicine. I had Albanian, Gorani, and Serbian friends. I helped all nationalities, I helped all people and I have always been involved in humanitarian work. That’s how I thought of all the people around me because they thought the same as me.
We didn’t have any serious problems before the events of the war, because we were not connected with anything, neither politically, nor engaged in anything other than our work. The war itself found us in office. I worked all the time in the military ambulance, where we treated civilians, military insured persons, and everyone who was at risk.
My children were not working. The older one was about to start university studies and the other son just finished school. It was summer break, the school stopped working and we took them with us. We mainly stayed in Fushë Kosovë, together with my parents, in order to have the children under control, to stay all together. All that period of the war and after the war we stayed mostly together and we survived together. After the war, we decided to remain in Prishtina, because we had our apartment there, we had lived there and we considered that we didn’t do any harm to anyone and we thought that we could stay there peacefully.
After the army withdrew after everyone left, we stayed and I started working a little in the hospital, in surgery, as I was an instrumentalist in the operating room. This lasted only ten days after the terror began in the hospital. The Albanians who had worked there before, came and they started harassing the people and they expelled us. I realized I had no place in the hospital and I headed home.
We constantly reported violence around us, but UNMIK and the British KFOR told us that they could not provide us with protection, they told us we had to leave.
After about ten days, one morning some people came, and they forcibly broke into my apartment and they just kicked us out of it. We took the documents and went to Fushë Kosovë to my parent’s place. I was out of work, my husband had not started working yet, the children were in need, one to finish school and the other to get enrolled in college. So, we had to look for other solutions.
I called my command and I received the invitation to return to work. I went to Leskovac and I started working there. My husband and the children stayed with my parents. And on that fateful August 19th of ’99, my son and our neighbor Dragan Stefanović took the road to come to Leskovac because I enrolled my son in Leskovac to finish the fourth year of high school. On the Fushë Kosovë-Merdare road, they were abducted and they were taken in an unknown direction. We later learned that in Batllava there was a Detention Center.
They left with the neighbor’s car. We were waiting for them in Merdare, but they never crossed the border. My parents and husband told me that they had been escorted. They were most likely abducted in the Llap area and they were sent in an unknown direction.
Later we received accurate information from our Albanian friends. We had many friends with whom we have cooperated, with whom we have lived well, whom we have helped. One of them told us that they were in the investigative prison in Batllava and that their fate was still unknown. A few days later, this witness was mysteriously killed. After that, we had no other information.
There was various information that people had been transferred to Albania for organs, that these collection centers were in Prishtina and Batllava. We tried all possible ways. The first attempt was when my husband, my mother, and father went to the English KFOR base in Pristina and reported my son’s disappearance, indicating that they never reached the place where they were going. They didn’t take any information, they only said that they are very busy and that they don’t have time to deal with that problem and they were told to report it to the Red Cross. They immediately went to the Red Cross to report the case and there they just registered the case and did nothing.
Then we tried, through our private connections, through some Albanian friends, various non-governmental organizations, to find out anything. We said we would pay, we would sell the apartment, we would do all this, but we had no success. Then we addressed our state, the Serbian government, and the representative offices. In the end, many families came together and we formed an association to find the truth more easily and to learn where our missing members are. We constantly cooperated with UNMIK and with KFOR, every week we met with the pathologist Jose Baraybar. I was in the first delegation, I went to Pristina long before the government was formed, but when they released the Albanian convicts, we left and I had a meeting that day. Seven of us, parents, were there to see what happened to our people.
Flora Brovina was there; I talked to her because she got a human rights award, so I said, “You got the American human rights award, now that award obliges you to help other people.” Normally she promised, but she never answered again. Afterward, we had meetings with the first Prime Minister Rexhepi, behind closed doors. That man told us everything. Oliver Ivanović arranged the meeting for us and we hoped to find something out. However, one of them told us, “There is no one left alive.” And then I said, “If they are dead, at least give us the bodies.” Rexhepi said, “We cannot do this. UNMIK is here, so let’s ask them. When they find the bodies, you will get them.” Afterward, Oliver Ivanović asked us, “Did he say anything to you?” I said, “In two sentences, that man told me everything.” But, I would still like a confirmation that my son is dead.
It was clear to us that nobody survived. We asked we appealed that with the release of these Albanians convicted of crimes, they should release our people because the number of abductions was about 1700. And there were 2022 Albanians who were in Serbian prisons. I also went to those prisons, I asked the Albanians who had their people in the prison to do something about our people, to exchange all for all, for something to happen, because we had information from the Albanians that people had been abducted here because of the prisoner exchange. This was the first variant, those that were kidnapped to be exchanged in order to set the prisoners free. But the government of Koštunica and Đinđić did not listen, because they had probably received orders that they should be released, and we didn’t find out anything anymore.
We continued inquiring; we held various rallies in front of the embassies, we met with Hækkerup, regarding the first protocols that were signed. We met with UNMIK, KFOR, we gave them different information, we tried in every possible way, but everything was and still is unsuccessful.
And in all these 20 years we had to survive, to support our families. Meanwhile, due to stress, we all got sick. The whole family suffers from thyroid glands. My mother died because of this, then my father died a few years ago, now my brother also died. My sister and I, are being treated and we are receiving therapy for the thyroid gland.
Meanwhile, I wrote a book, dedicated to all the abducted and missing persons, because our abducted persons are still listed as N.N. When they are found, they take the name and surname, but until then are listed as unknown. I dedicated the book to the children and the slain, and even there is a poem addressed to the murderer. There I begged the murderer, I told him that everything would be forgiven, just to show me where my son is. Because it’s terrible to live my whole life and not know what happened to my child.
When I met Dick Marty, I told him, “I don’t know if you are a father or a grandfather, but just imagine that you have a dog who didn’t return home last night. What would you do for that dog? Probably you would go out across the neighborhood and engage everyone to find it. Now imagine what we are doing to find our children.”
I have worked in the army, but as a health worker, on the humanitarian side, so I never did a bad thing. I treated people who needed help, and I still do today. My husband was employed, so we didn’t do anything bad to anyone. All the neighbors have always confirmed that we just helped them. But it is very likely that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were on the other side and our religion was wrong, and that cost us our lives. So, my child paid the price because he was a Serb. He was neither guilty nor indebted, he was a high school student who was about to enroll in the fourth year of high school. They say in our language, he neither ate onions nor smelled onions. Still, he was a victim.
Now, we must live with this, we must keep hoping. I still hope in people of good will, in the sense that I can’t hope that after 21 years he is alive somewhere, because if he were he would have called me eventually. I just pray to God that he didn’t end up in the “Yellow House”. That would be the hardest thing for me, to discover that his heart beats today in somebody else’s chest. I just hope this didn’t happen to him. When I think about these things, I think that it would have been better if he had been killed on the spot, just not to have his organs taken away.
The most difficult time for us is the holidays. When they come, we always have one empty chair. He was only 17 years old when he left the house. Now, on September 5th, he would have been 39 years old. So, not only that one life was lost, but an entire family was lost. If he were alive, he would surely have a family. But what to do? When you have such problems, you are mostly left alone. My husband gave up immediately, he was unable to search for him. He gave up, whether because of guilt because we stayed, we didn’t leave immediately, because he kept telling us constantly, “We have to stay, we have done nothing to anyone, we will stay in our house.” Probably this is haunting him all these years, convincing us that we should stay and peacefully wait. Because that’s what people were saying then, “Stay in your homes!”
I have witnessed several meetings of Mike Jackson telling us, “Remain safe in your homes, no one will touch you! We came here to make peace, not to make war.” And my husband used to say “Listen to what people are saying.” Our leader Milosevic said, “People will come to take care of you, you do not have to leave your homes!” When Mike Jackson came to all the meetings, in all the villages, in Caglavica, in Fushë Kosovë, and in Obiliq, everywhere he said, “You do not need to leave your homes, normal life will continue, the situation will be fixed, people still have to live normally. An entire nation cannot be expelled now! ” And we were guided by the idea that it really was like that, that an elite army would take care of everyone equally. But we found out the contrary. First when we reported the disappearance, when a soldier told us that they don’t have time to deal with it, that they are not interested in that. Secondly, when we complained that people were being evicted from their apartments, no one wanted to come. Then we realized that there is no salvation for us, that we will have to go somewhere. And so, it happened.
And today we are still displaced. We have left Prishtina, our city, our building, our road, our people. We live here now. Belgrade is beautiful, but as Verica said, “Pristina is in our hearts.” We lived there, we loved there, we worked there, we had our linden road, we had friends, we lived happily, despite all the quarrels that happened from time to time. We didn’t want to leave, we wanted to stay. We thought we could since we were innocent.
I initially worked in Leskovac for eight months. I had nowhere else to go. I was alone, my family stayed in Fushë Kosovë. Ivan would come; he left on August 19th, 1999 to enroll in the school and to stay together with me. When he was abducted and disappeared, I stayed in Leskovac for another eight months because I had nowhere to go. I had no money, no shelter, I had nothing. I worked all the time. My parents stayed in Fushë Kosovë until 2000 and in the end, this neighbor who lived in Switzerland came and offered to buy our property, so my father sold it. When he sold it and bought a house here, we all went to that house. At one point, there were 16 of us living in that house. They bought it, and after they settled down, around March or April, I also came from Leskovac and then I took my family, my husband, and my son, and we lived together with my parents until I managed to sell the apartment in Prishtina. Afterwards, I bought an apartment here.
Ivo Andrić says, “There is nothing more beautiful than living in a place forever because that city becomes yours, the roads are yours, everything is yours”. So, I went to Leskovac first, I was there for the first time. It was not far, but I didn’t know anyone there. It was very difficult for me in Leskovac, because Ivan was abducted immediately. So, I lived in agony, looking for my boy, calling, petitioning, and I distributed hundreds of pictures of him with the caption, “Does anyone know anything, has anyone heard anything?”. Then I contacted friends from Pristina, people from Serbia, the state, the government, to do something. So those eight months were hell for me.
When I came to Belgrade, it was even worse, it was very difficult, I had to calm my parents. It was the hardest for them because they escorted him that day. I couldn’t calm them down; I am his mother and I had to comfort my parents. They were constantly watching how I am reacting and I was constantly holding back my emotions with courage, saying that there is time, that we should not give up yet, because you never know. Then we got in touch with people from Albania, some friends, who told us how during the Second World War my uncle went to Albania. They were imprisoned, but the people returned. So, with different people who survived that way, we were constantly asking questions, looking for witnesses who had been in a camp, whether they had seen anyone or heard anything.
My brother-in-law and my sister stayed in Kosovo for another two years because of my Ivan, in order to find out anything. Hoping that maybe someone will show up or that maybe he will come back. So this was an agony for the entire family because the children were traumatized, we were traumatized, and during all the time we had to work, to keep on living. I worked in the emergency room and I could no longer enter the operating room, by any means. The work I used to do was of high level, dealing with orthopedic-traumatological instruments. I had specialized in that field and I was very good at it. But when this happened, I asked for an easier job, I was looking for nothing high level and I think there is nothing easier than working in the emergency.
I worked all the time; I never took a day of sick leave. From the first day until retirement, I never took a sick leave because it was always much easier for me to work, look for Ivan, write, and support the family. My intention was to reunite the family, to provide for the family because my husband immediately gave up.
Then I negotiated with the Albanians for the sale of the apartment, I wanted to buy an apartment somewhere, and again we bought an apartment near my parents, in order to help each other as a family. To participate means to have someone to talk to, to share the pain.
Thanks to our association, we knocked on every door, and there is not an effort we did not make. Here you will see photos, meetings with all embassies and all the ambassadors. We appealed, we also made a movie, I wrote a book and I dedicated it to my son to leave a mark in history.
Our family, my father, and mother, had 20 hectares of land, a house, and a garden. My parents were retired when all this was happening when that peace agreement was signed. They didn’t want to leave, they wanted to stay, but because everyone was leaving, and we were passively listening to how people were being forcibly expelled, my brother said to me, “I cannot leave them, I will stay with them” When we made the decision, my brother and I went to meet Michael Jackson and he persuaded us to stay. On the other hand, we could see that the general situation was getting worse. People were being killed, abused, abducted, but my parents didn’t want to leave their property. They said, “If we leave this property, you will be left on the street, so we will sacrifice ourselves. If they kill us, let them kill us, but at least there will be something left behind that you can sell.”
We had the family graves there, my father’s parents’ graves. We could not persuade them to leave. They stayed until the end. They had good neighbors, but also my parents were very noble people. The daughter of our first Albanian neighbor helped our women give birth, she worked in the gynecology department. They went to see my father and they told him, “We can no longer take care of you, you have to sell the property because a group of people wants to kill you and we are fighting for you because we know you are an honest man and you never did anything bad to anyone. You better sell us your property and leave, otherwise, you will die here.”
When their neighbor said these things, my mom and dad decided to sell their property. And when they came here, it was very difficult for them. First, because my child was abducted, but also because they came to another city, another place. That year, my brother’s child failed the year at the school because he just couldn’t study. Even for my son, it was very hard to cope with everything. It’s still hard for him. He got married and he named his child after his brother. So, he named his daughter Ivana and son Ivan. Little Ivan, my grandson, is now 8 years old. That was my grandfather’s name, then my son’s name, and now my grandson bears that name.
On the day when I was expelled from the hospital in Pristina, I came to Fushë Kosovë and I told my parents that I have to leave if I want to keep my job. My son’s friends who had already gone to Serbia, kept asking him, “We will start the school soon, you are still not registered what will you do when you come?” And when I was leaving, I told him, “You will stay with my mom and dad, you will stay with your dad and brother and you will wait until I call you.” And he – he used to call me Draganče – he said, “Don’t worry at all Draganče, everything will be fine”.He sat down in front of the computer and just said, “Go, we will not say goodbye, we will see each other later.” That was the last greeting.
Then he started calling me on the phone and saying, “Everyone is gone.” His friends were calling him and asking him what is he going to do? How is he going to finish the fourth year? He would have to repeat the year if he did not enroll in school, so we had to arrange to enroll him somewhere. I went to the gymnasium and I enrolled him. Then I was thinking about how to transfer him? The buses were not moving, there was no escort, no organization. Finally, when that man was about to leave for Serbia, I told my son to go with him. So, the two of them set off on a journey with no return.
I have my other son, but Ivan, maybe because he is no more, he has always been special. As a child, his grandmother took care of him so he learned to speak the Serbian language very well. When he came to Macedonia, after a year he spoke pure Macedonian language and he went to a Macedonian school. I paid for English lessons for my eldest son Nikola, but Ivan learned English better than Nikola did. He was also a swimming champion. They both swam for “Vardar” in Macedonia. He was first in his group, he had medals for swimming. He swam and practiced karate. One day they studied English, one day practiced karate, one day swimming, both of them. When we came to Pristina, he was outstanding. He immediately fit in. There was an Albanian judo coach, and he immediately recognized his talent and took him to his club in “Boro and Ramiz” and trained him for judo. In high school, he was one of the best chess players. He did not play chess normally; his brother moved the pieces and Ivan turned his head on the other side and played chess like that. So, he was more advanced than the others.
When KFOR came, it was the Irish KFOR, he called me on the phone and said, “Draganče, imagine how well I speak English, I am talking with English KFOR and Irish KFOR.” So, he went around with the Irish KFOR and helped the people.
He was a child who could offer a lot, so he enrolled in high school. He said, “I don’t know what I am going to work in the future. All my friends already know what they will do in their life and I like at least five or six professions. I don’t know which one to go after.” I told him, “Enroll in high school.” He said, “I will go in the most difficult direction, the natural-mathematical school so I will be able to determine.” But September began and he never finished the fourth year.
If he was alive today, he would surely become some kind of doctor. He loved medicine very much. Since I practiced medicine, he also wanted to practice medicine, he knew a lot about medicine, he was always interested. He was a sportsman, he spoke the language very well, he was a good mathematician, a chess player, and he knew a lot about medicine because he was very close to me and he wanted to study medicine in the future and since we were always engaged in humanitarian work and we were always helping people.
When I go to church, I light a candle for him as if he were alive, and I also light candles for all the abducted and missing persons, and all the slain persons. To me, he is still alive. I would like to know at least where he is while I am still alive because he appears to me in dreams. He tells me, “I am in Albania, in an Albanian camp and I have escaped.” He calls me, he holds the phone in his hand and says, “I ran away, but I don’t know where to go.” I tell him, “You are very capable, you will succeed everywhere, just don’t return to Kosovo.” And he throws the phone and says, “Okay.” Or, I dream that I am looking for him in a cemetery, and he comes and tells me, “For how long are you going to look for me in the cemeteries, we have to move on.”
We were in Merdare to identify some clothes. And I saw a gray blouse because my son had a similar one and black shorts with a ribbon. So, I said, “Let’s check that blouse, maybe it’s his.” I went to UNMIK and I waited. Before that, I had seen a dream. My son was telling me, “I’m not dead, let’s move on.” And I sat down and my heart was beating fast. I calmed myself down by saying, “Don’t worry! For sure it’s not him. He told you that he was alive and that we had to move on.” And when I went there, I waited for half an hour and it turned out to be the body of a 60-70 years old man.
On that occasion, I wrote a poem entitled “Let ‘s move on”. In poetry, those who talk to me end up saying, “Let ‘s move on.” This is our motto. In that despair when we didn’t know what to do, I said we should give the magazine a title. I proposed the title “Abducted Truth” because people were abducted, but also the truth about those people was abducted. And the truth must be heard, whatever it may be. So our magazine is called “Abducted Truth” and our motto is “Let’s move on”.
I would love to find him, but I don’t believe I will anymore after 21 years. If someone just calls me and says, “Your son is alive and he’s in Australia, but you have to sign a paper that you’ll never see him” I would say, “Yes, I agree.” If I could only know what happened, whether he is alive, whether they took out his heart, or they killed him immediately. I have the right to know the truth, at least that. It’s difficult to agree with the fact that someone is dead, but the fact is that after 21 years, if someone would have been alive, he would have found a way to say, “I am alive.” Most likely he is no longer alive, or perhaps they have taken his heart.
I have not heard that anyone has returned. Nobody came back. It is terrible that our state released those Albanians who were convicted and found guilty. The Hague also released and amnestied them, meaning that no judge has proved anyone to be guilty, they were all released. But some people came back. My uncle was imprisoned in Germany for three years, my aunt’s husband was imprisoned for three years, my other uncle was also imprisoned in Albania but he returned. One even received compensation after a few years for being in a labor camp in Austria. But I can’t understand this kind of inhuman treatment of innocent people.
When we speak about justice, is it justice that I don’t live anymore in Prishtina, that the apartment I furnished and where I lived happily with my family I no longer have, that I lost an innocent child? I don’t believe in justice. Whatever the justice, there will be no satisfaction for me. Maybe someone will get justice, but I don’t believe in it. Finding out what happened to my child would mean justice to me. That’s why I wrote this poem, “Killer, you will be forgiven.” Because, whatever justice may be, even if ten people were hanged here now, I would say, “Don’t.” It would be hard to see someone getting killed.
I would say, “Have mercy on them.” Some people are surprised when I say this, but I can’t see anyone getting hurt. I couldn’t stand something like that. Maybe my son would be angry with me, maybe he would say, “Eh Draganče, you forgave them and I suffered.” But I couldn’t have gone through with it. You know how powerless a person is in his pain, whatever he does. A man once told me, “Why didn’t you kill yourself right away?”. I said, “If he comes back, who will look after him? Why should I kill myself, I will not be killed? If I kill myself, it means I have surrendered. It doesn’t make any sense.”
I am reading this poem dedicated to the murderer.
Killer, you will be forgiven, just tell me where did you bury my son.
Did you put a stone on his chest, or did you cover him with Sitnica land?
Maybe you threw him in my field. How did you punish him?
How did you find him guilty? What did you say to him at the end?
Did you blindfold him, or did you bravely look him in the eyes?
He had neither known true love nor had a chance to buy a razor and have his first shave, he was constantly waiting for his brother to grow up.
Killer, tell me, did he pray to God at the moment of death, did he call for his mother?
What kind of death did you assign them? Did you shoot him? But he was just a child, how could you?
Killer, will you be forgiven, just tell me where did you bury him, under which tree did you end his life, and what kind of grass is growing above him?
And when you went home did you caress your children after you killed my child?
How did you sleep last night? Have you dreamt of my son?
Killer, you will be forgiven for everything, just tell me where did you bury my son,
or did you sell his heart in the world market?”
Maybe the killer will not calm down, maybe he will tell someone that he killed them. Because it’s difficult for a person to live with the fact that he has done so much harm without ever telling anyone.
There are not many poems here, there are lamentations dedicated to some events, they were written in despair. There is a poem called, “Where will I go today, on whose door should I knock?”. Then there is the poem dedicated to those who were found in Retime, parcel number 1. Then there is a poem about the mother who, after many years, found her son, and something is dedicated to her.
Then there are poems about Ivan, dedicated by my sister’s daughter, who went to America and she doesn’t know where her brother is. These are the stories of our lives. There should be some traces left, it may be a small contribution but it’s full of tears and suffering. Those pages are full of suffering.
My grandson bears my son’s name and I see that there is some resemblance between them. The little one is very cheerful and very agile. He plays football now, and my son used to swim and practice karate. I sometimes tease him, “You must have determination, if you start playing football you must go all the way to the end, you must never not give up.” I am trying to exercise his character to make him persistent, as his uncle used to be. Love is shared, so now, as a grandmother, I love my grandchildren and take special care of them constantly, but a part of me is much more connected to him. Another part of me will always remain empty. And normally I am devoted to them, I have retired earlier because of them, to help them, so that they grow up having happy childhoods.
Last night when I went to bed, the little granddaughter named Ivana asked me, “Grandma, when you were little, how many children were you?” I told her, “We were five” and, to spare her, I did not tell her that my sister drowned in Lake Badovc when she was eight years old. She asked me, “Who was the best child according to you?”. Again, I didn’t want to tell her that I was close to my brother, who is now dead so I told her, “I was the best.” “And how come?” “Well, I was the third child, I had to listen to the older ones.” I said, “and I also had to listen to the little ones, and also I raised the aunt, the youngest one.” I said to myself, look at how the children are interested, they constantly ask questions. They know now that their father had a brother, but I don’t want to burden them with those things. Only the eldest one speaks about it and she asks me, she knows everything. The little ones are so traumatized. The uncle, my brother, my mother, and my father all died, and these poor children are traumatized.
I am very disappointed in the international community, which promised us peace and coexistence, which was pure deception. I always have to mention Michael Jackson, who received awards and decorations, I don’t know for what. So, 50 thousand soldiers did not have the strength to establish order, so that people could live. If the mission was to ethnically cleanse Kosovo and Metohija, it would have been appropriate if they gave us a corridor, to tell us, go to Greece or somewhere, leave everything. There would be fewer consequences and trauma. First, I was very disappointed by their mission, second by all the administrators who came. It seemed that they just came to fulfill their six-month mission and collect documentation. We have been interviewed thousands of times. We kept telling the same story as parrots, and in the end, they just collected the documents and left.
I can’t believe that such an elite army didn’t find the bodies of those killed and massacred and that it didn’t make any reports. No one can convince me. So the English KFOR and the French KFOR, and all those KFORs should open administrations for humanitarian reasons and say, “For God’s sake, people, enough is enough, let’s tell the family members, maybe there is a truth hidden somewhere. We will not bring them back, but at least their family members will find peace.”
We received the documentation proving that we were right, from the Advisory Committee. We received the answer that we have the right to compensation. The attitude towards justice is very specific, maybe I am unfair, maybe I don’t know the law, but why do I need any compensation for the boy I no longer have?
I don’t need anything, I have a pension which is enough for me to live peacefully. You know that peace of mind cannot be bought. There is no money that will restore my peace of mind. A grandmother lived with us and she always said, “Oh God, don’t let these unbearable things happen to us!”. Now I am in that situation that I have to endure, and I can’t, it is difficult, but I have to.
We also met with Jacques Chirac, and we begged him when we were there. He said, “My friend’s friend is also my friend.” Come on, try to find out anything, try to help us, we are not looking for any philosophy other than the truth, we want to know what happened to the people. We have this right also according to the Geneva Convention.
If the Serbian people stopped the Balkan war and said stop, for the Bulgarian convoy to pass, and it was humane to stop the war, so the wounded enemy soldiers would pass, how come even today in Geneva they thank the Serbian people and say “be humane like the Serbs are”, why you are not so humane, you are in power in all these places where you can help people, regardless of religion, nation and ethnicity.
I suggested to Jose Baraibari, “Make a phone line intended just for this issue. They don’t have to introduce themselves. Let them just say, “These people are dead and they are located in this place, they are gone” We need just that information.
I was in Kosovo last year. We always go there to the “Monument of Truth”. In Mitrovica, there is a monument, made on June 22nd, where the victims from that region have been registered. The victims from Rahovec, Retime, meanwhile, have one at the church gate, they have their names written and we commemorate them, we go there and we lay wreaths. We don’t have anything, because our cases are individual cases and I don’t expect anyone to make a monument just for my son, so we visit the church of St. Mark, we have a plaque there and we go and lay wreaths and hold that memorial service on 28th, on Saint Vid Day and we hold a memorial service for all those killed and all the victims.
I go every year to Mitrovica in Kosovo, and I also go to Fushë Kosove and I visit the cemetery. I visit the graves because I have my grandmothers there, grandparents, my sister who drowned in the lake. So, I visit those graves and until a few years ago also my parent’s house was there but it’s not anymore. It was demolished and now there is a building there. It was at the entrance of Fushë Kosovë, once that street was called “Lenin 8”, then “Car Dushan”, now of course it has another name. Once upon a time, at the end of Prishtina, there was a big field and behind it, there were many houses. My house was fourth from the beginning but it no longer exists. I never went to visit the apartment in Prishtina. I go to the buildings but now the people I used to know don’t live there anymore. I went once to see the neighborhood. Yes, everything has changed. I left the apartment full of things but now I don’t want to see it. There are the tapestries I embroidered, the photos, the four seasons of the year. There are our beds, our new furniture, we just settled in our apartment.
While I was looking for Ivan, I was also struggling to calm down Nikola, to make him realize that we are looking for his brother. All the time I took care that he will not do any stupidity as a young man. How do I know what was going on in his young mind? That is why I have always told him that we will keep hoping, that I am working in that association and I am meeting with different people, and that I still believe we will discover something. For a long time, the hardest thing for Nikola was when we had a celebration or when some music was being played. Then we would always sing Ivan’s song and we always mentioned him, so Nikola always asked for it and we have never skipped it.
I think that he suffers the most because he is silent, he doesn’t do what I do. When he had to get married, I was against it. How could he get married when we still didn’t find one child? Then people told me, “You are not normal, let the boy get married.” And what was I supposed to do, I decided to make a wedding. And, indeed we did. There were 40 of us, close family members, and I was the first one to dance. I was the most cheerful even though it was very hard for me. Even my mother said to me, “Oh Dragana, how can you dance like this?” and I replied, “I must be cheerful because my son is getting married.”
He made the right decision, and in that situation, I was not right. I was angry that he was getting married but in fact, he was the smartest of us all. He got married, started a family, and had three children. His wife didn’t want to, she wanted only two children. “No,” he said, “we must have three, one for my brother.” And so, it happened. Thank God he has three children. Thank God for those grandchildren.
Every time I say, “I’m going to an interview tomorrow,” he asks me, “Will you be able to?” I say, “Yes, why not, I always can, this is something I have to do, don’t worry about it”. And my husband, he doesn’t want to talk about this at all, as if this story is over. He cannot deal with it at all. He doesn’t go anywhere, he doesn’t leave the house, he doesn’t have any contact with people. He is completely withdrawn; he is waiting to die. Last night he told me, “Slavko is dead”, my brother, “he saved himself.” I ask him, “How can you say something like that?” He says, “I wish I was in his place?” and I told him, “Everyone’s turn will come, slow down, don’t hurry.”
But my husband never made peace because he feels responsible for what happened since he persuaded us to stay. He used to say, “Why wouldn’t we stay? Why should we leave, we always lived here, we are innocent.” I think that because of that it’s very difficult for him.
What can I tell you, life goes on, it doesn’t stop but it’s very difficult? I thought things would become easier over time, but in this case, time means nothing. It seems to me as if it is happening now, as if we are stuck at some point in ‘99. Sometimes when I have to write the year, I feel like writing 1999. Sometimes I feel as if time has stopped until I remember what year it is.
Probably people over time, like it or not, hold on to the hope that the problem will get solved. But over time it becomes just more and more difficult because even those killers are already dead. After all, they were certainly mature people who fought. Then I start thinking that there will be no one left to tell the truth. Unless under any command responsibility it is decided, “These were the responsible persons under the command responsibility of that region, these persons were in this region, they were there.”
And I don’t believe in this court at all. They will do nothing. It’s all politics. Politics change as the wind blows in different directions, so I don’t deal with it at all. I don’t even burden myself with that court in The Hague, because you can see that everything is just a formality. For us, families, this means nothing. That is why we appealed to read those protocols, the literature, those reports. So, to tell the International Red Cross the names of the people killed, for which we don’t know if they will be found or not. If we could get at least some information, so that people won’t keep their hopes high after so many years, hoping that someone will show up. It’s different when you know that someone is dead when you get the information. But after 21 years, I don’t believe that anyone will return because so far no one has returned.
What should we do? We must move on, this is our slogan, just move on. Hope dies last. I am always of the opinion that the truth must be told. Let people read about it, I stand behind what I have said, that was the truth. We have heard enough lies and deceptions. Truth must be told, these are historical facts, this is history. My small contribution is here and we have written magazines and books, and we had various activities all these years, calls, requests. So, we left documentation and it’s very important that this documentation remains.
This book is entitled “The abducted truth”, and it includes the various activities that we’ve had, gatherings, calls, requests, meetings with Jacques Chirac, with various representatives and delegations. Here we are in Merdare when we went to check the wardrobe. Here we are with Montgomery at the American Embassy, and at all the embassies because we went everywhere. We were the first delegation to hold a meeting at the Albanian parliament. I was there with seven other parents without any permission. They asked us, “Why are you going?” and I said, “We have to go, we are parents, we have to look for our children.”
I can’t say that I mourn my child more than a Muslim or Croatian woman or more than someone else who mourns their child. Mother is a mother; pain is pain and misfortune is a misfortune. If there has been a war, there are protocols. I first heard Haradinaj boasting that he kept a diary, so he knows about his part because he was responsible for his zone. I always said, “Let ‘s go through the zones to see which commander kept prisoners, who were the prisoners, who was killed.” So many years have passed, half of the people have died, and even half of those who have killed have died. But protocols must be opened for the sake of humanity, all situations must be resolved once and for all, for every missing person, every abducted and killed person, for the families to find their peace.
You know that Slovenian story “Servant Jernej and his right” eh, I believe there is no justice. I am not seeking that kind of justice at all. I want to find the truth, in order to find peace. If a child has died, let us know so we will weep over his grave. We don’t want to take a body that we don’t know. We gave blood for DNA analysis, to find our child, to find out the truth, to learn if he had died. If he is alive, imprisoned somewhere, or somewhere working in Iraq, Iran, or if he was turned into a fighter. At least we deserve to know if he is alive or if he is fighting there or if he died in that war, so whatever the case the family deserves to know.
Life goes on, you work, cook, wash, clean, you take care of everything, but there is a worm that constantly asks, “What is he doing now?” When I sit down to eat, I always think, did he die hungry, was he hungry when he died. What else will the mother think, other than how the child ended up, what happened.
The story is extracted from the book “Hijacked Childhoods: Accounts of children’s wartime experiences’ and is published in series as part of the framework of coordinated activities of CSO’s in Kosovo, organized to mark the International Day of Enforced Disappearances – 30 August 2023. The book is published in partnership between forumZFD Kosovo program and the Missing Persons Resource Center, and is supported by funds received from the German Federal Ministry on Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Embassy of Switzerland in Kosovo. Prishtina, 2022.