My visual memory

I was a child when the war happened in Kosovo. Inside my eyes of a child, I hold three crystal-clear memories. Our window overlooked a neighborhood where Serbian forces were deporting people and were breaking the main doors of apartment buildings. There are three families huddling together inside a room where the candle is hidden under the table so it would not give more light than needed. There was a train, and we did now know whether it was taking us towards salvation or damnation.

I still have trouble confronting those images, these memories, these wounds that have faded away in my brain. Everything appears as if it is shown in one of those old TV tapes, where the images get blurry and then become clear to get blurry again in cracking camera recording, to get clear again but never as clear as on the day things happened. In my tape, nobody is violated. Or the violation has been erased from my visual memory.


At times, such memories seem ridiculous, absurd, as if they happened to me alone. You think you belong to a state when you identify yourself with its main personalities, when you find in them some portions of your passion or compassion. You think your current Prime Minister could have been one of the people aboard that mystery train. You think the politicians of your state – if that can be called a state – had the misfortune of being forced away by that ominous system, or of seeing their family members being torn apart as pages of a book. A child, who experienced the war before he experienced school, now all grown up and ready to tackle the reality, thinks that the political leaders and decision-making individuals have the same feelings about the war, about a time when power meant surviving. Amos Oz, who writes about suffering, says that when two regimes clash, the life that is considered more important by the stronger regime is the life that prevails.


There is no poetry more painful than the absent poetry of raped women; than their absent story; than the totally absent museum of these women, at whom, a large majority of us still laughs at. Only a few of us have given these women a voice to speak of their revolt. We talk about dealing with the past in Kosovo and perhaps that has occurred, although I seriously doubt that. I believe there is still room for debate. I believe we have failed the raped women. We have failed the bodies that owe no blame to the geography, to the Balkan patriarchate, to the men of Kosovo or Serbia, to Kosovo, or to the Serbs who still nowadays nurture the new generations with the melody of the song “Kosovo je srce Srbije”, or to the Albanians who think that one asks for the rape and that it results in losing face and dishonoring the family. Men. Well, let’s talk about men in the process of dealing with the past. (Read: a part of men deal with manhood, honor, the  Code of Honor, the blood that is shed for women, the dishonored and degraded family hearth, only because a Kosovo woman was raped during the war by cruel beings).


When an Albanian man truly realizes that he has to support a woman raped by the enemy, then we will be less frustrated. When a man is not distracted by the story of raped woman, then we will sleep at more peace. When an Albanian man will allow such story to leave the suffering lips of a woman, then it will be easier for us to deal with a past we did not seek but was forcefully served onto us. When an Albanian man realizes that historically, women have been violated by the mentality that “in this way they will degrade their value to nothing”, which did happen to the Albanian women during the war waged by Serbia not too many years ago, then we will be able to progress towards the future. The past haunts us but we do not shake hands with it to reconcile. Or to deal with it. After the war, it is terrible to think that it is the men deciding on the fate of these women. 


The movie “Three Windows and one Hanging” by the director Isa Qosja shows well the extent to which a woman squirms when people find out she has been raped. By whom? By men. The men, now in that building, in this building, in the building near the statue of another man – Skanderbeg, in any building where their seals decide on the fare of women. Where the fate of most of us is decided, men or not.

While writing about dealing with the past, other doors opened and some others I could not pursue. I do not know whether I have dealt with the truth that well or that powerfully so as to be in good terms today. I do not know whether I have dealt with the truth or with the propaganda. I know that the same men have been in power for quite some time and that the books they have read are not the same I have leafed through. In other words, we are not at the same wavelength. This is harming me. This is harming the raped women, the new generation that wishes to remember the war and not forget about it but not in the way it is being told to us by these men. These men are like the crumbs of a large loaf of bread we have been feeding ourselves with for so long. These crumbs are the stale remains. There are people who are not letting us talk about our histories, our traumas, about the violation which may not be the same as the one experienced by those women who were touched against their will but is a violation inside our minds and one that we want to talk about. I am sure there are words, verses and books inside every one of us that this mentality, these men, these institutions, this barren manhood upon which the social constellation of Kosovo is erected and serves as the measure for lots of things, are not allowing to come out. Someone else bears the burden of guilt, while we bear the burden of memories, digging into those for as long as it is necessary. 

Arbër Selmani is a freelance culture journalist and writer from Prishtina. He is a Bachelor of Marketing and his areas of interest and engagement include cultural studies, multiculturalism, dealing with the past and LGBT issues. In 2013 he was chosen as the journalist of the year by UNWomen and UNDP.

Twitter: @arberiani