Bittersweet Celebrations in Kosovo

By hanna.kienzler [at] mail.mcgill.ca (Hanna Kienzler)
Martyrs’ Cemetery in Kosovar Village

Nearly 6000 people live in Krusha e Madhe, a village located in the municipality of Rahovec and the setting of one of the worst massacres committed during the Kosovo War. Between March 25 and 27, 1999, members of the Serbian military, paramilitary, and police killed 241 civilians, including five women and seven children. Serbian forces also burned 793 houses and destroyed parts of the school, the cultural centre, historical monuments and most of the villagers’ agricultural equipment.

February 16, 2008

The village of Krusha e Madhe is making final preparations for the coming festivities. While young men put the finishing touches on the Albanian flag painted onto the town centre’s old mill, Roma musicians arrive and begin to play. The dancing will carry on until the early hours of the morning. “It is the first time that we villagers dance together like this - it's the first time that we've had the chance,” a young man remarks. Looking ahead to the next day’s official announcement of Kosovo's independence, villagers feel both overwhelming joy and sadness.

February 17, 2008 - Independence Day

Today, villagers not only celebrated their newly won independence from Serbia, but commemorated the fate of lost relatives and friends. Families gathered at the school to listen to Prime Minister Thaci’s broadcasted declaration of independence. Missing, however, were the widows of war victims and most of their children. Despite my attempts to lure my guest mother out of the house, she decided to stay inside with three of her seven children. “So much blood has been shed for this day. My husband left his life for this moment and I simply cannot go”. She decided to follow the celebrations on TV.

Emotions skyrocketed among the crowd convened at the school as Prime Minister Thaci made his formal declaration at 3 PM. The musicians began beating their drums, while the villagers reached out for each other’s hands to dance. But the celebrations did not last into the night. By 5PM, most had left the plaza to commemorate and celebrate at home.

February 18, 2008

My husband followed the older men to the Martyrs’ Cemetery, located close to the centre of town, where they paid tribute by keeping a minute of silence. On their return to the village plaza, the men prepared a spontaneous party for the villagers, spreading sand over the craggy ground, setting a big stereo in front of the painted Albanian flag and hanging party lamps across the plaza. The young and the old, women and men and even war widows danced together until late into night. Seven days of joyful celebrations followed.

February 25, 2008

Prime Minister Thaci arrived in Krusha e Madhe to congratulate the villagers and to pay his tribute to the dead at the Martyrs’ Cemetery. He is the first Prime Minister to visit Krusha e Mache since the war. Accompanied by his bodyguards, the council of elders, young men, school children and very few women, we stood around the graves, remembering the terrible toll taken by the conflict. And then the crowd joined in with the school children, cheering for the new Prime Minister of the youngest state in the world.