by Antonina Zhelyazkova 

II. Retrospective background – memories of the war and the refugees 

The presence of NATO in Albania and Macedonia, the acceptance and accommodation of refugees are still very vivid in people’s minds. 

In the Republic of Macedonia respondents reply reluctantly to the questions because they feel deeply insulted by the international community which has not made any amends for the losses of the country which has given shelter to the refugees. Figures were circulated among people, which, irrespective whether they correspond to reality or not, have turned into a gloomy cliché about the false expectations and the failure of the democratic government. The losses from the Kosovo crisis amount to more than $600 million and to this very moment the international organizations have reimbursed $60 million.  

Both Albanians and  Macedonians in the Republic of Macedonia are inclined to discuss the economic crisis and the consequences of the Kosovo war, and to abuse politicians rather than go back to the memory of the tension in the country and the sufferings of the refugees and their own hardships as hosts. Macedonians are faced with the distressing problem of unemployment – employed people in Macedonia now are 313 400 and the unemployed number 341 500. Of course, the Albanians have been included in these statistical data, but there is no poverty or insecurity among them – they hold the gray economy, as well as the monopoly family and clan business. By the end of August one of the Albanian leaders in Macedonia made some startling disclosures about the party of the Albanians that is ruling in coalition with the VMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization), accusing them of doing all the smuggling to Kosovo. There is a special term for smuggling in Macedonia, i.e. “shverts” and “shvertsers” /coming probably from the German word schwarz/. The explanation of the Macedonian journalists is that at present, a redistribution of the shadowy economy is being carried out among the Macedonian Albanians, particularly in view of the new found opportunities after the Serbian rivals have been driven away from Kosovo. 

The evidence of the Albanians in Albania is different. Against the background of the much more disastrous situation of the state and the country’s economy, they prefer to speak about their immediate involvement in giving shelter to the refugees. All respondents speak emotionally and enthusiastically of this. The persons interviewed emphasized on the exceptional hospitality of the Albanians when receiving their compatriots from Kosovo. They are proud that they have upheld one of the oldest and most typical Albanian tradition, i.e. hospitality.  

The mass media had a great impact during the war and at the time of the refugees’ arrival. Reports and announcements about the refugees’ fate and the search for divided families are constantly broadcast. Many people offered parts of their homes to accommodate the refugees. They received relatives but quite frequently it was completely unknown families who were invited. The refugees insisted on living together because of the stress and fear of a possible parting, thus big families of 10-15 persons were often accommodated in one room.  

The local population took care of the refugees in the camps providing them with food, blankets and inviting the refugees to visit them at their homes. 

Actually, through the massive influx of refugees to Albania and Macedonia, the three Albanian communities were offered unique opportunities for mutual acquaintance and rapprochement in some spheres and estrangement in others. 

There is a general feeling that the Albanians in Albania are still emotionally shocked by the stories of the refugees, by the crimes of the Serbs, and the sufferings of women and children; they wanted to retell these dramatic stories and events over and over again. It was difficult to stop the Albanian respondents if a conversation started on this issue because they wanted to speak, and to show the scenes of the tragic events.  

Albanians in Macedonia referred coolly and tacitly to this issue, they were not willing to discuss their feelings and it was difficult to understand whether they felt any sympathy for the Kosovars during the war: “We gave them shelter because we had to, that’s all”, “We managed, once they are at my place, there is food for all”. They did not say that they relied on the humanitarian organizations. 

People in Albania value the support of the international humanitarian organizations. They highly appreciate the fact that medical care was provided free of charge and it was used by all, both refugees and local Albanians. UNICEF funded the publication of textbooks for the refugee children and at the same time it repaired and renewed the schools and provided the local children with school facilities as well.  

School hours were organized for the Kosovo children during their stay in Albania. On 6th June school holidays started for the Albanian children and on 7th June studies started for the Kosovo children. The children were brought together on 1st June alone, i.e., on Children’s Day - to entertain the children in the camps and to give them presents.  

Besides the local teachers, Kosovar teachers from the camps were involved as well. The opinion of the interviewed respondent-teachers is that the Albanian children are more advanced and better educated than the Kosovo children. To the question whether this was not the result of the fact that the Kosovo children had attended underground schools, probably without any planned curriculum, the respondents’ answer was that this was only part of the problem. According to a respondent headmaster, some marked differences in the mentality, mainly of the younger generations, have accumulated because of the different cultural and historical development: Albanian children are modern and worldly, while the Kosovar children are patriarchal and religious. The same respondent maintained that when they gathered for friendly dinners and talks with their colleagues-refugees from Kosovo, they used to conclude: “You are much richer, but we are more intelligent and educated”. The Kosovars did not dispute this assertion but they were definitely irritated.  

According to the school respondents the aim of the Kosovars was to have at each school a representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) who, along with his subject – mathematics, chemistry, or literature, prepared the children and the adolescents for their return to Kosovo and for their duty to the KLA and to an independent Kosovo. Conversations on this issue were difficult because this kind of political and ideological interference at school reminded the Albanians of the recent past and this definitely embarrassed them. Respondents usually stopped this theme with the conclusion: “There were KLA representatives everywhere in the country, in the camps too, and they did their job”.