Macedonia Feminists in the refugee camps

Update to the letter below: "the problem is that many facts are not there anymore.... already some women are back. Then, the problem is that many of them found their flats in horrible state, everything robbed, teared, messed, taken, destroyed...... so the new reality is there, facing the homes that are marked with hatred."

Notes from the trip - Macedonia Feminists in the refugee camps

3rd June 1999

On the road to Skopje, in front of the border people are standing and waiting to cross. There are 15-20 of them, apparently from the near by town, maybe from Gnjilane. I am wondering when have Belgrade citizens seen citizens from Gnjilane, or have they ever? Serbian or Albanian nationality? Anyway I see them for the first time in my life. They must be Albanians. They are standing in the darkness and waiting to cross the border. On foot. They are silent and I can only hear baby voices. They are silent as they have never spoken before and it looks like that suffering is far beyond those faces standing there restlessly patient. Exiles on the border crossing Tabanovci have different status than the bus passengers who arrived from Belgrade.

I came to see my friends who were driven out from their homes with machine guns and are for the time being in Macedonia. I am going to see them, their way of life now when only in a few days they became refugees. They are going along strange streets, to the rented flats, in another country. Some of their stories how did they manage to reach here are already familiar to me. Until 1992 to my friends now divided with front lines, the same story is repeating. That we are longing for each other, that wars are separating us, that we are eager to reach each other, to embrace in so called "third countries", to travel for hours just to see each other. Is this our final war?


Everyone here heard for camp "Cegrane", because it is the biggest one, it is near Tetovo, approximately 43.000 people are placed here. It is famous because it is settled in dust and stone, convenient for lizards and snakes. This is a hillside, just near the fertile valley where people live, with lots of trees, water, flowers. But the camp is not in the valley it starts just on the spot where fertile valley ends and rocky ground starts. On the other side of the valley, on the other foothill, smaller camp Stenkovec is situated with 30.000 people. Today about 103.000 Albanians who were expelled from their homes in Kosovo are placed in refugee camps in Macedonia, while more than 150.000 of them stayed in homes of their relatives or friends. Cegrane is a small village in the valley, where mostly Albanians live. It's very active now. Humanitarian agencies jeep , crowd, shops, restaurants all crowded with people.

Cegrane camp means a thousands and thousands of yellowish white tents. You should always go uphill till the end. Many of them are already here for two months. Humanitarian organizations set up water supply, toilets, schools, hospital, warehouses, children park, food distribution. They still don't have showers, but they have a promise to get ones in June. When you enter the camp you only see wires, around and inside. My friends told me that wires are here to prevent riots. Every camp is wire fenced . In most of them it is a rule that refugees are not allowed to go out unless they have a permission for that. It is a rule within the teritory of Macedonia that refugees are not allowed to travel to another part of Macedonia, more than two times, the third will be used only to leave the country. Besides they can't go out and be back in Macedonia once they left. From the Cegrane camp they can go to the near village, to have a bath, to go to the mosque or to buy something. Jeep are driving up and down and the dust goes into the eyes. There is no shade to hide. There are lot of children. UNICEF organized tents for school. Elementary schools have 5 shifts from 8 a.m. for two hours. In the tents they have boards and benches. Famous actor from Pristina children theatre "Dodona" played a performance on the rocky ground in May. 4500 children were watching, applauding and jumping.

The Women's group Motrat Qiriazi from Pristina, in 1994 started with its work to support girls in rural area Has on Kosovo. In May 1999 they continued to work in Cegrane. Feminists from Pristina and their friends from England, Sweden and other countries organized a big tent for women only. The group for girls, the group for women, daily meetings of local coordinators, trainings in a movie camera and for amateur photographer, english lessons are held here. Two times a week here in the tent hairdressers are doing their job. Ten feminists work there every day.

That Saturday I came and introduced myself as Marija from Italy. This was our joint decision, because trauma was so near and we didn't want to impose any girl to unpleasant memories or pain.

The last week when Rada Boric, Neva Tolle i Slavica Kusic, feminists from Zagreb, were in the refugee camps in Albania, some girls were shivering while hearing Croatian language.

In the camp the girls turned to me with few Spanish words, as they belong to Post Cassandra generation. In the women's tent, after half an hour, there wasn't any space left, everything was full, the places around, on the floor, 120 girls from different parts of Kosovo. The tent full of girls, lot of them cut their hair recently, lot of them are coming to these workshops more than few weeks, some of them are here for the first time, incredible energy, no space left. Igballa Rogova, feminist from Pristina, who coordinates the group activity raises the energy: Let's shout : Vajzat = jan tforta = THE GIRLS ARE STRONG, once, another time, louder. What a joy ! Were we empowered as girls together with our friends to express through our own voices? Then, talks, exchanging information, debates on male violence and some unpleasant situation that can occur in the camp. Then the role play is going on. How to defend ourselves from an intrusive man? But this time a man role performed feminist Nazlie Bala from the Pristina Women's Group "Elena". She was so convincing and so likable that in fact everything ended in laughter and screaming, because every one liked her way of intrusion. The girls are laughing. It is so hot in the tent. Then they start singing. A song of Drenica and Kosovo is a favorite one. At the end there is tape player (with batteries). Dancing is beginning while Albanian folk music is playing. In the middle of the day, in the middle of the tent, with no space to move, the girls without addresses, whose parents were forced to throw their identity cards into plastic bags when in May they were deported to the border, with Serbian police as an escort, the girls who are longing for their homes, the girls who were hungry and threatened for days, the girls exhausted from being displaced from their lives, like many other girls from Croatia or Bosnia or Palestine, here they are, they survived and they are dancing.

Lepa Mladjenovic
Skopje, 15th June, 1999

Yesterday, while I was on my trip from Belgrade to Skopje for the second time, there were a lot of cars fleeing towards Belgrade. On the roofs and sidecars: chairs, cabinets, matresses, carpets from Gnjilane and Prizren. This time Serbian people are forced to displace their lives. Anti war activists from EX Yugoslavia remember lot of these scenes back to 1991, with sadness and anger.

autonomous women's center against sexual violence

kosovo | |