In memory of a massacre
There was mist among the tombstones, it covered them, together with the dozens who came to silently pay their respects to the dead. In a way we all looked like shadows moving through that memorial- It was cold, the harsh January kind. It suited it ... As I walked past the graves I looked at the pictures of the dead and thought about the first time I stepped into this place and heard their names.
18 years ago, almost to the hour, I was still trying to process what I was seeing..
I started just after 10 am. A 21 year old me got a phone call — on the other side of the wire, a voice in english said that I am going to be working that day. It was the time of war and due to a series of circumstances I was doing a lot of freelance work with foreign media… at the time, we were the international news story of the day, and everyone was here. And they all needed individuals who know the languages, the terrain and the people… and by working with them- we got to tell the world what was happening here.
All they knew , when they called, is that something really ugly happened somewhere around Stimje, and the apparently the OSCE observers and the BBC were already either there, or on the way.
A bit later, while I was in an ubiquitous Toyota SUV with PRESS written all over-it, heading towards Stimje, and this village called Racak, , a british reporter’s voice was breaking as J ( who will later end up as a witness against Milosevic, describing again what she saw that day) tried not to become the first BBC world reporter to cry on-air and the watching audiences saw for the first time the pictures that will, in a way, decide how our war will end…
And a bit over an hour after the rest of the world saw it on their TV screens, I was walking through what I can only describe as surreal nightmare… Unfortunately, it shouldn’t have been so strange. It started in March the previous year and since then thousands have been killed simply for not running away fast enough when the Serbian police or volunteers started approaching. I have been doing it since almost day one, and after the first shock, sleepless weeks, nightmares and the usual initiation effects I actually started believing it can not touch me any more… Then we rode into Raçak.
Although it was the Serbian units who simply massacred dozens of ALbanian villagers- for a few hours that day (I suppose for the lack of orders) they kept their last position a few kilometers below Raçak. The village itself, an irregular gathering of houses typical for the mountainous area, which looked completely frozen in January cold, was strangely empty of any armed presence. There were the observers, led by a man who will be pronounced a “persona non grata” then, and who will earn a monument today, for refusing to say anything but what he saw- the media crews who made it before the Serbs organized and closed the road, and the villagers who- one night before, managed to run away when they heard the APC- approaching, Now they were coming out of the woods and looking for their loved ones either among the dozens thrown in a large ditch- either on the narrow streets and in the yards covered in frozen blood . The mist was very similar to today and besides the dead- the living were silent too. Everyone moved around and did what they had to by making as little sound as possible. Even the survivors, standing above, lying next to, or holding the mutilated bodies of what used to be their fathers, husbands, sons were crying in silence. AS if their grief still did not find a way to make itself heard. — I know it is not a good thing to admit, but I know that for a moment I thought that the only fortunate thing is that it was January. WE were at war for almost a year now, and I learned well that If the weather was warm the nightmare would have had one more added level of horror… I saw some of them today, I saw them on similar occasions, when people like me came back and asked them to tell us again what do they remember- and how do they feel… they moved among those gravestones together with the rest of us. I do not know why, but although I knew better, I found that somehow I hoped that today I will look in their eyes and see something else in there but the pain that was present back in 99…
I was wrong, it was there- same as then…For them, nothing seems to have moved- none of those who came into the village that night and shot, decapitated, burned alive, raped then cut the throats of people as if they were animals…. were ever put before any kind of justice. Their children, spouses and parents — died horrible, screaming deaths for no other reason than because they had the “wrong” name when the bad guys came. And today, after the bad guy started knocking on the border again- the shadow in some of them was a bit deeper.