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1999: Expulsion from Priština

Train from Pristina
Train from Pristina

Tim Judah's book is not simply a history of Kosovo. As a journalist he has covered Kosovo's recent past, from the early 1990s to the present. So, a strand of reportage, of what he saw and of what people told him, runs through the book from beginning to end. The preface begins with three eyewitness accounts from the war in 1999. In the first, Migjen Kelmendi, the well known Kosovo Albanian writer and journalist explains how, when NATO's bombing campaign began on 24 March 1999 he had gone into hiding. Then, as the Serbian police began clearing Priština, he borrowed a baby and pretended to be part of a family:

The police gathered a group of two or three thousand people in the street and then prodded them in the direction of the station. "They were driving us like cattle. The children were screaming and the elderly were very slow." They marched down Priština's main street, past the theatre and the Hotel Grand. "The saddest bit was that, along the way, I saw bunches of people, Serbs. They looked at us with complete indifference. It was unimaginable.

When they got to the station there were already some 25-30,000 people there. They were waiting for the train to take them to Macedonia. NATO planes wheeled in the sky above and people began to cheer and clap, until they heard shooting and fell silent. Eventually the train arrived. "At that moment, "the animal instinct in everyone, including me came out," said Kelmendi.

Everyone surged forward, fighting and shoving. "The strongest got on and then got their families in through the windows." In each cabin there were thirty people and the corridors were jam packed too. There was no air and there was no water. Children were crying while parents were hunting for the ones they had lost. There were about 7-10,000 people crammed on board.

The train crept out of Priština but kept stopping because people kept pulling the emergency communication cord. When they got to the first station, "police stood on the platform while exasperated Serb railwaymen worked their way down the train with a mechanical key trying to turn off the emergency brake system." Eventually the train crossed the frontier to Macedonia.

Immediately over the frontier, Kelmendi turned on his mobile phone. He had been far too frightened to use it while he was in hiding. It rang straight away. It was his wife. She was in Montenegro. She was crying: "You're alive, you're alive!" Of course, the Kelmendis were lucky.

[pp. xiv-xv]

Kosovo: War and Revenge. 2002, Second Edition. [Yale University Press]

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