Migjen Kelmendi was in hiding for a week in Pristina. Because he is a well-known Kosovo Albanian writer and journalist, he feared that after NATO’s bombing campaign started in Yugoslavia he might be marked for execution by Serbian death squads. Then the Serbian police began clearing out Pristina, the Kosovar capital. Kelmendi borrowed a baby and pretended to be part of a family. Others huddled around him so that he was less likely to be recognized. Then, at three in the afternoon on March 31, he began a journey he could never have imagined.
The police, going from house to house, ordered everyone to leave. They gathered a group of two to three thousand people in the street and then prodded them in the direction of the railroad station. “They were driving us like cattle. The children were screaming and the elderly were very slow,” he told me. They marched down Pristina’s main street, past the theater 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.”
Then they got to the station. There they found that there were already 25,000 to 30,000 people. When he asked several people what was going on, they replied: “We are waiting for the train to take us to the border, to Macedonia.” By this time it was four o’clock. During the next few hours three babies were born and two old men died. Just before midnight the huge crowd heard the noise of NATO planes wheeling across the night sky.
“People began to clap. They were shouting ‘NATO! NATO!’ and saying ‘They will help us.’ Then we heard shooting very close to us. Everyone fell silent immediately.”
I met Kelmendi in Tetovo, in western Macedonia, a town inhabited mainly by ethnic Albanians in which many of Pristina’s academics, journalists, and politicians have found shelter. Afterward I went to see Chris Hill, the US ambassador to Macedonia, who for nine months had been trying to come up with a deal to head off the catastrophe that has now taken place. During one meeting Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Yugoslavia, said to him: “Of course we could just drive all our Albanians out, but we won’t do that—we’re not Nazis.”
At one o’clock in the morning the train arrived. It was an ordinary passenger train with twenty carriages, each divided into cabins. At that moment says Kelmendi, “the animal instinct in everyone, including me, came out.” 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 packed too. There was little air and no water. Children were crying while parents were hunting for the ones they had lost. Kelmendi estimated that between seven and ten thousand people were crammed on board.
After a couple of hours the …
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