Balushe is back! With a quiet smile on her pleasant face, she stands under a blue UN tarpaulin in a makeshift wooden hut. They found her wandering nearby, bemused, hungry, but otherwise unharmed. Balushe is the Latifaj family cow, and her return is a small sign of what has gone right in the place we should now, realistically, call Kosova.
The Latifajs used to live in a large house next to the mosque in the village of Prilep, at the foot of the Cursed Mountains that separate Kosova from Albania. Now they live amid the rubble that was their house, next to the ruined mosque, in a village that Milosevic’s artillery and special forces have almost entirely destroyed. A year ago I found the whole family cowering in their yard. Serb forces had just beaten them up after a KLA ambush of Serb police outside the mosque. Six months ago, I found Granny Latifaj standing alone, weeping, in the rubble. She was trying to heat some water in a bucket by placing it in the sun.
Today, half the family have returned. They’ve built a large wooden hut in the snow-covered ruins, with materials supplied by international agencies and charities. They have a wood-burning stove and enough wood to see them through Kosova’s freezing winter. (One daughter tells me they received an extra allowance of firewood because her brother died in the war, fighting with the KLA’s legendary Commander Ramush.) Like so many Kosovars, they are helped out financially by family members working in Germany. They hope their fields will be cleared of land mines in time for the spring sowing. Meanwhile, with international aid and family help, they have just enough to eat. The children go to a rudimentary school, with the same teacher who used to teach them illegally before the war. Most people in the village have come back and, yes, they finally feel free. “We’d like to thank you,” says the hoxha, the local clergyman from the ruined mosque, whom I find repainting his own house, “you Americans and Europeans, for doing so much for our freedom.”
This is the good news, and it’s repeated all over the battered province. The main street of every town looks like a do-it-yourself exhibition. Small shops contain everything you need to rebuild a house, from bricks and timber, through electrical cables and drainpipes, to the all-important rugs and coffee cups. A family I have visited several times in Malisevo, once the capital of the KLA and “the most dangerous place in Europe,” have such a shop, newly built with money sent from Germany by their Gastarbeiter son. The father cautiously estimates his profit at DM35-40 a day. He hopes to rebuild his own house on the earnings from selling reconstruction materials to others.
In the trashed bazaar of what used to be the Serbian city of Pec and is now the Albanian city of Pejë, local children have painted the ruins with …