Liberation Of Kosovo: Milosevic's Victims - Dispossessed prepare to uproot again

"HERE," SAID Danica Polovina. "This is where we sleep." On the door was the international symbol for table tennis, but inside the dim hall in the basement of Pristina's Youth Palace there were no tables or trestles, no nets or ping-pong balls. Instead iron beds with grey military blankets lined the bare walls. The only light came through glass bricks near the high ceilings.

"Most of these beds are empty now," said Mrs Polovina, 45. "Nearly everyone has gone." It was the same in the adjoining boxing and wrestling halls, and in the judo hall upstairs, where a rough wooden partition divided the floor diagonally to give the occupants some privacy. A noisome and ever- growing mound of waste had accumulated at the bottom of the stairwell.

The handful of people wandering the cavernous spaces of the sports complex are among the most hapless victims of Slobodan Milosevic. In the summer of 1995 more than 250,000 Serbs were driven out of the Krajina region of Croatia. The Belgrade regime shipped thousands of them to Kosovo in an attempt to alter or at best maintain the ethnic balance in what was considered the heartland of the Serbian nation, even though nine out of ten inhabitants were Albanian.

Once there were more than 1,300 Serb refugees in the Youth Palace, a vast Communist-era relic in the centre of Pristina; now 35 are left. "We want to go to Serbia as fast as possible - all of us," said Glusica Dejas, 63. "We are compiling a list and have asked Nato for protection, and they have promised to give it."

The Krajina refugees, said Mrs Dejes, arrived "in great fear and worry" in August 1995. "We didn't know where they were taking us." But it got better, according to Mrs Polovina, widowed by the Croatian offensive, who found herself in Pristina, with her son, daughter and son-in-law. "They found us jobs - I worked as a furniture restorer - and the pay was better than in Serbia. It was our choice to stay."

Albanians complain that unqualified Serbs were brought in to replace them after the mass sackings of the early 1990s, but Mrs Polovina said she had no quarrel with them. "I have Albanian friends. They know we are poor, and so are they. We were not, repeat not, living in fear of them."

Gradually, however, the number of Serbs living in the sports centre began to dwindle as they received permission to settle in the United States and other Western countries. Others returned to Serbia. The start of last year's Serbian offensive against the Kosovo Liberation Army accelerated the outflow, and by the start of the Nato air campaign in March, only 200 were left.

"We were safe during the bombing as long as we stayed in the basement," said Mrs Polovina, "but we know it is finished here. We understand what has been happening. This fight is not for us and it is not about us. We have been suffering for four years in someone else's war."

Their jobs gone, the Krajina refugees hover listlessly about the Youth Palace, waiting for evacuation. They are wary of going out. Although no sport has been played at the centre for years, the front desk is now manned by Albanians who have returned to their former workplace.

"We have no problem with the Serbs who were here before 1990," said one, "but the ones who replaced us have to go."

"My daughter left with her husband and child three days ago for Serbia, and I plan to join them. My son left long ago," said Mrs Polovina as she escorted us down the long passageways back to the entrance hall. "I'm just waiting to hear when we can go. We used to get humanitarian aid, but now we don't even have enough food."

There was one more question: what did she think of President Milosevic? "He destroyed us in Krajina," said the widow, "and he's done the same here." At this her face crumpled, and she began to cry.

The UN human rights high commissioner, Mary Robinson, on a visit to Kosovo yesterday, expressed alarm at the fate of gypsies and Serbs persecuted by angry ethnic Albanians in the province. Gypsies told her they had been forced to flee for their lives and spoke of beatings and looting by Albanians. She said Serbs were also under pressure.

"I'm really very worried about the situation of minorities. I'm more worried now, having come here, than I was before I came," Mrs Robinson said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing