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
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine