An island of tolerance in province destroyed by conflict

"WE ARE all equal here," said Sadik Musliu. "Why can't the rest of Kosovo be the same?"

It says much about Kosovo today that the Stimlje Institute, the mental hospital of which Dr Musliu is director, is the only place in the whole province where Serbs and Albanians can safely live together. Outside the high fence, revenge attacks and intimidation are driving Serbs out of Kosovo every day, but within the institute, more than half of the 316 inmates are Serbian. The same is true of the children's wing, where there are 35 patients between the ages of two and 12.

"Nobody has ever tried to exclude patients on the basis of community, neither before the war nor afterwards," said Dr Musliu, 42. He became director of the hospital in the summer, when Belgrade withdrew its forces from Kosovo and all but one of the Serbian staff departed. "The Serbian patients can go into the town without fear," he said. "The institute has the respect of local people."

Unlike almost every other public institution in Kosovo, the Serbs did not wreck the hospital when they left, but that does not mean it has been immune from the effects of two years of war, ethnic cleansing and Nato bombing. There was fighting between Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army within a few hundred yards of the gates, and just over the hill is the village of Racak, where the massacre of 45 Albanian civilians in January set in motion the events which led to Nato's air campaign.

"The patients could hear shooting many times," said Dr Musliu. "Through the fence they saw people being beaten, and paramilitaries driving up and down shouting: `Long live Milosevic!' They were all frightened, Serbs and Albanians." The institute's head nurse, Liriye Bistiqi, escaped death at Racak by less than five minutes, having left for the hospital just before the Serbian police and paramilitaries arrived, while Dr Musliu himself took refuge in the hills with his family during the worst of the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbs during the bombing campaign.

Now the doctor and the nurse struggle to restore the workings of Kosovo's only mental hospital, which, although intact, suffers from disrepair and a shortage of qualified staff. Patients wander the grounds - one woman was trudging barefoot through the snow until shooed indoors - importuning everyone for cigarettes and money. Even the older patients in the children's ward smoke, including one boy whose legs had been amputated by a train.

The younger children have just as strong a craving for affection, rushing to staff and visitors to solicit hugs. Among them is Samela, seven, who has lived in the institute all her life, because her mother is a patient. "Now she is disturbed like the rest, but she has nowhere else to go," said the director. "At least she has her mother. Most of the other children have no one.

"If they are Serbs, their parents may have fled to Serbia, if they are Albanian their mothers and fathers may be dead. Since the war, nobody comes to visit them. They call us mother and father, and each other brother and sister." Two elderly patients were eating with the youngsters. "Their own children have gone to Serbia," he said. "They want to treat these ones as if they were theirs."

The children, who speak a mixture of Serbian and Albanian among themselves, seem lively enough, despite the poor food and the lack of playthings - one boy who had found a piece of plastic wrap was being begged by the others for a chance to pop some of the bubbles. "It is hard to keep them stimulated," said Dr Musliu, "but we are doing what we can to teach them art and music as well as technical subjects."

The War Child charity delivers fresh fruit to the children each week and has provided a playground, but must now find winter clothing to enable more of them to play outside.

Apart from basics such as better food and washing facilities, Dr Musliu considers the greatest need, for adults as well as children at the institute, to be more professionally qualified staff. "I was the only doctor here until last month, when one more came, and I am still the only one trained in mental health," he said. "Before the war, 80 out of a staff of 110 were Serbs, and they are very difficult to replace. This hospital should have at least eight doctors, and ideally three or four specialists in psychiatry. We can't get people to work here because we can't find them accommodation or tell them when or if they will be paid."

Some help is being provided by the Norwegian Red Cross, but, for the moment, Stimlje Institute can only tick over. "We have people coming to the gates every day, begging for admission, but we can't improve conditions if we let more patients in," said the doctor. "When I came here 16 years ago we were able to look after 440 people, including 70 children. Now I have one child who could be discharged, but his family is from Vojvodina [at the other end of Serbia]. There is no way he can go home."

During the past two years in particular, the hospital must have seemed like a refuge from the insanity surrounding it. The demand for its services can only grow in the years to come, given the trauma suffered by so many people in Kosovo, but its future is as uncertain as anything else in a province still nominally part of Serbia but in practice drifting towards some kind of independent status under the UN. Dr Musliu, however, refuses to speculate on any of this. "This is a humanitarian institution," he says firmly. "All I can think about is the people under my care."

t Independent readers have donated pounds 32,000 to our War Child Christmas appeal so far, James Topham, the charity's head of communications, said yesterday. Referring to a letter commenting on the "dignity and courage" of the children of Rwanda, as described in the article by Mary Braid last Saturday, Mr Topham said he thought many people had been affected by the way the victims of war were presented as real individuals, and not just anonymous faces or "news items".

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Morrissey pictured in 2013
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices