jo van der spek on Tue, 18 May 1999 17:32:20 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Blace, stage of a crime against humanity

Blace, stage of a crime against humanity

(free for distribution on Internet)
copyright Jo van der Spek, for printed media)

Reporting Jo 15th of May.

Saturday 14th of May we made our second visit to Stenkovec 1. The
number of deportees in this transit-camp has been reduced from
25.000 a week ago, to 18.000 now. Only some tens of people arrived
as a result of the border being practically closed, ever since
wednesday 5th.The outflux to third countries is still underway:
people are being selected by several national Inmigration
Authorities to get a free flight. The sun is hot, the earth dry
and the situation looks quiet. People are squatting in the shade
in, our better outside the tents. And the security-discussion is
evolving towards more joint control it seems. Now some Albanian
policemen have been added to the Macedonians, thus releasing the
tensions between the Kosovars and Macedonians.

The specific purpose of my visit was to see who of my first
contacts were still there. Arbnor, Willems OSCE-volunteer, had
phoned him the day before to inform him that he had safely arrived
100 miles north of Ottawa, where he would spend some time in a
center before moving to his own place. Gary and me went around
with Gent Prokshi to find the others. Shuat, the guy that came
from Leiden in Holland to bring his family was glad to see me. The
IND, dutch Immigration Service) that was supposed to arrive
yesterday, hadn't shown up, but are expected now on Monday. We
will be in touch. We didn't find Ilber, the Chicago-style
techno-DJ. And Ekrem Missini and his brother Ali had changed their
tent for Norway. The guy that took his place gave us the
telephone-number of their cousin in Zurich, Switzerland. So I hope
to be able to trace him.

Then I went with Gent, the 14 year old guy, who is a
computerwizzard and a volunteer in a UNHCR-T-shirt, brought me to
his father Iljaz. He is a writer and a journalist. He is hoping
for the USA. He was been writing for magazines in New York and has
friends there. So I took the liberty of using my GSM to phone NY
and established contact with Tom. Then I asked if they had E-mail
over there. No. Do you have a son or daughter? Yes. So I asked his
daughter if she had a computer. No. Then please can you find a
friend with E-mail and send us a message, so through Willem and
Gent, your father can receive and reply to it. Okay, she said, so
we will see.

Slowly, this whole idea of Internet-acces for refugees, or better
deportees, is growing and developing. Sitting at Willems table, I
handed out the draft proposal for the project to Afrodita and
Asdren, who are now working with Willem. Asdren lost his
printinghouse in Prishtina and he is not thinking of going
anywhere but back to Kosov@. In the meantime he is working here
and told me he would do anything to make this thing happen.
Afrodita finished english and works as a translator. They both
inmediately jumped on the idea, maybe more so after reading the
proposal in their own language. Can you imagine what it means to
be addreesed not in setbian or macedonian, not even in english? I
know how happy I was Shkumbins rapid work on this translation.
This is all about recognition, respect and solidarity. This is
what I'm here for!

Actually Willem Houwen is getting more excited about this project
everyday. Especially after the news that Bill Gates (Microsoft)
made a deal with UNHCR to register all refugees for free, putting
a barcode on each and everyone. Willem has his doubts about it and
these are shared by the Vullnetars: I will end up a bunch of
banana's in a supermarket, Sdren said. Another angry young man
reminded us of the numbers that were burned into the skins of the
jews by the SS. So we started to check out our Email addresses.
Afrodita has her Hotmail-account, Gent made one up on the spot
which Willem will register with Willem is at the moment
the internet-link between the camp-dwellers and cyberspace. Slowly
a vision is developing of distributing E-mail accounts to all
Kosovars who know what this identifier means, thus building a
worldwide network like a cyber-community. This would be a
powerfull instrument to keep in touch, and to lay the ground for
the future reconstruction of K!  !  osova. For now my idea is to
use it as a community service to all. If this is the empowering
alternative for Microsofts barcode, you might even consider a
boycot: beter E-dresses than barcodes. We are not banana's, we eat

After thus spending some three hours in Stenkovec 1, we sked our
taxi-driver to bring is to Blace, at the border with Kosov@. To
the scene of the crime. I knew that there were no deportees at the
moment, but I wanted just to see it, feel it, let it sink in.
Remember Armando'n writing about the woods around Amersfoort,
around his home where the Germans had a prisonercamp: guilty

With my accreditation the Macedonian police let me in, but refused
to hand me back the letter of the Ministry of Information.

"But I will forget it on my way out", I told him.

"No you won't", he replied.

"How do you know?"

"I know"

"But you don't know me".

Some journalists were hanging around, talking with Macedonian Red
Cross personnel, and another policeman. Jtst before we arrived, a
group of 300 deportees had crossed the border without being
stopped, and had been directly moved on to Stenkovec. Joanna
Kotcher, who his managing this camp for Mercy Corps International
(USA) was very happy about this. For ten days the border had been
closed by the Macedonian government. These 300 would quickly
report to thousands of others wanting to get in. She told me that
I was lucky to be admitted to the camp, in the morning journalists
were not allowed in. I asked her straight away how many people had
been killed here, where the grvaes were, and if she knew about
people having drowned in the river. "There was some mortality",
but she couldn't say anything, because all this had happened on
the other side of the border, in the field across the railway, on
Yugoslav-territory. Way beyond her jurisdiction. Obviously she was
very nervous, never knowing how the police would act under the
circumstances. "Don't go near the fence this side of the railway.
It's disputed territory." Then I walked arounbd with
program-officer Graham Craft, an experienced guy from Washington,
who worked as an elections monitor and verifier in Bosnia and
Kosov@. He told me the refugees looked very tired and scared,
asking about their family and if they would go straight to the
airport. Asked about people killed, he said probably nobody really
knew how many had died here the first week of April, because of
the sheer numbers and the chaos. He had heard about people
drowning, and finding corpses down the river, thus confirming what
Afrodita Kamendi of Radio 21 had told me before.

Then we watched together.

Against the background of the green mountain, fat smoke coming off
the burning leftovers in the field, the Nomansland lying some 10
meters lower than we were standing. The burning leftovers of the
thousands that had passed here after the 24th of March. Some men
were moving in the distance, collecting garbage, burning it.

Separating the Nomansland from the transitcamp where we stanbd is
a single railway line, with a simple wire fence along the line
this side of the railway. The railway line leading from Kosov@
into Macedonia. Over this line the deportees were transported by
the thousands, getting out before the border out of sight, then
forced to walk into the Nomansland, in the rain, the mud.
Macedonian blocking entrance into the country, under the pretext
of having to register them. People desparate, with no food, in
state of shock, no shelter, no help, no care whatsoever. Aid
workers were prohibited access. Armed police preventing people
from getting out, mothers crying for help for their children,
doctors demanding medicines and drinking water. New born babies
dying of dehydration, elderly dying of exhaustion, people going
mad, some apparently committing suicide by throwing themselves
into the river...

I think this is called an earie feeling, watching this killing
field, from an empty transit camp. Where everything is now
prepared for new arrivals. With running water, tents and
matrasses, medical care, the bare necessities for a short stay.
Graham is happy that finally they got it together. The mud is
gone, fresh earth roads have been made, workers are constructing a
staircase to the road leading to the borderpost. Two men are doing
something vague around a toilet cabine of Medecins sans
Frointieres. One of them is cutting an edge on a twig with a
knife. He is from Blace, he is Albanian. No he has nothing to say.

Walking back I saw the Macedonian guard waiving with my
accreditation-letter. I took it, looked at it, reading my name and

"Who is this, is this you?"

"No it's yours"

"Oh yeah, now I remember.... See, I did forget about it."

Blace is essential for understanding the relation between Kosovars
and Macedonians. The people who were here, some for 7 days, will
never forget and probably find it tough to forgive the inhuman
treatment they received here. I only feel sad, because I believe
that the responsibility lies not only with the Macedonian
authorities. They may have been anticipating that the
"international Comminity, especially the European Union, would not
gladly take over the responsibility for the refugees. Standard EU
policy is to keep refugees in their own region, monitoring and
assisting from a distance. The Macedonian way of provoking the
crisis here in Blace did produce the images, which led to a public
outcry that forced the NATO-countries (first of all Turkey) to
urgent action. This is a stage in the theatre of the greater
Balkan war that started in 1989 when Milosevic took autonomy away
from Kosov@, when nobody in the world was watching. This a a stage
in the global theatre where military crimes, human suffering,
migration politics and geostrategy, post-communism and
post-colonialism come together.

And remember Bleiburg, on the border of Austria and Yugoslavia,
where in 1945 fleeing Croats were held back by the british army,
to be killed by Tito's partizans. Fuelling hatred, creating cause
for the next war.

Joanna strongly advised me not to bring anybody from Macedonian
political circles here, to have him see and tell what happened
here in Blace. This would not be appreciated by the police, and
create a serious risk for her work to assist the people crossing
the border.

But I want to think of something to do here in Blace, before
others do. A symbolic act, an event, a token. Whatever it takes to
make people realize and never forget. And learn.

Jojo , Skopje 15th of May,

mos ban luft, ban dashuri

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