Zoran Plećaš

Beograd | Date: July 14, 2017 | Duration: 107 minutes

My neighbor and I went out for a walk. He was Albanian, I was Serb and there were protests again [1981]. And  where did the protest catch us? where the Executive Council was, where the statue stands. And where did we go to? there was a kafana [bar], Kod Ćora [At Ćora’s] in front of the Parliament, and we were old buddies, this Albanian and I, they are throwing tear gas, and we are running not knowing where, we run in the kafana. Koso blocks the door. ‘More, Koso open the door before they get to us, and kill us.’ For our luck my buddy Mile was there, he was quick to open the door and we got in. […]

We did not go to the protest. The families did not… you know, we went out together for a walk. Even today when I go ‘down there’ [to Kosovo] he tells everyone the story of when we ended-up together in the protest. We ran so we would not get beaten. I was with an Albanian, and a Serb myself, and it was really like that.

It was especially bad after that [first] curfew and everything that came after.

Marijana Toma (Interviewer) Miroje Ljepojević (Camera)

Zoran Plećaš was born in Pristina on July 30, 1955. He graduated in Economics at the University of Pristina in 1980. After graduation he worked at the Kosovo Executive Council, then he took the position of director at Jugoagent and worked there until 1989. In the ‘90s he had his own store, Akoma. He currently lives and works in Belgrade.

Zoran Plećaš

Part One

Marijana Toma: Today it is July, 14. The interview with mister Zoran Plećaš, Mister Zoran, can you tell me where and when were you born, and a little related to your family and some of the early memories?

Zoran Plećaš: Let’s say, I was born on July 30, ‘55 in Pristina from my father Nikola and mother Olivera. My parents, I mean, both of them are locals from Pristina. While my mother’s family origin is from Pristina, they are old inhabitants of Pristina, people who have, I mean, even my great-great grandfather came from a village from the Pristina surroundings, which is called krajište[1], that is where he bought a mahalla,[2] let’s say, a mejhane,[3] it was his land. His people inherited that, I mean, my great-grandfather and then my grandfather and so on.

While the family of my father, I mean my great great-grandfather, in 1914, right after the First World War… he was given, in ‘14, ‘18, he was given a part of the mountain in Devet Jugović [Bardhosh], this is how King Alexandre called it. They cut the trees in order to have a fertile ground, in fact to make a living out of agriculture, farming and so on. I mean, this is the foundation of it. So, I was born in Pristina, I have already told you this. I finished the first three years of elementary school at Meto Bajraktari. Then, my mother and father moved to Aktash where they had built a house, so from the fifth to the eighth grade, I went to Vladimir Nazor [Naim Frashëri], this is how it was called back then.

After the elementary school, after I finished the elementary school that was close to my house, where I was born and where I lived, where I continued my education, I went to the high school of economics in Pristina, which I finished of course, after three, four years. It was the general department, back then there were no separate department, it was general. The economics school had more departments, so that I do not forget this part. I mean economics, law, planning [future architecture], tourism and business. At that time, we went to school all together with the Albanians.

It was like this in ‘74. I went with Albanians, I also finished elementary school together with Albanians. My friend from elementary school was Albanian, he finished school together with me, I mean, in Serbian language, while later he started in Albanian, in the technical high school, Ismet was the name of my friend. I mean, he finished that high school and then enrolled in the faculty, in Pristina as well, we enrolled together, we finished the exams sometime around the ‘80s and then I dragged it a little because I started working and got married. I got married in ‘81, and then we had three daughters after that.

In the meantime, I worked. Eventually, I graduated, slowly because of some of my ideas, I worked as a professor in the high school, then I worked as a lecturer of economics, then at that time I worked in the Executive Council of Kosovo in the Directorate for [Commodity] Reserves in Kosovo in collaboration with the Federal Directorate. Then after working for the high school and for the directorate, I was appointed  director of the firm Jugoagent[4] in Belgrade, in fact, in Novi Beograd [New Belgrade], those from there appointed  me the director of its branch down[5] in Pristina. I worked there for almost four years, until ‘89.

At that time, it was okay, but when the sanctions began, Jugoagent simply had no jobs, they offered translation services, transportation of products by ships and airplanes, mainly with transoceanic ships. I was its representative for Kosovo and I had a good collaboration with Trepča.[6] We carried superphosphate to Trepča from Syria, because they needed to process it there, and for the battery manufacture in Gjilan. The battery manufacture was very successful at that time and they had even started exporting to America. The battery manufacture was very famous, there were young people working there, who had vision, and until the ‘90s, it was a really powerful period. They even exported  to America. We did the transportation through Jugoagent.

Marijana Toma: Tell me, I will return to your childhood, about your family. You were an only child, right?

Zoran Plećaš: No, no. My brother is two years younger than I, we have an age difference of two years, his name is Dragan, he lived… since my parents were divorced when I turned nine and he was seven, I lived with my father Nikola. We lived with him, he raised us, he never got married, he educated us, made it possible for us to get married with [big] weddings. I mean, we lived together. Then my brother moved to Belgrade after finishing the military service. He finished the military service in Pula, in Tito’s guard, but since my mother lived here [Belgrade], he wanted to leave Pristina, he didn’t like Pristina, just like me, he came here to live and work. First he worked in Pula and Poreč, when he came back from the military service from Pula, he worked in Poreč for two-three years and then in the meantime, he decided to live here, that is why he continued living here, I don’t know until when, because I was living down with my father, he returned to live down with his family before ‘99, in ‘94. Since his wife was a lawyer, she was appointed  a judge down [in Kosovo], a judge for misdemeanors, while he was working for Jugopetrol,[7] the gas station, so he returned.

My wife also worked for Jugopetrol, she was the director of the accounting department. Not from the beginning, first she started as an intern in Jugopetrol in Kosovo, later she started working in positions that belong to economists, she always held accounting positions. She got employed in Jugopetrol and remained there until the end, respectively until the moment Jugopetrol went on strike. This was the first strike, and I will tell you about it, where Albanians and Serbs rose together against one person. This was incredible.

Marijana Toma: In which year did this happen?

Zoran Plećaš: This happened in ‘96, ‘97. I don’t exactly remember, I can ask her. This is the first occasion, I mean, after the ‘90s when Albanians left. However, Jugopetrol was a big firm, maybe some Albanians left, but most of them remained at work and felt supported by their colleagues, even though there was a call for all of them all to leave. However, they thought, “This is a good firm, the salary is good, what else do we want?” Then in the beginning they kept hiding more or less, they would go to work earlier and so on, but in fact they didn’t want to leave the job and they remained.

Then the order came. Veljko Lalić was the director of Jugopetrol at that time, he was retired and then according to the structure, you know, then SPS[8] and the clique of Fushë Kosovë appointed  someone whose name was Kecman as the director of Jugopetrol. This uprising of the workers, my wife went on strike as well and everybody went after her. I mean, from 230 workers, 200 went on strike. This was the first occasion since the ‘90s when Albanians and Serbs were against one person, especially at that time when it was impossible for them to come together, however, they were humans. Since she had refused some of their decisions, the decisions to collect foreign savings, somehow this was a crazy thing to do. I want to be honest, I told her, “This is your business.” Then when she did it, it was simple, very spontaneous because she had the trust of her colleagues, Albanians, Serbs, Turks, Gypsies, or how they call them now, Romani, and so this was it, this is true. Thanks God she has everything written even in newspapers, she has everything as documents. But this was during that time, within the services of that ruling power.

Marijana Toma: Tell me, you were born in ‘57?

Zoran Plećaš: No, in ‘55.

Marijana Toma: In ‘55, really? Where did you do the military service?

Zoran Plećaš: I was in the military service in Skopje. My daughter Milica was born when I went to the military service, we are talking about ‘81, Milica was born in October, ‘81, while I went right away in March, ‘82. She was little, I mean, at that time I went to Skopje and I served in the barrack Goce Delčeva.

Marijana Toma: I am interested on the period of the ‘70s, by the end of the ‘70s, the period with least concerns. I am interested in  your youth in Pristina, how was it?

Zoran Plećaš: You know what, I also said it earlier when we talked. No matter what, there was spirit in Pristina. We had our side. The korzo[9] was divided, we, the Serbs would walk on the left side, while Albanians would walk on the right side, on the side of Grand [Hotel] and the Hotel Božur do you understand? Then every group of friends, had its own tree, and we would gather there. In fact, there was no violence between nationalities. There was more violence within  the same nationality about those trees, about girls of the same nationality. Fights between different nationalities were so rare, I don’t even remember one. It must have happened sometime, but it is not that they were so important, this thing wasn’t very present. This because girls wouldn’t express themselves according to the nationalist perspective, they didn’t look at each other in the sense, “Look, this one is an Albanian, this one is a Serb.” No, it was different. Or for a girl or, do you understand, for a school, soccer [team], handball [team], these things were, not… No matter how, Pristina had a spirit, how to say, it has a spirit which it has cultivated for years, since old times, I mean, people who are there passed it onto other generations, to be honest, we were taught by older people that the other nationality should be respected.

At that time I had my grandparents, they celebrated the holidays, my grandfather and my grandmother, you know how they have [religious] restrictions here, they would also celebrate Ramadan and Eid[10] of Albanians. An Albanian once told me, he was a member of the party, then they talked about these, and he told me, “They accepted me in the party, but they immediately gave me the Church calendar.” He said, “What do I need it for?” “When they give it to you, you will look which holidays are celebrated by Serbs.” Be aware, this doesn’t make sense, but this is how it was. But he would say, “What do I need it for?” But no matter what, they celebrated Eid and fasted in Ramadan.

But for Serbs it still was, we as Serbs, you know, we joined the party but however, we were obliged to everything, what I want to say is that Serbian nationalism had to  be neutralized. It is not like that, when you are a Serb, this is not nationalism, you just are [a Serb], I am sorry. This is how things flowed, and time after time, this is how it was, I don’t remember, but as they told me, as long as Ranković[11] was in power, it was totally different, then when Ranković left, and the gjakovar[12] clique came, they changed everything, everything changed. The history of Serbs in Kosovo changed. People who worked for SUP[13] were immediately retired. They were some war friends of my father, young people who were retired without anyone knowing why.

Marijana Toma: In which year did these things happen?

Zoran Plećaš: They happened in ‘68.

Marijana Toma: Aha, these were after ‘68.

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, the congress,[14] these happened then, I mean, that is where they began, this was before ‘68, or ‘64. Maybe when that with Ranković happened, I don’t remember, I don’t want to confuse things, but all of these happened after Ranković left. A number of people were forced to leave their jobs…

Marijana Toma: The service?u

Zoran Plećaš: Not only the service but also Kosovo. This is how it happened back then, “Eh, you were like this, now wait for me because I will…” How? People left, no matter whether they wanted to or not. The other, you know how it was, that was the law. Tito wouldn’t allow Serbs to return to Kosovo. My father and my paternal uncle…their parents had left Kosovo because they had been in the war, and then came to Kuršumlija. The issue here was how to enter Kosovo because of the restriction [to the return of Serbs], but then the vagabond-minded people from Lika entered the train’s wagon and as it was said by God, rightfully, but they weren’t going to other people’s properties, they were going to their own lands in Pristina and Jugovic, this was…. There was pressure to decrease the number of Serbs. This started since then, it is not that it has started now.

I remember another thing. My deceased grandfather told me, until the time king Alexander was killed… he was killed in Marseille?

Marijana Toma: Yes, in Marseille.

Zoran Plećaš: He is, how to say this, he was, he didn’t force Albanians to leave but he simply bought that land in Anatolia[15] and offered them a better  territory. These are the words of my grandfather, he says, “If the war didn’t begin, the way he was behaving, no Albanian would remain in Kosovo. Because they started moving, because they had better conditions there,  more land than they had in Kosovo, a  house and other things to earn money. There they took a better territory.”  This is what they said, and this is how it happened. But well, it passed, it was good the way it was, but it passed. But this was it, I am telling you what they told me.

As for Pristina, which I remember, I mean, I remember it with Albanians and Turks, Muslims. At the end of the day, a part of Muslims and Turks went to school with Serbs, the same class. Look, also in class, only later… I told you that I finished school with an Albanian, Ismet, but later they started, because later after this, for our studies, we were asked to know Albanian language, and there were not many Albanians, that is why they studied  [in Serbian], and this I am saying, not violently, but they studied  in Serbian because there were more Serbs. They needed it for communication, they were very few down [in Kosovo]. With time, because of the high birth rate, when we were two, we were two when we finished the elementary school, two Albanian classes and two Serbian ones.

Marijana Toma: Two Serbian ones?

Zoran Plećaš: There were thirty students in the Serbian class while there were 20 or 22 Albanians, then everything changed.

Marijana Toma: When were you employed, you were employed during your studies as you told me, right?

Zoran Plećaš: My first job was here, I told you when I finished, when I finished my exams, I was a professor in the economic school. This was in the ‘80s.

Marijana Toma: In Pristina, right?

Zoran Plećaš: No, in Lipjan.

Marijana Toma: In Lipjan.

Zoran Plećaš: In Lipjan, in Lipjan. Since I couldn’t find any job in Pristina, then I went to Lipjan. I found out that they needed staff, the one who was giving economy classes had found a new job and he was a friend of mine so he told me, “My friend, I will go there, you come here.” And so, starting from this, I got  that job.

Marijana Toma: How did it look? I mean, how was it, did only…[Serbs] go to this school?

Zoran Plećaš: No, no, together.

Marijana Toma: Ah, together.

Zoran Plećaš: Together. I am talking about ‘81. We all went together until ‘89.

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: And we lived, we continued living. We went [to school] together, but we were not in the same class, maybe some even were, but we were together. The first shift was for students from the first to the fourth grade, but they were all Albanian and Serbian children.

Marijana Toma: How did this look?

Zoran Plećaš: It looked normal. There were fights, but not based on nationality, not because they were Albanians. It was just like when someone passes by you and they hit you, you hit them, you understand? Just as it is today, it is a school at the end of the day. I do not know, when one thinks, maybe here [Belgrade] it is worse than down there. However, of course, but this did not happen because of that. I remember the first ones…

Since my father, his name was Nikola, after my parents got divorced, he worked, but he left two children, one of them seven and the other nine years old, at home. He worked in the workers’ union in Kosovo, and in order to have  contact with us, he had to expand the [phone] network by  one kilometer, he  paid for it, in order to be in contact with us, to check on us, to call us, because nothing…I remember, we were sleeping, the phone rings, it was bad weather, Nikola said, I heard the conversation, “When children leave for school,” since our house was near the school, and he was forced to go to the main street and not allow children to go to school, not allow them to gather, he got the order from the Communist League, LSPP [The Communist League of the Working People], I don’t know how, but he got the order to go there. My father and my paternal uncle, Boro, also a fighter, Trgovčević. They went there and stopped the children, there were other professors there and then he explained it to them that he got the order, and it had to be respected. It was an order.

Marijana Toma: From the top?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, an order from up there, what are you saying? So, this is how it was. All of these happened. And then the stratification [sic] began.

Marijana Toma: When did you first notice the stratification [sic], as you are calling it, or the separation?

Zoran Plećaš: The first separation according to me, let’s say I am, alright, I was in elementary school so we cannot say that…I remember it from the third or fourth grade in  high school. Because, I cannot say that it began from elementary school, I cannot say that because however, we were children, twelve, 13-14 years, and then 17. We could only notice it then because they started behaving harshly with women, our girls, they attacked them.

No matter what, the economic school was just across the street from the Pristina barracks, but we had to take the bus or go there on foot. We were one or two classes in the economic school, one trading class, one for catering, a department of trading and tourism, yes. I mean, there were five classes every year, and there were mostly Albanians, at least twice as many as we. The narrow staircases, do you understand? However, they held them under control as much as they could, I say, they held them under control as much as they could.  But you could  feel, I don’t know if  it is because of the beginning of puberty of boys and girls, but you could  feel the bragging. You know, when they start showing force, when there are a lot for them. If this is not force, then what is it? Violence got worst, or at least this is how they started writing at that time. There was no UÇK,[16] only some writings against Serbs, do you understand?

Marijana Toma: Can you tell me, you told me that your first daughter, Milica, was born in ‘81?

Zoran Plećaš: The second one in ‘83, and the little one in ‘91.

Marijana Toma: Kudos to you! Were you employed at that time, you were working, right?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, yes.

Marijana Toma: In which year did you get married?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, I got married in ‘81. I got married in ‘81, March 15, something like that.

Marijana Toma: Where did you live with your wife?

Zoran Plećaš: At home, together with my father.

Marijana Toma: Aha, with your father.

Zoran Plećaš: We lived in that house until ‘99. With three children and one father who, as I told you, never remarried. My brother had already come here [to Belgrade] – even though he returned to [Pristina] in 2000 –  in ‘94 – ‘95. But I had an apartment. I worked. Thank God, my wife also inherited an apartment and so he moved there so we would not be too crowded. My father told him, “You don’t have to [live with us]. I was used to living with them.Here is your apartment, if Zoran wants to give it to you, if not, you have to find one for yourself.” Humans are such. He wanted to live alone, with the grandchildren and us, he was used to living like that since ‘81, we lived together for 13-14 years and an unnatural change happened suddenly, “You have never lived with us.” But this is how it was back then.

Marijana Toma: And this period, ‘81, the chaos in Kosovo?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes.

Marijana Toma: Do you remember anything from that time?

Zoran Plećaš: Of course. So, now I have to… My house is far from the Faculty of Economy, it is one hundred meters as the crow flies. This is the city center, this, that. And now, Sonja was pregnant with Milica, the demonstrations had begun. On March 11, I got married, while the demonstrations began on March 15. Sonja was already pregnant and this happened, I guess we went somewhere. Because this happened in phases, first in March, then they had a break, but a group that was escaping the police passed by, the police were chasing them. The police that were chasing them were not from Kosovo, but the reinforcing police. Eh now we, “We are Serbs.” They didn’t care that we were Serbs, they were telling us to leave, Serbs, for them it was the same, they didn’t know anyone. They took the order to get the task done. Now you are a Serbs, does it show on your forehead that you are a Serb? And we were like, “But we are Serbs,” this is the  stupidity of youth. We were Serbs, as if…This is what I remember. I remember it. After that, I remember, myself and another one, because it didn’t only last for one day, it lasted for one month or more.

A neighbor and I went for a walk. He was an Albanian and I, a Serb, and the demonstrations again. We were near the monument [Brotherhood and Unity], near the Executive Council. And, “Where to go?” There was a coffee shop Kod Cora [At Cora’s] in front of the municipality building, and the Albanian and I were old friends, they threw teargas and we escaped, we went to the coffee shop. Koso was blocking the door, “More,[17] Koso, open the door because if they catch us, they will kill us.” For our good luck, Mile was quick and opened the door and we went in. But look, he was an Albanian, so what?

We did not go to the demonstrations. The family does not… I mean, we went together for a walk.  When I go down today, he tells everyone when he and I went to the demonstrations. “We escaped so that they wouldn’t beat us. I, an Albanian, with a Serb with me.” But, it wasn’t like that.

It was very bad after the curfew and other things that followed. Not to talk about it, you had to isolate yourself at 8pm, you had to  return home before 8pm or 9pm, I don’t know, I don’t want to make a mistake, I don’t know whether it was at 8pm, 9pm or 10pm but you had to be home, maybe it was 12pm, but I mean, that’s how it was. Then I went to the military service in ‘82, Milica was born in October and then I went to the military service. First, they set me to go to Maribor and I went to the municipality and said, “People, please, why in Maribor? My child was just born.” They showed mercy and said, “Alright, then go to Skopje.” And so I served in Skopje for ten months as a breadwinner for my family, I was in the  Goce Delcev barracks.

Marijana Toma:  Did you have friends and did you often come to your home in Pristina?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, I used to go non-stop, Sonja would come to me and I would go there, since Sopje was sixty or seventy kilometers from Pristina. The buses would go just as today, every 15 minutes. And back then, we would move, you know, it was Yugoslavia. There was no custom, nothing. You sit in Skopje and in one hour, one hour and a half, you are in Pristina. There was no custom, nothing, but the Kaçanik Canyon was the worst part at that time, however, it was not bad. Experienced drivers, summertime.

Marijana Toma: And when you returned, did you return to your job or did you find another one?

Zoran Plećaš: No, after starting to work here, then I found a job in the Directorate for Surplus Goods. I found a job in that directorate. This is the Directorate for Surplus Products, I finished that faculty and I worked there. And then, I don’t know, I had not graduated yet when I was accepted, however, I found a job, I don’t know how to tell you, it was a job  related to accounting, inventory.

But you don’t know that that is the most difficult one. Look, you are given a big notebook {shows with hands} and the costumer’s cards, furnishers, products, you  must  register all of them in the card and write here, with carbon paper underneath it to make a copy. I finished the faculty, but look, my mother was an accountant, but she didn’t even finish high school, but she knew how to do it perfectly, this, what else.

I prayed God for them to put me in another position as soon as possible, well, eventually I proved myself as a good and skillful worker and they put me in the sector for control of surplus products, within the same directorate. Because this was the control for surplus products, this was the federal directorate, it distributed raw meat, this is how that program was called, Fresh Meat for Shops, for individuals in small shops who would take loans of five, ten cows, goats, sheep. Then the goods that come from farms from Dubrava in Istog, the Istog fish, then the pigs farm in Fushë Kosovë, the other cows farm in Fushë Kosovë, the village of Dobrevë, near Fushë Kosovë, then the factories in Prizren and Gjakova, not a factory, but there was a big chicken farm in Gjakova, very big. Not to talk about the big farming systems in Gjakova, as far as I remember, in the Sharr mountains, the inhabited part of the Sharr Mountains, they had sheep in Shtërrpc. A part of the Sharr mountain, actually, the part that is inhabited by  Gorani, the factory Šar Proizvodi [Sharr products], which had a lot of sheep. I mean, they produced milk, cheese and everything else, sheep wool and everything else. The Sharr cheese still exists.

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: The amazing Sharr cheese. I mean, it was made with  the milk of those organic sheep.

Marijana Toma: It was like that as long as [the company]  was big.

Zoran Plećaš: That was, you know, what the state financed. I mean, you take some basic resources which will help you to improve your herd of sheep, horses, ox, I mean, also the Istog fish, I mean, to improve it and preserve it, so that when the winter time comes, it will be there as a reserve, as a federal reserve. This is also for war times. But actually, people, locals would produced more resources [than planned] and then they were obliged to give a sheep. But they benefited from the products of that sheep, you know, the lamb, wool, milk, everything remained to them. Of course there were abuses. In Gjakova we found them keeping the goats in the fifth floor.

Marijana Toma: In the apartment?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes. The control would come, “Wait bre,[18] because I see some others registered.” It was an abuse. We tend to do all of that. Those were living resources, given to us. I remember, I remember, I don’t know if you remember the Fund for the Development of Kosovo.[19]

Marijana Toma: Yes. It was the Fund for Development or for Help, something like that.

Zoran Plećaš: For the development. Actually, at least one million dollars were given to that fund everyday.

Marijana Toma: How much?

Zoran Plećaš: A minimum of one million dollars.

Marijana Toma: Where was that money allocated?

Zoran Plećaš: I mean, the president of the Fund, here there were Serbs and Albanians, while the money was spent in Kosovo, this is real money, people, real money. Schools, streets and houses were built with them. In front of  the school, the principal had built five houses for himself and his children. Do you understand? Back then this was a stunning amount of money. And there was a time, my deceased father led the Tito’s Fund for students scholarships, the Tito’s Fund supported mostly the students.

There were Albanians and Serbs, there was the criteria according to which you could apply in order to compete. Now they call it an application, back then it was called a competition, where you could compete. You had to show your financial situation and have a good GPA in the faculty. And of course, apply in September, because back then there were not five [exam] terms. You had January, June and September, if you failed to reach the target in these three terms, then you would fail. There were not five terms, now there are fifteen terms. Because in fact, in June and September we had to…it was my first time to apply.

The first year, since there were no semesters nor anything. The first year in the economic, I am speaking about the Faculty of Economics, we had eight exams. This is how it was, gradually. You know, we had, now in the second year you have a chance to take an exam in January, but the first year was the most difficult. At the end of the day, here it was a matter of who was choosing what.

Marijana Toma: Yes, in fact here it was decided.

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, this was the determining moment. And this is how it was.

[1] Serb. Krajište, region.

[2] Word of Arabic origin that means neighborhood

[3] Mejhane: a small drinking place, where they usually sell alcoholic drinks. Typical of the Balkans.

[4] Jugoagent is the sea-river agency for products transportation, it was founded in Yugoslavia more than sixty years ago.

[5] Poshtë, down, is how Serbs referred to Kosovo since Belgrade, Serbia was considered the center of Yugoslavia.

[6] Trepča is a large industrial and mining complex in Mitrovica, one of the largest in former Yugoslavia. It was acquired by a British company in the 1930s and nationalized by socialist Yugoslavia after the war.

[7] Jugopetrol is an oil company founded in 1945 in Novi Sad as a state petrol entreprise. It was one of the most successful companies in former Yugoslavia.

[8] SPS, Socijalistička partija Srbije [The Socialist Party of Serbia] the ruling party in Serbia from 1990, led by Slobodan Milošević.

[9] Main street, reserved for pedestrians.

[10] Bajram is the Turkish word for festival. Albanians celebrate Ramadan Bajram, which is the same as Eid, and Kurban Bajram, which is the Day of Sacrifice, two months and ten days after Ramadan Bajram. On the day of Eid, there is no fasting.

[11] Aleksandar Ranković (1909-1983) was a Serb partisan hero who became Yugoslavia’s Minister of the Interior and head of the Military Intelligence after the war. He was a hardliner who established a regime of terror in Kosovo, which he considered a security threat to Yugoslavia, from 1945 until 1966, when he was ousted from the Communist Party and exiled to his private estate in Dubrovnik until his death in 1983.

[12] Gjakovar, refers to people coming from Gjakova but in this context it refers to the Albanians in the Communist party leadership after the Second World War, who in fact mostly came from Gjakova.

[13] SUP-Sekretariat Unutrašnjih Posla, Secretariat for Internal Affairs.

[14] The speaker is referring to the Plenum of Brion which took place in 1966, where Ranković was expelled from the Communist League of Yugoslavia.

[15] Reference to migration of Albanians from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to Turkey. This migration was either forced or strongly incentivized by oppressive state policies. In the 1930s, the Kingdom and Turkey signed agreements on the transfer of Albanians, for which Turkey would be paid.

[16] UÇK, Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës, Kosovo Liberation Army.

[17] Colloquial: used to emphasize the sentence, it expresses strong emotion. More adds emphasis, like bre, similar to the  English bro, brother.

[18] Colloquial: used to emphasize the sentence, it expresses strong emotion. More adds emphasis, like bre, similar to the  English bro, brother.

[19] FADURK (Federal Fund for the Accelerated Development of the Underdeveloped Republics and Kosovo), federal agency created in 1965  and intended to redistribute resources. It was financed by 1.85percent tax on the social product, to be paid by al federal units, including the underdeveloped ones, such as Kosovo, as well as Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia.

Part Two

Marijana Toma: So, you were working at that time? Your wife was also working for Jugopetrol?

Zoran Plećaš: She, eh, that is a good question. She finished the faculty, to be honest, in ‘81-‘82. But however, I don’t want to, I don’t exactly know, she is four years younger, in ‘83, ‘84. Now, since there was a policy  of the Communist League that all the people who had finished the faculty, [a policy] of the the employment bureau, according to the orders of the party, they decided to employ them in state companies.

Looks like God took care of that and she got employed in Jugopetrol immediately. We didn’t even know, but it happened. She didn’t have anyone in the organization who said, “Let’s send Sonja Pajić there.” I mean, she was employed by an official within the bureau of employment. We didn’t even know that there was an open call, so that at least we would look for connections within the bureau  to get her employed, but that happened over night and then these guys got the order from the director of the bureau, how many economists do you have, make a list who is going where. My wife took the job in Jugopetrol, a colleague of hers took a job in Eksimpros, it can be that there were tens of Serbs, you know, and ten Albanians. This wasn’t… pure destiny. Somebody took a job in Eksimpros, somebody else in the Executive Council, somebody else in the bank, it depends.

But at that moment there might have been fifty or more Albanians, many Serbs and Turks within the bureau , who were in charge of employing people, economists, lawyers. Because  those from the medical school  weren’t part of the bureau, but there was a deficit of them and right after finishing the faculty, they would remain within the faculty, respectively in the hospital since they were scholarship winners, mainly in the hospital and faculty. Pristina had its faculty at that time and it was developing and it needed staff, and those from my generation who tried a little, remained in the faculty and managed to become regular professors.

There are many of them who finished the Faculty of Medicine, but there are also many of them who continued studying [in their specialization] and became doctors, there are some of them who went into science and continued further studies, Master’s, Ph.D. and the other titles that follow, associate professors. No, assistant professor, then you become an associate professor, then regular professor and until the top. No, but what I want to say is that it existed and they finished [their work] when they turn 65, but they can stay until they turn 75, I don’t remember the name. But then they get tenure and become professors for life. OK, but why not if someone is a genius, why not, but abuses [with work position] happen like that, but alright.

So my generation, as far as that goes, ninety percent of those from  elementary school graduated in economy, law, medicine, engineering, architecture and so on. [The enrollment] was weak at the Faculty of Agriculture, to be honest. But there are professors of Serbian, French. The Faculty of Philosophy had the department of Serbian Language and Literature, as well as English and French, this I know for sure, Russian as well. It was within the Faculty of Philosophy back then, and then later [it changed] but this was the foundation. Pristina had faculties before ‘68. It started because until then there was the University of Belgrade, the [University of Pristina] was founded after that.

Marijana Toma: In fact… this looks like a stable and good life. Do you notice, in this period, the middle of the ‘80s, political troubles  in Kosovo take place again, was it like that?

Zoran Plećaš: You know what a torment it was for people who had to be employed proportionally to the number of inhabitants. For example, you had to employ ten Albanians and one Serb and this proportional to the number of inhabitants, I mean, or seven [Albanians]. When I was accepted in the Directorate for Surplus Products, since this was a small collective and they couldn’t accept ten, but I am the only Serb who was accepted, five Albanians were accepted. Fine, they weren’t all, you know, some of them were housekeepers, drivers, you know.

But the big firms such as Obiliq, I am talking about Obiliq, can I please reposition myself {addresses the interviewer}, since Obiliq was a giant [enterprise] with twenty thousand employees, you know how it is when you have to employ someone. Now here, you should employ one in ten. You accept one Serb and ten of them. This was only the beginning, everything else starts from ‘84. From this to Batusha (incomp.), then other villagers, eventually people had enough of all of this. Since Kosovar villagers are poor, they are poor, they have always lived in this environment, all these Serbian villages, still today…They lived surrounded by  Albanians even then. Back then it was that, they walked that street, they fought for their entire lives. At the end of the day, the Skanderbeg[1] divisions did cleansing, they committed crimes during the war. The Ballistët[2] from Drenica went to the Syrmian[3] front or wherever, I don’t know. They killed half of them and returned to that enterprise. This is it.

Marijana Toma: The period that begins from the ‘90s. This is a period, in fact, you are a generation of ’55, a period of your professional development, you were already mature at that time.

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, I was mature enough to work.

Marijana Toma: Powerful. How was it working for an…I mean, the sanctions were already put and everything that followed?

Zoran Plećaš: I told you that I worked for Jugoagent until ‘89, ‘90. I am telling you that until then, Jugoagent was a really powerful firm. I don’t know whether it still exists. This was in New Belgrade, in the municipality of New Belgrade, the big building. This was a big firm. But there was a lot of work, I noticed something and I opened my own firm, not that I am something, but I had my own ideas, because I worked for Jugoagent, I met people, this and that. Since I had the privilege of having a fax and a telephone while in Jugoagent, while the Serbian villages in the Pristina surroundings, around Novo Brdo , had no telephone, I know the director of Preko Centra  anyway. I know those who came to deliver any decision by fax, they used it, I mean, they helped. And those people still live in Novo Brdo, and the municipality of Novo Brdo exists. This came  late, but it exists. But I knew all those people and I eventually realized that there was nothing left from Jugoagent, I met some people involved in this business, I got contacts, I met this and that and I decided to open Akoma.

Marijana Toma: Your private firm?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, Akoma. But since I was pretty powerful financially, I was, I cannot say, among the first, maybe I was the first who had a D.O.O. And when I went to register it, the leader of the Higher Court told me, “Zoran, I don’t know what this D.O.O.[4] is, but I will sign it since I know your father and everyone, but I don’t know what the D.O.O. is, but you are the first.”

Marijana Toma: What did your firm deal with?

Zoran Plećaš: With trading. But what does the name Akoma mean? I didn’t tell you that I didn’t have enough capital so I collaborated with someone, this was Agrovojvoda from Vršac and Agrobanat from Plandište. I mean, the initials A in the beginning and in the end, and the K in the middle means Kosmet.[5]

Marijana Toma: Aha.

Zoran Plećaš: And this was one… while for šiptari[6] this means progress.

Marijana Toma: Forward?

Zoran Plećaš: Progress, progress. They asked me about how I came to that name, I told them that I didn’t think about it, but when they translated the meaning, they told me, “You are the only one to have thought of that.” I said, “Yes, yes, but I didn’t want to ruin it for you.” I also wasn’t crazy about  explaining what the core of it meant. This is it. I mean, I felt the need, I went to Boro and Ramiz, back then Gërmia, the biggest shopping mall started collapsing. This was a big space of 200-210 meters square, there was a kind of furniture there, and I took that.

With the help of people from Agrovojvodina who helped me adjust the refrigerating rooms with some small shelves… People from the shops in Vojvodina brought some shelves, when you don’t have your own, you take whatever people give you. And like this, we gradually started living.

I got, I was the first to get, I mean, it was the last refrigerating room that was arranged by Soko Most. Soko Most is a big factory of refrigerators. This is the last refrigerating  room that was built before the war. This was in ‘91, because the war in Bosnia followed after. In fact, I don’t want to say it, but they started working ten days before [the war in Bosnia], but those from Agrovojvodina and Agrobanat worked with them and asked them to fix it since I would pay them through products, you get it, I  would distribute their products and this was good for them, especially Agrobanat was interested. Agrobanat in Plandište was a producer of chicken, they had a big farm. They had chicken, wings, entire chickens and pieces if you needed. But they were interested, since the Muslim world that lives down [in Kosovo], ate that meat. This was my vision, and we continued.

And then, this was very interesting, the opening of something new. I called it a discount store. What is the Akoma discount now? Hush. It as to be something new. I had a vision in my head and then I just called it a discount store so it would sound as something cheaper. This was in ‘90, ‘91,  when Sloba[7] came to power, and after that, because I didn’t fit in. But careful, because the Šiptari left their jobs en masse as well, as we said earlier, what now?

Marijana Toma: Yes. Did you have [Albanian] employees?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, yes. Of course yes.

Marijana Toma: How many?

Zoran Plećaš: I mean, we were, I was a director and one of the owners, but a director. The secretary was Serbian, while on the other side there were Roma, Gypsies, one Serb and one Albanian, one Turk as well. All of them.

Marijana Toma: All of them.

Zoran Plećaš: All of them, but they were people from Pristina.

Marijana Toma: Whom you knew from before?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, look, I knew their parents. They were children, younger than I. But I, we worked, I took care of the sales. I was the first, this is what everybody tells me, since I had the refrigerating shelves,  I could divide them, one of them contained dry meat and so on, pork meat. The other one contained beef. I mean, sausage, ham and so on, cheese. Physically, I mean, they were physically divided. Because by respecting the other’s religion, I respect myself.

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: But, wait, what else did I introduce, not introduce, but Muslims have Ramadan that lasts thirty days and of course they take care of everything. People don’t eat during that time, for example if fasting happens to be during the summer, they don’t drink nor eat until dark. Eh, after thinking within myself, “Why do I not buy two-three other knives? If I cut the dry meat, why dirty their fasting while cutting the sausage or ham?” So, I separated them physically in order for the workers not to mix them, I moved the meat, I had two meat machines.

Marijana Toma: In order for the pork not to mix with the beef?

Zoran Plećaš: The beef?

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: There was no need for cutting the chicken. I would take frozen chicken so when you give them the wing, you give them the frozen wing. Because usually this, you know how, this was mostly bought by the poor. What did we sell mostly? Wings, they call them kaçika [in Albanian]. “Director, when will you take kaçika?” Trust me, I sold seven to eight tons of chicken wings. The price was very low there. I mean, now it is considered a delicatessen here, you can do a grill with it and so on, but there, they were poor. And ten kilogram packs were cheaper, while the families were big. In the time of Ramadan, they would put some of it in the soup, it can be boiled with rice, you know. And I took care especially of that.

Marijana Toma: This is really phenomenal.

Zoran Plećaš: I was told this even by Albanians, that I was the first who thought about that. I am saying, there wasn’t much to think about, if you don’t think, what do you think, what? You get the feeling. You should have the sensitivity to respect you, me, us, we should have this feeling, we should cultivate it. Let’s say, yes this is Gërmia (incomp.) for big houses, but don’t forget, this is however, a private company. You Albanians have massively opened [shops], but let’s get into your shops, there is no chance to find something like this there. “Save it,” I have always told them, “save your religion, save our religion, so that we can live, nothing else.” So this was something new that I brought and everybody noticed. They would come and congratulate me, but I felt the need, I had three children at home.

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: That is how you feel the need to take care of such things.

Marijana Toma: This is the time when your daughters went to school?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes. Milica who was born in ‘81, went to school in ‘88. Maša was born in ‘91, I mean she was the youngest, she was born in ‘91. Mirjana…I mean the school and my house, [were] I would not  say one hundred meters [apart] because that’s a lot. I believe that there was a distance of fifty meters.

Marijana Toma: And everything was fine…

Zoran Plećaš: They went to and from school, since there was no need to go further. The grandfather as a grandfather, he had no problems, because it wasn’t a problem for him to go since the road started from the school’s yard, but the houses here were one after another. They weren’t one upon the other, but with a wall between them, with five-six ares for each house. In fact, from the entrance of the school to our house, I am telling you the names names, the house of Basri, of Naim on the right side. On the left, the house of Radojko, Maliqi and Krasniqi and then my house in the same street. There were five houses in this street.

Marijana Toma: Yes, you knew all the neighbors there.

Zoran Plećaš: All the children knew one another here. There was no need for the father or grandfather, nor anyone. Not only around my house, but all around the neighborhood of Aktash, because I lived in Aktash, everybody knew each other here. There was respect. You know what, this is very important that all the children would greet their elders, they would greet each other. I mean, greeting, when little children say, “Good day,” you will ask whose children they are, no matter if you want to or not.

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: Because when somebody greets you and says something, I don’t know… That’s what I think even today. Back then was back then, you understand. Milica finished the elementary school there and then went to the gymnasium.[8]

Marijana Toma: What about Maša?

Zoran Plećaš: At that time, Maša was… Maša started the elementary school in ‘99, she was the generation of ‘91.

Marijana Toma: What was the name of your second daughter?

Zoran Plećaš: Mirjana.

Marijana Toma: Ah, Mirjana.

Zoran Plećaš: Mirjana is the generation of ‘83, and then she enrolled in the gymnasium. Milica finished the third year and Mirjana enrolled, I mean, I am talking about ‘99, Maša started the elementary school.

Marijana Toma: Just when the war began.

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, yes.

Marijana Toma: I think…

Zoran Plećaš: Alright, ‘88, since the difference of Milica… Mirjana in the ‘90s, I mean, Milica…eh, I just got reminded. In ‘88, Milica enrolled in Vladimir Nazor elementary school, this is how it was called back then.

Marijana Toma: The same school that you went to?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes. She enrolled in the Vladimir Nazor elementary school and we noticed that something wasn’t alright with her eye. And you know, we had an expert, a professor, a well known doctor, Kujundžić. This is a kind of problem, this and that. She had to keep a…  he put something, it is not a patch, but something for the eye… She didn’t have surface strabismus, but a deep one. I was working for Jugoagent so I sent the issue to higher levels, my people from Jugoagent were going to Trieste at the same time, so they bought it there because there wasn’t something like that here. I remember that it cost around one hundred and something, it was like this and we ordered it right away according to the prescription of doctor Kujundžić, we went to the eye clinic and the woman who had checked her, she got Sonja concerned, “It is difficult for this child to…”

In fact, she got her scared that she…And then Milica finished first grade and went immediately…She came here, because my mother and my stepfather were living here, I also have two sisters from my mother. My mother sent her [Milica] to the eye clinic twice a day, for exercises with the prism, twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and like this, slowly…My Milica, you understand, later she started wearing  glasses and now she finished the university and everything. Thank God, three of my daughters have finished the university. So, with the insistence of my mother and Milica, she stayed here for half a year. What I wanted to say, an Albanian was the director at that time.

Marijana Toma: Of the school?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, yes. He was a deputy director. Well, I went there no matter what, I said, you know what, since they all knew me and I told him this, this and that.” Milica can’t enroll, I mean, she can’t find a cure in Pistina, she has to go up in Belgrade, don’t let her lose one year or no matter how long it lasts, half a year…” He said, “Zoran, let her take the books with her and study with her grandmother.” And that’s how it happened. Milica went, she was cured, but slowly, and this lasted for half a year, the whole second semester, but she studied with her paternal aunts since they were in high school and then she passed the exams and didn’t lose one year.

But this was normal, to let them know and finish it like that, what now. A good human from Pristina, from a village from the surroundings of Pristina, but he grew up here in the neighborhood, he grew up in our neighborhood. Nobody is crazy to, God forbid it, have to say it to one’s child, but thank God everything went gradually and well.

Marijana Toma: Tell me, since this all happened in a short time, these are the ‘90s, now the preparations for the war begin. What do you remember from this time? Did you have the feeling that something would happen, did you feel that something was happening near you?

Zoran Plećaš: Let me tell you, it was ‘89, the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo and Slobodan came, and there was an unforeseen  mass of people. I don’t know, maybe one million people came to Kosovo. This was something, something here in my head, I went there to look at them, I didn’t understand it. Maybe I don’t have…Maybe one must be prepared to understand something, I guess I wasn’t made to understand these things, this politics. I was never interested in politics, I had my own logic. Look, my great-grandfather and my grandfather were, how to say, in the end of the day, they were rich, they had, they earned, they had land, cattle, mountains and everything. I have the land titles of my grandfather, maybe I have it at home, when he bought a land, it is signed by the priest and the hoxha[9] and everyone, this is in 1800 and something. My maternal grandfather, in fact, inherited it from my great-grandfather.

I am talking about the village of Enca, but then the partisans came and took the whole village and put the šiptari from Albania here, while our land title is in Turkish. We have the Turkish land title that shows that the land is ours. This was taken from us, I don’t know when it will happen, what is it called, the restitution in Kosovo, and let’s see. My deceased paternal uncle gave the land up, since he lived in Ljubljana, he kept it, my older brother, it belongs to him. Eh, when the restitution in Kosovo happens and if it happens, I don’t know what will remain to them, half of the inhabitants there are still Serbs. Especially as far as churches go, there are orthodox churches all around Metohija.

[1] Military unit of Albanian recruits who fought alongside Nazi Germany.

[2] Members or supporters of Balli Kombëtar (National Front) which was an Albanian nationalist, anti-communist  organization established in November 1942, an insurgency that fought against Nazi Germany and Yugoslav partisans. It was headed by Midhat Frashëri, and supported the unification of Albanian inhabited lands.

[3] The Syrmian (Srem)  front was created by retreating German troops in the North West of Yugoslavia.  At the end of October 1944. It was broken in April 1945.

[4] Serb. društvo sa ograničenom odgovornošću, the abbreviation d.o.o. denotes Private Limited Liability Company in Serbia.

[5] Kosmet is a compound word for Kosovo i Metohija, which is the Serbian name for Kosovo.

[6] Šiptar/i Serbian for Albanian/s. This is a derogatory term for Albanians from Kosovo, to distinguish them from Albanians from proper Albania, Albanac/Albanci.

[7] Slobodan Milošević.

[8] A European type of secondary school with emphasis on academic learning, different from vocational schools because it prepares students for university.

[9] Local Muslim clergy, mullah, muezzin.

Part Three

Marijana Toma: Let’s return to that, to the news, to how it begins…which year is it?

Zoran Plećaš: You know about the ‘90s, ‘91, you know, the beginning of demonstrations, those, those…

Marijana Toma: How was it living in such a city?

Zoran Plećaš: What to say, one gets used to everything. As they say, there was the… bloody Wednesday then bloody Friday. One gets bored at some point, each day more bloody than the other. So, “Let’s get it more bloody.” But this is the worst, getting used to the worse. This is what people thought, but you are getting used to the worse, that is how you live, work, children go to school, you don’t think about selling anything.

Marijana Toma: You never thought about this period?

Zoran Plećaš: No, no, never. Look, I lived in a family community where my father was the owner of that house, he bought two apartments and one shop. To be honest, for the money I invested, of course in the city center you will…look, Sonja convinced me, because otherwise I said that I would never leave Pristina. And I really wouldn’t leave Pristina.

After the high school, Milica always said that she wanted to enroll in the Faculty of Pharmacy. I went through the numbers, I would give the two apartments for rent and after that we would pay the rent here, if need be. I didn’t want my children to… if I could sell the apartment and buy another one here, because the Faculty of Pharmacy was just where it is today, up there in…

Marijana Toma: Kumodraža.

Zoran Plećaš: Kumodraža. But I never spoke about it. I worked during the ‘90s, I also worked before that, but in the ‘90s I opened Akoma, I worked and moved in Serbia and Kosovo. I worked. Yes, there were bloody Tuesdays, Fridays and Wednesdays and together they au, au {onomatopoeic}. On one side the police, this was organized, this was all organized, you understand. They gather and pass, this, that, if they [police] don’t touch them, they come back. So, ‘92 and ‘93 come, then a small break. Then again, in ‘94 they throw teargas and you escape the teargas.

My šiptari friend and I escape, Serbs and šiptari as well, wanted to kill us. The šiptari wanted to kill us for escaping, and then the Serbian police, but it is what it is. They [Albanians] are a normal nation, I received the products from Serbia. They didn’t pay the taxes then and still don’t pay  taxes, I don’t know who made this possible for them. I mean, the back then ruling power, that’s where it all came from. If you count on someone but you don’t give, you only take, if you don’t give to the Serbian state, but on the other side you have to give to the šiptari, your lose your head.

Marijana Toma: What do you remember about the time the rumors leading to the bombing start? When did you notice that?

Zoran Plećaš: To be honest, there were no rumors in Pristina. All I heard, I heard from the media. There were some, I mean, some murders. They had killed several people, you understand, I don’t know the motives behind them, but some people were killed in the center. Orlović was killed, but no, was it national motive or just a random one? I look back then, it was also because of drugs. That is why, can you say that he was killed by the Serbian police or I don’t know whom? I don’t know, I really don’t know. I still go to Pristina, normally, but they don’t know what he was killed for.

We can all say that Serbs committed crimes, we can say that the šiptari committed crimes as well. That is not right, everything should be proven. I mean, to be honest, there is no need to talk and argue about these. But this wasn’t felt in Pristina. It was felt at  the exit [of town], when you head to Belgrade and pass Llap, to be honest there were rumors that on the bus Tourist Kosovo they killed the driver. But you still had to pass there, it is thirty-forty kilometers from Pristina, they dug trenches, and you just pray God for them not to shoot you.

Many policemen were killed back then, in that street, not to talk about Metohija[1] down there, but this is it. Only a few of them were killed in Pristina, there were demonstrations, then he started coming, the one who was before Walker,[2] do you remember this, what was his name, he was from Venice, something, they were meeting to talk about schools,[3]  but let’s not talk about this.

Marijana Toma: The Commission.

Zoran Plećaš: The Commission, Marković was our [representative]. He was here for  Kosovo, and they came here ten or twelve times, they wouldn’t come, there were mediators, I don’t know if it was the Catholic order. I believe that it was a Catholic order. They even talked about dividing buildings such as…

Marijana Toma: Aha, schools.

Zoran Plećaš: Schools, faculties and such. From Venice, I don’t know, I am not sure. Then it came down to divisions, of course Serbs didn’t agree. But it moved towards that direction. However, when Walker came, everything changed, our army went there, this and that. And this is where I really felt the war, not in Pristina but in the surroundings. Obilić, the kidnapping of workers in Obilić, on the road Pristina-Peja-Pristina. Look, you could go to Lipjan, Pristina-Lipjan, because all the Serbian villages were on that road, but from Lipjan to Prizren, oh my God, so many Serbs were kidnapped.

Mainly in that part, you weren’t allowed to go to Sharr and Dulaj without stopping in Suhareka first and then in Prizren. Many Serbs were kidnapped and went missing and it is still not known where they are. And Pristina, it is as if Pristina wasn’t… somebody would throw bombs but this was nothing. But there were…it is not that you couldn’t go to Pristina, it is not that you couldn’t go out, life was normal. It wasn’t until two-three in the morning, but there was normal life until one in the morning. People lived normally until one in the morning, for sure, but I am speaking about Serbs and Albanians. I am talking about prištevci,[4] about people who lived, went out to coffee shops. There were Serbian and šiptarska coffee shops in which people would hang out until one in the morning, that’s until when they were allowed to stay out. Whether it was Serbs’ or šiptarska…There was no curfew.

So what? There was a Serbian coffee shop called Crkvena Mala [Small Church], a Serb would kill another Serb there. They were drunk, so what? This is how it was back then. But, I mean, there were such cases, there was everything but people didn’t talk about it. They [the KLA] weren’t in Pristina, the police and the army here, the army headquarters, but there weren’t, do you understand, ours still held a kind of position. In the end of the day, it is a capital, isn’t it?

Marijan Toma: When did you come [to Belgrade]? I suppose after the bombing, were you there during the bombing, how did it look?

Zoran Plećaš: I worked. To be honest, you know what, I worked. Akoma worked, because my shop was at the Boro and Ramiz shopping center. The whole Boro and Ramiz was closed except…I said that I would continue working while they wanted to close exactly Boro and Ramiz, the put some tapes and close the part where my shop was. And, since I had a special entrance on the right side, from Jedinstvo-Rilindja,[5] I received products everyday from Užica and Čačka, I took milk, dry meat, eggs, there was shortage of everything. Everything was lacking. I would take the products and sell them, there was no working shift here, my wife and I mostly worked. I would open the shop at around nine, ten in the morning and then work until two-three and then you close it because  darkness comes and there is no electricity anywhere in Kosovo, simply there is no electricity. There were some poor soldiers in service for some time, this and that, then they came to Boro and Ramiz, “Can we use the phone and let our families know?” Thank God I had two-three phone lines, “I want to let my father and my mother know.” “Yes, of course, thank God.” They weren’t here for a long time, but those seven-eight days, a new lost army, this is it. I don’t know, but this is how it was, I mean…

Of course there are airplanes and rockets flying, everything is real, so what that Boro and Ramiz was bombed, when I came in the morning, it was not even one hundred meters from my shop…but such is fate, you know, my shop was on this side, if it was on the other, everything would be destroyed. Not even a window of my shop was broken. Detonations had hit the first part of Boro and Ramiz, since   SUP was there and that is a big building of the Communist League of the city of Pristina and the first hit was there, they were more focused there. There were no windows or doors nor anything, everything was broken. There were two rockets in the same building, while the other one was broken in the middle. The detonations broke all the windows of Boro Ramiz and around. Nobody is…my family was living in Belgrade, in Barajeva, I sent my children there.

Marijana Toma: In the beginning, right?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, yes. I sent them there. The truck of Sevojno milk came from Užica  and I asked the driver Radovan to take three of my daughters in the truck, and he said, “I don’t stop anywhere in Kosovo. These children, if something gets on my way, I will crush everything.” And so…I had a mobile phone which I gave to my daughter Milica and she told me, “Father, we crossed.” Alright, she found the signal somewhere near Raške and she said, “Father, are you relieved now?” And thank God he had sent them to Čačka and Radovan left them there, they stayed there for three-four days, then they started bombing Čačka as well. Then Vera and Kico, with whom I was working, they had their products, cakes and sweets, Slatka Tajna [Sweet Secret] was its name, and they accepted and then we organized and they came to Belgrade, to my family in Barajevo, in Buncati, to the house of my in-laws, and they stayed there during the war. They went there from the beginning of the war and never…

Marijana Toma: And they never went to [Kosovo]?

Zoran Plećaš: No, no, none of them. Maša, the little one wants to go, while the other two, I can see that something…maybe it is because they have children and everything is different.

Marijana Toma: When did you leave Pristina?

Zoran Plećaš: But I came, I remained, I worked after the bombing stopped. I stayed here working until September. I worked somewhere…

Marijana Toma: Also at  the time when the kidnappings and everything else happened?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, yes, I worked. And you know how? Rade came, you know, we had products. And a šiptari who worked with me, I told him, “Let’s work together, because I can’t work alone.” And I proposed him to sell this, to see whether we can sell the products down here. Then I made an agreement with the Paçarrizis and they would bring me products two-three times a week. Those from Novi Pazar had withdrew their products from Sevojno, but there were trucks from Novi Pazar, milk, yoghurt, and like this, we would take from Čačka, a little from Sevojno, but three times a week.

Then I worked with the šiptari for around one month or two, and one day he came and said, “I will return, you should lock yourself.” I was thinking, what does he mean by lock yourself. I locked myself, I remained alone in the office, this and that, I locked the door, something was happening. Because he came and said, “Here’s the cash key,” because he kept the key, “Here’s the key, lock yourself and don’t move from here.” He didn’t tell me what was happening, and UÇK [KLA] took him and sent him to the headquarter there. “What are you doing there?” He said, “He helped me,” I heard him, “I work.” “You cannot work.” In fact, they told him that he cannot work with me, they didn’t allow us to work together anymore, and they simply didn’t. Mine was the only Serbian shop working, I did it for the people, for the Serbs who remained there to live.

For example, I  agreed with them to keep the shop open for three hours, so that when the milk arrived, this and that, they would come quickly to buy it and leave. KFOR would patrol around Boro and Ramiz and that is why they felt more comfortable to buy here because I was there and the šiptari, this and that. Even though they called him, he came and told me, “Here is the key and don’t…because they are getting ready to kidnap you.” “Come on!” I said, “Don’t…” He said, “They are getting ready.” “How, what bre?” He said, “They told me that you have to go, you cannot…” he said, “All Serbs are  gone, they have closed their shops, and he wants to show off as the smartest, he is keeping the shop.” He said, “They are all gone, and he is showing off as the smartest.”

What to do, there was Vesna Pupovac here, she had, how is it called, the restaurant Slon [Luani] and I, they were breaking things here as well but she and I got  along. “What should we do?” I said, “Veki, what are we going to do?” He went and left us two here. Since Vesna ame and in the meantime we saw something, we saw people around. If we get out of here, we are easily targeted and they can kidnap, and what do we do, Vesna said, “Something is stinking here.” She said, “Nothing, sit here.” There was an Albanian translator working for KFOR, she also was in Boro and Ramiz and she had her number and knew where she was working… she turned to me and said, “Lule, please come to us quickly,” she said, “Something is moving here.” “Don’t go out, don’t open the door until I come, I will come with one, three-four patrols.” And she really came in five, six minutes and then she asked us what was happening. And I told her that Vesna and I weren’t feeling good, we didn’t owe anything to anyone and we weren’t bad people.

At that moment, a commander came and said, “See, he can speak English, speak directly to the one from KFOR.” And he said, “He has arms, hold him.” I understood something, and I said, “What arm?” I had a mobile phone and my wallet and I said, “No, bre, this is a mobile phone.” The one from KFOR understood what I said and said, “Please let him go. There is nothing you can do in this territory.” The translator, the Albanian translator, “KFOR is responsible for him. They have to control everything. If you have any doubts, you should escape the building, if you have any doubts, KFOR will control. If he has arms, he will go with KFOR.”

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: And she really came to me and said, “Let’s check.” I opened my closets and I really didn’t carry guns. They checked everything and told them to leave, KFOR and so on. And now Vesna, this lasted for two-three hours, I told those from KFOR, since my car was parked there, “Let one or two soldiers come with you to the car, we will go and you will come with us, or we will allegedly send you to our place because they must be tailing you.” And that’s how it was. They go to Aktash, in a building, they had something of their own there and they went inside. We parked there and went to Vesna’s place, with Lule, you know, she organized everything. I am very thankful to her. That was the time when I was at Boro and Ramiz, and I didn’t dare return there anymore.

Marijana Toma: And you left Kosovo in September?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, then I… No, I stayed, this was in August, I stayed there with my father who had decided to stay and live there. He stayed there to live and work, what to do. What was I supposed to do, abandon my father? At that time, my father was seventy, almost eighty years. Where was I supposed to leave him, he was alone, he was wearing a  hearing aid.

Marijana Toma: Until when did you stay with him?

Zoran Plećaš: I stayed there with him until September.

Marijana Toma: He stayed there while you came to Belgrade?

Zoran Plećaš: He begged me, since the house had been attacked three times, bombs throwing and so on. And he explained it to me, “Come on, you have children, what am I supposed to do? I won’t move.” He said, “But you have small children, you have to live.” And of course, I had lost more than twenty days, I didn’t go out of my house, that was a house arrest, really, I lost 17 kilograms. I had telephone network, I had everything, but that is not enough, I was very concerned. Then I slowly, at some point I decided I had to go, I slowly started collecting my clothes, yes, and photographs were the first I collected.

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: Children’s photographs, if they want to kill and burn, at least I will save them. So slowly, twenty days passed and I let them know, then I waited in line. My brother who was living in Kuršumlija came with a truck with a man and I put my stuff there. I didn’t want to take everything since I took into account the fact that my father would stay, maybe we would  rent it so that our father would be with someone, you know, maybe to some UN police. And this was it. After waiting, this was a five-six days waiting, you had to wait for KFOR to come and you would have two hours to collect your stuff, whatever you could, if you couldn’t put everything, what could you do? The worst is that you leave your 76, eighty year old father and take your stuff, this was to me like something…

I mean the goodbyes, how it is… The Pristina region for example, from Bregu i Diellit [Sunny Hill], Dardania, the city center, Aktaš, Tasljidže, a patrol would escort those people on trucks, mini vans and cars and there is a group of five-six trucks or four-five cars with the escort and then whatever God decides… You have to pass through Podujevo again, but fine. But a man was killed there, a woman was shot, no matter that she was under the escort of KFOR, she was killed, they didn’t want to sit in the cabin, they sat on the back with the other stuff and they were shot. My wife had crossed the border before that, she had crossed the border two months before that, but do you know how she did that. I counted it, “Come on, Sonja, you should go,” three children, however, when our neighbor saw us packing, “How come bre, you are leaving.”

Marijana Toma: A Serb or an Albanian?

Zoran Plećaš: Šiptar, some Ismet Ramadani, “You are with us.” I just got reminded, during the war, Ismet, since we went to school together, we were neighbors as well as classmates, he brought his mother, two of his sisters and his wife with four children to sleep at our place. I said, “Ismet, if something happens, you just shout and we will hear you.” We left like this {shows with hands} from the building, you understand. “But you just shout.” He said, “There is no reason for me to shout.” In any case, we had an apartment and a house, but, “You come downstairs, we can stay upstairs, but let’s all go downstairs, the bombings and so on, so let’s all go in the basement.” They stayed on one side of the basement and we stayed on  the other, we all went to the basement.

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: For us, it is the same thing, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Serb or an Albanian, the bomb doesn’t discriminate. So he came, Sonja came as well.  He said, “You cannot go anywhere, you saved my wife.” We saw that everything went to hell. I said, “Sonja, go slowly.” I found some of my friends and called them since my paternal uncle wanted to go as well as my brother-in-law, my paternal uncle, his wife and the Šiptari was in the front, Sonja went inside the car and whatever God has decided. I told her to let me know when she goes to Kuršumlija, thank God, my wife collected the things she could, she went inside the Jugo and I think God saved her. And like this, she made it to Kuršumlija, then slowly…

Marijana Toma: Now you are living in Belgrade?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes.

Marijana Toma: Do you still have your private business ?

Zoran Plećaš: Yes, a small kiosk. I work alone, literally alone, I open it on my own and close it on my own. I live, thank God all my children finished their schools, I have four grandchildren, they finished the school and are working. I mean, the oldest finished Pharmacy, the other one Economics and the little one, Maša finished Technology of Information, or how is it called now, she earns the most because [her skills] are very sought after nowadays.

Marijana Toma: Yes.

Zoran Plećaš: It’s fine generally, you are happy, you work. I have been working in private business since the ‘90s, I don’t know how to work differently. I don’t know how I would manage, would something be able to hold me, would I be able to work under someone else’s orders, this and that. I have been working in private business for a long time now, officially since the ‘90s, but even as a child, I would go out and sell things. I always had this spirit, because my great-grandfather and my father were traded livestock. He went to America and filled the ship with animals and like that went to Lika, since they were…He had a child and returned to America again. So he went there nine times and had a child and returned from America and so on. And during the war, he was the first one…Look, he was mobilized by the Austro-Hungarian army and went to fight against Russia. But what? He threw salt on his eyes, and so he surrendered the Russians and went to  the side of the Serbian army, so this is how he won…So this…

Marijana Toma: You told me, before starting to talk, that you have got the permission to return to Pristina?

Zoran Plećaš: That’s what they told me, I applied to return, these last 15 years I applied. I mean, I apply to return to Pristina.

Marijana Toma: What happened to your property?

Zoran Plećaš: Wait, so, about the property, my father sold the house, this and that, to educate the children, to have the weddings, I organized the weddings of my daughters and so on. It wasn’t a big amount of money, I worked non-stop. The apartment is left to me and the shop in Pristina. 15 years later, last year, my order came to the court, the judge asked me why I came after 15 years, and I found this by accident, I found the Albanian lawyer, who looked at my papers, I have the contract that shows that I have bought it, I have the money, I have the original papers that show that I paid for it. I had three-four court sessions, if God wants for me to take it back, because it is mine, nobody else’s, I didn’t   steal it. Everything is at the court. And as for the application that I started to tell you about, I have been asking to return to Pristina these 15 years. I went there in the beginning, I went to  the meetings of the Danish Council, down [in Kosovo] in conversations. Serbs will never be able to return. Roma and Askali returned.

Marijana Toma: Yes?

Zoran Plećaš: Muslims as well, but Serbs never returned to Pristina, because of the allegedly lack of safety. Maybe the time is for Serbs to return, last time when I went, I met a person and he told me, “Zoran, have you applied?” (incomp.) “It’s been 15 years,” he said. I didn’t have much time to talk to him about what is being done and so on. Because I didn’t ask for Sunny Hill in Zvečan, I only asked to return to Pristina.

Marijana Toma: Yes, your city.

Zoran Plećaš: Yes. I know that there aren’t many Serbs there, but there are. Around four thousands of them work in Pristina everyday, in Kosovo institutions, in international organizations through UNMIK, KFOR and though humanitarian organizations. People work through EULEX and get along with each other. On the other hand, there are many of them who live there, people don’t want to travel from Čaglavica, Gračanica. They live there. From there they can go to work on foot, Pristina is not something… It has expanded only in buildings, buildings, buildings.

They say, and these are their words, that the daily commute  in the morning reaches one million, five hundred thousands, six hundred thousands. But these are unpredictable car queues at 5pm when they leave, people go to Peja…It is another discussion that these roads are not highways, you will arrive in  Prizren for fifteen, 40 minutes. There is a highway to the border with Albania as well. This last time I was there I noticed that they started working in Rudar, in Merdare, they are working on the street, they are expanding it. It is what it is.

Because they have, the highway has come to the village where my great-grandfather had taken… Devet Jugović, it is not called Devet Jugović now, it is called Bardhosh. But that is not only one lane, there are three lanes, four other… If you see the highway that goes from Pristina to Čaglavica and Skopje, it has reached Lipjan. Thanks God they have something at least, some roundabouts. This had six lanes in one direction, in Čaglavica.

In fact people with  houses there, they can’t cross the street because there are four-five lanes, but thank God they have some roundabouts, otherwise it would be abnormal, that road. Look how Čaglavica is, alright, there are no Serbs there anymore, but the highway goes just by their properties, this is illogical. Before, they had built the local street, that street doesn’t exist anymore, only the highway, and people can’t, in fact, you can’t cross there if you don’t have a car. If you have a car, you have to go through Lapo Selo and you have to get in the roundabout and return to Pristina, but it is what it is.

Marijana Toma: Would you return there to live?

Zoran Plećaš: Well, yes, I already said that. There are things, there are things that are left there and that I still think about, there is the shop. I am not saying that I would live there for ten, twenty, thirty, fifty years. I wouldn’t give someone something that doesn’t belong to them, and thank God, I have people to leave things to here. Just like my father sacrificed himself, I lived in that house for one year and a half in order to make some money and be able to buy the house as well as the apartments and educate children and so on… He helped, it is not that he did everything, my brother and I did as well… He didn’t give me everything, he gave to the others as well. This is what I tell everyone, and I tell them that something there… You live as you live, you have a job, here you are closer to the events, something connects you here, the church where you were baptized, where your children were baptized, where you got married, then our Serbian cemetery…

Marijana Toma: Nothing, I would stop here if you have something to add, I would like to thank you for your time and everything.

Zoran Plećaš: Well, I don’t know if I have something to add, this is the truth, this is the truth for sure, I have no reason to lie. Maybe I forgot to tell you something, but this is the core. Of course, I have bought a part of the house in this street and I live here, my children were educated here and my grandchildren were born here. These are the people that have accepted me. People say, “You know people from the whole village.” I say, “You would too, if you spent the whole day sitting in the street.”

I swear to God that I know to greet everyone, “Hi, how are you?” Each one of them. A small child {shows with hands}, greets me, “Grandfather!” There are old people whom I talk to, I want to talk to everyone, to have a conversation. There is no humanity if we don’t talk to each other. As I said in the beginning, people pass by this street and greet me. We have to cultivate this, to greet each other, to respect the elders, respect, communication relations, not spending the whole day like this…. This is it.

Marijana Toma: Thank you very much!

Zoran Plećaš: Nothing, this is it. Thank you!

[1] Western part of Kosovo, which Albanians call Dukagjin.

[2] William Walker (1935 -) US veteran diplomat who served as Ambassador to El Salvador between 1988 and 1992, and in 1999 became the head of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission.

[3] Negotiation to return Albanians to school mediated by the Catholic Comunita’ di Sant’Egidio, based in Rome, which reached an accord in 1998, though the accord was never implemented.

[4] Prištevci, refers to people coming from Pristina.

[5] Rilindja [Awakening] was the newspaper in Albanian language, Jedinstvo  [Unity] was the Serbian language publication .

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