A jubilant Prizren gets back on its feet

Recovery: A city's shops reopen on market day and Kosovars, weary of war, are in a mood to celebrate.

Peace In Yugoslavia

June 17, 1999|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PRIZREN, Yugoslavia -- The lifeblood of this city began flowing again yesterday.

Eleven-year-old Isaj Kryeziu sold door locks at the outdoor Qulhan market, to people whose front doors had been smashed in.

Hajri Hamza, teetering on a ladder, scraped the Serbian lettering off the front of his dress shop, so that only the Albanian remained.

And Shenol Tabak, on his first day back in business as a barber in three months, snipped away at Afrim Gashi's straggly curls.

"This morning," he said, "I've seen too many bad haircuts that people tried to give themselves during the war."

Carousers have filled the city's streets the past two nights, refugees are returning from Albania by the thousands, Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers toting automatic weapons share the streets with German armored vehicles, and Serbs are fleeing.

Prizren, once a city of 120,000, with a historic core of old buildings and winding streets, is putting itself back on its feet in a hurry. The center suffered little damage from Serb marauders and, because yesterday was market day, shops all over the city were reopening.

Most were selling what they had left over from three months ago. But fresh supplies are starting to come in from nearby Albania -- peaches, tomatoes and cigarettes prominent among them.

Bylent Shundo, venturing out Tuesday for the first time, found his shoe store much as he had left it. It seemed like a good idea to reopen, though he didn't really expect people to start thinking about new shoes for a few days. Mostly, he said, they are just happy to emerge after three months as prisoners in their own homes and see who is still alive and who is still in town.

He saw his last Serbian soldier Monday.

"All I thought was, `Just leave,' " he said.

At the Qulhan market, whisk brooms were selling briskly for about $2.20 each. Fadil Morina bought one, hoping he could clean up his burned-out house -- "ashes and garbage everywhere" -- and then think about rebuilding it.

Washtubs, sickle blades, horseshoes and flower pots were on sale alongside bras, jeans, light bulbs and cosmetics.

`In a superior mood'

At the city's vegetable market, many of the stalls were empty because many of the surrounding villages have been depopulated and burned. But farmers from two villages untouched by the war were selling as much cabbage, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and cheese as they could.

"I'm in a superior mood," said Muhamet Guncati, who left his home yesterday for the first time since the NATO bombing began. "We can go everywhere now. You know, I really missed cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplant."

For three months, he said, he and his family subsisted on a diet of frozen meat, bread and mayonnaise.

But tomatoes, at about a dollar a pound, were too expensive for him yesterday, and, sadly, he had to pass them up.

Mark Gojani, who once worked as a translator for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- former observers in Kosovo -- enjoyed his first cup of coffee at the Theander Hotel cafe in 10 years. It was in 1989 that Kosovar Albanians were barred from using the hotel by the Serbian authorities.

During the war, Gojani left his home only once a week, to attend Sunday services at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Prizren. He would explain where he was going to Yugoslav army reservists in sand-bagged dugouts near the church gate and they always let him pass. Three percent of Prizren's ethnic Albanians are Catholic.

A time of euphoria

In the evening, euphoria sweeps the city as thousands clog the streets just to enjoy being outdoors and among fellow Kosovar Albanians again, and to revel in the thought that the hated Serb police are gone from their lives. This is the time when the serious problems facing Prizren can at least temporarily be put out of mind.

But that doesn't make them go away. At the city hospital, for instance, most of the Serb doctors left Saturday, taking 10 ambulances with them, said Dr. Alush Jusufi, who became chief of surgery three days ago.

On Tuesday, the hospital admitted 20 wounded KLA soldiers. No one's quite sure how many patients there are altogether, everything is in short supply, and an appeal has gone out to Albanian doctors to come there to work.

Food is an even more pressing problem. The market in Prizren was well-stocked, but many people here have no money and in the villages there's almost nothing available. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is bringing in 100 tons of food a day, and Catholic Relief Services also began distribution here yesterday.

Both organizations saw crowds of people nearly out of control trying to get the aid boxes. A glass door was broken by the crowd at a school where the UNHCR was distributing aid.

"We're going to go right out to the villages, where the need is greater," said David Holdridge, regional director for Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services. "This place is too difficult for us to do distributions and maintain crowd control."

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