Washington Post - 'Up against the wall'

For Generations, Serbs And Albanians Coexisted In Kosovo. Then Came The Killing. And Now Former Neighbors Must Face Not Only Their Separate Scars And Memories, But Also Their Hatred.

By David Finkel

Sunday, December 12, 1999

The image is of her cheek.

Her left cheek. Its very center. That's all she can see. The sound of the gunshot has come and gone. So has the sound of her father falling, and another gunshot, and her grandfather falling, and another gunshot, and her brother falling, and another gunshot, and her mother falling, and another gunshot, this one at her. And yet, look. No bullet. No hole. No blood. Her cheek is still soft, still unexploded, still smooth, and it's all so real that a few minutes later, when she awakens, the first thing she does is run her fingers along her skin to see if the dream of a 14-year-old could be true.

Her name is Vlora Shabani. She lives in the ruins of Kosovo and sleeps on a sofa stained with her own blood. Beyond the sofa is a small window covered by a wrinkled curtain, and that's where she heads now as another day begins. Because maybe, she thinks, the dream was true.

Maybe it's her fingers that are lying.

She pulls back the curtain. The light is gray. The view is of nothing less than the end of a war. There is the house next door, where 13 people died, which was destroyed first by gunshots, then by fire, then by bulldozer -- her house. Beyond it are the remains of an Albanian village called Vlastica, and beyond Vlastica is another village, this one Serbian, called Pasjane.

Pasjane and Vlastica.

Vlastica and Pasjane.

In the relationship between the two is the story of Kosovo itself, but rather than looking outside this morning for truth, Vlora instead reaches for something she has hidden behind the curtain's right edge.

It is a mirror, too small for her to see everything at once, so she starts by looking at her forehead and working her way down.

At her eyebrows.

The one on the left is higher, she decides. The one on the right is prettier.

At her eyes.

They are the brown of her mother's, the shape of her mother's.

At her right profile.

Which is as lovely as it was six months before, on April 29, when she was still an innocent 13.

And then her left profile.

April 30. Father dead. Grandfather dead. Brother dying. Mother dead. Her turn. It's all in the reflection in the mirror.

"I hate it," she says of the scar.

It is hardened now, part of her, defining, deforming, and probably permanent.

Not the scar, the hate.

She hates her reflection. She hates what happened to cause it. She hates the Serbs who did it, who ruined her life, who burned the houses, who burned the school, who burned the mosque, who sent an entire village of 2,000 people fleeing into the surrounding hills, who then came into the hills and attacked them, who later lined up 19 people in her house and fired bullets at them as they sat and watched and waited, who made her father plead, who made her mother scream, who shot her 2 1/2-year-old brother as she listened to him cry, and what could she do? What could she do?

So of course she hates.

As do the other survivors in Vlastica, who say that among the Serbian paramilitaries who ravaged their village were some of their neighbors from Pasjane.

As do the Serbs of Pasjane, who say they did nothing at all and feel themselves under siege in these postwar days by the ethnic Albanians of Vlastica.

If there is a way to even begin to understand how Kosovo reached such a moment, it's through the lens of ethnic hatred, which applies not only to the Kosovo war but to most of the world's conflicts, including many of the two dozen going on at the moment. In a world based so much on emotions, love may seed hope and forgiveness may bring grace, but hate is what history turns on, and ethnic hate is ubiquitous. "By one reckoning, ethnic violence since World War Two has claimed more than 10 million lives," Donald L. Horowitz writes in the book Ethnic Groups in Conflict, and goes on to list examples:

"The recurrent hostilities in Northern Ireland, Chad, and Lebanon; secessionist warfare in Burma, Bangladesh, the Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, and the Philippines; the Somali invasion of Ethiopia and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus; the army killings in Uganda and Syria and the mass civilian killings in India-Pakistan, Burundi, and Indonesia; Sikh terrorism, Basque terrorism, Corsican terrorism, Palestinian terrorism; the expulsion of Chinese from Vietnam, of Arakanese Muslims from Burma, of Asians from Uganda, of Beninese from the Ivory Coast and Gabon; ethnic riots in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Zaire, Guyana, and a score of other countries -- these comprise only the most violent evidence of ethnic hostility."

Now add the Albanians and Serbs of Kosovo, whose hostilities over who would control the Serbian province have created thousands of versions of Vlora. There are those who say that ethnic hatred is at the root of what happened, that the 1.8 million ethnic Albanians and 200,000 Serbs living in Kosovo before the war would awaken each day, think of the mere existence of the other and instantly seethe. Others say it was the nationalistic politics of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that provoked the conflict, pointing out that Serbs and Albanians had been coexisting without wholesale violence for years.

Either way, though, the result -- thousands of people killed, hundreds of thousands made homeless and an ethnic-cleansing campaign that in March turned nearly a million Kosovar Albanians into refugees, who then returned in June and began attacking the Serbs -- goes far beyond the borders of nationalism and politics. Whatever caused Kosovo, the ethnic hatred is now so deep that as this year of violence nears its close, the unmistakable feeling in Kosovo, even on its calm days, is one of fury and wounds. Everyone feels justified in whatever he or she does, has done and will do next, as if this past year -- as if all of history -- has been a lesson in entitlement. "Balkan Truth" is the characterization of one U.S. peacekeeper who has been dealing with both sides in an attempt to broker even the smallest semblance of reconciliation. "One side is exaggeration. The other side is deceit."

How to make sense of such a place, then, to figure out what is to come next? Maybe there's no way, or maybe one way is to reduce Kosovo to a more manageable scale, to two villages, one Albanian, the other Serbian, whose deteriorating relationship makes it easier to grasp how predominant hatred can become.

The villages are in eastern Kosovo, half a mile apart, near nothing so much as each other and yet almost entirely without connection. Pasjane has 3,000 residents, all Serb; Vlastica is nearing its prewar population of 2,000 ethnic Albanians. As recently as a year ago there was some civility between the two, but now each has its own version of what happened, who the real victims are and who is to blame.

In Pasjane, for instance, where four men have been kidnapped since the end of the war, and one man was killed in November in a mortar attack launched from Vlastica, a man named Petar Cvetkovich says Serbs shouldn't apologize for anything that's happened -- "Albanians should."

In Vlastica, where two dozen people in all were killed in April, a man named Fehmi Musliu, whose 11-year-old grandson was shot through the head and left to decay under a bush, says, "I will never have a relationship with any of them again. None."

In Pasjane, they say the Albanians torched their own houses for insurance money, raided their own graveyards to inflate the number of victims, and make slicing motions across their throat whenever they pass through the village.

In Vlastica, they say it is the Serbs of Pasjane who make the slicing motions, that they also throw rocks and bottles, and that a school bus was chased by a man swinging an ax.

In Pasjane, two men are having a conversation. "Everything that happened to them, it happened in a way that they deserved," says Petko Arsic. "Nothing happened to them that they deserved," corrects his friend. "They deserved much worse."

In Vlastica, Vlora is explaining who did this to her. "Shka," she says, using an Albanian expression for Serb. It is a vulgar expression that is kike, that is nigger, that is dago, that is spic, that is shiftari, which is the expression the Serbs use when they are talking about the Albanians. It's an expression she uses with ease.

Her favorite color is red.

Her favorite subject is biology.

Her favorite sport is volleyball.

Her best friend is Shqipe Ramushi, who sits next to her in school, who lives just down the road, who says that Vlora "laughs more than she needs to" and "yells for her mother" at night when they have sleepovers.

Her favorite place: Vlastica, where everyone knows, where no one asks.

For a while she lived with relatives in the city of Gnjilane, but "I don't like people staring," she says. "When I go somewhere -- and people don't know me -- everybody's looking at my scar -- and, and, and talking about it -- and they, and they want to know what happened, and I never tell them -- I, I, I, I tell them I fell -- I never tell them . . ."

And this is how she talks now. In bursts and stutters and anxious sentences without end. She is sitting in the room where she sleeps, in the home of her aunt and uncle who have taken her in and allowed her whatever room she wanted, which turned out to be the one with the view of her house. Her two surviving brothers, both of whom were elsewhere the day of the shooting, sleep in the room as well, as does her grandmother, an old, sad widow with deep lines in her face who is waiting for Vlora to leave so she can say something.

She doesn't have to wait long. Vlora has a hard time being still. Up she goes, out of the room, out of the house, and her grandmother, who nearly every night comforts Vlora when she awakens from a bad dream, describes a dream of her own that she had the previous night about Vlora's brother, that he was outside, that he was falling, that his head was splitting open.

"The boy was alive when they burned the house," explains Vlora's older cousin Nehat Shabani, who says they were told this by another of the massacre's survivors. "We don't want Vlora to know," he says as she comes back, and so she returns to a suddenly quiet room.

She sits. She stands. She sits. Her relatives pretend not to notice, even though they do, just as they don't talk to her about any of this, even though they have been told it would be good for her if they did. Besides, she doesn't want to talk about it, either -- except sometimes she does, because to be in this room is to be in the place she came to after the shooting, bleeding horribly and wondering what to do. Right there on the end of the couch, she says, that's where she bled, and sure enough faint stains are still there, under the gray aid blanket she sleeps on. She says that there was only one sound after the shooting that she can still hear clearly, and that was the sound of her brother crying, and that she brought him water, and that one of his eyes was nothing but a pond of blood, and that she told him she'd get help, and that she didn't think she could carry him so she left him and went along a dirt path in the opposite direction of Pasjane . . .

The stutter is worsening.

. . . and that she got to a village, and knocked on a door, and a girl who answered told her to go to the police, and the police turned out to be Serbs, and she stood there bleeding out of her nose and mouth and cheek, and a policeman who spoke Albanian told her to go to the bathroom and clean herself up . . .

One long sentence.

. . . and she was sent to the hospital in Gnjilane, and she asked to see her uncle who's a doctor, and someone told her he'd been expelled from the hospital, and someone else said he wouldn't be back, and a nurse said he was dead, and a doctor said he'd been killed . . .

Her left hand is covering her cheek.

. . . and days went by, and they took the bullet out of her cheek, and they took the fragments out of her throat, and they put her in a room with a Serbian woman who asked her what happened and she said she had fallen down, and then a woman appeared in her room, her aunt, the doctor's wife, who said that her husband wasn't killed, that he was at home, that she was going to take Vlora there, that everything was going to be all right . . .

Her eyes are blinking rapidly.

". . . and I started crying so hard, I couldn't stop."

And she stands again. She looks out the window. She brings her grandmother an ashtray. She brings her uncle some tea. She goes outside to the road in front of the house. She likes to be outside. She likes to walk. She likes to keep moving. She wonders: Which way today? To the right is the end of the village and a grave containing the bones of 13 people, and to the left is the ghostly frame of her house. Then comes a shallow stream. Then comes the burned mosque with skeletons of blistered birds that had been nesting in the minaret. Then comes the school -- the classrooms ransacked, the files of student records destroyed, the library of 14,000 books burned, and one of the teachers lost to the violence, her father. Then comes a long line of damaged houses. Then comes a flat expanse of treeless fields. Then comes another house, this one undamaged, the beginning of Pasjane.

It is slightly bigger than Vlastica and several centuries older, and its historical figures include a young girl who, according to a commemorative plaque in the church hall, was killed by Albanians and eaten by wild dogs.

History as entitlement.

History as a bruise.

The church is intact. So is the school. So is most everything in Pasjane, but that doesn't mean its residents consider themselves unscathed. Far from it. They feel landlocked. They feel surrounded.

"Food," one man says he needs. "Especially for the children."

"Medicine," says another.

"Freedom," says another.

They are among a large group of people standing at the intersection where the skinny road from Vlastica dead-ends into a larger road, where the men gather to smoke cigarettes and drink large bottles of bitter beer, and the old women with hard faces and black clothes gather as well, lining the roadside like crows. This day, one of the women is carrying a pie for her daughter, whom she hasn't been able to visit in months, and others are carrying empty shopping bags. They are awaiting the arrival of a military escort to take them out of town because that's the only way the people of Pasjane will travel now, because to travel without an escort is to risk being attacked, being kidnapped, being killed.

The escorts: U.S. soldiers. There are 6,000 of them in this sector of Kosovo, 26 of whom are in Pasjane because of several mortar shells that exploded in September not far from the plaque honoring the girl eaten by dogs.

Unlike the fatal mortar attack in November, for which three men from Vlastica were arrested, the September attack merely dinged a few headstones and startled a few cows. Then came a second attack a few evenings later, nicking a house, and then a third pockmarking a field, and suddenly the attacker had a nickname, the Mad Mortarman, and the Army has been searching for him since. The soldiers also have been investigating the kidnappings, chasing down reports of gunfire, manning daily checkpoints, conducting foot patrols, guarding the Pasjane school and running escort duty a few times a week in their Humvees, M-16s always pointed, flak jackets always on. One Humvee leads the convoy, a second trails, and off the Serbs go, cradled and protected against ethnic hatred by a group of soldiers who exemplify how different people can be.

Lt. Thomas Buchholz, for instance, the platoon leader, is as white as platoon Sgt. Johnny Burch is black. Pfc. Edwin Platt is half black and half Puerto Rican, which is about as far away as possible from Sgt. Frank Watson, white and from Georgia, who runs down the list of what those two designations can mean: Southerner. Redneck. Hillbilly. Confederate. Even though what he really is, he says, is a Baptist who went to a Catholic high school and has Scotch-Irish roots. "I mean, number one, you're a human being," he says, but he also knows that human beings are, number two, tangles of emotions, and one of the emotions is hate. He knows it, all the soldiers know it -- not only from soldiering in Kosovo but from growing up in the United States.

Platt remembers being 14, living in Utah, asking a white girl out on a date and meeting her father. "He said, 'I don't like colored people at all.' He said, 'I don't want you around her.' " Buchholz, a 23-year-old graduate of the Citadel, was there when Shannon Faulkner was vilified as she became the first woman to attend the military school, and Burch, 33, remembers the anger he felt when his sister was shot and killed by a raging boyfriend.

Anger -- but not hate, he says, which makes him think that perhaps hate isn't automatic, and that if he can rise above it, so can the Albanian children the soldiers have seen spitting on Serbian graves, and the old women of Pasjane who spit and scream at the Albanians.

"Take a Serb family and an Albanian family," he says of a solution he has come up with, "and put them in a compound with everything they need to survive, a garden, cows for the Albanians, pigs for the Serbs, whatever they need, and they can't leave. They've got to live together until they can live in peace."

The compound, of course, already exists. Kosovo. The result of which is why he is here rather than home, which is South Carolina, where the Confederate flag still flies above the state Capitol, which is something he's taught himself to ignore.

"I'm just saying it's the only way," he says. "If you separate them, you don't solve the problem. You have to make them live together, like human beings."

To that end, then, to make them live like human beings, off go a few soldiers on a mission to find the mayor, to ask him a question about a flatbed trailer spotted in Pasjane by an Albanian who says it is his. One small step at a time, Lt. Buchholz says with a shrug. It's nighttime now, raining, and dark beyond dark. The old women are in for the night, replaced by wet, slinking dogs. For the fifth night in a row there's no electricity, and no one is quite sure why. Up to the north near Pristina, the Kosovo capital, the electric plant is chugging away, producing flesh-colored smoke that settles over everything in its path. Electricity isn't dependable anywhere in Kosovo, not yet, but Pasjane seems especially cut off.

One bit of light, though, filters from under a doorway, which brings the soldiers into a sparsely stocked store lit by a single bulb attached to a car battery. There in the dimness, among a dozen men talking and drinking beer, is the mayor, who studies a photograph Buchholz was given of the trailer and says, somewhat bewildered, "Maybe 200 tractors have the same trailer," and before the conversation can get much farther, Buchholz's radio brings a report of two gunshots coming from the direction of Vlastica.

So off the soldiers go to Vlastica, where there also is no electricity, and there also is a sliver of light coming from a place with a dozen or so men inside, all of whom are searched, none of whom heard a thing, and all of whom wave goodbye as the soldiers go on their way.

Back to Pasjane, where somewhere in the darkness is a trailer.

Back to Vlastica, where somewhere in the darkness is the Mad Mortarman, and, at the end of the village, Vlora, dreaming her dreams on the couch.

Back to Pasjane, where all the lights are now out, and the only sounds are the wind and skittering trash and some pigs.

The next day:

"People from Vlastica should realize one thing," says the mayor, Dragan Bujic, speaking of Vlastica's devastation. "Truth should be established who did this, and people from Pasjane didn't. The only thing we can be accused of is being Serbs."

Another day:

"Who burnt this house?" Buchholz asks a man standing by a house with broken windows and charred floors and a disintegrating pair of boys' socks by the front door.

"Shka," the man says without pause. "Pasjane."

Another day:

A Serb named Caslav Stojikovic asks for an escort.

"Where to?" asks Buchholz.

"Can you take me to Vlastica?"

Into the Humvee he goes, across the dividing fields, past the burned houses and the school, until they near one of the most badly damaged houses of all. Here, Stojikovic says. He gets out, looks, begins to cry, and asks to be taken back to Pasjane.

It isn't Vlora's house Caslav Stojikovic looked at. In all of Vlastica, no house can compare to Vlora's, where relatives nearly passed out as they pulled bones from the rubble with their hands, where military investigators came to take pictures, where the head of the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia came on a tour, where forensic pathologists exhumed the remains and formally designated what happened as a massacre.

But the house Stojikovic went to has its own distinction: the last house in Vlastica occupied by Serbs.

"My parents," he says.

It is a week after his visit, and he is back in Pasjane, looking across the fields toward Vlastica, wondering what could have happened. "Most likely they've died," he says. "I pray to God it's something else, but I don't think so."

But he doesn't know.

What he does know: That the house looked like it had been burned. That he had helped his father build it when he was 7 years old and Vlastica was equal parts Albanian and Serbian. That there was a barn, too, and a storage building, and a high wall surrounding the property with a gate in it that he felt no fear walking through. That Vlastica was a good place for a Serbian boy to grow up. That his parents, both of whom were born in Vlastica, didn't want to leave, even when they were the only Serbs left. That "both my mother and father were telling me, to their last days, that they had no fear of Albanians, no fear at all," and that he is now a 51-year-old man filled with guilt over what happened next.

"I never believed this could happen, and I never said to them this could happen, and that's why they stayed behind," he says. "This is why I'm so guilty, because their deaths are on my soul."

What exactly happened, though? Maybe they were kidnapped, he says. Maybe they were shot. Maybe they died in the fire that caused the house to collapse. Maybe, right now, their bodies are under the rubble, and he could find them if he could just go back and start digging, and stay there for as long as it would take, and not be afraid to be in the place he was born and raised, but he is here instead, sitting in front of the place where he now lives, which is a single room in a building next to the school.

He is a math teacher. He has been teaching in Pasjane for decades, and until this year it was a life that seemed perfectly in order: weekdays teaching and weeknights at his parents' house in Vlastica; weekends with his wife and two daughters, who live in Serbia. The only time he deviated from this, he says, was for 15 days in April, which happens to be when everyone in Vlastica fled to the surrounding hills. He and his parents went to Serbia during that period, he says, and when he returned, the people were gone, the streets were deserted, the houses were ruined.

Not every house, though. His parents' was untouched. And despite the eeriness, he says, they moved back in, and as hard as it may be to explain, he says, life basically resumed, and if there was a massacre at the end of April, he says, he heard no gunshots, he knew nothing about it, and then it was June, and the Albanians began returning, and he went home to Serbia because school was over, and now he is here, winter coming, the sky this day twitching with swarms of blackbirds, looking across the fields that he can no longer cross.

"I look all the time," he says.

In the morning when he walks over to the school.

All day long, from his classrooms, all of which offer cruelly perfect views, which is why his students have been going home and telling their parents that Mr. Stojikovic was at the windows again crying.

There is no escape from the pull, he says, except when he closes himself in the room the school director is letting him stay in, which is where he goes now to show the perimeters of what one Serb's life has become.

He sits in a simple wooden chair that is the closest to the door. The room is actually another teacher's, he explains, who fled to Serbia when the NATO bombing campaign began March 24. The chair is hers, he says. The table is hers. The couch he sleeps on is hers. The small refrigerator is hers. The wall calendar and glass swan and decorative plate and empty breadbox are hers. "Everything you see is hers," he says, except for his clothing and an envelope, inside of which is a photograph, a single photograph that he now takes out and holds in his hands.

They are standing in front of the house he helped build. The man is in a cap, and his shirt is open, and his sleeves are rolled up, and his belt is cinched tight, and he's smiling as he looks at the camera, and his right elbow seems to be barely touching the left elbow of the woman standing beside him, who is in a long plaid skirt and a full apron with a scarf tied under her chin and is smiling as well.

The Serbs of Vlastica, whose son is crying once again.

"Most probably they wanted to take revenge, and they didn't have anybody except my parents," he says.

Who, though?

"Shiftari."

But who? Strangers? Who somehow found the one Serb house in this out-of-the-way village? Neighbors?

"I cannot believe that neighbors did this. Because we didn't have anything, not even a trace, of bad blood between us. And how can you kill for nothing?"

He thinks of his neighbor Nazmir, who, in the midst of packing his house up in April, asked if they needed anything and then gave them some yeast that surely he could have used.

"So how can I have any doubts about that man?"

He thinks of his other neighbor, Isa, who was one of the first Albanians back in Vlastica, who was in his yard the last time Stojikovic saw his parents in mid-June.

And thinks:

"Isa should know."

But how is he going to ask him?

"I'm very, very sorry," Isa Mehmeti says.

He is 59 and has lived most of his life next door to Caslav Stojikovic's parents. He fled Vlastica on March 27, returned in June, saw nothing alive but a dog and fled again. He says his second time back was when he saw Caslav and his third time back was when he saw the house had been burned.

"I really don't know what happened," he says. "I really don't."

And neither does his 13-year-old granddaughter, Zmire. Who is outside on the road looking at the remains of the neighbors' house -- the collapsed roof, the graffiti-scratched walls, the pots filling with rainwater, the broken teacups with gold rims and flowered borders, the rubble under which the remains of two people may or may not be -- and is describing who used to live there.

"Shka," she says.

And neither does someone else out on the road, a 33-year-old man named Emrush Selimi. Who returned to Vlastica in June and found the body of his father resting feet up in a shallow creek, his clothes on, his shoes off, his dentures placed on the breast pocket of his coat, his skull next to him in the water. Who says that whatever happened to Caslav Stojikovic's parents is in no way equal to what happened to his father.

"I know his pain," he says, "and I feel sorry for what happened. But if you look at what the Serbs did, they are the ones who created all the victims of this hate. Not us."

And neither does Behare Musliu, the aunt of the 11-year-old boy who was shot through the head. Who found him decaying under the bush, legs down to bones, teeth scattered in dirt, skull fallen loose with one hole on the left side and one hole on the right. Who sank to her knees in the high weeds and wept and held onto her 2-year-old daughter, who was holding onto a photograph of the boy taken not long before he was killed. Who took a dozen photographs that day and now has them in an album for her daughter to see over and over so that she will grow up and feel nothing but hatred for the Serbs.

"Because they hate our children," she says.

And neither does Nehat Shabani, Vlora's cousin. Who was shot in the upper arm when the village first came under attack. Who says there were hundreds of Serbs who swept into the village, some of whom he'd seen over the years in Pasjane. Who now calls Pasjane, "Pissjane." Who says he and his wife had a 3-week-old baby the Serbs grabbed and threw on the ground, and that the baby died instantly, and that the Serbs then used their rifles to poke at the baby's body looking for hidden money or jewelry. Who says they weren't allowed to bury the baby so they took the body with them as they were herded toward the Macedonian border, at one point running into more Serbs, one of whom seemed ready to shoot them. Who says, "I think the dead baby saved us." Who says, "I said, in Serb, 'Can we bury the baby?' And we showed him the baby, and he seemed moved, and he made a cross and said the word 'Christ' and then said, 'Go.' "

So they buried the baby and went.

So he cannot help a shattered man who is Serbian, and neither can Vlora, who doesn't know how anyone in Vlastica that day couldn't have heard the gunshots because half a year later there are still days when that's all she can hear.

Who says there were two people with guns, one a Gypsy, the other a Serb.

Who says, "I remember we were all lined up."

Who says, "I don't know how exactly my father was killed. I just saw him fall, and I saw the blood."

Who says, "I remember when they shot my brother, and my mother looked at him and screamed, and his wound was also in the face, but much deeper than mine, and this is the point where they shot my mother in the forehead, and her forehead blows away into the wall."

Who says, "When they shot my mother I fainted," and that "when I woke up I felt my head was very heavy, and my cheek was very big, and I felt blood everywhere, on my nose and on my mouth and everywhere, and I guess I fainted again, and I don't know, I fainted so many times."

Who says, "I get so lonely," and those are the days when she goes alone, always alone, to the house, to the remains of the room where it happened, to the very spot where she was, and she sits on the ground, and she puts her head against the wall lined with bullet holes, and she waits.

Who says, "It's a feeling" she waits for. "It's very sad, and it keeps coming, it's coming from the floor, up through me, and it takes me over, and then I have to run off."

And in Pasjane, meanwhile, where no one knows the full story about Vlastica, and no one is likely ever to know because no one seems particularly curious, the day has come for a wedding. Even in present-day Kosovo love has a place, although it requires accommodation.

The electricity, for instance, remains out. But the musicians have brought a generator. The priest, who lives in another town, didn't come because he was afraid to travel. But priest or no priest, the couple has decided to go ahead, and after so many months of brooding, how different it is to hear Pasjane echoing not with fury but with music.

The wedding takes place in a courtyard that is hemmed in by houses and broken here and there by plum trees. The ground is dirt, which, as the day goes on, and the clouds become mist and the mist becomes occasional rain, turns into mud. But no matter. There are umbrellas in Pasjane, and this isn't the first time the shoes people are wearing have seen mud. All day long there is dancing, starting with a dance just before noon that features the groom's mother. On any other day she might be in black, one of the hardened crows of Pasjane, but for this day she is in an elaborately embroidered snow-white top and a white skirt stiff as a lampshade. It is an heirloom outfit that took years to make, and unlike the clothing of Vlastica, which in the mayhem of April was left behind to rot in the hills, it came through the war intact.

As did the dishes now being brought out for the first meal.

As did the glasses being brought out for the beer and plum brandy.

As did the long lace curtains in the room where the bride is getting dressed, which, in so many homes in Vlastica, were used to start fires. "I am a beautiful bride," she says, laughing, as she shows off the dress she got in Serbia the previous week after being escorted to the border by soldiers, and as she continues dressing, the groom is outside, with his own escort, moving through the village toward the house of the best man.

His escort: two men playing accordions, one man banging a drum, and whoever cares to come along. Some villagers. A couple of dogs. A chicken or two. It's a merry little parade, and at the house of the best man it becomes even merrier when everyone marches inside for a drink.

Out come the good glasses, and in goes the good brandy, and up go the glasses into the air. A toast.

"Who says we Serbs are bad people?" says the groom to a roar of assent and clinks all around, and for the briefest of moments this malignant place seems capable of anything, even of healing.

And then back outside everyone goes:

Past the old women, who are wordlessly sitting on rocks.

Past a dog that is chewing on the head of a rooster.

Past the school, with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the yard, and the little room of Caslav Stojikovic, whose daughter this day is getting married in Serbia, a wedding he won't attend because "my pain is stronger than anything else."

Past the road to Vlastica.

Where Vlora, out for her own walk, toward the grave, toward the house, toward the grave, toward the house, is once again bringing her hand to her cheek.

Hated at 13.

Hate-filled at 14.

"I thought it was gone," she says.

David Finkel is a Magazine staff writer. This article and others he has reported and written from Kosovo this year are available at www.washingtonpost.com. He will be fielding questions and comments Monday at 1 p.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1999-12/12/004l-121299-idx.html

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