THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Frankfurt, Germany) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release May 6, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND CHANCELLOR SCHROEDER OF GERMANY IN DISCUSSION WITH KOSOVAR REFUGEES AND THEIR FAMILIES
Refugee Reception Center Ingelheim, Germany
12:24 P.M. (L)
CHANCELLOR SCHROEDER: (In progress) -- that they are fighting for. We want to help them to live where they used to live, in their homes, under conditions which are fit for humans. We want them to life safe and free. That is our desire. That is what we are working toward. And we have come here today to simply hear how you have fared.
We need to make decisions and we need, in order to convince people in our countries that the efforts they are making, that their countrymen are making in order to bring freedom and peace to you in Kosovo are the right efforts. The more you talk about what you have lived through, the easier it will be for us to convince others that we have made a decision that was right and that was necessary.
You'll understand that I'm very happy to see that the American President has come to Germany. I'm very happy that we will, together, with him, carry out what we have set out to do and that you'll be able to return to your homeland.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all let me say that I realize that all of you have been through incredible times and that it must be even harder to talk about. But I want to thank Chancellor Schroeder and the people of Germany for providing a place for you to be and for their support for our united action to reverse what has happened in Kosovo, so that you can go home again and be safe and free.
Just today, my wife met the first group of refugees from Kosovo coming to the United States. They will stay there, as you are staying in Germany, until we can provide the conditions that are necessary for people to go home.
Most people in the world would have a hard time believing what has happened to you, and that it has, in fact, happened. So far we have been very fortunate -- Chancellor Schroeder and I and all of our allies in NATO -- in having our people, by and large, support what we are doing, to try to stop what happened to you and to reverse the conditions so that you can go back.
But it is very important that your stories be told. What Chancellor Schroeder said is right. In places where people who have different religions and different ethnic groups, different racial groups, where they get along together, where they work together, where they help each other, people find what has happened to you to be literally almost unbelievable. And so the world needs to know the truth of Kosovo. And we need to make sure that we are all strong enough to stay with you and to support you until you can go home.
So, again, I say, I know this must be hard for you to be here talking to us and to all of us strangers here. But we appreciate it and we would like to hear from you, to say whatever you wish to say to us about where you are now and what happened in Kosovo, any questions you wish to ask. We just want to be with you and to hear from you. And we thank you for taking the time to be with us.
Q -- thank all the NATO allies and all the countries and their soldiers that are contributing in the effort in Kosovo. I would like to salute and also to thank the American people and the German people for the assistance they are offering in this difficult time.
We came chased away from Kosovo. President Clinton and Chancellor Schroeder, please accept the salute of the children, of the mothers, of the elderly and of the sick people in Blace Macedonia, who spend days, entire days, with no food at the border crossing.
THE PRESIDENT: Would anyone else like to speak?
Q President Clinton and Chancellor Schroeder in our midst is one more proof that we are not isolated and alone. Your support, increasing support and your support until the end of this tragedy in Kosovo, until the people of Kosovo obtain what they really desire, the freedom of Kosovo -- for the sake of the blood in Kosovo, and for the sake of people in Kosovo who are behind, we hope that your mission will continue until the end.
I feel very emotional now and I could not say everything I've seen in Kosovo and in Blace. We were robbed of everything, starting from the schools. And at the end they took away the little freedom that we had. We had running in empty streets, running away from police, and in those little private schools that we had organized. Ultimately, they chased us away from our homes, homes that were built with blood and with sweat.
I'm young, but my life is broken from what I've seen in Blace. The first day I arrived I heard that 24 children, infants, had died in the camp, of exposure, of starvation. That was a total -- (inaudible.) Mr. President and Mr. Chancellor, I beg you to use your authority and your power to help our people to return to Kosovo. We don't want anything else but freedom and the ability to return there.
Thank you very much.
Q Before I say what I want to say, I'd like to salute and I would like to wish from my heart all the best for giving us the support here. It's very difficult for me to describe what is happening in Kosovo. There is no defense for the human rights. Children are not spared. Elderly are not spared in Kosovo. Sick people are not spared there. Parents, in front of children; children in front of parents are not spared. Infants, babies still unborn are not spared in the wombs of their mothers.
What is happening today in Kosovo is the murder of the intelligence, of the freedom of expression, of anyone who desires democracy and who doesn't want anything else but to be free in their homes, in their property. We demand to return back to our homes.
And I'd like to thank especially the President of the United States and the Chancellor of Germany, and everyone else who is trying to arrive at a just solution to our problem. And, Mr. President, I thank you for the visit and many thanks to you, Mr. Chancellor. We really feel very emotional and it's very difficult for us to talk about what we have seen and what we have had to go through.
The day we left home, chased away -- it's not true that we left on our own will. It's not true that we left because of the NATO bombing. I would say, and I want you to feel sure, that we felt more sure when the bombings started. When we were chased from the house we saw something undescribable, and undescribable is what we had to go through in Blace. I was with my father -- with my father, he and my wife -- but my mother and my brothers are still in Macedonia. And a brother of mine is in Kosovo. I beg you to do whatever you think is best to help us and to help the people in Kosovo.
Thank you very much.
Q Mr. President, Mr. Chancellor, the most cruel of the Serb crimes committed by the military forces, police and paramilitary forces in Kosovo, that has not spared children or elderly; the demands for weapons by the Serbs in Kosovo and identification of the Serb opposition with Serb regime, as far as Kosovo question is concerned, everything else tells us that Kosovo can no longer be under the Serb jurisdiction.
At the same time, Serbia and Yugoslavia, the so-called Yugoslavia, cannot be democratized without the independence of Kosovo. Since 1913, under the influence of the Czarist Russia, Kosovo -- the Albanian state was split in half and Kosovo was left under the -- (inaudible) -- of Serbia. There have been many governments in Serbia. But for the Albanian people in Kosovo, all these governments have been the two wars. There have been many agreements signed and many resolutions, but all of them have been trampled in blood.
The only just solution is that the armed forces of NATO enter Kosovo, or the KLA be armed. We don't trust Serbia, we feel that they will betray us. Forgive me for my emotion, because it's not easy for Albanians to cry. But for people who have seen massacres, like Radic it's just impossible to say without feeling too emotional. And I don't know how to express my thanks for you and my best wishes for you and for your families and for your peoples. And may God be with you. And I'm sure that God is with you, because you are fighting a just war and you're noble people. And the democratic countries in the Alliance are doing their utmost to preserve and protect your freedom and your democracy.
Forgive me for that.
Q Chancellor, it's an honor for me to salute you directly. I come from the hills, so-called Kosovo, as well, where every civil or human right is stripped away. Just as you came in Germany and were welcomed warmly by the German people, we were welcomed by the German people and the Red Cross and the people in Ingelheim and in this locality. I'd like to thank them all.
I would like you to help us return to Kosovo and that will help restore the dignity to the people of Kosovo, a dignity which we like very much. I'd like to remind you that Kosovo deserves its independence. These last years we have shown that we can keep our house in order. I want to remind you that many things have happened which the civilized world has never seen before.
Your engagement in a just solution of the problem of Kosovo, I'd like to thank you, Mr. President, the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Fisher. We would also like to express our thanks to the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Tony Blair, Mr. Robin Cook, Mr. Chirac, and Mr. Solana. I would like to also thank Mr. Christopher Hill, who spent a great amount of time in Kosovo and for him, Mr. Rugova would say that Mr. Hill doesn't even see his family for entire months, due to his engagement in Kosovo.
I would also like to thank the media for propagating the truth on Kosovo. I don't want to get into details about the anxiety and the horrible things we have seen -- all the killings, all the massacres, all the forced expulsions of people in Kosovo, of civilian population in Kosovo, as well as the burning and looting and destroying of everything that is Albanian, starting in Pristina last year and going all the way to the hills of Blace, which has been mentioned here.
I would ask you to help and to work to achieve our return in Kosovo. We have been very happy with the news that Mr. Rugova has been freed, has been set free, because he's a personality that the Albanian nation has never had before. And at the end I'd also like to ask a question. What is NATO doing in helping the people left behind in Kosovo, with supplies and materials?
THE PRESIDENT: It is a very hard problem, helping the people who are left behind, because if they send planes in there to drop supplies they could be shot out of the sky. And it's also hard to drop the supplies and know that the Kosovar Albanians will get it, instead of having the Serb military or the paramilitary pick it up. So it's a problem.
I can say that we have been working very hard to try to find some neutral country that we could get agreement to ship in food and medicine and tents, whatever is necessary for people to have some place safe to sleep. And we are exploring every conceivable alternative. We're even looking at whether we can do some air drops, even though there may be some risk there, to try to get the food there. It is the biggest concern we have.
Mr. Schroeder and I were just talking on the way in. For the refugees that are in Albania, we need to give them more money; we need to give the Albanian government more money. The people are welcome there, but it's a poor country, so we have to help them. For the refugees in Macedonia, we have to have more money, but also we have to help more people get out of Macedonia, because of the problems within Macedonia -- there's a lot of tension there. And so there's only so many refugees that the country can take without having the democratic government of Macedonia threatened. So we have to work on that.
So we have refugees coming to Germany and coming to the United States and elsewhere. But the ones that it's so hard is for the people who are still there. Now, in the last couple of days there's been a big increase again in the number of people coming out, so it may be that more people are more free to come out now. But we -- I wish I could give you an easy, simple answer, but we are working very hard to get what supplies we can get into the country in a way that is, A, as safe as possible for the people delivering the supplies and, B, is likely to be effective, instead of just taken over by the Serb military people on the ground there.
I would like to ask a question. I would like to ask all of you in your lives to go back before these last terrible days, before the military and the paramilitary started to run you out of your homes and turn you out, when you were living before under the tensions and the prejudice of normal -- more normal existence -- but you were subject to this feeling that you would never be treated fairly. I would like to know more about that period.
And when we walked in here today I looked at all of you -- there's a young woman back there with a shirt on from the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 -- and I could imagine that any of you could be my neighbors in America. Or if I visited a German city and I saw you, I would not know that you weren't German citizens. And I would like to know how you proceed with the prejudice or the hatred of the Serbs toward you? Do you think they hated you because you were Albanian? Do you think they hated you because you were Muslim, overwhelmingly? Do you think that they hated you because they were raised by their parents to hate you? Do you think they hated you because Mr. Milosevic was using that as an excuse for power? Do you believe what they really want is your land and your wealth, or do they really want the pleasure of persecuting you? How do you perceive this?
This is very important for us because we -- you have to understand, we spend all of our time fighting against much smaller versions of this in our own country. So it's important that we understand how you have received this in your life. Would anybody like to talk about this? Go ahead.
Q Mr. President, the Albanian people, there is very little time here, but I would like to concisely explain you the genesis of, the origin of the hatred against Albanians. The Serbs came in the 6th century in the Balkans. And at that time, the Balkans were inhabited by Ilyrians and we are descendants of Ilyrians.
When Serbs came to the Balkans, Ilyrians had their own kingdom. But the criminal, Milosevic, in his letter sent to Mr. Cook and Mr. Vedrine has called the Albanians without civilization and without history, and he has called us criminals. What do you think, Mr. President, do you think we are criminals? Do we look like criminals? We have never taken the land from anybody. We have been chased away twice before by Serbia, in the '30s and in the '50s.
There is a large community of Albanians living in Turkey, but they don't demand to have their own independent entity there in Turkey. We in Kosovo, we demand -- we are in our own land and that's why we demand the independence. The Serbs have occupied Kosovo by force, violence. The hatred of Serbs towards Albanians is not just because of Milosevic, but it goes back -- the church, first, the Academy of Sciences, second; and the third, the Serb power have always disseminated hatred against Albanians, because they know that they have taken our land in an unjust way. They have tried to eradicate us, but they have not been able to do that. They have always called us wild people.
THE PRESIDENT: Would you like to say something?
Q Mr. President, they were thinking of something else -- Kosovo supplies Serbia with a lot of agricultural products. Serbia without Kosovo cannot exist. The natural resources of Kosovo are very precious and that is the reason why they are trying to hold to Serbia, to Kosovo.
THE PRESIDENT: You think that they have treated you this way because they want the wealth of Kosovo?
Q Yes, of course. Naturally, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what about the younger people, how do you feel?
Q First of all, I'd like to salute the gentlemen who came to visit with us and to talk to us about the situation in Kosovo. I cannot talk about Kosovo.
Q I would like to speak on his behalf, because I'm also young -- I'm 22 years old. I have not seen massacres such as this one in Kosovo now, but based on what we have heard from our parents, from our grandparents, I would say every 10 years there has been a massacre in Kosovo, like the one in Djakovica, the massacre of the family of Besim Bokshi, which I'm sure you have heard of.
The hatred of Serbs against Albanians is not just driven by the power of Milosevic. Milosevic has reinforced this hatred and has turned it into a myth for the Serb people. This hatred has existed for centuries and, unfortunately, it still exists.
The question often arises whether, if I had to return to Kosovo, free, would I live with Serbs. I don't know here, but there are Albanian families where 20 or more members of the family -- I don't think they would be people that would like to live with Serbs.
In Kosovo, probably only the children are not armed, just because they cannot carry the weapons. Every Serb in Kosovo who can carry weapons has weapons. They mistreat us everywhere and we don't even dare say a word. In Kosovo we were like animals, they would kill us and we just couldn't say anything about it.
Thank you very much.
Q I'd like to salute the President Clinton and Chancellor Schroeder for the time they took to come and talk to us. And we would like to express our condolences. It's very important for us, for the relief of our pain to have somebody like you that comes and shares the pain with us. It's difficult for us to talk about our pain. We were born and grew up under the Serb power and we have seen only suffering, endless suffering.
You asked the question about the hatred of Serbs against us. As the gentleman before me said, it's something traditional. It probably is not just because of the property that they hate us. Every time they see an Albanian is prospering, they have done whatever they could to put them down, to send them to prison. I think because of that, I think the Serbs hate us and they don't want us to enter the civilized world. They don't want us to be free. They just try to keep us under their heel. They took schools away, everything else away from us. And this is where we are at this point, this is where we're forced to be.
I was a student in Pristina. I was alone when they came. And there are friends here -- I didn't know whether I would see -- (inaudible) -- the Serbs know that it's very difficult for Albanians to -- the moral issue is very difficult for Albanians. We are used to getting killed and getting murdered. But the rape is the most difficult thing for Albanians. I just cannot describe it -- I don't know how to describe our suffering.
I would like to thank you for all your assistance and your understanding of our pain. I would like to thank you again for your assistance. When we think that there is somebody close to us, trying to help us, then we feel a little safer. You understood us and you understood our pain. And even if we die, the dying would be easier because we know that somebody knows what we're going through.
Thank you very much.
CHANCELLOR SCHROEDER: Did your friends among the Serbs that were not part of the military or the police, were there encounters with ordinary Serbs and Albanians during your time in Pristina or in that area?
Q I was in my building, in my home, and in the building, there were only Albanian families there. And two nights before I left the building a relative of mine -- there were three girls living together, and one Serb went and hit their door three times, kicked the door three times. They didn't dare move. They were not making a sound, the lights were off, they didn't make a noise. They were just afraid that one of them would enter. They were heavily armed. And that was the reason why we left. We left in conditions which I had never thought would happen.
THE PRESIDENT: The Chancellor is asking another question. In your whole life did you never have one good, positive encounter with a Serb, someone who treated you as a human being, someone who was decent to you? Has this ever happened to you?
Q When I was a little child, probably the relations were a little better. I would say the relations were a little better then. When I went to high school, in the first year of high school, that's when the things started getting worse. Half of my village is Serb. When we help them, they behave. When we bow to them, they behave with us. But when they have the power, they just pretend like they don't know you anymore, they don't know who you are anymore. That's my experience.
Our grandparents have told us that we should never trust a Serb. When we were children, probably we would play together. But then later it was so difficult to just be friends with Serbs, just to become friends with them.
Q I'm sorry, it's so difficult for me to explain myself as I should my experience. I don't know where my children are now. I know that some of them are in Skopja. And I don't know what I'll do, where I'll stay, without my family.
Thank you very much for coming to visit with us and to see the conditions in which we live. I could go on and on talking, but it's just impossible, it's impossible for me to talk.
Q First of all, I'd like to salute you, Mr. President, and Mr. Chancellor. I come from the bloodied Pristina, from the Albanian school where I was a teacher whose students are left behind, and I don't know what has happened to them, whether they have been massacred or are starving with no water, no clothing.
I was chased away from my classroom three times by the Serb police, in 1994, in '88, in 1990. They beat up the students in front of me, they mistreated them in front of me. I was called in the police station several times. Our identity papers were stripped away from students. I just don't know how I live here when I don't know what has happened to my children.
My father in Kosovo, he's a retired person from Germany. It's 42 days that I don't know what has happened to him. Serb police have taken a huge amount of money in return for his freedom, but I still don't know anything about him. I don't know whether they have to eat or they have clothes, or where they are.
I have asked in Macedonia, I have asked in Albania. Wherever there is a place I know there is a phone nearby, I call, but I just don't hear anything. My brother with two little children, those little children, they were thinking that they were fleeing the war. I salute you and thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us, to know the pain that we are going through. We thank the German people for the assistance that they have given to us.
Q By profession, I'm a doctor, medical doctor. I'd like to thank President Clinton and the Chancellor of Germany for their visit with the refugees, which, for us, the refugees, is of great psycho-therapeutic value. We have to pay attention to the treatment of psychic trauma of displaced people and refugees. The numbers are staggering, and we, here, feel much better and much safer.
It will take a long time to tell everything we have to say. I would like to say a few words about Pristina, the neighborhood where I come from, called Dardonia (phonetic). First of all, after NATO strikes began, after the Serb barracks were hit, the Serb army positioned the tanks between the buildings, the civilian buildings in the neighborhood. The tanks were placed in the entrances of the buildings, two tanks in each building, and that was done for two purposes: to hide them from the NATO planes and also to exercise psychological terror on the civilian population that was still present in Pristina.
In those days, the civilian population started leaving. At 7:00 p.m. in the evening, there was no electricity in Pristina. There were no people in buildings. Pristina looked like hell. Paramilitary forces would roam around the roads, armed civilians with the Serb flag would roam around the streets of Pristina. People didn't dare go out to buy bread. The women were in danger for being kidnapped. For males, they would just take them away and they would get lost, or they were executed or sent somewhere else.
For three days, I packed -- they gave us an ultimatum to leave the building. A sister of mine was a guest of mine at the time. She had given birth, and three weeks after the birth, she had developed a condition in her hand, so she had to come for medication in Pristina. She had two children, a four-year-old and a six-year-old, with her in-laws. And because of the children and because of the infant we had with us and just looking at the terrible situation in Blace, we just didn't dare leave. We were thinking it better to live in terror in this building than to go to the hell of Blace.
And so, one day I had to go to buy bread. And one of the soldiers in one of the tanks asked me, in which floor do you live? Then he said, what are you waiting for? Why don't you leave? And I said, we were getting ready to leave. He asked where, and I said I'm going to Macedonia and then I don't know where we'll go from there.
Then, we took a train to Blace, and it was undescribable, what we saw in Blace. Pregnant women, born infants, lack of minimal hygienical conditions. There were simply no place for people to wash themselves, to take care of their physiological needs. An infant, it was so impossible to go through the hell of Blace, and so a number of infants died and a number of old, elderly people just could not survive it.
The day we arrived, a high official from Germany visited, and at that point, they started leaving us to cross the border into Macedonia. The Macedonian police did not behave well in those occasions. Then we went to the tents of Stankovac where we had good conditions. And then, when we came to Germany, it was a great situation for us. That's why I want to express my thanks one more time to the Chancellor of Germany and to the entire population of Germany for their help in our rehabitation. I'd like to salute you one more time, and as I said, I hope your visit will help treat a number of people.
Q First of all, I'd like to salute the President of the United States, Mr. Clinton, and Chancellor Schroeder for the time they spent to come to visit with us. This visit has helped us express our pain and helped us relieve our pain, just telling about all the pain we had gone through when we left our home into Blace.
It was the fifth day after the NATO raid started. I was on the terrace of my house and I heard heavy automatic weapons in Pristina coming closer and closer to my neighborhood. They sent first two armored carriers. The Serb police then moved in. They started beating people, the family and everybody in the way impossible for a human to behave. They were saying all Albanians must go out; this is Serbia. You can go to Albania; that's what you want it for.
In that moment, I went in the kitchen and I told my family, lie down on the floor. And at that time, I heard noise of women and children and I looked outside of the window, and they were going in the neighborhood, house to house, and I said, run away from the back door.
We started going, one by one, going from garden to garden, from home to home, until we were out of the neighborhood. And from then, we passed the main road and we went to the next neighborhood. That's where the first victims fell. An 80-year-old man; he just couldn't go anymore. Another girl, Feora Krasnichi (phonetic) also fell. And another women whose name I don't recall now. And then there was another even more tragic -- even when we boarded the plane to Macedonia. And past midnight, around 3:00 a.m., three Serb police officers approached me and said, say good-bye to all members of your family. And I just couldn't say good-bye to them, to my children. I just followed them.
There were two military and three regular police officers with them, masked, and they asked, did you greet everybody. And I said, I just had lost it, I don't know what to do. And they said, take everything out you have. And I said, I have nothing left with me, they have taken everything from me. And they said, you need to give 5,000 marks to save yourself.
I had a golden chain, a necklace, and I said, that's all I have. And they said, we are full of gold; we just want cash now. And I said, I just have to go and look around to find it. And they said, don't come back without 1,000 Deutch marks. And then I went and borrowed 1,000 marks and returned them to the police. And they said, go and never come back in this land of Kosovo.
Thank you very much.
CHANCELLOR SCHROEDER: -- the doctor among you had mentioned in particular that it is very important for everybody to know how you fared, what you went through, because we have to tell our people why it is that we are fighting more -- our people are opposed to war. Sensible people are always opposed to war, and they'll only understand this is necessary if we manage to persuade them and to convince them that we have to help, because it's a matter of preserving very important rights -- the right to live in freedom, the right to live in safety. And Germany and in other countries, including America, must understand and want to understand that we are sending our soldiers to Yugoslavia so that you, that your people can return to your homeland. That is why we want to hear what you've been through.
It's also important, however, for those who are engaged in the media -- the newspaper reporters -- they need to describe what you have suffered in order for people who are not involved -- every day and are not accustomed to this kind of thing, understand what it is that makes us make our decisions. And that's why it's very important for us to hear from those who are immediately affected by what happened, and that's why I thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: I would like to, first of all, say again to Chancellor Schroeder how much I appreciate Germany's leadership in this whole endeavor and making this place for you to live.
And I would like to, again, say to all of you, I am very grateful that you came here and said what you did today. I know it was hard. But I listened very carefully to every one of you. And I wish that I could hear from the small number who have not spoken yet. Even the young man here who said he couldn't talk, the way he said it spoke a lot, because we could tell when he couldn't talk.
I think it is very important in these days for us to do everything we can to find out what happened to your relatives, if you don't know what's happened to other family members. And as you can imagine, this is difficult because the camps in Albania and in Macedonia, they're growing so fast, so it's very hard to keep up with everyone and then have a register. But we will get this done. Eventually, we will have records of everyone and where they are, and then we can check on these matters for you. And I know that's hard and we will work on that.
But I also think it's important for you to do everything you can to support each other and to give opportunities to get your feelings out, because it is easy for the spirit to be broken in an environment like this, after all you've been through. And then, even if you got to go home, you would never be the same again, and you would be giving the people who have oppressed you a victory.
And I ask you not to give them that victory. Don't let yourself be broken by this. Find a way to be glad that the sun comes up in the morning and that you have the people around you you do. And we'll look for your students and we'll look for your family members. But remember, you cannot give a victory to the kind of oppression you have been subject to. We cannot see these children robbed of their childhood. And the adults, the older among you, you must not let the younger people lose heart. And we will stay at it until you can go home again. Thank you.
END 1:50 P.M. (L)