"We Were The Only Deserters Punished" - A Rom from Albania Tells of Hazing in the Albanian Army
10 April 1997
Approximately 800 Roma live in the town of Delvinë in southern Albania. The Roma neighbourhood is a separate, run-down quarter and the problems faced by them are numerous. Unemployment among the local Roma is high, and Roma suffer from a lack of access to social assistance, education and basic sanitary provisions such as water and sometimes electricity. They are also reportedly subjected to repeated harassment by non-Roma who attempt to expel the Roma and take their houses. Incidents of violent attack keep the residents in a constant state of fear and have allegedly already led to forced expulsion of two families.
The testimony below was given to the ERRC by Vladimir Majko, who reported systematic torture and humiliation by fellow-soldiers and superiors while serving in the Albanian military in Sarandë. In February 1996, Vladimir Majko and his 19-year-old friend Petrit Musta fled the army after ten months of service, two months before they were subsequently charged with desertion and have been sentenced to seven months in prison. They have appealed this court decision twice and the case is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court in Tiranë. The ERRC has sent a letter of concern to the General Prosecutor of Albania, asking them to comment on this case. To date, the ERRC has not received any response from the General Prosecutor.
Since the ERRC visited Delvinë civil unrest has broken out in Albania. On March 2, 1997, Albanian army planes bombed the town. The ERRC presently has no word on the fate of the Roma of Delvinë.
Me oral Pewit were in a unit in Suandë. We started in April 1995. Out of G00 soldiers, we were the only llama. It was very bad in the army. The soldiers in our unit beat us and called us „niggers” and „dirty Gypsis”. Every day a meals. the others spit in our food and forced us m eat it. We had to sleep in separate rooms and we always had to do all the dirty jobs. It is not that we worked separately, but the others always ordered us to do their work too. If we refitted, they would beat us.
When new soldiers came, they beat us too. When we complained about the way the other soldiers treated us, we were put in isolation. I was put in isolation five times.
We had good relations with one of the officers, but the others were all bad. Most of the officers beat us too. They called us „arixhi” („Gypsies”, pronounced „ar-ed-jee”). We felt so bad there that we wanted to be transferred, so we went to see the head of the base and told him everything. He answered, „You are Gypsies, we don’t care about how you feel.”
After being in the army for one month, the soldiers in our unit were given a two-day furlough to go home, but me and Petrit had to stay at the base. The other soldiers could go home whenever they wanted, but if we wanted to go home, we had to pay. The officer asked for 15,000 Greek drachmas (approximately 60 US dollars). He said „Roma have a lot of money.” I didn’t have the money, so I had to stay. It didn’t help that I told them I had two kids to take care of at home, they still wouldn’t let me go. And while the others were gone on leave, we had to do their tasks.
One day I fell ill, but the officers still did not let me go home on leave. I have heart problems and I told this to my commanding officer. The officer told me, „It is OK if you die, you are a Gypsy”. For six months, my family did not see me at all. They came to visit me once, but they were not let in to the base to see me. The other Rom finally paid the bribe and he was allowed to go home, but my first furlough was only after six months. Then I was finally allowed to go home for four days.
In February 1996, I was almost killed by a soldier in our unit. I don’t know why he was so angry, but he hated me and let me know it all the time. He had bothered me before, but on this one particular day, he just snapped. In the morning he beat me after we had got our tasks for the day – just beat me. And then later, in the afternoon, he stuck a gun in my face. I am sure he was just about to kill me, but a commandant saw what was happening and he interfered. I went to my officer and told him what had happened, but the officer said I was the one who started the problem and he took a stick and beat me on my back.
Then I was put in isolation. The head of the base wanted to see me so they brought me in to talk to him. I told him my story, but he said that it was all my fault and had me put back in isolation for twenty days. In the solitary confinement cell, there was only a bed without a cover. I was barely given anything to eat or to drink for the entire 20 days. After they let me out, me and Petrit decided that we had had enough. We left a short time later and came home to Delving.
After we had been at home for three days, the military police came and asked why we left the army without permission. There were two of them who came. We explained to them and they said that if we were telling the truth, they would let us go. Then they left, but we were accused of desertion anyway.
The first trial was two months ago, here in Delving. We were declared guilty. We were not present at the trial. This was because they never notified us of the date. Three days after the trial, we both received a telegram stating that we were guilty and that we would have to go to jail for seven months. It also said that we had five days to appeal.
My parents knew a lawyer from before. My father is a basket-maker and he had once made one for this lawyer. So we called him and he agreed to help us for 220 US dollars. We went to Tirana and filed an appeal. On December 2, 1996, there was a second hearing in the Tirana Military Court. We were again declared guilty and got seven months. We appealed the decision the same day. The case is now at the Supreme Court. I don’t know when the next trial will be.
I hope we don’t go to prison. We were the only deserters punished. While we were in the army, twenty people left without permission, but nothing happened to them, except that they had to come back and finish their service. When we left the army, the case went to court. The army did not accept us back. Petrit went back there with his father but they told him that because we were Gypsies, they didn’t want us back. They said that we would be tried and sent to prison as we deserved.
Vladimir Majko, Albanian Romani Man, age 23, interviewed n December 4, 1996 in Delvinë, Albania