May 04th 2008 01:52:01 AM
In Kosovo, Freedom’s ‘Iffy’ for Its Few Jews (From February):
On a forlorn road dotted with half-built houses, Ines Quono reflects on her struggle in a land so remote to most Americans it might as well be Oz.
But instead of a yellow brick road, there is crumbling, mud-drenched pavement piled high with garbage.
“The only thing that works in Kosovo is the banks; we all have to borrow money to do something — anything,” says Quono, 28.
Quono is among the last Jews of Kosovo…Unemployment in Kosovo hovers at 50 percent, and the average wage is $350 a month.
The future of Quono and her family is uncertain, as they decide whether their destiny is in Israel or in southeastern Europe, where their roots go back to the 15th-century Spanish Inquisition, when thousands of Sephardic Jews fled to the Balkans.
There are some 50 Jews left in Kosovo. Belonging to three families, or clans, they all live in the city of Prizren, a rare gem of ancient architecture amid a landscape devastated by war, poverty and Communist-era concrete.
Corruption, criminality and a lack of foreign investment have marked life in Kosovo over the last nine years…Distressed by a war they watched from the sidelines and facing an uncertain future, the Jews of Prizren are gloomy.
When the war started, the other Jews in Kosovo — the 50 or so living in the capital city of Pristina — fled [forcibly] to Serbia, where they spoke the language and felt a part of the culture. But those in Prizren, where Jews speak Albanian and Turkish (there is a large Turkish population there) remained. [Thanks to their Albanization and mixed marriages with Albanians, they passed under the radar during the Kosovo war when the KLA was kicking out the Serbian-speaking Jews.]
Now, with Kosovo having broken away from Serbia, those like Votim Demiri, Quono’s father, who made a decent living under communism, find it hard to leave the homes they built, despite fears of growing tensions with their neighbors.
“There was not anti-Semitism in the past, but with the Saudi charities here, now we are seeing a Wa[h]habi influence for the first time…I think the newspapers these days are not portraying Jews in such a positive light.”
Jews are outsiders in quasi-state controlled by ethnic Albanians, who mete out the few jobs there are to friends and family, according to Robert Djerassi, the JDC official responsible for the organization’s activities in Kosovo. “Ninety percent of Jews in Prizren are jobless,” he said. […]
Another possible reason that Pristina’s last 50 Jews were kicked out and Prizren’s weren’t is that those who left were the last “communities of Jews, living as Jews,” Melana Pejakovich of Serbblog explained to me. “They left with their rabbi. These people may just be random stragglers who don’t practice their faith and who thought they could survive with the Albanians — surprise, they can’t.” Pejakovich added that, firstly, in wartime things are seldom crystal-clear, and secondly, it would make some sense if the Albanians had kept a few Jews around for propaganda purposes, but only the more bearable, Albanized ones.