“It will all work out” is an expression that has kept us alive for so many years. It’s the same expression my father told me, the same one he heard from his father, the same one that was told to my grandfather by his father, and so on through the generations.
It’s the same thing I tell my children even though our hopes are often smothered out. People often ask me: “Who are you? What are you?” My answer is that it doesn’t matter who I am, but I’ll tell you where I live. I live in a country that calls itself democratic, but where the people don’t live in democracy. I live in a place where respecting the law is seen as an illegal act and where minority communities have many rights, but they are ones they cannot exercise.
I am Ashkali. Perhaps after you learn this about me, some of you may assume that I am homeless, that I am uneducated, that I am disrespectful, that I don’t know how to love, that I am violent, that I have many children or maybe I may be a drunkard. In short, you may think that all the worst things can be found in me. Even if all your assumptions were true, have you ever thought about why or how? Have you ever wondered whether people want to be like that? Who would you blame for this? Me? Look elsewhere, not at me.
I didn’t go to school because I was not welcomed. Time after time, as a child I had to leave school to help support my family, the same thing that many children from minority communities have to do. If I don’t know how to respect others, maybe it is because I have never been shown respect. Perhaps I don’t know how to love others, because others never loved me. If I am violent, it would only be because I have always been welcomed with violence. Even growing up without respect, I manage to respect myself. Every night before I go to sleep I tell myself: I love you, I’m sorry, please and thank you. I must be strong because tomorrow when I wake up, I will face the same challenges I faced the previous day.
This is where I live. In a place where minority communities are despised and unwanted, though it is the disdain itself which should be unwanted. In a place where you live for the future without the rights of today. I live in a place where one of us was killed in front of the state. I live here where hope is smothered out, just like Kujtim Veseli’s hope that was killed when he was just a child.
Kujtim in our memories
At the age of 11, on July 1, 2019, Kujtim Veseli was found dead under the stairs of a residential complex in Fushë Kosova. How can we tell Makfire Ilazi, Kujtim’s mother, that “it will all work out” when we know that Kujtim’s death could have been prevented if it weren’t for the negligence of state institutions? What can we say to her when, in a few months, instead of a birthday, she will mark the third anniversary of her son’s death.
Kujtim’s liveliness could be seen everywhere, in the neighborhood, at the market. He was full of energy and always smiling. This bonded us with him and many of us considered and treated him as a member of our own families. Even if he had died of natural causes or chance, it would have been horrendous for us to accept it.
When we learned how Kujtim died, it is an understatement to say that we were shocked. He died after he went through psychological, physical and sexual violence. The news of the death of someone we knew so closely was unbearable. It tore our souls apart, because we lost a brother, a son, a family member and a friend who was so lively that he lit up the whole neighborhood. We lost his love, his smile and his hope.
We lost some of our hopes when we realized that the police had known about what was going on. I was disappointed because we’ve participated in dozens of information sessions with various institutions about reporting violence and we were often accused of not reporting the cases of violence. And now? How could we accept the death of an 11-year-old boy, one who became the victim of negligence from those who constantly complain to us that we don’t report cases of violence.
Kujtim’s case had been reported to the police. Even though Kujtim Veseli’s abuser had accepted blame, he was left free. He was free despite a total of 26 criminal charges and 15 indictments. Completely free to continue to abuse Kujtim and eventually to murder him.
Despite the negligence that led to Kujtim’s murder and despite the fact that thousands of citizens signed the petition “Justice for Kujtim” that requested, among other demands, that the Kosovo Police and State Prosecutor’s Office apologize for violating Kujtim’s right to life and neglecting the case, we received no apology. With life already difficult for our communities, the case of Kujtim just adds insult to injury. His life was unprotected.
We all are to blame
What happened to Kujtim is not an isolated case, but part of widespread discrimination against the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities. The children of today will become the prosecutors, police officers and judges of tomorrow. If we continue to raise children with the same prejudices, with contemptuous words towards the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, then we will continue to reinforce exclusion, we will continue to recreate the same circumstances that enabled the Kujtim’s murder.
If you continue to use ethnic slurs when speaking with your children, like the often heard warning, “Behave well, or the maxhup will come for you;” if you are still worried that your child will be in a class that has children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities; if you say to your child “don’t sit with any maxhup;” if your jokes depend on portraying the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities as dirty, ignorant or insignificant; well, then, when your children become prosecutors and judges, they will undervalue the lives of people from Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities and leave them without protection. Injustice will continue.
Let Kujtim be the continuing and permanent remembrance of what happens when someone turns their head or closes their eyes in the face of injustice. Let Kujtim be the last to be killed. Let’s raise our children without prejudices, so that tomorrow Kujtim’s friends can live their lives fully and free. Let’s educate our children in the spirit of love and acceptance, instead of hate and exclusion. Let us plant seeds of justice, then reap the benefits.
Let the voice of Kujtim echo, to remind us that negligence kills and those who neglect life should be punished. Until then, “it will all work out” will remain just empty, meaningless words.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.
This publication is part of the op-ed series published by the campaign Justice for Kujtim, supported by the grants scheme “Kujtim Veseli” managed by NGO Voice of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian.