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Sandstone Press is delighted that Remzije Sherifi, author of Shadow behind the Sun, has been awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List for services to refugee integration in Glasgow.

We are enormously proud of our association with Remzije. We can pay no better tribute than to present the radiant closing chapter of her book, Shadow Behind the Sun, aptly titled ‘Going Home’.

From all over Kosova they came in their thousands to honour the life of the dead president.

For all that it was early in the year and freezing they lined the streets outside our parliament. From inside they could hear sombre music playing as they waited through the night to enter and view the body. Drawing their coats and scarves more tightly around them they shuffled forward and beneath their slow moving feet snow turned to slush and chilled them.

Among them was my brother Ismet, carrying with him the respects of our mother and the rest of the family in Gjilan, also carrying with him the respects of the Sherifi family, so far away. Like the rest of the crowd he contemplated the difficult times of our recent past, the turbulence of our longer history, and our uncertain future.

Since the day we had voted ourselves a republic Ibrahim Rugova had been our leader. On the long dark road to freedom the light we followed was held aloft by him. His wise words held us back from actions that would have lost us the sympathy of the world. The same violent actions when we were in no way prepared would have brought about our annihilation. All this he saw in advance and his leadership took us safely through those haunted woods. His energetic counsel among the great powers, in Europe and at the United Nations brought us recognition such as we had never known before, recognition as a people.

The time we were living in always felt like our time of greatest need. KFOR had brought an end to Serbian violence but the longer future had to be looked to. The voice of Ibrahim Rugova was more than ever required. We needed him, now more than ever, for his sanity and clear view of what is possible, for his restraint and patient determination.

Agron Bajrami, then editor of our biggest newspaper, Koha Ditore, wrote, ‘He was the leader of the biggest party in Kosova, the strongest in the coalition government, and also head of the negotiating team. In all those positions he was an extremely important unifying factor.’ It was not violence that took President Rugova from us but worries and lung cancer. He had played his part well but now he was gone.

Now a new crossroads appeared before us as negotiations were begun. In Kosova we were pessimistic about achieving progress with the Serbian authorities. We believed that the United Nations Security Council would have to impose a settlement and, that being so, hoped that the Serbian people would accept. Kosova could then be recognised internationally and we could work through to a lasting peace. The word on everyone’s lips was ‘independence’, the destination we had identified so many years before.

Yugoslavia was no more, and with its departure old antipathies had been released and territorial claims reasserted. It was not that they had been reborn. Tito’s version of Socialism had only contained them, never laid them to rest. Neither the Nationalisms of the 19th century that ended with the First World War, nor Fascism that ended with the Second, nor Communism that ended in my lifetime, had ever replaced them. Instead they had attached themselves to whichever form of identity, whether nationhood, religion or ideology, would best carry them on. The Balkans has never known large scale integration except by dictatorship, genocide and rape.

The criminals behind the violence one by one met their fates. First was Arkan, whose paramilitaries perpetrated so many atrocities. He suffered a gangster’s death, shot three times in the back of the head by an off duty policeman in a hotel in Belgrade. His career had begun with delinquent crime and progressed through robbery and assassination across Europe until eventually he operated at the level of genocide. Cynically he wove his family story into Serbian mythology and became a hero to some. He developed a patriotic, warrior glamour but eventually died as he had lived, as Milosevic associates often did. Biljana Plavsic, who congratulated him among the rubble of Vukovar, gave herself up. Charged with genocide, Sheshel also gave himself up.

Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial at The Hague before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia but never came fully to justice. He was found dead of a heart attack in his cell some two months after the death of Ibrahim Rugova. Political and spiritual opposites they met their ends remarkably close in time.

Many criminals, but most notably Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, remain at large at my time of writing. They must be brought to account for their deeds. If they had been faced down earlier in their careers the terrible suffering that occurred not only in Kosova, Bosnia, and Croatia, but in Serbia itself, would not have happened.

Serbia had by now returned to democratic processes and elected a new president and it seemed that everything had changed. From Glasgow I looked on with optimism until one day I came home and switched on the television news. In the shadow of the constitutional negotiations the Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, had visited the monastery at Graçanica and spoken in the same terms as had Milosevic in 1989. This time there were no stones being handed out, no riot being organised, but the message was the same. ‘Kosovo always has been and always will be a part of Serbia.’

My heart sank because I had felt sure that of the choices before the negotiators, limited autonomy within the Serbian state, partition or independence, only independence had the potential to end the sequence of violence, revenge and clearance. Beyond that I had another optimistic dream, and that rests with the European community; that Kosova’s independence might be contained within a borderless Europe. This Europe would be strong, united in spirit, and industrious, its peoples together under one sky.

I believe that no one has more to gain from this dream than the Serbian people themselves. In all of the recent conflicts they suffered too. As they grow back from the loss of their children into a fuller understanding of what was perpetrated in their name, grow out of the ashes of a broken economy and a damaged culture, it is vital that they grow straight and without resentment. I cannot and will not forget the doctors in Belgrade who befriended us in our time of need. Nor will I forget the children’s cancer ward. Independent Kosova can stand beside them, secure in the recognition of national difference and, through that, into the greater recognition of our shared humanity.

New democratic parties had been formed since the war, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, the Party for Democratic Change, the Democratic League. The Clock Party took their name proclaiming that ‘the time has come for change’. The Self-Determination League was unhappy with post-war progress and frequently demonstrated for a speedier route to independence. The KLA had also evolved with many members now enlisted in the Kosova Protection Corps, effectively a civil police force. Other former members were dedicated to the removal of mines, particularly around the Albanian border, and yet others to the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure.

There is no forgetting. How can there be? At the place where Adem Jashari and his family were killed there will soon be a memorial complex and country park. Beneath our sense of grief we understand that continuing will be a test of our resource and our worth.

Our wider family has been fortunate. Most survived and returned, and not merely survived but prospered. In a country that now has an employment rate of only around twenty-five per cent and desperate under-investment, that will take many years to rebuild even with independence and international aid, all have jobs or businesses and are thriving.

Ismet manufactures Kosovan military goods such as flags, badges and epaulettes used by both the territorial army and the police. In so doing he employs, at present, nearly thirty women. His daughter Margarita is manager of the German Bank in Gjilan and Arta worked for Oxfam and other charitable agencies before moving into her father’s Company. Albulena is studying fashion design in Prishtinë and Ardian is completing Art Studies in Vienna.

Ahmet repairs and markets mobile phones and carries out satellite dish and cable installations. He and his wife Naza and their children live in the family home with my mother. Salihe enjoys good health but inevitably grows older and less strong. Naza is what we call a real ‘hard love woman’, meaning her caring goes beyond mere sympathy and is practical, strong and determined. Zana and Ema also help to look after her. It is a great relief to me to know that my mother is cared for in this way and it makes my life here easier.

My other brother, Agim, has been Enterprise Development Officer for the past three years. Albert is Health and Safety Manager at the United States International Development offices in Prishtinë and his wife, Teuta, is a practicing dentist. Adonis works for an American construction company and his wife has a shop selling baby clothes. Their father returned to his former post at the University of Prishtinë. Shemsi has a business importing construction materials and Afërdita continues as Secretary to the new police force. Both live with the memories of what was discovered in the police stations after the Serbian retreat.

My boys live in a different world even to the one I grew up in. In Glasgow we can use a small piece of plastic to speak with our family in Gjilan. They communicate across the world by internet. By air Kosova is now only three hours away. Their generation travels the world as no other has been able. Even their dreams are different. My boys say that, when they are successful businessmen, they will have homes in Scotland, the Highlands of Kosova, and in Turkey. I tell them to dream those dreams, nothing is more important.

All the boys have returned and made contact with their relations. The oldest even met Sejdi, Auntie Tush’s son who went to Germany. They met in Ismet’s house and were immediate and intimate friends and I can hardly say how the closing of this circle warmed me. I am homesick for all I lost, but I am here in Glasgow now and I am living a new life.

My experience has taught me not only to accept the changes that have occurred around me, whether or not they are the results of violence, whether or not they are illegal and unfair, but also the changes in myself. This is the key to sanity and continuation. I accept the loss of loved ones and homeland as I accept the loss of part of my body. Acceptance remakes me.

I believe in God. Most of the people I live among today are secular Christians. Some would describe themselves as agnostic or atheist but, even for them, the ground they spring from is Christian. I am a Muslim. I dress as a Westerner dresses, not using any special covering because, like them, I am a European woman. In fact, Albanians are the oldest nation in Europe.

I am as conscious and caring of my appearance as most women and make decisions on such things as hair colour and hemlines similar to any woman of my age. Probably my belief is only slightly different and the difference has been not so much determined by the religious divide as by environment and experience. Where most of the women I know have conducted their internal debate on a basis of social stability and the ideological movement through feminism, mine has taken place in the presence of tanks, the knowledge of rape, and the reality of flight.

I pass through the city without notice, yet I live where nations, religions and ideologies meet. I do this as a native of the Balkans, especially as an Albanian, and also in my work with asylum seekers and refugees.

The primary motors to any of the world’s troubles may seem like hatred, intolerance and violence, but for those of us who have to flee they are fear, insecurity and pain. We have enough to contend with in what life throws at us, as both Sherife’s death and Rugova’s show. To add to it as we do is a madness of the human condition.

Internationally, the tide of violence rises and perhaps rushes towards some terrible conclusion we cannot yet see. All over the world whole peoples are fleeing and we are not prepared. They run from religious oppression and from territorial expansion, from disease and poverty and from environmental change. Above all they flee from violence inflicted by other human beings. Experience tells me they are more like us than different, and this likeness runs far ahead of skin colour, race and traditions.

The work we do in integration is piecemeal. We put programmes together and we seek funding. Often it is not forthcoming. Long term planning is impossible even for the asylum seekers who are with us now. Increasing numbers, generated by increasing turbulence in the world, look for new beginnings. Their strongest emotion when they are dispersed ‘without choice’ into our worst housing conditions, housing stock that would otherwise lie empty, is gratitude.

Many of them are highly educated individuals of extraordinary resource, but the shock of encounter with the most deprived levels of our society is very great. People have positive notions of the country they are coming to, notions that have nothing to do with the welfare state and everything to do with a successful cultural and economic history. Time and again I hear the words, ‘This is Great Britain?’ With the pain of exile it can be too much. Depression is common. Marriages break down. Suicide happens. Yet this is better than what they have run from.

We work with them person-to-person, person-to-family, and we grow to love them. How could we not? When they are taken back into detention we share their fear. When their cases fail and they are sent away we suffer grief. Recently Kifayat and her husband Artur, little Arzu and her brother Michael were taken away by mistake. Mother and children were released within a few days but the father’s release took much longer and those were anxious times. After twice being released from detention with her young sons Zahra has been deported back to Uganda, although Glasgow had become their home.

At political level our easiest answer is to turn them back, as in 1939 the St Louis was turned and turned again until it eventually returned its cargo of Jews to the Nazis. This can be our response if we so choose. Otherwise we must show foresight and prepare. Acceptance of these lost souls will cost us little and, long term, bring us many benefits. It will increase our diversity and deepen our gene pool. It will bring us new ideas and energy and help us to further integrate into the world that is coming.

Here, above the Drop-In Café in the building that was designed so long ago by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, four square and reliable in its solidity, I continue in my work from day to day. I am one of the lucky ones in that I live in safety with my family and we are happy. All of us work, as is the nature of our people, and we talk into the night. The boys are grown and have completed their studies. My youngest son is married and his wife has at last been allowed to join us. As a mother of boys I am glad to have another woman in the house. My husband and sons have a wonderful relationship. They talk about business, sport, their shared passion, and they enjoy a drink together. In my gratitude for this I can even be a little bit jealous.

It is in the nature of things that they will leave the family home and their departures will probably come in the not too distant future. Like my sister Sherife I am of my family’s first generation to marry entirely by choice. I know now I chose well.

My husband has been my rock from the day of our marriage to the present. Through the loss of Sherife, and later my father, through the stress and surgery of breast cancer and the threat of its return, through political turmoil, through attack and flight, through that terrible journey into Macedonia, through the pain of exile and my commitment to the asylum seekers, he has been always beside me and often leading. Through him my boys know what it is to be a man.

I worry about the people of Kosova. They have terrible memories. People have lost entire families, others have loved ones still in prison or live in hope of returns that may never happen. The future cannot be built on recollections of horror or decisions made by others. I hope and pray they will recover from the past to live with their memories, but look to the future. Perhaps I ask too much but how else can we continue? The cycle of violence must be ended somehow. After peace and justice the final necessity is the will to forgive.

Downstairs the café has emptied. The phone will not ring again tonight. I finish our plan of coming activities and now, surely, the future of the Oasis Women’s Group, the Framework for Dialogue, and all those other projects will be assured. Since I began this book, both summer and autumn have passed. The sun has shifted in its arc across the sky and it is only now, much later in the day than when I began, that it falls on my geranium and my spider plant.

That reminds me, they need to be watered. They have to be tended. Somehow Kosova will come through. Somehow humanity will, I mean our humanity, the essence of what we are, but not without attention. It is growing dark. The asylum seekers, Charlotte, Nuna, Rahim, Amel and the rest have gone. I hope they are still with us in the morning.

Remzije Sherifi

Remzije Sherifi