Nedzat Cecunjanin, a young man from the village of Vitomirice/a, lived side by side with his Albanian neighbors prior to the 1999 war. The nearby town of Peja/Pec in west Kosovo was one of the most devastated areas in all of Kosovo in the spring of 1999.
When the violence ignited, most Kosovo Albanian inhabitants immediately fled over the snowbound Mountains of the Damned (with peaks reaching nearly 8,000 feet) to seek safety across national borders in Montenegro. Many families began returning in June 1999, after North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military intervention. However, many did not.
Western Kosovo was the country's most ravaged region in the late 1990s, suffering brutality at the hands of Serb military and paramilitary forces. Nedzat - like many of the Bosniac community – left his home with his entire family when the NATO bombing started in the spring of 1999, fearing reprisals from the local ethnic Kosovo Albanian community.
“We felt very bad that we had to leave our house and everything in it to save our lives,” Nedzat says.
In 2005, after spending five years as a displaced person in Montenegro, Nedzat made the momentous decision to return to Kosovo. While displaced, he lived in the town of Plave, Montenegro, hosted by his sisters.
“It was hard to live on the assistance provided by the Montenegro Red Cross. The only work available was occasional day labor,” explains Nedzat.
During his exile in Montenegro, he met, fell in love with and married a local woman. Their three children were born in Montenegro. Nedzat explains that he and his two other brothers “had to work hard to ensure food for family."
Pondering the wisdom of returning to Kosovo, one brother, Sedat, and their mother returned to Vitomirice/a in 2002 to discover what had happened to their property and to assess the general situation in the neighborhood - unfortunately, their house had been ransacked and virtually destroyed.
Nedzat was unable to return right away to help his family rebuild, because he had a young family and there was nowhere for them to live. In April 2005, Nedzat, his brother Esad and their families returned to Vitomirice/a. With materials provided by the American Refugee Council (ARC), a partner of Mercy Corps, the brothers reconstructed their family home using their own labor.
In order to facilitate the return of refugee families and rebuild the local economy, ARC asked Mercy Corps to assess the situation and suggest opportunities. Following consultations between Mercy Corps field officers, Nedzat, his wife and brothers, as well as many community members, consensus was reached that a grant to the Cecunjanin family had the potential to assist the wider community too.
“We are confronting difficulties during the planting season because of a lack of machinery,” one of the villagers reported. All agreed that the provision of a tractor with implements including plough, harrow, grass mower and trailer would be of real benefit to the community in allowing them to cultivate their land and plant their crops in a timely manner. In the past, they'd had to rely on expensive contractors from other villages.
Nedzat and his wife, Elzana, received a grant and purchased a tractor. The tractor and implements arrived in the village on July 18, 2005, and the entire community gathered together to celebrate the event.
“We are very happy today because we don’t have to go to other villages to rent tractors for our agricultural needs any more,” said a Kosovo Albanian neighbor. “The Cecunjanins are very nice people and they are friends with everyone. I am strongly convinced that the community will benefit a lot from this project.”
On July 19, Nedzat and his brother began using the tractor and side mower to work for the community. For the first day of operation, including cutting grass for their Kosovo Albanian neighbor, they worked free of charge.
In the future, they will charge modest fees for their services, as agreed by the community. However, the brothers voluntarily agreed to provide free services to some very vulnerable local families.
Kosovo is on the mend, thanks to collaboration and a few good neighbors.