They’d lived in Kosovo for generations, but that meant nothing when angry men in uniform went from door to door through their neighborhoods, beating them at random, dragging them off to be tortured, giving them five minutes to leave and torching their houses.
But that was before NATO took control of Kosovo, right? Wrong. The ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s estimated 100,000 Gypsies began only after the Serbs withdrew and the Kosovo Liberation Army moved in, and it has continued right under the noses of Western peacekeepers. And unlike Kosovo’s Serbs, the Gypsies have nowhere to go. Those who tried to leave with the Serbs were turned back at the border, leaving them to the face the wrath of the Kosovar Albanians. Although NATO's KFOR peacekeepers have vowed to protect them, the understaffed force isn’t geared up to deal with low-level ethnic cleansing. Instead, Gypsies have been forced to abandon their homes and flee to makeshift refugee camps in some of the major Kosovo towns, where the peacekeepers are able to protect them.
For a despised people living at the margins of society all across the Balkans and the wider European continent from Russia to Spain, their persecution at the hands of returning ethnic Albanians in Kosovo is simply another chapter in a long history of suffering. Originally from Northern India, the Gypsies — or Roma people — were nomadic tribesmen skilled in crafts and music who were scattered westward more than a thousand years ago by successive waves of war and occupation. Passing through the Persian, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, they settled throughout Asia Minor, the Arab world, the Balkans and Europe but maintained common threads of language, culture, music and religious belief throughout their diaspora. But rarely have their host countries made them feel welcome. They were legally able to be enslaved in Europe until the mid-19th century, and the hostility they suffered throughout the continent reached its zenith during World War II, when more than half a million died in Nazi concentration camps –- losses almost proportional to those suffered by Jews.