The speech of Kosovar Driton Latifi at the World Conference of sports media that was held in 2000 in Copenhagen (Denmark)

“Before and After the War”

Dear friends and respected colleagues,
First at all I would like to thank the organizers of this meeting, who have supported my trip here so I could speak, on behalf of what had happened to the athletes of Kosova and its journalists in the past decade. My name is Driton Latifi, I’m from Kosova country you have known from the last year’s NATO bombing. Your states are the one that have helped me to survive fiscally, although I have to say that there are a lot of athletes that have died, are in prison in Serbia or are lost, and their relatives don’t know anything about them. Maybe you can say that with my 22 years I should have looked after my talent somewhere else, maybe in football, but in the last years not only me but also the all kosovar athletes where not aloud to use the sporting facilities in Kosova.

Kosova is a small country with around 2.5 million inhabitants, but it’s more interesting that with 53% of its population under 19 years old it can provides a great potential for sport. As a lot of other countries, we also have a very modest history of sport. You maybe don’t know our athletes, but some of them did won gold medals, in European, world championships and Olympic games as well.
These medals in the mid 80-ies gave us a hope that in future we can deposit more medals. But that didn’t use to be the case after 1989. Miloševic’s climb in position in Serbia years before that and his nationalism didn’t care anything about the sports as it didn’t care about any human beings in Ex-Yugoslavia. FC Prishtina in 1983 became a member of the First Yugoslav soccer League. This team for five years had the biggest audience and the supporters. In 1989, after the game against Proleter Zrenjanin that ended in the draw (2:2), until the kosovar football players wre arguing with the referee, in one moment in front of more than 30.000 spectators, the Serbian police got in the pitch and started to beat the kosovar footballers. Captain of FC Prishtina and the local favourite, Gani Llapashtica got the worst his left leg was broken. Even that was not enough for them, they than started to chase the supporters, who were of course whistling to them because of what they were doing to their idols. Also a lot of supporters were arrested together with the players.

After this day the home ground of FC Prishtina was closed for the kosovars, and the stadium was guarded by the police forces. Then all the stadiums in other cities and all the other sporting palaces were closed for kosovars. Kosovar athletes with the force of Serbian police were not aloud to use the sporting facilities. In that time after some days have past the players of FC Prishtina got
together the members of Executive Committee and told them that they want to get on with their work no matter what will be the price. The team got very quickly together, and they held a training session in the forgotten field outside of Prishtina some 10 kilometres in village called, Llukar. The Serbian police stopped their game in the stadium with the force, but they never did stop the wish and their passion for playing football. After they secure the first equipment’s from the secret channels, how their activity was held, the kosovar football players organized the soccer League of Kosova, who was also playing the games in secret llocation from the Serbian police.

Arrests, beatings, sentences and stopping the games from the Serbian police made kosovar footballers be immune on that (fact about this you can find at Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International etc). A lot of games were stopped, and only a few of them were playing 90 minutes with joy of win. The schedule of games and its areas were kept secret until the last moment, so sometimes even we journalist missed the games. In it’s beginning soccer League had 4 groups, and the first two from the group were playing in the Play-off for the title. In such conditions, with no field, no equipment, no proper balls, and with the police after you, kosovar footballers although had time to find joy what this game is supposed to bring to anyone. On the other side you could hear stories like Serbian politicians calling “terroris” someone who just wanted to play football…FC Prishtina has won the first league title organized in such conditions, but their regard was not the international competition like it is not still today.

In these years, in Kosova were active some of the most popular games, there were existing 23 sports Federations, that got together more than 200.000 active athletes, and all of them were working in that secret system, away from the public eyes and normal conditions.In 1996, there was no force that could stop kosovar footballers of forming the First Kosova Unique league with 18 teams. Ironically, away from them in the city stadiums and sport stadiums facilities, serbs were making monopoly, although they were less than 10 % of Kosova population. They filled the teams only with serbs, and the games were watched by their few friends and somewhere in secret areas you could find until 10.000 spectators watching a football game and they were sitting in a stone, tree, or everywhere they could. In such conditions Kosova had more than 130 football clubs and more than 10.000 footballers, who were all sponsored by the private donors or companies, who would be hard to say that were getting something except the Serbian police at their doors. In this time ironically Serbian held FC Prishtina have been leaded by the war criminal, Zelko Raznjatovic – Arkan. In the beginning of 1998, when the first shots were heard in Drenica area, football and all the sport activities were stopped because of security conditions.

In this year some kosovar footballers lost their teamates. Driton Ahmeti, member of FC 2 Korriku from Dobroshec, was massacred in his home with some of his family members. Ahmet, was the first victim and not the last one. After the war he’s team retired the shirt number 7, that he used to wear. Talented player of FC Liria (Freedom), Perparim Thaqi was found dead in one morning of spring 1998 together with his two friends, the city stadium in Prizren todeay has his name “The Perparim Thaqi” stadium. Captain of FC Ferronikeli, Rexhep Rexhepi from Drenica area have been executed by the serbian forces in front of his family. It is very sad, but this list just goes on and on, and the kosovar FA don’t have exact number of killed footballers.

From some statistics there is estimate number of more than 100 kosovar athletes killed from the 1998 until the end of NATO bombing, in this number I didn’t put those who are in jail in Serbia or those that are lost, and their families don’t know anything about them. FC Prishtina is still the best club in Kosova, maybe colleagues you don’t imagine something that I just said. But, please could you just imagine for example what if catalons would experience to see how the police would beat the players in the Nou Camp stadium. How would react the supporter of Manchester United or a Bavarian of Bayern Munich. Anyway, after the return of the kosovar athletes to their sporting facilities, which some of them have been destroyed by the bombings, but also some of them by the Serbian forces leaving Kosova. The UN administration after the war have formed the Department of Sport, who is doing in fact the work of Ministry, and is trying to help kosovar sports. There is one kosovar and one international member of UN that are in charge
of Sports Department. One of the interesting topics in this experience of kosovar sport, was also
the sports journalism. Me and my colleagues had the same destiny like the athletes. Writing for sport in the beginning was more danger than writing fro politics. In that time the population of Kosova had no informations about the local sport nor international sport. There was only one Daily Newspaper and no electronic media, such as radio or TV stations, who started their life only after the war. For sport you could write only after the game was over and very less before it. Anyway, in the end what kosova athletes and it’s media need is your help. It doesn’t metter in what way it should be.

Please help in any way the sport in Kosova
Thank you