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Kosovo: Starting over

Friday, December 24, 1999

By Martha Rial, Post-Gazette Staff Photographer

The bombing in Kosovo had ended. Seventy-eight days of it, to be exact, a conflict born of ethnic rivalries, in which the United States and its NATO allies dropped bombs on an Eastern European province the size of Connecticut to bring about peace. A conflict that first brought me to the region six months ago, while the bombs were still falling, and last month brought me back to photograph the aftermath.

  Remzie Lani and her 5-year-old son Lirim walk through their destroyed home in Pec, Kosovo, one of an estimated 70,000 homes that were targeted by Serbian revenge attacks during the NATO bombing campaign that ended last June. The Lani family's story is one of many captured by PG photographer Martha Rial in a special Photo Journal, Kosovo: Starting Over. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

Serbian paramilitaries no longer burn houses or brutalize ethnic Albanians to drive them from Kosovo. Now, the tables have turned. Serbs in Kosovo flee as militant Albanians seek retribution.

The war has scarred people in ways I would have never imagined. Firecrackers exploding on Albanian flag day in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, caused elderly women to flinch. Homes toppled along the roadways made me wonder how the province could ever rebuild.

That war strips people of their dignity and forces them to flee their homes goes without saying. In Kosovo, where family ties to the land often go back centuries, the anxiety felt over having been forcibly removed and relocated is intense.

Yet, the people I encountered exhibited amazing courage, seeking to survive in a place mired in a seemingly endless cycle of domination, revenge and hatred. The will to move forward, to prosper, was extraordinary among the young Albanians I met.

It is their story, as well as the stories of others seeking to rebuild their shattered lives, that I sought to portray in the photographs that follow.

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