Remembering The Kosovo War’s Meja Massacre

On 27 April, hundreds gathered in Meja, Kosovo, in remembrance of the victims of the 1999 Meja Massacre, considered the largest mass killing in the Kosovo War. The Meja Massacre saw the murder of some 370 Albanian Muslims and Catholic civilians by Serbian police and army forces as they fled to Albania for refuge. Men and boys were separated from their families and other refugees and executed, apparently in retaliation for the killing of Serbian policemen by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Many of their bodies were found in a mass grave much later, after the war had ended. This year marked the twentieth anniversary of the massacre, which family members and loved ones of the victims commemorated at the Meja memorial complex. 

Sofe, sister of Sali Alijaj, one of those killed in the massacre, said to Al Jazeera, “[Those who were killed] will always be remembered. Any of us who had lost someone in the war has a wound in their hearts forever.” Shemsie Hoxha, who lost two sons and her husband at Meja, echoed this, stating that “[t]he pain and memories are the same 20 years later.” 

In addition to family members of those killed, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj also attended the commemoration of the massacre. The US Ambassador to Kosovo, Philip Kosnett, was in attendance as well, stating that “[t]he trauma of Kosovo’s own past touches every corner of this country…and extends beyond its borders.” All three laid wreaths at the memorial. 

The Kosovo War took place between 1998 and 1999, erupting from the oppressive Serbian rule of Kosovo and the formation of the KLA in the 1990s. The war ultimately saw NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia and resulted in the removal of Slobodan Milosevic’s forces from Kosovo, along with the displacement of millions, the deaths of over 13,000, and the perpetration of major war crimes, some of which are unresolved to this day. Thousands remain missing, despite the establishment of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). In fact, the BBC has called the Kosovo War the “conflict that won’t go away.” There is a legacy of bitterness, furthered by the fact that Kosovo’s declared independence and sovereignty has not been recognized by Serbia. 

The Meja Massacre is a reminder that the effects of the war are still present, and that they must still be addressed. Memories of the Meja Massacre demonstrate that not only were the human rights to life and security violated for the victims of the massacre, with long-lasting impacts on their families and loved ones, but the tensions that gave rise to conflict and massacre are still present and creating major instability in the region. Not only are broader political resolutions needed, but resolution for individuals must come as well. The United Nations, working with local institutions in Kosovo, must continue to support “the process of solving the fate of those who went missing” during the Kosovo War, an expressed area of its work in the country. This will help to bring resolution in the aftermath of the war. War crime cases must also be pushed to resolution, and justice must be delivered. Members of the international community can take steps to seek justice and pressure authorities in Serbia to increase efforts to resolve cases and bring alleged criminals to court, instead of protecting them. Fundamentally, the atrocities of the Kosovo War, including the Meja Massacre, must be acknowledged, and its victims remembered.