By Gavin Friday
From: Irish Independent, September 26, 1999
“Taxi, Barry’s Balloon’s Phibsboro, then I’m off to Artane to see ‘Joe’ the magic man” ” What’s the story Bud?” “I’m just getting a crash course in balloon magic….” “What are you doing, starting up a circus?”
“No, I’m going to Kosovo” “Kosovo? Why? Are you alright in the head?”
I sat back in the taxi… lit up a cigarette and thought… “Jesus, maybe I’m losing it?”
Kosovo? Why? I don’t really know, it’s all too convoluted and to tell the truth the ‘why?’ is not that important. Like most things in my life, I make it up as I go along… a planned accident. In May of this year, over a few pints myself and a couple of friends, Anne-Louise Kelly and Sheila Roche decided to do something constructive to help the plight of the refugees in Kosovo. We approached ‘Concern’ and offered our services to help fundraise.
We had lots of ideas: one was an art exhibition…. ‘Artists For Kosovo’. Laura Magahy and Aileen Corkery of Temple Bar Properties immediately jumped on board and with their huge support, the Dublin artistic community and the children of St. Audeon’s Christchurch National School produced an incredible body of work.
Another mad idea was a giant flying piggybank. Once again Temple Bar Properties and a cast of thousands helped us out here, but it was the surreal genius of the sculptor Laurent Mellet that brought the idea truly to life: ‘Muc’ the flying piggy bank.
Then in July, three weeks after the N.A.T.O ceasefire, on Concern’s request, we went to Kosovo to shoot a short film, as hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees returned to their homeland.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced in the few days I was in Kosovo. From the moment we crossed the border at Macedonia the tension and fear was enough to make one vomit. I was frightened, the film crew were frightened. Everywhere looked and felt like hell on earth. Every village, town, city, we went to was flattened to the ground, and everywhere we went people asked us: “Do you want to film the dead bodies?”
Hundreds of boobytrapped bodies lay decomposing in fields, streams, on roads. Limbs, skeletons, scattered all over the place. Fathers, sons, uncles, missing – presumed dead. Thousands were massacred, mostly men. Strangely my most vivid memory is the smell, something I can’t even begin to describe.
On our last day of filming, we spent an afternoon with a group of refugee children. We played party games, painted pictures, I even got to do a bit of balloon magic (I was crap, so much for my crash course with ‘Joe’ the magic man) it was in this context one could feel some sense of optimism.
I asked the children if they had ‘Three Wishes For Kosovo’… what would they be. Nearly every child said the same wishes:
“To have peace in Kosovo”
“To have a new house”
“To have things the way they used to be”
I put the same question to Dominick McSorley (Head of Concern in Kosovo), and his response struck me deeply:
“I suppose if we could put Kosovo back in time… I think that would be my first wish, maybe to an extent there is a certain amount of guilt on our part, we probably should have seen some of this happening. The signs were there. This country was struggling, and for whatever reasons we didn’t notice it, unfortunately we noticed too late” “My second wish is for the children. That is the future, we have to accept that the adults have borne the brunt of this tragedy and they may never come to terms fully with what has happened – but if the children can be protected now, I think there is a future for this country. And I think that’s it… I haven’t got a third wish…..”
Today in Kosovo over one million refugees have returned to a devastated homeland. Most are homeless. What does the future hold for them longterm? I don’t know, but the immediate future holds one of the coldest and most vicious winters in all of Europe. Please Help.