Ancient blood feud grips part of Kosovo

The centuries-old custom of blood feuds has gripped a part of Kosovo, threatening the lives of people in two clans as it did with thousands of ethnic Albanians in the past.

The feud between the two clans began at the end of November when Fadil Mujota, a 36-year-old father of four, was shot dead at a gas station owned by the Beqaj family in the central village of Belinc.

“Fadil went to Belinc to fill a tank with gasoline. His friends, who were waiting for him in a nearby café, had no time even to put sugar in their coffee when they heard shots and found him covered in blood,” said Shaip Mujota, the victim’s eldest brother.

The circumstances behind the murder are still not clear, although a main suspect, 16-year-old Arlind Beqaj, has been detained pending a trial.

The blood-feud system is believed to have re-emerged in Kosovo due to a power vacuum during the United Nations-run province’s painful transition from conflict six-and-a-half years ago.

As a result, many Albanians in Kosovo have returned to the laws of their tribal roots in a bid to settle disputes, namely the Code of Leke Dukagjini, an Albanian aristocrat from the era of struggle against Ottoman rule in the 14th century.

The legal system that has since existed in Kosovo, as well as parts of neighbouring Albania, includes the right to kill to avenge murders, or “whoever kills, will be killed”.

An estimated 50 murders in the province have been linked to blood revenge between the end of Kosovo’s 1998/99 war between Serbian forces and Albanian rebels and the end of last year.

“Kosovo is still in a vacuum between strong traditions of the past and modern values,” Naim Maloku, sociologist and professor at the Pristina University, said.

Maloku noted that Kosovo’s society is “deeply patriarchal, torn by its inclination toward the West and by its religious past which originates from the East”.

“These two civilisations clash, pushing people towards one or another pole and making them oscillate between them,” he added.

Last week, six brothers from the 60-member Mujota clan were still receiving condolences from friends and family at their homes in the hillside village of Mollopolce.

The Mujotas, well-known and respected here for their contribution to the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force that fought Serbian forces during the conflict, could hardly hide their anger at the lack of any rule of law.

“Unfortunately, the system does not function. I know that no one can return our brother.
God willing, Fadil will be the last victim,” said Shaip Mujota.

He said he had given his word of honour, or “Besa”—a rule declaring that any murderer will not to be killed outside his home—to the Beqajs and their children, “who have to go to school”.

“I am a teacher and I know that going to school is important,” Mujota said. “But we have to know why our brother was killed.”

Since the killing, the pressure has mounted on both families, aware of the custom that those deciding against vengeance and “honour killings” are seen as cowards and considered unworthy.

Although the Dukagjini code also offers ways for the families to reconcile through mediation by influential people respected by both sides, the two clans are yet to find a truce.

There were no signs of life outside six traditionally high-walled Beqaj houses in the muddy village of Petrove, set in the eerily calm mountainous region.

“We are in a blood feud with the Mujotas,” admitted 63-year-old Fehmi Beqaj, the head of the 70-member clan known in the region as successful merchants.

“We are waiting for the dispute with the Mujotas to be resolved,” he said, adding that their gas station and sawmill businesses have been paralysed for weeks.

Beqaj said the “Besa” offered by the Mujotas will last till the third day of the Muslim Bayram holiday in the middle of February.

“Until then, our children can freely go to school, but after it expires, we will be confined to our houses until this dispute is over,” Fehmi said, turning down the likelihood the matter could be resolved with the help of police.

The feud is “between the two families and will be settled in accordance with the code ... What God decides, will be,” he said.—Sapa-AFP

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