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From Zupa to Janjevo, aged minorities struggle to make ends meet

Retirees from minority communities complain about the lack of health and social care from Kosovo institutions.

Every morning, Ejup Gashi descends the heavily damaged staircase to his considerably large backyard, fainthearted and fearful that he will not be able to reach the bottom.

A 65-year-old from Janjevo, a town in the municipality of Lipjan, Gashi lives in an old house with his wife.

Both Gashi and his wife are sick. The elderly couple is in need of a medication that they can barely afford, and living off of social assistance has kept their retirement far from easy.

“We live with 75 euros per month but the medicines cost us around 50 euros,” says Gashi, a member of the town’s relatively large Roma community.

The road that leads to his home is in a state of disrepair.

The relevant authorities have failed to address this issue for years now. The poor road conditions severely hamper the old man’s well being; he finds it difficult to get around safely without someone helping him out.

“Take a look at the stairs. People cannot walk on them. They are worn down and almost falling apart,” he laments.

On the other side of the village, Nikola Karamatic struggles to spread his pension of 80 euros enough to support his eight family members.

I do nothing for a living. There are no jobs available. I meet my basic needs through the provision of a minimal level of social support from the state. Nikola Karamatic

The 62-year-old Croat from Janjevo publicly utters his dissatisfaction with the inhumane conditions he finds himself trapped in.

“I do nothing for a living. There are no jobs available. I meet my basic needs through the provision of a minimal level of social support from the state,” Karamatic says.

Life for the residents in Janjevo has gotten worse since a metal-processing factory that employed locals shut down.

The non-functional factory, located at the entrance of the village, stands still.

“Nowadays, the relevant authorities have completely neglected their responsibility to provide for our welfare. We have been abandoned and perhaps forgotten by the state itself. Life in Janjevo was indisputably better in the good old days,” Karamatic laments.

Janjevo was once known in Kosovo as a predominantly Croat village, with inhabitants who traced their ancestry back to traders from Dubrovnik. The current situation has prompted many Croat families who lived in this village to embark on an unknown journey, usually to Croatia, in search of a better life.

“Children are seeking better lives, and they certainly cannot find them here,” Karamatic says.

Nikola Karamatic in Janjevo. | Photo: BIRN.

Residents remain dissatisfied with the small pensions they are provided, and with the lack of local institutional efforts to address health and social issues.

To the southwest of Janjevo, a large population of Bosniaks reside in villages between Prizren and Brezovica, located on winding mountain roads dotted with sharp descents.  

Sejda Tafilovic, from the village of Lubizhde, a place with about 5,500 mostly Bosniak inhabitants, expresses his difficulty to make it to the end of each month with his basic monthly pension of 75 euros.

“I mostly spend my pension on medical needs. Were it not for my children whom I share my house with, I am nearly convinced that I would hardly be able to cover my expenses. I am not aware of any changes that municipal officials have implemented in regards to pensioners,” Tafilovic states.

“And to make it worse, some of the doctors we visit advise us to visit private clinics, considering that the equipment in the public hospitals and family medical centers does not work properly, or not at all. Bearing that in mind, this is how most of my money is spent. The responsible persons do not lead any efforts to address this issue.”

Several hundred pensioners from the Bosniak community live in the remote area of Zupa. Zupa residents have found themselves in the same boat as other communities in the region. Everyone that has reached retirement age struggles for better and more inclusive social care.

Shaban Rama has been receiving a monthly pension of 158 euros since becoming a pensioner in 1994.

I have paid my national insurance contributions for 45 years, and now I am supposed to survive almost without a dime. Shaban Rama

“I have paid my national insurance contributions for 45 years, and now I am supposed to survive almost without a dime. One of the many prescription drugs I purchase costs me 15 euros, and I can hardly cover the others. The individuals responsible for establishing proper elderly pension schemes are actually leading no efforts to contribute to the betterment of our situation and amending our pension benefits,” Rama states.

He complains about the lack of a community-based center where pensioners could meet and chat amongst themselves.

“To make it worse, we pay for all of our medical bills,” he further states.

His neighbor, Qeman Bajrami, sees the same harsh projections for the future of pensioners. However, he is considered luckier than most of his peers.

“The municipality does not apply fair treatment to pensioners. I was privileged by a stroke of luck since I also receive benefits from a pension in Germany, which automatically contributes to a better life than that of those trying to get through life with a basic pension. We pay for all of our medical bills, ranging from regular check-ups to surgeries. We, the pensioners, do not receive even modest discounts on certain products and services. This is rarely the case in other countries,” Bajrami says.

In the village of Recan, which is claimed to be the nerve center of Suva Reka, Raim Asllani has not received the full amount of his pension for five years now.

“Although I have around 34 years of work experience, I now receive a pension of 75 euros. I have expressed my feelings regarding this through a complaint in Prizren, but then I was told to report it in Prishtina. According to the relevant authorities in Kosovo, I did not work in Kosovo for 15 years, since I spent 14 years working in Macedonia. Skopje officials informed me about an agreement reached with Kosovo about pensions, but I was told in Prishtina that no such agreement exists between Kosovo and Macedonia,” Asllani states.

“Neither the government nor the municipality has taken measures to support this matter with an activity of any kind.”

This article was produced as part of the collaboration of journalists from all Kosovo communities, implemented by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and supported by the EU Office in Kosovo.

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22 March 2017 - 13:53

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