The Seagulls Were Crying Their Names

Children at the Brescia camp

"How much more clearly everything appears from this uttermost edge of the world. Over there, less than one mile away, the enormous steel tie-rods of the football stadium, spotted with towers and pylons like a Medieval manner: every Sunday, the same, unceasing routine of men, 'quoted' at 50, 60, sometimes 70 billion lire [about 30 to 40 million US dollars] showing themselves off… Here, in this bleak, barren, dead stretch of land, on this side of the immense, cement-grey parking lots, warehouses and factories, is where men live, whose monetary value is almost absolutely zero. Instead of paying to purchase them, they pay to drive them away." 
Marco Revelli, Fuori luogo: cronaca da un campo rom, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 1999
gypsies, roma, kosovo
The seagulls were crying their names 
This is a story you almost certainly never heard - how could you? Nobody ever told you. 

There is a boy from the land alone on the sea, alone between the salt of the deep and the August sun. He is a Rom on a piece of wood. Days and nights go by. The fishermen find him. He is the only one alive. They were one hundred and five, and only one is still left. 

One hundred and four bodies slowly swimming in front of Montenegro. One hundred and four softened, sweetened bodies, eroded by water… there is even a scientific word for this, saponification.  

Murat works in a factory in Bergamo, in the north of Italy. He goes to the usurers, who grow fat on suffering even among the Rom, and gets into debt to pay his nephew's way out of Kosovo.  

The boy comes to Italy alive. But on the sunken ship there were thirteen relatives of his mother. Thirteen relatives. Memories, laughter, affection, jealousy, burning hatred, jokes, all saponified, caressed by the nibbling fish. 

Murat went to Montenegro to recognise the white pebbles of flesh, where all that could be recognised were the names tattooed on the arms according to ancient custom - the strange names of the Rom, never the same.  


"Bombing slot"

I had met Bajram and Reska (her full name is actually Rezijana) Berisha in Verona in 1992. Not an unusual scene: a "Gypsy" girl, as they say, from Kosovo, on a wheelchair, silently accepting - rather than asking - alms. Next to her, sometimes, her father. Easy to put a bad meaning upon the scene: at the end of the day, one could imagine the little girl folding up her wheelchair, walking away and handing her money over to her father so he could spend it on drink.  

However, I did not meet them where they asked for alms. I met them on a bleak stretch of the banks of the Adige, the post-industrial outskirts. She was truly on a wheelchair, struck by polio at the age of three. He did odd jobs, and it was only when he was not working that he went to keep his daughter company. And of course he did not spend the money on drinking.  

For seven years, I heard nothing more about them: I only knew they had moved to Brescia. Then the Kosovo war broke out. Two wars in one: all the tragic reality of which the Balkans are capable on the one hand, on the other hand, a global show. I would have listened to the real people, but how could I listen when the NATO spokesmen were saying that the Serbs had made a little Auschwitz in the mines of Trepça, where it appears no bodies were ever found? I missed the pictures of the refugees taken to Italy on navy ships, or of the shiny killing machines of the US Airforce. 

During the war, I went to the airport to pick up a businessman who had come from Germany, and who apologised for being late. His delay was due to the "bombing slot", the hours set apart for air raids. For example, killings from 9 to 11, businessmen - patiently waiting with their briefcases, after 11 o'clock.  

It was only afterwards, when they pulled the curtain down and told us that the show was over - the good side, of course, having won - that I started to pay attention. Tiny news items, here and there, spoke of an entire people being uprooted. Just as Clinton's soldiers played their victorious entry into Prishtina, the Rom were being driven out of a country where they had lived for centuries. Thousands were trying to cross the Adriatic under terrible conditions, while Italian Premier Massimo D'Alema reassured all the good people, "we shall send every one of them back home." Some good souls who were giving donations to help refugees wrote on their packages, "for Albanians only, do not give to Gypsies." 


You are welcome to use this article on condition that you put the whole text of "Collateral Lives" on your website and provide a link to


Home | Il curatore del sito | Oriente, occidente, scontro di civiltà | Le "sette" e i think tank della destra in Italia | La cacciata dei Rom o "zingari" dal Kosovo | Il Prodotto Oriana Fallaci | Antologia sui neoconservatori | Testi di Costanzo Preve | Motore di ricerca | Kelebek il blog