Lynne Mastnak

Lynne Mastnak is based in Cambridge, where she is studying the effects of political violence on children. She is co-ordinator of a child psychiatry programme in Kosovo for Child Advocacy International.

12 June 1999, Kukes, Albania. The Germans came to Kukes today. They were late, but the waiting crowd cheered as tanks and APCs rolled past. Yesterday a mild-mannered lieutenant-colonel told us that anyone could cross the border back into Kosovo but they were ‘not to get in the way of the tanks’. He advised waiting a few days for a ‘green light’. Last week UNHCR were telling us that we should still direct people to go south down into Albania. There is now an information campaign advising people not to return to Kosovo yet, it is not safe and there is no food. Some of us suggested that, regardless of directives, preparations should be made for an influx of three or four hundred thousand in a very short space of time. Two hundred went back yesterday and the families in the tractor camps are already packing for home.

1 January, Pristina. The UNHCR security officer rang early this morning to say that the main road through the area of Likovc, in Drenica, was now clear. We have been wanting to set up an emergency clinic there for the last two months, but it has been off-limits to all humanitarian aid workers since an International Committee of the Red Cross vehicle hit a mine, killing one doctor and seriously injuring another. Drenica was the poorest part of Kosovo long before the current wave of violence, and the region that suffered most from the weapons searches and arrests inflicted by the Serb police force on the predominantly Albanian population over the previous decade. It was here that the KLA first emerged a year ago, and here that some of the fiercest assaults were carried out by the Yugoslav military during the offensive of 1998.

Diary: Kosovo

Lynne Mastnak, 16 July 1998

An elderly Serb in the Kosovo village of Mlecan told me that, for him, trouble had begun only a few days before, when Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers had searched a man in the woods nearby for weapons. ‘We have lived here for years and years and we have never had problems,’ he said, ‘but things are spoiled now.’ ‘There have always been good relations in this village,’ the woman with him added. ‘We are not interested in outside problems. I talk to them and they talk to us, I bought food in their Albanian shop and never paid for a year.’‘

Diary: A Psychiatrist in Gorazde

Lynne Mastnak, 21 August 1997

Monday. Something has happened in Gorazde. I have the feeling I am on the receiving end of an exponential increase in violence and distress, as if my being a psychiatrist here has suddenly given people permission to go mad. This morning, instead of preparing my seminar, I had to see a young woman who had stopped me in the hospital courtyard two days ago saying she was having a nervous breakdown. The story is a simple one: Elvira is 18 and she and her husband are refugees from a village near Visegrad (now in Republika Srpska). They share two rooms – a bedroom and living-room/kitchen – with his sister and her husband. The latter couple sleep in the kitchen, but the two women were fighting all the time, so Elvira decided to set up separate cooking facilities in the bedroom. This led to an almighty family row, with her husband threatening to leave, and Elvira running out and jumping into the Drina. As she sits there with dark shadows under her eyes, wringing her hands, saying she hadn’t wanted to die but did not know what to do, I suddenly recognise her. Back in Britain, I had been seeing her counterpart on the emergency wards at least once a week for two years: there’d been a row with parents or boyfriend the night before and she’d reached for a bottle of paracetamol as one clear way of communicating intolerable distress. Here the river is more accessible, and while I can reassure the girl that she is not going mad, and that getting the family together to talk about the conflict might provide a more lasting solution than the injections of diazepam she has been getting from the emergency room, I cannot provide new accommodation or any possibility of a return home.’

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