Pristina’s eponymous “NEWBORN” sign that sits on one of the cities central boulevards has been repainted on the 12th anniversary of Kosovo’s independence, to commemorate victims of sexual violence.
During the Kosovo war which lasted two years, an estimated 20,0000 Kosovo Albanian women were raped and sexually abused by members of the Serbian army, police, and paramilitary units. Women and children were systematically removed from refugee columns, raped often more than once and then released to continue their journey. Others were raped as soldiers descended on their villages and homes.
Albanian men were also subjected to rape at the hands of the Serbs and some 12 have official status as victims of wartime sexual violence.
Amnesty International said the crimes committed by the Serbian forces amounted to crimes against humanity and the war crime of torture. In 2017, they said that only a few of those who were accused of rape had been prosecuted and as of 2019, none were convicted.
Many women that were raped fell pregnant. Some were able to access abortion, some killed the children after birth, others raised the children in ‘shame’, and some were disowned by their husbands and families due to their ordeal. A number of these “secret children” were given up for adoption or raised in orphanages, their mothers still too ashamed to speak up even now.
Compensation is available for those that are willing to admit and able to prove that they were assaulted. Those that can’t or don’t want to are forced to live with the burden of what happened to them- feeling shame for something that was not their fault. A climate of continuing social stigma means that the issue of wartime rape, the victims, and the children produced as a result of it is still a sensitive subject.
Those that attain the status of ‘victim’ are entitled to a monthly pension of EUR 230 from the government of Kosovo. This law does not, however, provide further benefits and it cannot be given to those who died as a result of rape or committed suicide. It also does not provide for those children who were born, due to their mother’s violation.
The NEWBORN sign that was erected on 17 February 2008 to commemorate Kosovo’s newfound Independence, following the end of the war. Initially, it was painted yellow to represent a key colour in the countries new flag as well as the stars of the European Union. The word was chosen to describe the birth of a new country, to represent national pride, and for the establishment of freedom as the world’s newest state.
Over the years it has been repainted on the anniversary of independence each year to reflect different moments in Kosovo’s history and development. Its current paint job symbolises not just victims of the Kosovo war, but all of those who suffered sexual violence during times of conflict.
The current design which will stay in place for 12 months includes the stories of survivors painted in white on a black background.