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Prizren's Dervish Fakirs: The Newroz ...
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
08 Jul 2015

Ancient Shiite rituals were brought into the Balkans in the 15th century during the Ottoman invasion and dominion and have been kept intact up till our day, representing a parallel and very deep-rooted Islam amongst the people. In the town of Prizren in Kosovo there is the tariqa Rufai. To celebrate the Newroz, or Nevruz, the beginning of the new year which coincides with the arrival of spring, all the dervishes in the area meet up here to celebrate a propitiatory ritual. The ritual lasts five hours and is extremely exacting. The followers must go through a great test of physical and mental exertion. The dervishes pray, dance and sing and try to attain a state of trance. At the culmination of the ritual the feats of Fakirism take place. Whilst some of the dervishes play and sing, the shaikh takes long skewers and begins to pierce the mouths of the dervishes who willingly undergo this test, beginning with the children. The older dervishes, the braver and more expert, are pierced with a real sword. A blade is placed on their throat and the shaikh climbs on top of it. The ritual ends when the dervishes remove the skewers. Just a few drops of blood appear on their cheeks.

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Remembering the Vukovar Massacres
Vukovar, Croatia
By danubestory
03 Feb 2015

During the war for the former Yugoslavia, the town of Vukovar was among the most devastated by fighting between Serbian and Croatian forces. Houses bear clear signs of the fierce shelling that took place, and the town’s now bullet hole-ridden water tower rests as a reminder of the siege and the cruel fate that befell the town and its citizens until now. The battle of Vukovar lasted for 87 days, during which many people were stuck in the town, finding refuge in cellars or public bomb shelters that also hosted makeshift hospitals. After entering the city, Serbian troops were alleged to have taken civilians and wounded soldiers from these hospitals into the Ovčara farm where they massacred them.

Today, Vukovar remains a divided town. War crimes committed there remain unsolved and the people who committed them, unpunished. Steve Gaunt, a former Croat mercenary who took part in the fight for Vukovar, now works as a historian and explorer for the local museum. He talks of his experience of the war, of Vukovar's troubled present, and of the struggle for normality faced by people who still live side-by-side with those they used to fight.

On February 4, 2015, the International Court of Justice dismissed claims of genocide committed by Serbia and Croatia during the Yugoslav war, that took hundreds of thousands of lives in the early-1990s. The court cited a lack of evidence that the massacres constituted genocide - a difficult claim to prove because the prosecution must be able to prove the intentions of the perpetrators.

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Young Serbians Skeptical about Serbia...
Belgrade
By mattia.marinolli
25 Aug 2014

Serbia’s bid to join the ranks of the European Union has led young Serbians to question whether their country could live up to EU regulations and political commitments. Some even question whether or not membership would bring the long awaited benefits they hoped for.

Serbia went through sweeping changes in the last fifteen years. The country's borders were altered many times, and even if the nation closed the chapter on the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the effects of the past still echo in contemporary Serbian society.

Rejhana, 21, is a third-year art student at the State University in the southwestern city of Novi Pazar. She was a successful tennis player, but an injury stopped her career.

"I quite hope I will go somewhere else to live,” she says. “I would like to attend postgraduate studies somewhere in Europe and try to stay there. I think there’s not much perspective for people who are keen on art in our country, especially our city.”

Rather than staying in her native Serbia, Rejhana would like to devote herself to traveling and “meeting the world and its gifts.”

“I can see myself as a painter in the future, for example in five years, not in Serbia but in some European country, having individual exhibitions and a permanent job,” she said.

The biggest and most populous country in the western Balkans seems to be the furthest one from Europe. Serbia began its membership talks with the European Union last January. The arrest and extradition of the last of the country’s indicted war criminals and talks with Kosovo to normalize relations were the two key points demanded by Brussels as conditions to EU membership.

“Even though I think we are quite far from EU in terms of our mentality, our attitudes,” Rejhana said, “we [the youth] hope this will change in the future with entrance into the EU."

Serbia's situation is fragile. The unemployment rate is above 20 percent, and a lack of foreign investments has slowed down economic growth in the country. Furthermore, Cyclone Tamara, the worst of its kind in 120 years of recorded weather measurements, hit the region around Belgrade in last June.

Marko, 26, is the local youth representative of the Democratic Party of Serbia in Raska, a small town in south-central Serbia. Although he studies in the Faculty of Security in Belgrade, he spends a lot of time in his hometown and expressed concern for the situation of the youth there.

"There are a lot of problems getting a job in my hometown,” he said. “Over 50 percent of the youth is unemployed here. Politicians easily employ people they want, no matter if they are qualified for the job or not, and we often see situations where unqualified people work in places are normally reserved for those who graduated and are experts, but do not have political connections.”

Marko looks forward to better times if Serbia gets closer to the EU, attracting more investments and improving the country’s economy. “I worked on projects which were funded by the EU, and because of this experience, I can certify that the means of the EU would contribute to the faster development of our country and employment of the youth.”

However, Marko is also worried that being part of the EU could lead many young qualified people to leave Serbia, as “opportunities will undoubtedly become much easier than before.”

“The bad side to entrance [into the EU] is that if highly educated people leave the country, then unqualified people will remain and be left only to perform unskilled labor,” he said.

Others remain skeptical about the European Union, considering the less-than-stellar performances neighboring countries that passed through the integration process, like Romania and Croatia; and the 1999 NATO bombings in Belgrade that indelibly marked many Serbs.

Marija, 23, has just finished her BA in German language and now is attending an MA program in Kragujevac.

“I have to say that EU is not held by the whole European members, but only by some countries within it,” she said. “It is not known that the EU commands the living conditions of other countries. Small countries like Serbia were just dropped into a system of aristocratic rule. Countries like Germany or the UK actually command the economic flow and get the credit.”

Serbia has its own fight against the corruption in the political system that has contaminated the economic sector. Membership of a political party seems to be a prerogative if someone wants to get a job, and the salaries are too low to ensure proper living conditions.

Milanka, also 23, comes from Blace, a town in southeast Serbia. She studies Literature and Literary Theory in Belgrade.

"Unemployment is a huge problem,” she said. “People work for very little money. I did not have any perspective there (Blace), and I moved to Belgrade just because I was convinced I would have more opportunities here. The university is better. I could make some contacts with people who could help me to go abroad. I had a dream to leave Serbia; because, being a disabled person, I am aware that my chances for having a normal life in Serbia are small.”

The young Serbian says that many employers don’t employ a person with disabilities. “Some employers were very kind with me, and they told me they would call me, but they did not,” she adds.

“Political factors will decide if Serbia will enter the EU ,and I do not have a defined attitude towards the EU,” Milanka said. “Neither do many people. Even if we entered the EU, we would hardly get used to the tasks which they would require from us. Standards are quite different, and it would take years for Serbia to adopt their way of thinking and acting. We are simply not at the same level. Our nation is really specific. We are quite stubborn, odd and focused on personal ideas more than on work. Garrulity is one of our defining personal characteristics."

Many young people are conscious of the lack of prospects awaiting them once they finish their studies. Some look for better perspectives abroad, with Germany and Northern Europe among their preferred destinations. But the same youths, mistrustful and critical of the Serbian system, may be the generation that will lead Serbia out of its past.

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Dervishes of Prizren 02
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A young dervish with his piercing, proudly shown. The pin is a symbol of courage and the piercing demonstrated that the dervishes are brave.

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Dervishes of Prizren 20
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Dervishes sitting around in the tekke, praying. Visitors are aside.

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Dervishes of Prizren 26
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Dancing all togheter.

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Dervishes of Prizren 28
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The leader schaik of the Rufaì sekt in Prizren, Sheikh Xhemali Shehu is taking the pins.

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Dervishes of Prizren 27
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The schaik gives the typical kiss before the piercing. The pin is a symbol of courage and the piercing demonstrated that the dervishes are brave.

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Dervishes of Prizren 30
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Piercing the mouth of a young dervish. The schaik of the sekt is starting the fakirism ritual with the youngest dervishes.

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Dervishes of Prizren 31
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A young dervish with his piercing, proudly shown. The pin is a symbol of courage and the piercing demonstrated that the dervishes are brave.

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Dervishes of Prizren 32
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Scheik Xhemali Shehu going to pierce a young dervish with a pin.

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Dervishes of Prizren 33
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Scheik Xhemali Shehu going to pierce a dervish with a pin.

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Dervishes of Prizren 34
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Scheik Xhemali Shehu's nephew proud to show his pin in his mouth. The pin is a symbol of courage and the piercing demonstrated that the dervishes are brave.

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Dervishes of Prizren 35
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A dervish with his huge pin in his mouth. No sofference, no pain, no bleeding, dervishes are proud of their traditions. The pin is a symbol of courage and the piercing demonstrated that the dervishes are brave.

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Dervishes of Prizren 37
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Elder dervishes having some relax and smoking after the celebration, sitting on their typical lamb carpets in the tekke.

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Dervishes of Prizren 38
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A dervish with his huge pin right in the instant of self-piercing his mouth. You can see the pin coming out from inside his mouth. No sofference, no pain, no bleeding, dervishes are proud of their traditions. The pin is a symbol of courage and the piercing demonstrated that the dervishes are brave.

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Dervishes of Prizren 39
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A dervish with his huge pin in his mouth. No sofference, no pain, no bleeding, dervishes are proud of their traditions. The pin is a symbol of courage and the piercing demonstrated that the dervishes are brave.

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Dervishes of Prizren 40
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A dervish with his huge pin rotating it on his throat. The pin goes down for some centimeters. No sofference, no pain, no bleeding, dervishes are proud of their traditions. The pin is a symbol of courage and the piercing demonstrated that the dervishes are brave.

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Dervishes of Prizren 42
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. End of celebration, piercings have been removed, few marks on the proud faces of the dervishes witness the fakirism proof.

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Dervishes of Prizren 43
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Scheik Xhemali Shehu checking the sword.

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Dervishes of Prizren 44
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A young dervish is going to stand on the sword.

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Dervishes of Prizren 45
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Scheik Xhemali Shehu's nephew with his pin in his mouth, not satisfied is carried around standing on the sword.

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Dervishes of Prizren 46
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. An elder dervish is getting ready for the proof of the sword.

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Dervishes of Prizren 47
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The scheik is standing on the sward, placed on the throat of an elder dervish which is proud of this proof.

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Dervishes of Prizren 48
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. An elder dervish weakened by the pain of the sword proof.

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Dervishes of Prizren 50
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Dervishes dancing in a circle during the dance phase to prepare themselves for the piercing ritual.

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Dervishes of Prizren 53
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Typical albanian-kosovar huts of the dervish hung at the entrance of the teqe.

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Dervishes of Prizren 52
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
19 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The pins of the dervishes, kept in the typical niche. The short ones are for the boys, the long ones for the expert dervishes.

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Dervishes of Prizren 03
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz) beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The inside of the teqe. Dervishes are sitting and listening to the schaik praying, women are watching from the gallery.

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Dervishes of Prizren 04
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The teqe, dervishes listening to the schaik and his family praying and leading the ceremony, women are watching from the gallery.

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Dervishes of Prizren 05
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The teqe, dervishes are praying and listening to the schaik.

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Dervishes of Prizren 06
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The schaik and his family praying and leading the ceremony.

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Dervishes of Prizren 07
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Dervishes praying

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Dervishes of Prizren 08
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A dervish giving candies as a sign of hospitality but also as a energy source for the effort of the long ceremony.

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Dervishes of Prizren 09
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A young dervish taking candies as a sign of hospitality but also as a energy source for the effort of the long ceremony.

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Dervishes of Prizren 10
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. A dervish taking candies as a sign of hospitality but also as a energy source for the effort of the long ceremony.

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Dervishes of Prizren 11
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The leader schaik of the Rufaì sekt in Prizren, Sheikh Xhemali Shehu.

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Dervishes of Prizren 12
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals.

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Dervishes of Prizren 13
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. Sheikh Xhemali Shehu's nephew.

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Dervishes of Prizren 14
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michele Pero
18 Apr 2009

Prizren, Kosovo. Rufaì sekt. Fakir dervishes celebrating the Newroz (Nevruz), the beginning of the new year with fakirism rituals. The teqe, dervishes are sitting and listening to the schaik praying, women are watching from the gallery.