"Kosovo student poisoning"
|Date||March 22, 1990 - July 22, 1990|
|Description||The alleged poisoning of thousands of Kosovan young people by toxic gases or substances in 1990. It came in the run-up to the Kosovo War and gained lots of coverage in the international press.|
The Kosovo student poisoning refers to the alleged poisoning of thousands of Kosovan pupils by toxic substances that occurred on 22 March 1990. As a result of a an inabilty to find any apparent physical cause, this incident was named the "mysterious disease" at first. Despite claims that the Serbian government used nerve gas or toxins, the incident faded away and no student actually died. One limited hangout is that the whole affair was a case of mass hysteria, although the political background is obvious.
Apart from giving the Serbian government a villain image in the international press, the incident also helped further the creation of an informal parallel school system for Albanian students. Initially thought of as a temporary measure, the system lasted for almost a decade, until the end of the Kosovo War in 1999. Financed mainly by the Albanian diaspora and by "unofficial taxes" and based in private homes, this ‘underground’ education system had an annual budget of around $45 million.
In 1989, when Kosovo--then part of Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia--lost the political autonomy it had enjoyed since 1974. On July 2, 1990, as relations with the Yugoslav government deteriorated, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo declared independence--leading eventually to the establishment of an unofficial government.
In August 1990, the Serbian parliament repealed the educational curriculum in Kosovo that had been developed under ethnic Albanian control and replaced it with a Serbia-wide program, which affected the teaching there of history, geography, art, music and the Albanian language. Ethnic Albanian educators refused to accept the new program.
Schools and victims
In March 1990, a mysterious illness - an alleged massive poisoning of mostly school children appeared. The first victims to suffer this disease were students. Many had fainted, vomited or had violent convulsions. Almost all had inflamed eyes and a distinct facial flushing. The disease continued to strike the population for the rest of the year and 7,421 Albanian Kosovars were stricken with illness.
Schoolchildren said they could detect a "white powder" on their desks. If they poked it, they quickly developed symptoms: First froth around the mouth and then cramps and fainting. Many schools from each corner of Kosovo began to report such happenings and from the first day on the absence of pupils in schools started to increase.
The first affected school, “Đuro Đaković” High School located in Podujevo, was affected on 20 March 1990. Only a few pupils were affected at first but with the days passing the number grew and the area of affected schools widened. Panic increased on 22 March when around 200 pupils of Podujevo's local schools and local residents showed symptoms of the illness. Most were driven to Pristina to receive first aid.
The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Pristina on 22 March organised a group consisting of Albanian and Serbian doctors and on the same day gave a statement to the public. They announced that it was an epidemic disease but they wouldn't give any other press until they possessed the results of the analysis of blood and urine from toxicology laboratories. Toxicological analysis of blood and urine didn't give a clear picture of the situation. The first samples were taken by Yugoslav Personnel and the analysis was done at the Military Academy in Belgrade, as Kosovo lacked such equipment. A verdict was reached after three days that the samples did not contain any poison. This rapid response induced the British Dr. Baren Cohen, who had spent time in Kosovo with the Helsinki Federation, to comment that it was strange for the Academy to release results so quickly while for laboratories in the West it would take at least six weeks to make the same analysis.
The chief of epidemiology of Kosovo Jusuf Dedushaj in a letter of 15 August 1990 denied fiercely the fact that the disease had psychological causes. He believed that if the disease had psychological causes then it would have appeared a year prior in 1989 when young Albanians were afraid to be vaccinated from Serbian doctors. Mr. Dedushaj had been invited as an expert to view different surveys in Podujeva and for his objections toward the situation in Kosovo, he was held by police for five days. He also discovered a microphone in his office.
Dr. Besnik Bardhi along with Dr. Slobodan Lang, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine in Zagreb (then at war against its own Serbian minority), were the organizers of a symposium which would analyze the incident. A few days after their plans were published, their phones were bugged and even the family of Dr. Lang received threats telephone threats. Moreover, Dr. Ali Zatriqi and Dr. Flora Brovina stated their suspicions about the poisoning of the Albanian students. In the 1990s Brovina had been taken by the Serbian Police from her working office because of her statements. In 1999 she was sent to prison for some months and was released only after international pressure.
In April 1990, the Federal Commission head, Slovenian doctor Anton Dolenc, declared that the incident had nothing to do with poisoning or any epidemic disease but declared a psychological reaction as the only possible explanation.
On 1 August 1990, French doctor Bernard Benedetti, in an interview for “The LaCourse” newspaper, claimed that he secretly entered a hospital in Pristina and obtained blood samples from 150 patients. The analyses were done in two laboratories in Paris. According to Dr. Benedetti, those patients were poisoned, but the poisoning was not from Sarin or Tabun as some other doctors had claimed, but instead had a molecular structure similar to a herbicide. When Benedetti visited Kosovo again in 2000, he confirmed the results of the 1990s tests. According to him, publication of the results was stopped by the French government in an attempt to preserve diplomatic relations with Serbia.[better source needed]
Two British doctors, Alastair Hay and John Fran, found no hints of poison. Writing in “The Lancet” newspaper they acknowledged that the only explanation for the widespread symptoms was “mass hysteria”.[better source needed]
Another group called the Commission of Geneva was sent in Kosovo. This group was made up of Charles Graves, Verena Graf and Jean-Jacques Kirkyacharian. They didn't take blood analyses but during their trip they interviewed health personnel, children and their parents. They also took detailed notes of the symptoms. They wrote that some doctors had noticed a smell from the students which was similar to "vinegar". According to them, it was possible that the disease was caused from poisoning which might have been in the form of organic phosphates (present both in nerve gas and herbicides).
The claims of nerve gases were amplified in February 1992 when toxologist Aubin Heyndrickx gave a press statement in which he claimed that he had studied all reports and analysis of blood and urine and that he concluded that an organic chemical nerve gas had been used such as Sarin and Tabun, both listed as warfare agents. Dr. Heyndrickx has been used as an expert witness before, in 1984, when he stated that the Soviet Union must be the source of Iraqi mycotoxins used against Iran. At the time Iraq was being supplied with large amounts of NATO chemical weapons equipment.
- Göran Wassenius, "Den mystika sjukdomen" (Sëmundja mistike), Pristina, 2009, ISBN 978-91-977685-2-8
- https://archive.is/20130418145908/http://www.newsmill.se/print/47780 |archive-date=2013-04-18
- Hyseni, Halim. E verteta per Helmimet ne Kosovë. p. 21.
- Hyseni, Halim. E verteta per Helmimet ne Kosovë
- Salihu, J. (1991-03-21). "U helmuan disa nxenes shqiptare". Rilindja.
- Kosova Committee for Information of the world, Poisoning of Pupils in Kosovo. Causes and Consequences. 1990
- International Helsinki Federation, From autonomy to colonization: Human Rights in Kosovo 1989-1993.
- Council for the Defence of the H. R. and Freedoms, The mysterious illness in Kosove - Intoxication or not. 1990.
- Letra e shenime, Dr Dedushaj"arkivi i te semurave"Prishtine
- Graf Verena / Kirkyachariean Jean-Jacques, Report of mission to Kosovo 1–5 July, date 10 August 1990.
- Benedet, Dr. Bernar: ”Helmimin e bënë agjentët e Beogradit”, ”Zëri i Rinisë”, 17 September 1990, page 22
- Kosova Committee, Hyseni H., addition, oral information from journalist Evliana Berani.
- Graf Verena/Kirkyachariean Jean-Jacques, Report of mission to Kosovo 1–5 July 1990.date 10 August 1990
- Mail fran Charles Graves date 11.10.2007
- “To whom it may concern”. Pressrelease, 8 February 1992 located in KMLDNJ's archive commission.