Kosovo student poisoning
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The Kosovo student poisoning occurred on 22 March 1990 when thousands of young people, mostly students and babies in infant schools were poisoned by toxic gases. At first as a result of a lack of information this incident was named the "mysterious disease". 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. Since then many researches have been made by Albanian nuclear experts without excluding foreign ones and they have been persistently confronting with a failure to reveal a common conclusion. Serbian and some foreign researchers conclude a mass hysteria.
- 1 Schools and victims
- 2 Research
- 3 Serbian media and police
- 4 Zagreb symposium
- 5 Mass hysteria
- 6 In media
- 7 Segregation
- 8 The failure to reveal the conclusions
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Schools and victims
In March 1990, several months after the unilateral move by the Serbian government to segregate schools throughout Kosovo, a mysterious illness - massive poisoning of mostly school children appeared. The first victims to suffer this disease were students, who seasoned the most terrific nightmare of their lives. Schoolchildren could detect a "white powder" on their desks. If they poked in 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 a day to another 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 started to strengthen on 22 March when around 200 pupils of Podujevo’s local schools and local residents showed the symptoms of the illness. Most were driven to Pristina in addition to receive the first aid.
- ”Moša Pijade” (High School) located in Uroševac. First cases appeared on 22 March
- ”Muharem Bekteši” (High school) located in Vučitrn. First cases appeared on 22 March. The number of affected pupils and local citizens that day is claimed to have reached 200.
- ”Boro e Ramizi” (Primary School) located in Prizren. First cases appeared on 22 March. The number of affected pupils that day is claimed to have reached 33.
- ”Vellezerit Aksiq” (Primary School) located in Lipljan. First cases appeared on 22 March. The number of affected pupils and local citizens that day is claimed to have reached 35;
- ”Vellazerimi” (Primary School) located in Obilić. First cases appeared on 23 March. The number of affected pupils that day is claimed to have been 6.
- a) ”16 Nentori” (Primary School),
- ”17 nentori” (High School) located in Mališevo. First cases appeared on 23 March. Few cases have been claimed.
- a) ”Moša Pijade” (High School), b) ”Peko Tećavćević” (High School), c) ”Josip Broz Tito” (High School), d) ”25 Maji” (Primary School), e) ”Ganimete Terbeshi” (Primary School) located in Uroševac. Cases reappeared on 23 March. The number of affected pupils that day is claimed to have reached 300.
- a) ”Emin Duraku” (Kindergarten), b) ”Hajdar Duši” (High School), c) ”Boro Vukmirović” (High School), d) Erenik (Liquid’s Factory) located in Đakovica. First cases appeared on 23 March. The number of affected pupils and local citizens that day is claimed to have reached 200.
- ”Muharem Bekteši” (High School) located in Vučitrn on 23 March reappeared the case of the disease along with pupils also many local citizens requested for first aid. The number of affected pupils and local citizens that day is claimed to have reached 165.
- ”Jeta e Re” (High School) located in Suva Reka. First cases appeared on 23 March. The number of affected pupils and local citizens that day is claimed to have reached 300.
- ”Drita” (Primary School) located in Dečani. First cases appeared on 1 June. The number of pupils requesting for help that day was around 10.
- ”25 Maji” (Primary School) located in Uroševac on 1 June reappeared the case of “mysterious disease”. The number of pupils requesting for help that day was 5.
- ”17 Nentori” (Primary School) located in Mališevo on 1 June reappeared the case of the disease. The number of pupils asking for help that day was 20.
- ”Vellazerim Bashkimi” (Primary School) located in Suva Reka. On 1 June around 10 pupils asked for help.
- ”Ivo Lola Ribar” (High School) located Pristina. By the end of May and beginning of June, cases started to appear in Pristina creating panic among locals.
- ”Stanko Burić” (Primary School) located in Lipljan. The first cases appeared by the end of May where 5 pupils of this school requested for help.
Many victims got first aid from Catholic nuns, most of whom were located in Vitina. A nun's confession in “Glas Koncila” (6 May 1990) provides more information about nuns helping young girls and boys that were brought with the symptoms of “the mysterious disease” in the improvised hospitals and ambulances.
The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Pristina on 22 March imposed a group consisting of Albanian and Serbian doctors and on the same day gave a statement to the public. They found out that it was not the word for an epidemic disease and 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 mirror of the situation. The first samples were taken by Yugoslav Personnel and the analysis was done at the Military Academy in Belgrade (as in Kosovo was a lack of such devices). A verdict was reached after three days that the proof did not contain any poison. This rapid response induced Dr.Baren Cohen who had been few times in Kosovo with the task of Helsinki Federation to comment that it was so strange for an academy to bring the results for three days while for another laboratory in the west countries it would take at least six weeks to make the same analysis.
Dr. Balošević, for Serbian local television claimed that the events which were happening in Kosovo were all about a “pure acting" for the Cannes Film Festival". In Belgrade, Serbian doctors protested against their Albanian colleagues because relying on their opinions Albanian doctors were participating in a "Children Masquerade". The same point of view was given from the Federal Health Institute on 26 March. Neuropsychiatric clinic chief Voja Trajković gave an alternative explanation. According to his opinion for the "Vjesnik" newspaper on March 26, this had to do with a "psychogen reaction" or with a "mass hysteria".
The chief of epidemiology of Kosovo Jozef Dedushaj in a letter of 15 August 1990 denied fiercely the fact that the disease had psychic causes. He believed that if the disease would have psychic causes then it would appear a year ago in 1989 when the young Albanians were afraid to be vaccinated from the Serbian doctors. Mr.Dedushaj had been also invited as an expert in 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 were the organisers of a symposium there which would analyse that this disease. A few days after their plans were published, their phones went through interception and even the family of Dr. Slobodan Lang received threats through the telephone. Moreover, Dr. Ali Zatriqi and Dr.Flora Brovina stated their suspicions about the poisoning of the Albanian students. In the 1990s Mrs.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 many persistent international pressure.
|Redness in the face||80%|
|Difficulty in breathing||76%|
|Redness of the throat||51%|
|Hypotonic muscular delayed||50.7%|
|Weakened muscular power||50.1%|
|Itching in the eyes, nose and throat||44%|
|Sensitivity to light||39%|
|High blood pressure||31%|
|Increasing the pupil (mydriasis)||29%|
|Suffering from heart tract||18%|
|Uncontrolled muscle tightening||16%|
|Reduced pupil of the eye||9.5%|
|Pupil that does not react to light||7%|
|The flow of the mouth drooling||5%|
|Paresthaesia (as the flies walk)||3.5%|
|Anisocoria (change in pupil)||3%|
In April 1990, the Federal Commission in head of the Slovenian doctor Anton Dolenc declared that it hadn't to do with poisoning or any epidemic disease but it was about a "psychogen reaction" as the only possible explanation. On 1 August 1990 French doctor Bernard Benedetti in an interview for “The LaCourse” newspaper claimed that he entered secretly in a hospital in Prishtina and obtained blood samples from 150 patients. The analysis were done in two laboratories in Paris. According to Mr. Benedetti, those patients were poisoned.(10) When Mr.Benedetti visited Kosovo again in 2000, he confirmed the results made in the 1990s which were in doubt for a long time before the French minister had intervened and stopped the publication as an excuse: France-Serbia relationship could be damaged.
Two British doctors, Alastair Hay and John Fran found no hints of poison and for “The Lancet” newspaper they acknowledged that the only explanation for this collapse was the “mass hysteria”. The description from the British doctors gave the public the wrong impression because the “mass hysteria” happened only during March and the number of victims with such symptoms was just 3,000. Their notes in "The Lancet” newspaper impacted the way the world saw Kosovo during the 1990s.
Another group which was called the Commission of Geneva was sent in Kosovo. This group was made of Charles Graves, Verena Graf and Jean-Jacques Kirkyacharian. They didn't take the blood analysis but during their trip in Kosovo they interviewed the health personnel, the children and their parents. They also took detailed notes for the symptoms. They wrote that some doctors have noticed a smell from the students which was just like "vinegar". According to them, it was 100% sure that the disease was caused from poisoning which might be in the form of organic phosphates (nerve gas). The suspicion on the nerve gases was reinforced when in February 1992 Aubin Heyndrickx gave a press statement in which he claimed that he had studied all reports and the analysis of blood and urine. That is why he concluded that an organic chemical nerve gas had been used such as Sarin and Tabun listed as warfare agents. On the other hand, according to Dr. Bernard Benedetti and his analysis, he admitted that there was truly the word about poisoning but not from Sarin or Tabun as Mr. Heyndrickx explained. There was a molecular structure similar to a herbicide against insects. This unknown molecule had to be studied later, but this thing never happened.
Serbian media and police
On 24 March, one particular article of the Serbian newspaper "Politika Express" was called “Albanians got poisoned for dollars". On 6 April, the same newspaper cherished the job of Serbian Police because according to them, the police did the right thing by avoiding the appearance of a "comedy". Serb officials called it "mass hysteria" and propaganda perpetrated by Albanian separatists. The Serbian police obstructed medical assistance, stopping patients in front of health institutions and preventing them to enter into the hospitals, or even taking away driving licenses from ambulance drivers. In hospitals, the police lifted the medical records of patients (Dobreci, 1994). Some patients and physicians were interrogated and mistreated at the police station. Albanian medical doctors appealed to the authorities to establish an independent and impartial international investigation of these events. This demand was rejected.
In spring 1990 a symposium was held in Zagreb where it had been presented myriads of data where Franko Plavšić, a biochemist from Zagreb should have presented the results of his analyses of the proofs from urine, which he had taken from mysterious disease patients. He had managed to isolate a chemical substance Dimetil Phosphoditionat (an organic phosphate). His contribution showed no conclusions because a few minutes before the presentation Dr.Plavšić ran away. Dr.Bardhi in front of the press admitted his absence and also stated that Dr.Plavšić had been persistently under pressure. Anton Dolenc, the president of the Federal Commission, publicly distanced himself from that report, stating that it was drawn quickly, within 24 hours and he had been pressured to do such a thing.
The disappearance of blood analysis
Many sources in Kosovo during the 1990s had been spreading copies of rumors saying that the blood analyses which were sent to Ljubljana were missing. Albanian doctors for “The Lancet" newspaper had admitted that the blood analysis never arrived in Ljubljana. If Kosovo in 1990 was exposed in what Dr.Bernard Benedetti called "mass poisoning" then of course that there have been notes which explained how the poison had been distributed in schools. Even though those notes were suspicious. Mr.Halim Hyseni claims that some thieves were seen entering in schools and they were even arrested. There also existed evidence for a poison in the form of powder that was found on the floor of the schools. According to Dr. Benedetti who took from Ismet Ibishi and another activist a test tube containing the powder from a school in Kosovo, confirmed that the powder was similar to that in Podujevo. An IHF group who visited Kosovo in 1990 had the impression that the poison was emitted through ventilation pipes. This was a possibility, but there were many schools which didn’t even have ventilation. Some witnesses claimed that the thieves had thrown "poison bombs" as was the case of Dr. Resmije Ademaj who had been poisoned when she was a student. Even Dr.Benedetti confirmed this possibility. An other alternative explanation was offered by Shyqyri Dumani, a chemist who believed that the poison entered in the body after the contact with skin because in some school desks by rubbing, an extremely small poison (in microgram) could be noticed. This specific poison was difficult to identify. If those micro poisons were used then there may have existed the opportunity to explain why some victims did not have serious symptoms or did not die. Mr.Durmani and his staff had also scrutinised ten blood tests and urine of children with poisoning symptoms. He found that some patients had a decreased value of calcium in blood but increased value in urine. The absence of calcium in blood causes muscle corrugation, which results in kinks. The patients were treated with calcium and this treatment gave positive results (as was the case with some poisoned students in Podujevo).
In 1995 the theory of massive hysteria was strengthened. At the head of this theory was Zoran Radovanović, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine in Kuwait, who published an article in the European Journal of Epidemiology. In this paper Radovanović drew the conclusion that the disease had all the characteristics of a mass hysteria and a sequence of other circumstances eliminate the possibility that it might be poisoning. The main cause to mass hysteria was the respiratory infection in a single class in gymnasium of Podujevo with 2,000 pupils on March 14 that eventually led to mass hysteria, when other students became ill on 19 March. Those classes in fact were hit by a new symptom because many students fainted or vomited. In the third phase on 22 March the hysteria was distributed in the building of the same school but also at the same time in various parts throughout Kosovo. His objection toward poisoning was justified by the fact that few students had symptoms and none of these 2000 students had serious injuries (by excluding the many eye inflammations or red cheeks) although in some areas in Kosovo many patients died.
Bartholomew and Wessely mention eight characteristics of mass hysteria. Authors including Radovanović add one more.
- Symptoms with rapid spread and rapid improvement
- Distributed by eye expression, sound, or oral communication
- Symptoms are passing and not dangerous
- It is appeared by hyperventilation and syncope
- It appears in segregated groups
- The existence is characterized by an extraordinary concern
- Females are more vulnerable
- It is more omnipresent in youth
- Symptoms have a lack of an organic explanation.
There was no doubt that some of the media were fiercely influenced by Belgrade. Since the 22 March, there have been plentiful of discussions on television in which the events in Kosovo were called the “masquerade of children" or even another formal version "acting". Other media kept describing details such as "it was a conspiracy organized by the Albanians supported from Zagreb and Ljubljana in order to gain the sympathy of the world”. Another example for the influence on media was given by Besnik Bardhi. A week before the opening of the symposium in Zagreb, in Belgrade began an aggressive campaign of hostility against the meeting. The newspaper “Politika Express “ played a leading role in efforts to describe Albanian patients as participants of a separatist plot but on 8 August 1990, it made a significant turning by admitting that the poisoning occurred in Kosovo and the poisons were found.
Segregation meant that Serbian and Albanian students would not be found in the schools at the same time. This was implemented in order to Serbian students in general to go to school in the mornings and Albanian ones at the afternoons. The announcement for separation occurred just before the appearance of the disease and along with this came the suspicion that the separation was done on purpose by Serbians to prepare for poisoning. The "reform" had not been expanded everywhere, when the poisoning began. The interesting thing was the absence of Serbian students that particular day. The segregation was classified as an attempt to form a kind of an apartheid society in Kosovo. In this case it was accomplished despite poisoning.
The failure to reveal the conclusions
The theory of the mass hysteria did not remain without any objections but also the poisoning couldn’t be absolutely ruled out as a possible explanation. There is much of evidence assigned by the Albanians who were hit by the mysterious disease, but there is a lack of evidence for Serbians. There have been second-hand notes for some particular Serbian doctors who have accepted the fact that poisoning happened in Kosovo but kept silent as a result of pressure. In a report to Kosovo's Commission was mentioned a prof. Leon Schwarzenberg who was found in Kosovo in 1990, as it seemed along with a group. He had explained that he had been followed all the time by the Serbian police and he had heard a Serbian doctor saying silently that Albanians were poisoned.
The former president of Yugoslavia, Stjepan Mesić during a visit in United States he presented his report "The Participation of Yugoslavia in chemical armament”. According to Borba newspaper on 26 September 1991 Mr.Mesić had declared that “dangerous military gases have been used against the Albanian population in Kosovo”. In 1990, a pediatrician Urban Selstam explained for a Swedish television that the mysterious disease cannot be caused by something other than poisoning. In 2000, the so-called Kosovo Commission published its report which gave a detailed description of the conflict between Serbians and Albanians and it did not exclude the possibility of a mass hysteria, as a cause for the mysterious disease which was spread in Kosovo during the 1990s. A significant role to the worldwide audience had the writings of British doctors Dr.Hay and Dr.Foran for The Lancet newspaper. Even though they found no traces of poison, their notes were published on the Internet and were used by theoreticians who listed Kosovo of the 1990s as one of many other cases of mass hysteria.
The Drama in the Balkans after 1990 let out the mysterious disease. Unfortunately the so needed Commission of Experts was not ever charged to solve this mystery. If this committee would work freely, not supervised or expelled then it would create a precise documentation which the Albanians themselves couldn’t create under that amount of pressure during the 1990s. A tile committee would be able to prove that in Kosovo the poisoning truly happened among the Albanian students who were affected with symptoms which cannot be caused by mass hysteria. No other committee had the chance to testify some of the other factors that spoke about poisoning. A good measure of this handicap was the fact that Radovanović article was unknown to the Albanian doctors as late as 2008. Therefore, he never subjected to criticism, and mass hysteria hypothesis was confirmed. During further 1990s ended up poisoning in 1990 in the shadow of the burnt villages, massacres and expulsion of one million people. The conversion to mass hysteria made it even easier to forget that it originally was about a human rights violation.
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