Pride as Regret: The Psychological Well-being of Young Adults Who Are Children of Martyrs

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Winter Issue 2019

Written by: Majlinda Zhuniq, University of Pristina

Despite the fact that war in Kosovo has ended in 1999, the consequences of the loss of loved ones are still present and have huge impacts on psychological wellbeing of Kosovar people (Landsman, et al., 2008). The purpose of this study, is to examine the experiences of young adults who lost their fathers in the war. In semi-structured interviews, four young adults shared their life experience with us. Interviewees shared their biggest struggles, support systems, and coping mechanisms. The interviewees tended to focus on four major topics: 1) Support from family, 2) Support from friends, 3) Institutions, and a final topic which was the most sensitive 4) Pride as a regret. Corruption, a major problem in our country, was also highlighted as a problem affecting these people since the image of veterans has been highly misused in the last several years. 


From the moment they are born and during their development, human beings are fully reliant on their parents or primary caregivers (Winston & Chicot, 2016). According to the authors children develop their social domain (emotive and cognitive) during this period and the family, as the first social group that they interact with, is the most important part. When talking about family Tasch, McLanhan and Scheinder (2013), mention that there has been a long tradition of sociological research about effects of divorce or/and father absence on social and emotional wellbeing of kids thorough their lives. Their work has documented a negative association between the absence of biological father and many aspects of offspring, social and psychological such as education, mental health and family relationships.             The importance of father figure has been known since, Lamb (1975), described the way it impacts girls’ and boys’ lives, starting from the role of the father in family, the care that they give as a supporter, as a husband to their mother and as a source of moral guidance for every member. The absence of father is related with the generation of feelings of abandonment and stress (Moynihan, Smeeding, & Rainwater, 2004). The authors mention that we should not be surprised, therefore, by the fact that father absence is related with high levels of  behavioral and psychological problems. According to Golbert and Carlson (2014), it is also known that most of researches report the fact that boys manifest more problems in psychological wellbeing than girls when missing a father figure. This might be explained by the fact that behavioral problems are emphasized by many researchers.


1993 marks the year when Kosovo Liberation Army was created as a result of the belief that full freedom of Kosovo could only be achieved with force (Ozerdem, 2003). Harsh living conditions, repression towards their language, culture and the continuous ethnic cleansing made Kosovar people reject Serbian rule straight from the beginning (Mulaj, 2008). According to Judah (2000), UCK (the Kosovo Liberation Army) was a marginalized and hidden organization since 1980s. The full removal of Kosovo autonomy from Serbian dictator Milosevic in 1989 would be a turning point for this organization. The war, which lasted from 1998 until 1999, resulted in the death of 10.000 people and forced approximately 800.000 to leave Kosovo. As mentioned by Corzado (2000), most of Kosovar people experienced a variety of traumas during these years. Many were separated from their families, taken to jail, abused or even murdered.


Developed first by John Bowlby in 1950s and 1960s, attachment theory is an extension of psychoanalytic theory (Peluso, & Kern, 2004). This theory explains how the bond between child and primary caregiver affects child’s development in the later stages of life. Ainsworth later experimentally defined three subgroups of attachment relationships whether it was a secure, avoidant or anxious-resistant relationship. In 1960 despite all this, Bowlby also recognized the psychological impact of loss in the development of children and started research in this direction, which led to an extension of Attachment Theory into Bereavement Theory (Holmes, 2014). This theory emphasizes various stages that arise from the separation of one of a child’s caregivers, starting with grief, yearning and anger. But there is another component explained, which is loss of one or both parents before reaching adulthood, where these stages cannot be fulfilled as expected (Levy, et al., 2011). According to the authors, since children were unable to resolve their sense of loss in the first place, their development continues with a prolonged sense of grief and various types of emotional problems. This will further lead to a higher prevalence of depression, anxiety and problems in school, and later in life less successful relationship with others (Bowlby, 1980).


According to Dikel and Goldbatt (2008), clinical observation and empirical evidence reveal that the consequences of traumatic events are not limited to people who are directly exposed to them. The trauma is carried to family and friends. When studying the effects on whose families of war veterans, Herzog, Everson and Whitword (2011), found a high level of problems related to stress and trauma, as well as a high level of PTSD. Another study with families of veterans in Portugal also suggested that their children specifically had higher symptoms of PTSD when they had lost a father in war (Pedras, & Pereiera, 2016).

On the other hand, Dekel and Goldbatt (2008) conducted a study in which they explored the generalized impact of war in veteran’s children in the United States. Results of this study reported no significant differences between the control and experimental group. Some children reported low self-esteem and had high levels of non-functionality. Furthermore, also a higher number of mothers and children showed a low degree of family cohesion and a non-communicative home environment which resulted in further problems and conflict between them. 

An essential element of healthy development for these young adults is support from, and a healthy relationship with their family (Hutchinson, Power, & Jackson, 2017). While missing one parent during their development, children tend to have other family members play a significant role in their lives. Studies show that when children lose parents, relations with grandparents can offer support for their wellbeing (Attar- Swatchrz, et al., 2009). Authors also mention that with involvement in their lives, grandparents offer emotional support and solution for different problems in those families (Mitchell, 2007).

Kosovar culture emphasizes a collective family to maximize social support (Agani, 2001). Therefore, this author notes that the disruption of that family structure by war could have heavy consequences beyond the end of war. Wenzel et al., (2009), used a self-reported questionnaire to show a particularly high incidence of mental disorders in Kosovo. PTSD was reported to be 23%, depression 43% with 44 % of those reporting that they suffered from emotional distress. These results also showed that the highest levels of distress were reported by those who experienced the murder or loss of family members, who were abused, did not have access to education, lived in rural places or directly experienced war.


Young Kosovar adults missing their father figures face a lot of other problems which have arisen recently in our society. The Republic of Kosovo passed law 04/ L-261 in 2014 for veterans and martyrs of war and their families, which contains 45 subsequences starting from having various services in public institutions free of charge, a monthly allowance, benefits in schools and assistance with accommodations. This law was reviewed again for improvements and revisions in some sections. But signing these laws created large amount of corruption and misuse. Many people falsely claim that they lost their parents in conflict in order to gain that privileged status (Blic Newspaper, 2016).

The Head of Veterans Organization (OVL), Guncati says that politicians and bureaucratic hierarchy are to be blamed for these abuses.  According to Guncati, this law should be changed and should start checking more professionally if those applying for benefits have legitimate claims. OVL also mentioned that this is damaging to the image of veterans, since, as a result of corruption, there is a constant indignity towards them.

So far there is not a single study about how all these factors contribute to psychological wellbeing of these adults in Kosovo. Psychological wellbeing consists of factors such as personal relations with others, autonomy, and the feeling of having a purpose (Ryff, 1989). According to Nelson (2010), social interactions can be both positive or negative contributors to wellbeing. As this author mentions, social interaction can include the pain of talking about negative topics, and the associated stigma from others. This aspect of socialization is also one of the focus points of this qualitative research. 

I believe that this research is a mostly accurate reflection of what many young people in Kosovo are going through today, and the factors contributing negatively and positively to their psychological wellbeing. Furthermore, I strongly believe that the results will be a starting point of reflection for our society and government about the way these people are treated. 


The method used for selecting participants in this study was non-probable method, done using the snow ball effect. One subject gives the researcher the name of another subject, which gives name of a third one and so on (Atkinson, & Flint, 2001). This was highly effective since children of martyrs tend to know other people of this group and it was therefore easier to find them. According to Patton (2005), this method is used mostly when it is hard to find participants, as mentioned above. Participants were 4 young adults, two male and two females to control for the potential differences in mental health based on gender. Participants were all at the age of 20 to ensure they were born before the war begun. This relatively small number of participants was selected initially because this is a qualitative study, but also because a smaller number of interviews would give us more time to be confident that we have reached saturation, the point where participants do not give additional information anymore (Fusch, Patricia, and Lawrence 2015).


Semi-structured interviews were used to gather data. This type of interviews is a known technique which is focused on specific topics but covers them in a conversational style. These interviews are used for gaining information in different and more complex topics but also are a more effective tool to get information about sensitive topics which cannot be gathered with questionnaires as mentioned by Bolger, Davis and Rafaeli (2003). Sometimes this method gives information that was not thought initially as a part of interview (Oxfam, 1012). As mentioned from Kajornboon (2005), one of the strongest points would be that the researcher can stimulate and get deeper in a topic which is being discussed by the interviewee. Another strong point is that semi-structured format gives space to ask participants the same questions at different times or vice-versa (Dearnley, 2005). These interviews gave participants space to talk about what they think and how they feel for different dimensions that were discussed.


After the selection phase there was a meeting to provide the interviewees more details about the process. Interviewees also saw the thematic guide to get a close up idea of what the interview will include since this was a sensitive topic. Interviews took place in the second meeting, they were conducted in the Albanian language and all of them were approximately 50 minutes. Participants were interviewed only once and we went through all the main points that had been planned. After the interview there was another meeting with all participants individually to go through the transcripts and confirm what was written.


During each phase of this study there was always caution when it comes to ethics. Participants were assured total confidentiality and protection of their identity. After they had been selected and had confirmed their participation, they have been told that they could leave anytime they wanted to or feel that they needed to. The whole process was carefully designed to avoid any physical or psychological damage to the participants. The last meeting was designed to review transcripts and confirm their statements. 


For the purpose of this study we used a thematic approach, which is a statistical approach for analyzing qualitative data based on coding and classifying the data into common topics or themes (Lapdat, 2010). Therefore, in this research too, the content was read and re-read multiple times and the most common topics were found and grouped. The main focus was to identify factors that had a positive or negative contribution to the mental health of participants, as this was the purpose of this study. The thematic guide started with demographic questions, then education and career, then toward relation with friends and family, and finally relations with institutions. We used an open coding approach in which as mentioned from Ibrahim (2012), after  reading the data we make patterns and turn them and then themes into categories. In order to be free from bias, on this phase of this study coding was conducted from two people, myself and another student. We ultimately formed four categories, which represent the most important contributing factors to the psychological wellbeing of young adults who are children of veterans. These categories will be further addressed in the discussion section.


After reading interviews and using our thematic coding, we come to the main point of this study: what are the factors that contribute to the mental health of young adults? We grouped the qualitative data collected in our interviews into two categories of positive contributors and one negative contributor, which was related to corruption and misuse of veterans’ family benefits. Positive contributors are: support from family and friends, including friends who are also children of veterans. The last category includes our discussion about sources of negative feelings and disappointments with how institutions have made their lives harder. Below are all the main categories which will each be discussed.

Support from familyEmotional support from close and/or extended family member“They made everything easier by always supporting me, especially morally.”
 “I could open my heart to them and this helped me the most.”
 Financial support from close and/or extended family member“Our extended family members always looked after us financially and morally.”
Support from friendsEmotional support and coping with loneliness“I was lucky that I had really good friends, who always stayed close to me and never made me feel left aside when among them.”
Support from friends who are children of martyrsEmotional support“More or less we share the same story and we know each other’s weak points, therefore we always try to stay close. Simply put, we understand each other better.”
Not feeling like the only one going through this specific situation “This really helped me, because I would feel alone and different from other people.”
Governmental InstitutionsInjustice“None of the promises given for our group since 2000 were realized.”
Lack of support “They cover minimal expenses but they are never enough.”
Negative impact on psychological well-being “Inequality draws you to the level of depression or constant sadness.”
Pride as RegretPride for the memory of who their father was“They fought to never die.”
 “I am very proud that I got the chance to be the son of a veteran and a hero.”
 Regret as a result of everything“I question myself whether my father’s fight was worth.”
 “Nothing was worth it, not even coming here, not to mention fighting”

TOPIC 1: Support from family

All the interviews show that an important factor in overcoming hard times is family. For example, interviewee G.F shared a very close relationship with his grandfather: 

“My relation with my grandpa I could say was as close for me as one with a father. I do not know the feeling of having a father or what that relationship would look like, but I can say that grandpa gave me the love of a father which made me feel better for the fact that I do not have one but I can experience a similar emotion. He always tried to reflect that and he succeeded. For me, my grandfather was the strongest element in my life till the moment he died. Interviewee G.F. goes on to talk about the support from his extended family:

“Just like my mother’s family, my father’s family always helped us because he was a family member for them too, and this situation affected them emotionally. They always tried to make me happy and make the absence of my father less felt; most of the time they achieved it by always giving their support.

When talking about relationships with family, A.M. says that:

“Our relations are really good. As I mentioned, I was lucky that I had this family because if there would be a less supportive one it could have caused many difficulties in helping overcome difficulties of life. They made everything easier by always supporting me, especially morally.

When talking about the extended family, Q.K. says:

“We always had the support needed, our extended family members always looked after us and took care, financially and morally.”

K.A. highlights the importance of her mother by saying:

“Family always had its importance, but it was my mother who especially who pushed us to be the best versions of ourselves and gave us support to study and be someone in life so one day in future we could be independent individuals.”

A.M. says that her relationships with her close family and extended one is reported to had made it easier growing up without a father:

“I personally had only one or two close family members who had been close to my father and who are in step with what is going on now too. These people supported me a lot. I could open my heart to them and this helped me the most.”

Similarly, G.M also considers family support very important:

“No, I do not have problems with sleep, and I never used pills, so it didn’t come to that till depression. I think because I always had the support of my family which always were a shoulder for me with their kind words helped to overcome a lot of things.” 

TOPIC 2: Support from friends

Support from friends was also one of the major points the interviewees described. They said that it made it easier living without a parent and they found support during their journey. After analyzing all the interviews most of participants divided friendship into two major groups. First they described support from friends they grew up with and shared the same school or neighborhood. Interviewee A.M mentions that:

 “I was lucky that I had  really good friends. They stayed close to me always, and they  never made me feel different among them. I think I was really lucky since there might be people out there who do not feel the same in their friends’ company.”

Interviewee G.F also describes the importance of friendship during his hard times:
            “Friendship helped in so many aspects. They never let me feel alone. They were there with me even when I was sad. Because sometimes you really miss the person you lost and you feel the need of their presence. During these times friendship is really needed  and my friends really helped me..

Interviewee K.A, in addition to importance of friendship, also mentions difficulties as a consequence of gender:

“You can get through everything together with close people, and I was really lucky that I   always had the support of my friends especially since it was harder for me as a girl. I am always being told that I should be the best version of myself to make my father proud and I have a double responsibility on my shoulders as a girl and I need to protect  honor. 

Interviewee Q.K mentions: “A huge importance has also been gender and how people see you as a woman. You should always be more careful about everything, if I were a boy I think everything would be easier for me.”

TOPIC 2.1. Support from friends who are also children of veterans

Besides friends at school or those they grew up with, interviewers shared positive experiences with friends who lived throught the same thing they did. Interviewee A.M says: 

“I spend a lot of time with other children of veterans, because more or less we share the same story and we know where it hurts to each other and we always try to stay close to one another. We understand each other better.”

He goes on further:

 “Well, we have two kinds of friendships, the one which we made in school and the one which we met through the stories of our fathers. There were cases where I was really disappointed with some friends, but never the ones that shares the same story with me. The moment you realize it the most is when there are important dates, there you understand who stays close with us and who doesn’t. The friends that live with the same wound were always there for me.

Interviewee G.F shares similar experiences: 

“I also have a lot of friends with the same story as mine, I could count 20 of them or more actually. Their fathers also gave their lives for this country, and this connects us. We share a lot of similar opinions and beliefs, we understand each other better, we know what we talk about, and we never cross the line to the point that it would touch someone emotionally. Or, maybe this is all because they feel the same pain as I do. 

Interviewee Q.K goes further, reporting that this kind of friendship was part of her school environment as well:

“Well we were two girls whose parents were killed in war and that made us support each other more and maybe understand each other’s pain. Especially when there are important remembrance days when you remember everything you go through as a kid without father. Everything was hard but the fact that we were together made it a bit easier maybe.”

When talking about this topic during interviews, A.M shared his opinion that having someone similar was an important positive factor: 

“This really really helps you, because you would feel alone and different from other people. But I had this friendship, I cannot say for my good luck because the loss of a father can never be a good thing and maybe it would be better that we wouldn’t be in this group at all but despite all of this they make me feel really good.”

TOPIC 3: Governmental Institutions

While the above discussion is about factors that had a positive contribution in the wellbeing of the veterans’ kids, something that came up as a common negative influence among all the interviewees was the approach of governmental institutions towards this group of people. In one way or another, it seems to always have a negative correlation with their wellbeing. Interviewee G.F says:

“Kosovo does not have adequate leaders and therefore there are a lot of things happening which should not. It means the law is not respected as it should be and none of the promises given for our group since 2000 were realized. I am talking about the promises from year 2000 and on, like: support on education, household, financial help and everything else promised but never really fulfilled.”

Interviewee A.M. shared similar examples:

“There are several cases where we as a group are free from payments, such as in the 
hospital where we show a card we have. I should be proud that I am the son of a veteran, and if I pull out that card that shows that I am a son of a veteran and free from payments I should receive a bravo from the responsible person there, but instead I am considered as someone who needs social assistance and that’s it and they even tell us. ‘Really you again, you really have grown in number haven’t you.’ And this kills me every time.

K.A. reports the absence of support for education: 

“Government support is not enough as I mentioned earlier. We had hope that they will help, especially since we are the last generations of veterans because most of them are already grownups and independent individuals. And that support would be good for the country because we will eventually work for the good of this country so they should have had supported us.

 Q.K.  highlights the lack of financial support:

“To restate what has already been said before, it is insufficient if people have only that amount of money which I have been offered and did not cover most of the family expenses. As children of veterans, we have an amount of money that we receive but that is insufficient, and if a family is dependent only on that it would be a really huge problem because one cannot reach the end of month with that. We also dealt by ourselves with accommodation, since we had support from our extended family, but not many were lucky as we were. As for institutional financial assistance someone would end up on streets. Government also offered a small amount of apartments for families of veterans but we do not even know how they assigned them. For people like us, who did not get one, it was really difficult.”

All participants mentioned the fact that government provided uneven and insufficient support. The interviewee A.M. says:

“Institutions support you and maybe they cover minimal expenses but they are never enough so you could have your own place or home that would be really difficult. There have been cases where municipalities shared a number of apartments for families of veterans but not for all of them. The way they assigned these apartments was weird, because you got the apartment assigned but you did not legally own it you because the real owner was municipality and you were only a renter. Even in papers your name is only as a temporary person living there.”

As for Q.K., he states:

“I would like to talk about these apartments that they gave us because this procedure is not done the war it should have been. The apartments do not even have decent quality and we are not even the owners. I do not know what their game is, but the rent of these apartments goes to certain people who own them, after all we still do not get to be the owners.”

TOPIC 4: Pride as regret

One of the topics which was addressed by all the interviewees was the regret they had. The regret was expressed in different ways about the fact that appreciation for the loss of their father was really changing in our culture, especially in the last few years. They always reported that as a result of corruption and misuse the way people see veterans has really changed and this is affecting their lives. As A.M says:

“We, all the time have a feeling of anguish and we are in some ways pessimistic. We see the ingratitude and therefore we never give our best our 100%, we are reserved since as I mentioned the circumstances made us feel this way. This broke most of us, if you stop and think how we grew up with a missing father figure, and how society is responding toward us this way is heartbreaking.” 

A.M goes further, reporting events that create this feeling: 

“If you check TV and what happens in the Parliament of Kosovo in certain moments it makes you disgusted from what you are seeing and hearing and in some moments you are so broken and in anguish that you say nothing was worth it for even a second.

This feeling was a source for regret also for interviewee G.F. where he explains:

“I could say that this is the worst feeling. Sometimes I question myself whether my father’s fight was worth it, and my answer is absolutely not. If my father would have been alive and would have known that the circumstances would come to this point, I am sure that he would have taken his close family (mother, father, wife and children) the day that war in Kosovo started and leave this country.”

The interviewee K.A. also expresses his unhappiness with the way all the values of war and her father have been lost.

“Gratitude is mostly gone. They forgot the values and we see a certain disappointment about one can forget so quickly, especially when most of people have family members lost to war and they forget that people die at war but do not deserve to be forgotten this way. They should at least have a kind of respect for children of veterans, but when you look even the ones that were comrades in war should know better than not to respect their friends or their blood.”

This feeling of regret expressed in different ways to all of interviewees was always associated with a strong feeling of pride, where A.M. says:

“Of course pain is really big and the absence can never be filled in any way by anybody else, but if you would ask me if I would like this to happen again I would agree because of my country and all of the things that it has gone through. If we rely on the behavior of people then nothing was worth it, not even coming here, not to mention fighting.”

Feeling proud for what their father did seems to be something that makes dealing with all the challenges that they face today easier, as interviewee K.A. says:

“Although we are so often disappointed and our motives and hopes are lost, we still somehow have a kind of love for our country. They fought to never die, just so we could be free today and follow a better path, and in the future people will look at me and say she did turn out to grow a fine lady despite the fact that she grew up without the love of father. Pride is the main pillar that gives me strength and only when I think about it I say to myself: okay you are daughter of a veteran and you should be stronger.”

These feelings were constantly accompanying all of them and it was something that kept being the main topic, where A.M. also adds:

“It is a relief for our pride because individuals can nowadays accomplish whatever they want, for example be a Vice President, but one can never be the child of a veteran and it is a special kind of privilege. This title is a fortune over all the fortunes, and this is what covers all the bad stuff happening around.”

Another part of expressing pride comes from the interviewee G.F. who points out:

“Besides the patriotism I do not feel anything else. I am very proud that I got the chance to be the son of a veteran and a hero. My father’s work and what he did for us and for all this country makes me feel stronger and makes missing him more bearable. It is true that you cannot escape the longing for him from time to time, but his activity made me leave behind so many things and not get caught in details and everything that is going on in this country nowadays.


After all the data presented above it is important to go through the main points of this research again. Starting as an explorative one, this study brought up important viewpoints from lived experience of young adults who are children of martyrs. Psychological wellbeing was the main topic which was brought up in every field, directly or not. So, what are the positive contributors in psychological wellbeing of these people, and what are the negative ones? Is there a gender difference?

Always having in mind that this is the very first study that treats this specific topic, the actual context and what is happening in Kosovo we conclude that support from family is the main factor that is contributing positively in martyrs’ children’s lives. As mentioned in the literature review, for many children raised in a home without a parent, the nature of familial relations and support from friends are really important elements that reduce dangerous factors during their development (Hutchinson, Power & Jackson 2017). Family once again, beside emotional also through financial support was the one who made their lives better and easier. One of participants also reported to have had really close relationship with his grandparent just as some studies presented from Attar and Swatchrz, (2009) said .

Interviewees also talk a lot about how friendship affected their lives as children without a parent. While on this topic, a special importance was given at support from friends who have been living the same thing and knew how it felt to be the child of a martyr. On the other hand we have institutions and their approach as a negative contributor with their lack of support and mistreatment. Parallel to this, something more powerful was always brought up, it was pride as a regret. Regret was for losing their father for the dream of an ideal country that would be free which nowadays treats these people without the respect they deserve, and pride for the heroes that their parents were. As for gender differences despite what Marks, Jung and Song (2007) mention that being raised without a father tends to lead to a higher depression symptoms and poorer wellbeing at boys, there was no difference in participants. The only difference mentioned from girls was that they have to be extra careful since they also had to deal with perceptions from others as a daughter of a martyr, which can be a topic for further research.


Starting from the fact that this is the first research of its kind, the absence of previous reference points could be a huge disadvantage. Despite this, since this was a very sensitive and specific topic even when compared to international studies, there was not much said about since this study also treats the actual context in this country and the problems that have risen up in the last years, this problem is very specific. Another limitation can be considered the absence of declaration directly from responsible people from the Organization of Martyrs as a more credible resource of information than their statements to the local newspaper.


This research can be a good starting point for further exploration of this topic since this is something that has not really been discussed in the last years. Furthermore, it can also be a source for further work that can be done from Ministry of Work and Social Wellbeing for an intervention which would explore more this learned helplessness toward negative perception of these young adults. In addition to that, as for further research about this topic, there can be ones that would specifically search for gender differences, missing a father and its implications for romantic relationships and influence of this in choosing a career since these were often mentioned during interviews. Always in mind that all of this work would be very useful and have an impact on society as the first steps toward bringing attention to the issue and making a change.


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