Anna Di Lellio: Can you please tell me, we are going to see this, can you please tell me first something about yourself, your name, where you were born, if you don’t mind, your age. And how you came here, so a little bit of your background? [English]
Besim Malota: My name is Besim Malota. I was born in Grabanica, municipality of Klina in Kosovo. I came in United States in 1986. I left… [English]
Anna Di Lellio: Do you want to do it in English or Albanian? [English]
Besim Malota: Albanian is much better for me [English].
Anna Di Lellio: Yes, I can understand, maybe I will ask you questions in English but yes, just start in Albanian [English].
Besim Malota: My name is Besim Malota, I was born in Grabanica, in the municipality of Klina. I came to the United States of America in 1986. I left Kosovo in 1983. I was in Germany for some time and in Sweden, later I emigrated to the United States of America. The reason I left Kosovo was the question, the political question, because I was persecuted politically, arrested in Peja for some time after the demonstrations of the year 1982, which were organized in Klina by a group of students of the high school Luigj Gurakuqi, with whom I collaborated. The ruling power of that time put pressure on all of us and many left their birthplace not to be part of that system which was not pro-Albanians.
You have any questions? [English]. In 1986 I came to the United States of America. Here I found Albanians organized in the national club, Jusuf Gërvalla, and I joined them immediately and after six months the association Shpresa [Hope] was founded in Brooklyn by a group of youth from Kosovo, really from other Albanian lands in former Yugoslavia. After the foundation of the association Shpresa I was the secretary of the association for some years and this is how the activities of the association Shpresa began in 1990.
The association Shpresa undertook an activity for the reconciliation of blood in the United States of America, inviting a delegation from Kosovo, at whose head there was professor Anton Çetta, the member of the Academy Mark Krasniqi, Bajram Kelmendi and many others. Here, in the United States of America, Albanians brought their own traditions from there and also brought vengeance. We had some cases, I remember how many, over forty cases of Albanian families in blood feuds in the United States of America. And many from these families were forced to leave the place where the situation had occurred or were always in a so called besa according to the Kanun which was practiced also in our place, this practice, and continued here too.
Seeing the circumstances in which the Albanian people lived in Kosovo and the ways in which Albanians were reconciling blood feuds in Kosovo, the association Shpresa decided to undertake this action also here. The association Shpresa at the time chose me as the leader of this action and a group of other friends such as Tahir Nikçi, Xhevat Kuken, Sami Syleimani, Riza Rugova, Xhavit Kabashi to organize the reconciliation of blood feuds in the United States of America. Within a very short time we identified more than forty Albanian families, which were in blood among themselves in the United States of America. I am saying in the region of New York, the majority was in the region of New York.
With the arrival of what we called then the Krushqit e Pajtimit, we immediately began to work towards reconciliation, and the first action was taken in the Gjonbalaj family. The Gjonbalaj family and a family from Shkodra were in enmity, I seem to have forgotten the last name, but they were from Shkodra and were in blood. The Gjonbalaj family lived in New York, while the other family had moved six hours from New York and they never came to New York because there was no besa from the Gjonbalaj. At the time, the campaign began with the Gjonbalaj family, even though it was a very difficult case, and it took us more than six hours. There, we succeeded because the brother, Adriatik Gjonbalaj, Adriatik Gjonbalaj was really the son of the victim, forgave the blood of his father, and he immediately opened the radio station that we had at the time, Zëri i Kosovës [The Voice of Kosovo] in New York. Later [this forgiveness] was communicated also in church, in the mosque and everywhere else, and thus we continued with the reconciliation campaign.
After this we continued with the family Shabani and many, many other families that were in blood with each other. The group that lead the reconciliation of blood feuds undertook many actions during those days, when they reconciled not only blood, but also the small enmities that were there, some different questions and their number went up to about 80 reconciliations in New York. Afterwards, the group split and one part went to Detroit, and there were some reconciliations there, but not as many, though many people thought that in Detroit there were blood feuds, in reality it was not true, because in Detroit there were not as many cases as in New York.
In Detroit it seems to me only six families reconciled, while the others kept that previous Besëlidhje së Malësisë, and in that sense professor Anton Çetta did not want to push further, to go farther, because that besa was linked to 1974, if I am not mistaken in Montenegro the Albanians of the Malësia e Madhe. This was part of the activity at that time, also many other people of the Albanian community collaborated on that activity. Later there was the support of the Albanian American Civic League headed by Joe DioGuardi and many and many fellow citizens who were here, who had information about families that were in enmity, came to tell us. Afterwards we prepared the trips of the group of the reconciliation of blood feuds, which split in two groups, one headed by Anton Çetta and the other by the member of the Academy Mark Krasniqi.
The group was rather large because 16 people came from Kosovo including Zikri Hasani, Bajram Kelmendi, Nekibe Kelmendi, professor doctor Agim Vinca, Mustafë Radoniq, the lawyer Adem Bajra, doctor Mustafë Logja and another number who were together with them there, I do not remember, Mulla Xhevat who was almost at the head of this delegation together with Anton Çetta and the member of the Academy Mark Krasniqi. The only one who could not come at the time was Don Lush Gjergj, because there was a meeting at the Vatican and he was invited, and he confirmed but was obliged to go to the Vatican with Ibrahim Rugova and canceled the visit to the United States of America. If you ask me more questions probably things come to my mind you know? [English]
Anna Di Lellio: How difficult was the work of the delegation?
Besim Malota: It was rather difficult, because the association Shpresa at the time was composed by a group of students. They were all workers who lived on their salary and the members of the association could not work a lot, but at the same time they all made sacrifices while being members, giving a great contribution to the association so they could come here, to reconcile blood feuds in the United States of America.
We are rather proud of all that happened because since then we have not had killing or vengeances. I mean, it was all almost extinguished once the case [reconciliation] happened in New York.
The difficulties were with people when we went to their homes, because those who had victims, I mean, the family members of victims, did not understand that we were not looking for forgiveness in the name of the one who had committed the crime, but forgiveness was asked in the name of the nation, and not in the name of the one who had committed the crime. With the Gjonbalaj family it was very difficult, especially in the beginning. As I said earlier, it happened after six hours, because the entire delegation of 16 people and plus people from the community, that was then over 50 people, could not succeed in persuading the Gjonbalaj family to extend the hand of reconciliation.
At the end, Anton Çetta asked to meet with the mother of the victim, I mean, the victim was Dinqa Feta, according to the last name Din Gjonbalai. Anton Çetta met with his mother, she was very ill, she was on her deathbed, and talked to her for 30 minutes, and in the end he asks her to extend the hand of reconciliation for her son, that she would not leave confusion in the family, that she would not continue with this kind of tradition.
And his mother really, even though 92 years old, forgave the blood of her son and asked her grandchildren, the sons of her sons, and the other son who was there, the brother of the victim, that they too did as she did, because she could not get up from her bed and give her hand to the other, because she was in a very bad condition and was very old. And thus, we succeeded in reconciling the first blood feud. After this, we had other cases that were very problematic killings.
We did not ask to tell us why they were killed, we were not interested in why were the killed, what pushed to the killing, who was the guilty one, we did not ask in any way about the guilty one, because we had not gone there to judge a killing, they would meet justice. We asked that they forgave, that once and for all blood vengeance ended. There were also enough difficulties, especially in Detroit. The case of Detroit was also more difficult because it was the blood of father and a son that was being forgiven. And I was not there, in Detroit. It was Tahir Nikçi, an activist of the association Shpresa, who led the group in Detroit, and that’s how he told us about that family that he successfully reconciled.
The brother of the victim did not agree, it was really the brother and the son [of the victim] who had to forgive. The brother of the victim did not agree in any way, even though he had prepared a magnificent welcome, and highly praised the delegation, he said, “You are the head of the nation, you are great men,” and even though there was a great pressure from Don Anton Kqira, the priest of the Catholic church of Detroit, who wanted that blood be forgiven at any cost. He finally said, “Here, nothing can be done.” And after a few hours, his mother stood up and said to her son, “Yes son, all these men, you highly raised all these men, you brought them so high, and at the end you say no.” She said, “This is not burrnia, I am a woman, but the besa of God for my son speaks for itself.” And she offered Anton Çetta her hand and said, “May the blood of my son be forgiven.” But she did not mention the grandchild, because the grandchild was the son of her son, and she said, “Now it is your turn, I forgave my son, you must be forgiving your son.” And that’s how he also reconciled.
We had very delicate cases here in the United States of America, cases of killings that occurred here and are not, were not imported, but occurred in the United States of America. Nevertheless they were closed with great success, and I hope we will not have such needs [again]. I am against feuds forgiveness now, I’m against going to ask people, “Forgive blood.” People should be aware it is no longer the time of the Kanun, it is the time of the law, and the state should function and everything should be left to the law.
The victim should be punished according to the law, and people, the close family, should not be trapped. I hope that this very soon is understood also in Kosovo, especially in Albania, because there now the problem is much greater than in Kosovo. People know that the time of the Kanun is passed, the Kanun worked during the Ottoman Empire. Also because if explained in the right way, the Kanun was a diarchy during the Ottoman Empire, because Albanians never recognized the Ottoman Empire, only what the Kanun said, because Albanians solved their problems according to [their] customs and habits and not to the laws of Turkey. This is a form of diarchy or a parallel government that for 560 years Albanians have held against Turkey.
Now it is already obsolete and people should know that where there are laws, they must function, and not the Kanun, with all due respect to the great work that the Kanun is. I have read it several times and it is the most liberal law of that time. If we compare the Kanun laws, for example, with the English law or the law of other countries, it is much more liberal than the laws of other kingdoms in European countries. Yes, it is obsolete and the people must understand that now it is obsolete and they should not use the Kanun, nor be based on the Kanun.
Anna Di Lellio: Do you remember other cases of reconciliation in New York and Detroit?
Besim Malota: I was not in Detroit, it was the part of Tahir Nikçi, another colleague who is here in New York and lives here. He knows very well the cases of Detroit, while here we had some cases. I remember the case of the family of Mark Shabani and the Domgjoni family, two families from the municipality of Gjakova, but they both lived here at one point, they were friends. One murder happened in the family, the Domgjoni family really damaged the Shabani family. Earlier, here in the United States of America, there was a professor, Marian Shabani, who was killed by the Domgjoni family. Although he was the son-in-law in that family, there were problems between the families and it came down to murder.
Gjergj Domgjoni was also a member of the association Shpresa, and this case was one in which the association Shpresa was more engaged, because it was a member of the association Shpresa who was in a blood feud with the Shabani family. And this person always had to have a besa from the Shabani family in order to live freely in New York, because if he did not have besa, you know, he could not go out, could not go anywhere, was completely isolated. He usually went to work and returned from work, but could not come to the meetings, and this was exactly the reason why the association Shpresa took this case up, because we had a member who was in a blood feud, and because he was not a person who had committed a crime, but he was a member of that family.
We had this case of the Shabani family, we went to the Shabani family, we discussed personally with Mark Shabani, the brother of the victim Marian Shabani, we asked that he extend the hand of reconciliation, also because we could not succeed in persuading him by talking to him on the phone. In the end I asked, I said, “Marian [Mark], the Albanian custom is to open the door to anyone, we are coming tomorrow, we will be in church at 12 o’clock, after church will be at your house, so you should know that we are expected at home. And whether you forgive or not, come to an agreement or not, the custom is that you welcome us in your home, later you decide, we have our words, you, yours.” Later, we went, we met, professor Anton Çetta told us that he had also been to his [Mark’s] brother in Kosovo sometimes, and was not able to find an understanding, and he had not succeeded in reconciling the family in Kosovo.
We discussed with Mark Shabani, and he extended [the hand], but asked for one week to talk to the other part of the family in Kosovo. And after one week, actually after three or four, he called on the phone and said, “I expect you at my home on Saturday.” Then I understood that this was an important job, and I notified Anton Çetta and the group that we would go to Mark Shabani’s, because he had reached an agreement with his brother and he would give the final word. We had other cases here, some Vuthjane who were in blood, they did not give us a good welcome, it was difficult when you went to a family because they did not welcome you with that nobility, saying, “Come in, welcome,” but we were hardly asked to enter the house. We also had the case in which we were attacked at the door, we had a very bad case, they attacked us at the door of the house.
Anna Di Lellio: Yes, can you tell us?
Besim Malota: One of the brothers in the Ahmetaj family, one of the brothers was young, 20 years old, if I am not mistaken. While the other brother was in the room upstairs, when we came to the door, he was not uninformed, he was informed that we were coming…anyway, with all of us, one of the delegates was Mark Krasniqi. And after he rang the bell, he opens the door and when he opens the door he does not say, “Come in, please,” but with a baseball bat he attacks him. Bajram Kelmendi, may he rest in peace, happened to be the second, and moved the professor behind him and stepped out and grabbed it, because Bajram was rather strong, grabbed the baseball bat. And afterwards we were a little shaken and the rest of us managed to move. His brother came out and saw what happened, the mess that had been created at the door, he slapped his brother, he was completely humiliated, asked us to go inside, but we were panicking a little and decided not to go inside before they talked as a family, but to come another time. In fact, we did not go, but in the evening the entire family came to us. We were located in New Jersey, in a hotel, and there was an Albanian restaurant there, Il Galletto, and in the evening they came to the Hotel, to Il Galletto, they met with us and forgave the blood. We had all kinds of cases.
In another case, in Greenwich Connecticut, they called the police, they called the police and sought the arrest of Anton Çetta, and the police really acted that way because they did not know what the problem was, and who those people were. I was there, the person who was there tells the police the reason why they went, and they say, “What?” He says, “Yes, because of this man who lives in Greenwich, a family in Kosovo is locked up and does not dare go out, nor take their children to school or do anything.” And they say, “What is this?” and ask the one who had asked to arrest Anton Çetta. They say, “Why did you call us? These men are peaceful, it is not what you said, that they came to threaten you.” The person who accompanied [the delegation] says, “No, more, he didn’t come to threaten, because this is a University professor, while the other is a very well-known lawyer in Kosovo.” Bajram Kelmendi was with him. He says, “They did not come to threaten, but came for this reason.” And they left, and we did not have any agreement with the man. He is from the Lekaj family, from the municipality of Deçan, the blood feud was there, and it was there where the Reconciliation began, when Hava Shala started [the campaign] with her group.
That blood is not forgiven even today, because that person has never agreed. He lives in Greenwich here in the United States of America, and was the person who wanted to arrest Anton Çetta, let alone forgive blood. We had various cases, then we had beatings, fights among people whom we had reconciled, we have not encountered any difficulty, the difficulty we encountered the most was with blood feuds. We had feuds even among different faiths, whether it was a Catholic who had killed or a Muslim who killed a Catholic, they have been a little more problematic because people instigated even more, but we managed to reconcile even those, but there in Detroit, there exists another kind of reconciliation because in 1974 if I’m not mistaken it was in Deqiq, near Tuzla, Deqiq is there, I’m not sure in Deqiq or Traboinë, it seems to me that in Traboinë there was a lidhë besa. Professor Gjergj Gjokaj, from Tuzla, organized a kind of besa because at that time the Albanians in Montenegro…
Anna Di Lellio: In ‘40, 1940?
Besim Malota: In 1974.
Anna Di Lellio: In 1974, ok.
Besim Malota: It is called Besëlidhja e Malësisë, and he organized a completely different system, because he knew Albanians in Montenegro, than it is difficult to ask someone to forgive blood. He managed to convince, not to forgive blood, but however the rest of the family should be free. The son should be free, the wife, the brother and everyone else in the family except the one who performed the action, don’t forgive him, but don’t take the others. And he managed to get this besa and when he organized a kind of ceremony, then in those years every family had a representative of the family who agreed on a besa, that from now on in Malësi there is no revenge unless on the perpetrator, except on the one who did the deed, if you can kill the one who took the blood. If you killed the killer’s son, you are not in besa in Malësi and you did not take out blood, but you fall in a new blood feud, if you kill the son or the brother or the cousin.
He achieved that kind of system there, which has been quite successful, because I have personally known professors Gjergj Gjoka and I asked him, “Why didn’t you ask that they not take revenge?” And he says, “It is impossible, but I guarantee one thing, that revenge will never happen, because the victim, in reality the criminal who has committed a crime is going to prison for 15 years, when he comes out of prison exhausted, how many years can he lived, ten, nothing, he has done ten or 15,” he says, “they are all dead,” he says, “and extinguished, no more, he died, you cannot erase a death with a murder, you don’t have blood.”
They stand by the besëlidhje even today, the Albanians in Montenegro, who are in the vicinity of Tuz, they have the same system here in the United States, in Detroit or New York, wherever you are. We call them Malësorë, wherever they are, if there’s a murder, it happens especially in Detroit, there have been several murders, before you go to anyone’s house to give condolence or the priest of the church goes, or goes the kryeplak of the family and asks the head of the household, “Are you in the Besë e Malësia?” If he says no, no Malësor goes to the funeral, nor goes to pay a condolence visit, I mean, they ignore it completely. And none of them, everyone of them says, “Yes, I am in the Besë e Malësia,” and so when he says, “I’m in the Besë e Malësia,” the first people to go for condolence to these families are those who have committed the crime, the family of the person who has committed the crime, they are free to go. They go to the funeral, go to the home, go anywhere, meet each other, everything is okay. This is another form in my own opinion that should be practiced in Albania, because the biggest problem of blood feuds is in Albania today, it should be practiced but is not practiced anywhere.
Anna Di Lellio: But not in Kosovo, not in Kosovo now.
Besim Malota: In Kosovo some murders occurred later, but there they intervene more because there is still the group that was with Anton Çetta, such as Mulla Xhevat. I had the chance to participate in reconciliations in Kosovo after the war, with Mulla Xhevat and some others, I was there on vacation and Xhevat Mulla came and took me and we went to a reconciliation there in Kosovo and reconciled a family in Kosovo. Until this group exists it is a little easier, because they are people who have reconciled many feuds and people have respect for them, and still, you know, they accept their request to forgive blood or something else, but in Albania the issue of revenge is very problematic, very problematic.
Anna Di Lellio: Yes, I know, I know.
Besim Malota: Then the interpretation of Kanun, each lagje interprets the Kanun as they want. I mean, the Kanun applies as I say, they do not even deal with what is the Kanun, or what is customary law, which is collected by Shtjefën Gjeçovi, they don’t deal with it. I have been in touch several times with those groups, those missions in Albania that work on reconciliation. Even they themselves are not interested, they are more interested in benefiting from those bloods than in reconciling them. When they go to someone’s home, they go in the name of the Kanun, which is absurd, it is nonsense to go to someone and tell them, “I have come in the name of the Kanun.” You should go and explain that today the time is different, there are state laws, the person who committed the crime is punished, and the others must be free, the others are not guilty, they are not accomplices, they must be free. No, they go in the name of the Kanun, and so keep people tied and locked up even today.
Anna Di Lellio: Yes.
Besim Malota: I am totally against those forms [of reconciliation], going in the name of the Kanun to forgive blood. You have to go and explain. I said earlier, even Anton Çetta and each of them did not ask for forgiveness on behalf of the Kanun, nor did they deal with customary law, that if you come to that customary law, you have a debt and it does not forgive you.
Anna Di Lellio: Do you remember the words of Anton Çetta or Kelmendi?
Besim Malota: In every case Anton Çetta, it was a large delegation and all spoke, in every case case, Anton Çetta, we began the most important part with Anton Çetta. We were divided into two groups, one led by academic Mark Krasniqi, and one by Anton Çetta. In every case he began, he began in the name of the youth, he apologized and explained why this should be done, why people should leave this path and he always said that they should no longer be based on the Kanun. The Kanun is not the one to say he must be locked up in the family, those were laws of the past, not laws of the present time. But every time he said that today is the moment in which we are in enmity with others and do not need to be in enmity with each other.
In Kosovo there were thousands of feuds, with thousands of reconciliations that happened in Kosovo, which means, according to a book that I read somewhere, there are 1200-1300 reconciliations. And if there are 1200-1300 reconciliations, we are talking of 1200-1300 families, we are talking about 200,000-300,000 people unnecessarily confined in prisons. And he always explained that this is the will of the youth, “We have not come on behalf of the one who has committed the crime, we have not come to say ‘Forgive them,’ but ‘Forgive us, forgive the youth of Kosovo, forgive the people of Kosovo.’”
And here were his key moments, that he was able to convince people because he did not go in the name of the one who had committed the crime, but he was going in his name. Then started, “No, he did so, he did so, no, he said that, it happened for this reason.” He did not even want to listen to them, “Don’t tell me how those circumstances began,” he said, he said, “No, I do not want to know, I did not come here as a judge to determine who is guilty, I do not care to know why it happened, I reconciled hundreds of feuds and nowhere did I ask. “
Anna Di Lellio: In America or in Kosovo?
Besim Malota: No, in America.
Anna Di Lellio: In America. How long was the campaign?
Besim Malota: Thirty days. They were here for thirty days, they stayed in the hotel because they were a large delegation. We moved every day from one place to another, you know, it was not very easy because we had to go to Kenrik, there, for some reconciliation, to Waterbury over in New Jersey, New York. The other group went to Detroit and they there, the Albanians in Detroit Michigan.
Anna Di Lellio: How much did it cost?
Besim Malota: It cost enough, the whole action at the time cost somewhere up to 130,000 dollars because we had very big expenses.
Anna Di Lellio: Who funded it?
Besim Malota: The association Shpresa funded it, the large part was funded by the association Shpresa, afterward we hosted a welcome dinner for the delegation of the Reconciliation of Blood Feuds and there was a very large number there, I think 500 or 600 people. The revenue of that dinner was also for the expenses that were made. At that time, apart from the Bytyqi brothers, the others only talked, because they did not contribute. But the Bytyqi brothers yes, Sergio Bytyqi contributed with his brothers, because he hosted a lunch at his Manhattan restaurant, Toscana.
Anna Di Lellio: Not Shaqir Gashi?
Besim Malota: Shaqir Gashi hosted a lunch at the beginning, but lunch was offered by anyone. People invited us in every place, this for lunch, that for dinner. But about material contribution, for example the Bytyqi brothers not only hosted the dinner, but invited guests and every guest paid 150 dollars for dinner. Those 150 dollars were not for the restaurant bill, but they gave it to the association, as a contribution of the Bytyqi brothers to help us in the campaign for reconciliation. I am not sure how much it was, but I know it was about one hundred and some people who were there and this was the only contribution that we had from Albanians in America.
The Albanian American Civic League welcomed us, but in the end withdrew and did not contribute a penny. We even had a disagreement with them because they also participated in the dinner, looking to get the proceeds of the dinner. We said, “Yes, are you by yourselves?” The greatest contribution was from the young people who were members of Shpresa. I appreciate them because only the members of the association Shpresa covered the costs. After all, whatever we had, I mean from what we collected from the dinner at the Bytyqi brothers, I cannot overlook the brothers Brumqaj because they had a higher cost, we had breakfast and dinner at their restaurant every day. But there was an agreement to pay, it was not free, but in the end Ali Brumqaj detracted 5000 dollars from the bill because, I know it, because I signed every day, and when I made the balance with him, he had removed 5000 dollars from the bill, we paid everything else.
Anna Di Lellio: How old were you?
Besim Malota: I was 23 at that time, I was almost the youngest in the delegation. At that time I was not even in the presidency of the association, but the leadership of the association took action focusing on the people they wanted to keep in the group, and I was leading the group. This is not a merit of mine, it was the merit of the association, the merit of all. Jakup Krasniqi was the chairman, Sami Sulejmani was the secretary of the association, then there was the leadership of the association who participated, and a certain group including me, Xhevat Kukaj who was also editor in chief of the radio, because then we had our Radio Zëri e Kosovës in New York. Tahir Nikçi, Riza Rugova and many others were part of that. For me it was just the chance that I was given.
Anna Di Lellio: When did you start Shpesa?
Besim Malota: Shpresa started in 1986.
Anna Di Lellio: 1986.
Besim Malota: I came here in America in 1986. When I came here in America there was only the national club Jusuf Gërvalla. There were also these other parties, the Balli Kombëtar, the Second League of Prizren, the Movement of the Ilegalja, then some other parties that were independent. But there was much enmity among these groups, there was the greatest enmity, instead of fighting against Belgrade they were fighting among themselves. “Is he a leftist? Who is a Communist?” When I came, I joined the national club Jusuf Gërvalla because there I found the majority and it is true that the national club Jusuf Gërvalla was under the influence of Albania.
Anna Di Lellio: Why?
Besim Malota: It was under the influence of the permanent Mission [of the Republic of Albania] to the UN and they did not make any move other than those actions directed by the mission of Albania, on how to organize and what to do. I did not stay long, I saw much unhappiness among the people, because the Kosovo question should not have been mixed with the issue of Albania. There everything was mixed, it became some form of hatred spread among the members, who is from Albania is a traitor, no, who is from Kosovo and does not come with us is a Serb. They spread hatred in the community, especially their leadership, they introduced a kind of hatred in the community. I immediately saw the dissatisfaction, I met with some of the youth, most of whom were the many students who had come from Kosovo, people who had come and were also active there. And we discussed the ways.. For example, had I liked Marxism-Leninism I would have gone to Albania, not America. Had we liked that kind of system we would be very close to Albania, and this was the reason why the association Shpresa started. I was precisely that division.
Anna Di Lellio: All Kosovars?
Besim Malota: No, there were not all Kosovars. We had people from all corners, they were from Malësia, Vuthaj, there were many from Dibra. There were many people from Dibra who participated in the association Shpresa, there were Kosovars, but there were all those who did not agree to be under the influence of the Albanian Mission, but we must be free to operate independently. We know what are the demands of Kosovo, because we had just come from where the demands originate, and we did not need to come here and hear those who had no connection with Kosovo tell us what the Republic of Kosovo must say, or how to act, or how should we work. Then the Albanian American Civic League began, we were the right-wing of the Albanian Civic League and we supported the majority of the Albanian American Civic League, until it grew a little bigger.
Then these political parties that erased all the associations began. And the establishment of political parties in the United States of America was a big mistake, because you cannot establish a party in another state. The party in Kosovo, its branch in America, it is absurd, unacceptable. We discussed this case, we discussed with the late Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, we met him several times. It was against the establishment of the Democratic League of Kosovo [LDK].
But the Democratic League of Kosovo in New York is founded by doctor Ali Aliu. And he did not want to listen, at the time we knew that there was no kind of interest in founding LDK in New York, but there was interest in collecting funds, and at the time we told Rugova too and Ali Aliu. We, as a community, pledge 300,000 dollars a year, and we send 300,000 dollars, but don’t found a party here because it divides the community. In the beginning it was very active, they succeeded, but where are they today? They have all disappeared. They destroyed the associations and in the end they were destroyed as well, because those from the rank and file destroyed it, because they did not have their interests here. And they did not have need for the party here. And they did not deal with them. This was a very big mistake, very obvious.
Anna Di Lellio: What was your job at the time?
Besim Malota: At the time I was, I worked at NYU Hospital, I was a doorman [English]. Later I was supervisor [English] of the maintenance there at the time. When we arrived here it was impossible, because we all arrived with debts. And we were forced to begin to work, it was impossible to continue studying because of the conditions in which we were at the time. And the Albanian community did not have money, it was organized to help the youth when we arrived at the time, I mean, we found a way to help those who were coming from there to continue studying a little here, there was no money, there was no type of activity in that direction. You had to work to support yourself and your family.
So, now the situation is different, the situation is much better, although now they are adults, people who are here are aware, it shows also from the education of our children who have gone much farther. When I came here I found [the community] very backward. With all due respect, they worked, they managed to create wealth, but did not succeed in educating their children. For many parents it was more reasonable to send a son to make pizza after high school than send him to university somewhere. It was more reasonable that he brought 50 dollars home than send him somewhere to get educated and it was a very big mistake on our part here. Because when we came here in New York there was no Albanian lawyer. There was none when I came here.
Anna Di Lellio: [Not] One?
Besim Malota: Not one. Zero. Today they are 60-70. All this was because of the arrival of a new immigration from Kosovo, who came from having studied, they had a different role because they were schooled, they knew that you can became wealthy but if you don’t educate your children you are nowhere, you will stay nowhere later on. The greatest wealth is the education of your children, and this began to make the community grow a lot.
Anna Di Lellio: I have a question. How and when did you have the idea of inviting the delegation to America? How and when?
Besim Malota: Yes, the idea was born immediately after the beginning of the Action in Kosovo, because we saw it was the case that one of the members of our leadership was precisely Gjergj Domgjonaj who was in blood with the Shabani family. And someone always had to intercede with their family to get a besa. Or someone had to go and pick up Gjergj at home and it was ok if he got in anyone’s car, nobody would kill him because he was in the besa of that person who was with him. Or we often had to take him home, and he missed activities.
This was how the association had the idea, then we worked and estimated how much it would cost, how do we, what would the association’s budget be. We took a lot of money from the budget of the association, at that time there were only two airlines that travelled to the former Yugoslavia, one was in Belgrade, where JAT went, and the other was PANAM going to Zagreb. Tickets were extremely expensive, I know, at the time we paid anywhere from $1,600 per person, each ticket. They are much cheaper today than they were then, because there were only two airlines and especially airlines had the monopoly of prices. People did not travel so much. The association covered the budget of the tickets, the budget for the accommodation, then it had prepaid the hotel because the hotel cannot wait until you bring money, but you must pay in advance. Two members of the association gave their credit cards to the hotel so the hotel budget is set and expenses were very high. And all of them are arranged before and it took two months. Then we consulted the group there.
Anna Di Lellio: [Did you consult] with Anton Çetta?
Besim Malota: There it was led entirely by the member of the Academy Mark Krasniqi. They decided who would come, we went from that format, that they had to be from all the [Albanian populated] territories, not only one country, because here we have a very mixed community. And we managed to have them from Macedonia, there was professor Dr. Agim Vinca, who had not dealt with reconciliation in Kosovo at all, the only Action Reconciliation of Blood Feuds in which he participated was in America, Agim Vinca. Others were part of the reconciliation almost from all sides, but Agim Vinca participated in the reconciliation only in the United States. Even when he returned there [to Kosovo] he did not, because he admitted he was invited only because he was from Macedonia.
And here we have a community of many thousands of Albanians from Macedonia, professor Tomë Berisha, since deceased, he came from Zagreb, Gjergj Gjokaj who came from Malësia, I mentioned earlier Gjergj Gjokaj, I mean, we did not have to intervene in the besëlidhje that George Gjokaj created. We left, we did not touch at all those families that were in that kind of besëlidhje, because everyone was saying that in Detroit there are more than 200-300 families, but when the late honorable professor George Gjokaj came, based on a list, because I had all these, he said, “These are important situations and we should not intervene in them because they stand behind this besëlidhje and it is long term, not just here, but it’s long-term.” If tomorrow it happens that someone from these same people go and say, “Are you in besë in Malësia?” Yes or no, two words. If he says, “There is, I mean, no vengeance there,” there we did not touch anything. There were two months of preparation, then they came, they stayed 30 days here, and after 30 days they returned to Kosovo.