Metush Krasniqi (1926-1986) was a widely esteemed member of the leadership of the Ilegalja and a political prisoner, who died soon after his release from prison.
In this story his grandson Kushtrim Krasniqi, a financial analyst in Pristina, remembers him as a strong and tough, but also loving grandfather.
My Grandfather Metush Krasniqi
I was born on July 3, 1977, two months earlier than my due date. I was a weak baby and after four months I was still struggling, when my grandparents, who were living in Dajkoc, a village near Kamenica, said to my parents, “Why don’t you give us your son? Maybe the countryside will improve his health, it will make him strong.” So, they took me to the country and I got better and better. And my attachment of my grandfather grew also stronger and stronger.
My grandfather, Metush Krasniqi, was recently honored as a national hero by both the President of Kosovo and the President of Albania. He was born on August 19, 1926; he was arrested for the first time in 1958. They sentenced him to 18 years of jail, but released him after eight, as a result of the fall of Ranković and the end of his terror regime in Kosovo. Our family had a long tradition of involvement in politics, at least since the nineteenth century. Two members of the family were killed in Crimea and then others, generation after generation, continued the tradition. A cousin had to leave what was then the First Yugoslavia and came back only during the Second World War, when Kosovo was under Italian occupation.
As a result of this occupation, Albanians from Albania came to Kosovo to open schools in the Albanian language for the first time in Kosovo, which was definitely a step up. My grandfather finished high school in Gjilan, then went to the Shkolla Normale in Gjakova and became a teacher. In his forties, he went back to school and studied law; he became a lawyer.
My grandparents reared me. My grandfather was one of the heads of one of the underground nationalist organizations, I cannot remember the specific name, there were many. By the late ‘70s he was well known in the Ilegalja and by the 1980s, as the Albanian movement was becoming stronger and more serious, he tried to get most of these organizations together and he briefly succeeded. Many organizations had communist sentiments, they were attached to the communist regime of Albania and had strong ties with it, and of course the Albanian regime did not embrace my grandfather, who was a democrat, pro-western, in short, he was a pain in the neck for the Albanian regime.
I was very young, but I remember the first time the police, UDBa, the secret service that was hunting him, came to our home in 1981 without any warrant and imprisoned him. There was a law that ordered the preventive detention of suspects any time there was a demonstration or a political event that could endanger security. In 1981 my grandfather was in prison for four months, although they had no evidence of any wrongdoing. I was four years old and I remember it very well, it is my first memory.
After few months from his arrest, I remember they came to pick up also my uncle Besnik, his son, though they failed. Uncle Besnik lived in the same house with us. We had already moved to Pristina from Dajkoc, because my grandmother was ill and needed hospital care. Uncle Besnik was studying in Peja, he was in a kind of Business School. I remember that episode very well, because I was expecting him, since any time he passed an exam, he would come home and bring me something, a small gift.
He had come from Peja, and a few hours later the police came to arrest him. Fortunately, what happened was that they had the wrong information, they thought that he was in Kamenica, which is 80 km from Pristina, and they went there to arrest him. They found nobody at home. My cousin went to warn my aunt and found her in another village, where she had gone to visit her uncle; he told her that she should warn Besnik and they should return to Pristina.
My aunt thought that Besnik was still in Peja and felt safe. Thus, she went to Gjilan to call home and told us that if Besnik came, we should keep him out of the house, but then she drove back to the place that she was visiting, and the police went there. Someone had told them where she was. My aunt, knowing they were looking for Besnik, tried to buy time, and held them there for an hour.
In the meantime, when my uncle came back home, he learned they were looking for him and took off. After three days he was in Italy. He went to Italy illegally, he said, “I came from Yugoslavia,” and sought asylum. They put him in some place called Latina for a couple of months. From there, after five months, he went to Australia.
The police told my grandfather, who was in jail, “We caught your son as he was trying to escape from Yugoslavia and we killed him.” But within two hours my grandfather understood his son was alive. He had thought that they were lying, but nevertheless told them, “I don’t care if you killed him, I have two other sons.”
After that, in 1982 my father was in prison as well, and for no reason. My father was never part of Ilegalja, unlike my uncle, who joined, though not in a leading role. My third uncle, a teacher, was not politically involved at all. The family was not playing a role in what my grandfather was doing, at least not an active role. They said my father had attacked some Serbian student at the university. What they really wanted to do was to put pressure on my grandfather, who had one son in exile, another son in prison. They wanted to weaken him. My father was released in 1983.
My grandfather was arrested again on November 4, 1985. Three years earlier there had been a merging of all the groups of Ilegalja, and it was well known that my grandfather was the leader; he became public enemy number one in Yugoslavia. They sent him to jail in Pristina and Mitrovica. We had permission to visit every two weeks.
By that time it was easier to make these visits, because we had a car and we could drive there. When we went to our first visit, we had to see the judge and ask for permission. The judge said, “He is too young, he cannot visit the prison.” My father insisted, he told them that I used to live with my grandfather, “Let’s not make a scene.” The judge gave us permission, on the condition we did not stay too long.
As far as I remember, we could stay up to 15 minutes, I am not sure. My father said ok, if this is the condition. When we went in, the guard met us and said, “You cannot visit him today.” We asked why, but they gave us no reason, they did not have to. I remember that my father was upset and told the guard, “He better be alive, if you know he is not alive and you are not telling us, you will have to deal with me later.” When we got out, my father was still very upset and for a second forgot I was with him.
I had been raised by my grandparents in the way they were taught to raise children, which was different from the way my parents raised their children, or I raise my children. The relationship with them was not something I remember as fun. It was more about, “You should do this, you should do that.” It was more education than fun. It was, for example, embarrassing, I would say a sign of weakness, if you hugged your children. There was a distance, but the distance taught you a lot. I blame myself because I cannot replicate that distance with my children, and sometimes they forget I am their father, they think I am their friend and don’t pay attention to me. As a child, I was more a thinker than a doer, I had had nothing to play with, but lots of education.
When we left the prison, I said to my father, “He is probably sick and that is why he cannot come out.” I was a child, and was comforting my father. He could not speak during the entire trip back home, and after some years, he told me, “I was shocked that you came to that conclusion, I was speechless.” Two weeks later we saw him, the permit issued by the judge was still valid, and I was able to visit the prison.
On that occasion, I wrote a letter on one side of a sheet of paper, and my father wrote on the other side. I guess it was a rule that we could give a prisoner no more than one page. What I want to say is that my approach to my grandfather and the conversation I had with him was not different from my father’s. In the letter I had written, “We are all well, I visited your brother, he is very well, he sends all his best,” and something else such as, “We are with you.” I remember my father telling me that my grandfather saved that letter. He told my father, “I was so blessed to have this letter from my grandson, because it gave me strength.” I still have that letter now.
When we left the prison, I was very upset because I saw my grandfather in very bad physical conditions. He was never overweight because he walked a lot, he ran, but we found him skinnier and weaker. I was angry, and said, “I will burn down this place one day.” To complete this story, on March 24, 1999, the first thing that was burned down under NATO bombing was the prison. I was so happy, extremely happy. It was bombed. It was a place where they tortured people. My grandfather was tortured, he never told the family, but we knew by looking at his nails, he either did not have them, or they were destroyed.
My grandfather worked only 14 years during his life. He was either in prison, or he was fired and had to look for another job, and then was fired again. Management was afraid to take him in as an employee, because the police would come after them for hiring him. The last job he held was as legal representative of the railroads, nothing special, it was a job. They put him there because they could control him better, the place had many spies, and UDBa wanted to trace his connections. But his connections were stronger, as we can see the results today. Had UDBa been really powerful, Serbia would still be here.
He died on Wednesday, October 15, 1986. He was 60 years old. He had been released from prison in June. My grandfather told us, “The one who was questioning me showed me a list of names and asked me to point to any of the sixty people in the list. I said, ‘I don’t know anybody.’ ‘How come you don’t know them? My mother knows at least sixty people.’ ‘Probably your mother is in a line of work where she knows many people.’ And the investigator got very upset.”
He was a national hero, but he was also my grandfather. The hardest memory for me is when they arrested him in 1985, I remember I said to him, “Why are they taking you now?” And my grandfather did not answer. They said, “We have to handcuff you.” He said, “I lived my life handcuffed.” We had a dog, a clever dog, and the police gave him something to eat to calm him down because he did not let anyone in the backyard, he was a loyal dog.
My grandfather had a souvenir from the Second World War, some bats, he said, “Take care of these.” When they came to arrest him, I thought that they could find the bats and that it was illegal to keep them, so I hid them somewhere. During the arrest, the police separated the women and the children from the men. They told my father and uncle to face the wall. The person in charge was someone my uncle knew, and when they took my grandfather my uncle said, “If he does not come back, you better leave Kosovo.” Thirty years ago the laws of the Kanun were stronger; if you said, “You must deal with me,” it meant a lot. Even if you were the police you could not escape retribution, there were many cases in which the police were killed.
We think that UDBa gave something to him and poisoned him, because he died from heart disease a few months after his release and he was very strong before going to prison. Later, six or seven years ago, we found a letter addressed by grandfather to a committee. We believe that the letter was a speech given to seventeen members of the Ilegalja and actually that was the biggest Ilegalja meeting ever. A history professor writing something on Ilegalja confirmed it, they know the dates.
When we went to his funeral there were many people from all over ex-Yugoslavia, from Croatia, Macedonia, Kosovo of course, but also many UDBa, taking photos.
My grandfather had a friend, Hyrije Hana, she was in prison in the ‘60s, she was first with the partisans, then she moved away from the Communist Party. She liked him, and she came to the funeral and brought a wreath of flowers. She was the only one who spoke at the funeral, and she said, more or less, as I remember, “You died physically, but your deeds will flourish like these flowers.” Everybody applauded, and it was like in the movies; while she finished, there were some drops of rain, only fifteen seconds, it was strange, I was facing her and the letter she was reading, and started to cry.