Saranda Bogujevci: I liked art, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to understand the tasks in the class of art, so they asked me and I went…It wasn’t mandatory for all of us to attend the same classes as the actual students, because they were aware of our situation.
Aurela Kadriu: Were there classrooms only with Albanians or were they…
Saranda Bogujevci: No, we were mixed. We were mixed and there was not a high number of Albanians. I mean, the only time we were all together was with the teacher who taught us the language, but there were also a lot of students from other countries attending that class as well. For example, I had a friend who came from Hong Kong and was part of this class. What I liked at school in England is that I never felt as if they were looking at us with pettiness. In the sense, they didn’t look at us only as victims but they tried to treat us with care, of course, but they wanted to make us feel equal to other students, and of course, that’s a very good thing.
Aurela Kadriu: What were relations with your classmates like?
Saranda Bogujevci: Very good. They were very careful. I remember in the beginning it was pretty difficult to communicate with each other because I didn’t speak the language very well, but I remember that during lunch time, because there we ate inside the school, we weren’t allowed to go out. And during lunch time, for example, the system works differently, you have your own classroom…I want to explain it that way so those from Kosovo understand it, it is like the class monitor and the class. It was that way that you had a class monitor and your class, then the other classes that you chose, arts, mathematics, science or geography, were divided into groups. You weren’t always with the same people in the same classes. You were in the same year, but you weren’t in the same class with the same people.
And for example, during lunch time, when I went to take food and sit somewhere, the students from the class of my class monitor never left me alone, they always took me and I sat with that group, they never left me not knowing where to sit, you know, because I didn’t know anyone. So they were very careful in that sense. And they were very good, I never felt lonely and like that I don’t have anyone to hang out with even though I didn’t speak the language.
Aurela Kadriu: Did they manage to understand what happened, your experience?
Saranda Bogujevci: Yes. I spoke. When we had high school graduation exams, I made a sculpture in art class that showed the story of my family. When they understood what happened, a teacher who was teaching religious studies invited me to his class to talk to his students and explain to them what I had gone through so that they would understand the value of it better. Starting from there, I was often invited to various schools where I went to talk about what happened.
Aurela Kadriu: What did you do after high school?
Saranda Bogujevci: After high school, I continued my education in England. They call them the A levels [English], college, it is more or less if you take the elementary school system here, then high school and then the university. I studied media, art, graphic design there and…Yes, I guess that’s it.
Aurela Kadriu: How was that period?
Saranda Bogujevci: It was a very good one. I learned very good things and met very good and interesting people. It was…I mean, there were people from all around the world at the college where I was studying. Most of them were born and raised in England, but their families came from various countries, but there were also people who had come to England late, so it was an interesting experience. I got to learn a lot more about other cultures. I mean, there were people from India, Pakistan, from various African countries, Portugal, Palestine, Iran, Iraq. It was a mixture of students, so it was a very good experience.
Aurela Kadriu: I am digressing, excuse me. When was the first time you returned to Kosovo after the war?
Saranda Bogujevci: Two years after I had left for England.
Aurela Kadriu: That is 2001?
Saranda Bogujevci: 2001 or…No, it’s 2001. Sorry.
Aurela Kadriu: How did you find Kosovo, how was it…?
Saranda Bogujevci: It was more or less the same post-war energy. It was just of course, better, things were more in order. There wasn’t the immediate post-war chaos. For me it was a very good feeling that I managed to come back. Because no matter the good conditions and the fact that I had made friends in England, I missed Kosovo very much, I missed my family. Then I wanted to know who had ended up where, I mean, my friends from school. A part of the family, wider family, whom I hadn’t seen after the war. And even though it was very difficult, I didn’t have the rest of the family…But at the same time the feeling of returning home. And in a way, I always had that feeling, each time I came to Kosovo.
For example even if I am in Pristina or somewhere else, because I have returned, now I live in Kosovo, but when I go to Podujevo, I always have that feeling that I am really at home.
Aurela Kadriu: What did you do after the college?
Saranda Bogujevci: I continued studying Interactive Arts in Manchester.
Aurela Kadriu: At which university?
Saranda Bogujevci: At the Metropolitan University of Manchester.
Aurela Kadriu: Can you tell us what happened with your life at that time, in the professional and academic respect, after your studies?
Saranda Bogujevci: From…In the beginning, in fact when we went to England we met with people from an organization who was helping refugees in England but who also sent humanitarian aid in the camps in Albania. Later we engaged the organization and we had various projects which always contributed to our work in Kosovo. We started with the peace Manchester park in Podujevo. I mean, the project started at that time, when we started negotiating with the Municipality of Podujevo in 2001. And we have had various projects since then.
My work always dealt with art and culture, but dealing with the increase of awareness of citizens in England of refugees and asylum seekers. Because it is always viewed, even in the media as a negative phenomenon and only a few people understand the reason why people go from one place to another. For example, like our case of going to England. And I always make the comparison to Sweden…If we were given permission to live in Sweden, maybe my family would be alive today. And I always explain it to them in this way so that people can understand it completely. The other thing that I always speak about is that now as a British citizen, I have the right to choose where I want to live and what I want my life to be like.
I mean, the moment when I went to Sweden with my family and the moment when I went to England after the war, I had no chance to choose. It was a matter of survival. So, a big part of my work in England is…I mean, I have worked on the topics, on the refugees and asylum seekers topic, raising the awareness of citizens there. And then for a long time as a family we have worked on the production of the exhibition that we had in Pristina, Tirana and Belgrade. Then after that time, I decided to return to Kosovo.
Aurela Kadriu: Can you tell us, sorry to interrupt, can you tell us about the exhibition, how was it organized? And then tell us about the experiences in Pristina, Tirana and Belgrade, how was it expected and how did you personally feel about it?
Saranda Bogujevci: When we started thinking about the exhibition…We spoke a lot about it as a family, I mean, as a case, it was followed by the international media and there was always a perspective of the journalist who wrote the story. So we decided to show the story as we experienced and felt it. We met through our work with the organization Manchester Aid to Kosovo we met the exhibition curator James Bosley who understood the situation, who had also worked with other artists from Kosovo and was very sensitive, not only towards the family or the story, but to the sense of how we saw it and how we wanted to show our experience.
It took a long time because usually such projects take time to develop. We started discussing with the National Gallery whose director at that time was Faredin Spahiu. Then we worked a lot on the funding direction, I mean in that respect of production. We decided on it being divided into four parts, the idea was for everybody who visits the exhibition, to go through a journey that our family went through, in the sense of the memories we had.
And when you enter the exhibition, the first part is the living room. And there is the entire living room furniture set, just like we had it at home in Podujevo. The idea was from all the things we had at home and one…One of the traditions we had within the family was that on every holiday, one of our family members recorded us children in order to keep them as memories, and we had recordings until the New Year’s Eve of 1999. But unfortunately, the soldiers found the photographs and all the cassettes and threw them and most of them were damaged.
One that has survived was recorded in 1990, on New Year’s Eve. And the idea was when the visitors see the video, they see what the life of our family looked like, they see the video in the same environment. I mean, so that they can understand exactly how it was for us. Then the second room is the family tree showing which members of the family survived and which ones didn’t.
There are sayings in every part of the exhibitions where thoughts or things that were said or experienced by the family members are shared. Then there is the third room, the hospital room where we tell the experiences we had while in the Pristina hospital, during the war. We are talking from March ’99 to June ’99 when the war was over. And the last part is the courtroom where the journey we had when we went to England for recovery is shown, and then there is our fight for justice which shows us taking part in two courts in Belgrade in 2003 and 2008, where there are five persons sentenced.
Then there is our journey to Canada where we asked the government to extradite one of the defendants who had sought asylum there. And the trials that were held in the Hague court. And the last part is when we went to England, there was a photographer who had taken photographs of all the families who were in the camp as refugees. Those photographs are part of the war museum in Manchester and part of a play called Children and the War, where stories of children from various countries and wars are told. And then, ten years later, he took photographs with some of the children again, those of us who were children at that time, but then he took photographs of us as grown-ups. And then there is an expression saying that we will never forget the past, but we have to move forward.
Aurela Kadriu: How was the exhibition received in general?
Saranda Bogujevci: There were various experiences in every country. What we found interesting about the living room [in the exhibition], it was that, you know, either in Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, but also the visitors from other European countries… all of them had the same feeling when they entered the living room. You know, the living room was a sort of, how to explain this… through the living room everyone understood that in that period of time everyone’s ways of living were similar to one another’s. You know, we were not so different from one another, you know how propaganda took over, especially in Serbia towards Albanians in Kosovo.
And when they entered the living room all the time you would hear people say, “We also had this, we also had this book, we also had the same television.” Or, “We had the same blanket, my grandmother owned this…” I mean, there was the same feeling in every country, and the same comments, It was interesting to see how each of them understood that we had the same things as other families in Kosovo did.
What I have noticed in Kosovo when we had the exhibition in Pristina is that, I understood how little space is given, I mean and it still continues, how little space is given to families and individuals to speak about what happened to them during the war. I mean, you notice the bad effect it has, because nobody knows that they have that space to speak, or that somebody cares about it. I mean, the approach, “It happened, it is in the past,” I think it is very wrong. We have to confront the past and everybody needs to be given the space they need to have in order to confront what they went through.
In Albania it was interesting in the sense…I had an experience with a lady where they were trying to make a comparison between their experience with communism but….They saw the war in Kosovo as…I don’t want to generalize now…For example, what impressed me in the meeting with a citizen from Tirana was that she couldn’t understand why we sought war when we were free. She thought about it in the sense that during the time of Yugoslavia you could travel wherever…As if we started the war and we…We had everything but we asked for more…I mean, you could notice how little knowledge they had about what happened in Kosovo.
The experience in Belgrade was different, of course. There was a lot more curiosity and it felt so interesting when I saw older generation, then younger generations visiting the exhibition with their children. But for us, the space that was used for the exhibition was also very important. In every place, we ask for the gallery to be part of a public institution, not a private gallery, because I believe the audience is very limited that way. Because of the fact itself that it was in the Cultural Center of Belgrade…And then, of course the participation of the back then prime minister Ivica Dačić, I mean, raised a lot of curiosity.
Even though, just when we started setting up the exhibition, they told us that it wasn’t going to open. So, it was a very difficult process, but we didn’t stop. I mean, we said, “We will do our work, if you don’t allow us to open it then, we will remove our things and continue somewhere else. But until the time comes, when we have the date to open it and until we don’t get a more concrete answer, we will continue.” I am sorry, “We will continue our work.”
Aurela Kadriu: So there was resistance…
Saranda Bogujevci: Yes, yes…
Aurela Kadriu: From the institutions?
Saranda Bogujevci: Yes, of course. But, before…The moment the announcement was given…Before arriving in Serbia, to start setting the exhibition in the gallery, there were a lot of articles in the Serbian media that this is Albanian propaganda. The opening night, there were protests all the time, there were policemen all around because of safety issues. So, it wasn’t easy, but in such moments, the moment it becomes difficult and you give up, it cannot happen. So, for us it was important to realize it as a project and to be honest we didn’t think much about safety or anything else.
Aurela Kadriu: When did you finally return to live in Kosovo?
Saranda Bogujevci: In 2014. I came here in May 2014, in June 2014 I decided that I will stay for some time.
Aurela Kadriu: Let’s go back to independence, I mean, you were in England at that time…
Saranda Bogujevci: No, I was in Canada (laughs).
Aurela Kadriu: Okay, you were in Canada at that time. Do you remember the summer of 2007, or how do you remember the summer of 2007?
Saranda Bogujevci: The summer?
Aurela Kadriu: Of the year 2007, the summer before the declaration of independence.
Saranda Bogujevci: Yes, now (laughs) now I remember. Actually it was, 2007 was a time when a lot of things happened. We had a project with artists from Kosovo who for the first time exhibited in, in England. So during that year I came to Kosovo often. It was, I mean during my studies, for me it was a loaded year, with interesting projects, with interesting things that happened. In… the summer of 2007, I can say that I spent most of that time in, in Albania, and a part of it in Kosovo.
Aurela Kadriu: Can you tell us when you first heard or when you first realized that Kosovo will declare independence?
Saranda Bogujevci: I can’t say, it’s hard because sometimes you focus on particular memories and you don’t think of the rest.
Aurela Kadriu: What do you link it to when you think about it?
Saranda Bogujevci: To tell you the truth, I link the independence of Kosovo with, I mean the time when Kosovo’s independence was declared I was studying in Canada, I was an exchange student from the university in Manchester. And I was in Canada for six months so during that time when it, when it was talked about and when the independence was declared I was there. So everything, when we talk about the memories of the time that Kosovo declared independence I was in, I always link it to, to Canada (smiles).
Aurela Kadriu: Can you tell us what independence meant to you? What did you think the day it was declared?
Saranda Bogujevci: To tell you the truth, it was a big celebration, I mean it was immediately organized in the center of Toronto, Albanians gathered. I remember, it was an honor for me, they asked me to talk, so to address all the compatriots that were gathered in, in Toronto. I remember I had… I mean with, with the family I had, the friends I had in Toronto, I drew the eagle like the one in the pictures on the cheeks of all the kids and the younger generations. It was a huge celebration.
I remember a day before declaring independence, because the Albanian community was big, everywhere you walked, it seemed like, like you were in Kosovo. You would see them celebrating in cars, with the flag.. And then, the next day, when the independence of Kosovo was declared, there was a, a huge celebration. It was really cold (laughs) but there was, was a huge celebration.
Aurela Kadriu: Did you watch it live or… the session?
Saranda Bogujevci: Yes, yes. Of course, of course. First, I mean, first we watched the declaration of independence then all the Albanians organized… So the roads to the center of Toronto were blocked because all the Albanians who lived around Toronto gathered there. We celebrated in that part of the city, in the center of Toronto. And then later there were other events, events that gathered…
It was interesting, because during that time I met a lot… because as a community it is pretty big and, I mean, the community of Serbs, Croats, the community of the Balkan countries, where I was in Canada. And the experience with the young Serbs was interesting, and their perception of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Most of them were very young when they went to Canada, or they were born there. Or most of their family were Serbs from Croatia or Bosnia or… You know, not, not exactly from Serbia. And it was really interesting to see the debates between young Kosovars and Serbs.
Aurela Kadriu: Can you tell us details from…
Saranda Bogujevci: Well… It was really interesting how, how determined they were that Kosovo belongs to Serbia even though they had never been to Kosovo, they didn’t know much about Kosovo. It was very noticeable that it was something passed down from their families, not that they understood it. And it was very interesting to see, for example, because they were determined and they gave themselves the right to tell you… They did not dare talk about this with, me because they knew the history of, of my family and they were very careful but, for example, the discussions they had with the others. So they had this determination that Kosovo belongs to Serbia. But you could see that actually they didn’t understand it much, it wasn’t their belief, but it was passed down from their family. Because, for example, at night when they wanted to go out because you could see them, everywhere you went, because they lived in the same place, they did not care where are you from, or they would forget where their family is from. But you could see how much, the influence directly from, from the family. Not that they cared much. So it was an interesting experience for me.
Aurela Kadriu: Let’s go back to 2014 when you decided to return in Kosovo. Why did you decide to return to Kosovo? How did that process of returning happen?
Saranda Bogujevci: Because of the exhibition, I got to travel and stay in Kosovo a lot from 2010 to 2013, in fact, early 2014. And I thought, if there was a chance to find a way and what could I contribute for my country. In 2014 I came here with a friend, with Besa Neziri, Rugova…Which was a project where in which Besa worked as a designer, I mean, the paja of the bride, or how it is called in the Llap region, the qeiz that remained from my mother when she got married to my father. And in a way, it remained like that covered and I didn’t know what to do with it, how to use it…Then Besa had the idea to turn them into dresses, which I really liked.
And we attended the Femart festival, which at that time had another name (laughs). And we presented Besa’s work. The idea was to in a way say that it [qeiz] was also a form of art, the work that was done by women. But at the same time, a way for me to represent my mother in another way. I mean, it wasn’t, how to say, it wasn’t…As women, their life, knowledge and talent was not only in the bride’s qeiz. All the women had other sides of themselves which they didn’t always show.
And so I came together with Besa to attend the festival and represent the work. Then during that year, the municipality of Pristina, Shpend Ahmeti and the Vetëvendosje! Movement came to power. At that time, Blerta Zeqiri was a director of culture, youth and sport, and I accepted to help them for a certain amount of time. Then Blerta had to quit, and I was offered the chance to lead the Directorate of Culture, Youth and Sport, which I felt really good about, in the sense that they trusted me to take such a big responsibility for the capital.
And so things happened like that unplanned…But it was one of the best and most challenging work experiences I had, I am saying that because during my life, I almost always faced challenges.
Aurela Kadriu: Can you tell us how was the time as the director of culture…
Saranda Bogujevci: I met so many people, I met so many people. I learned a lot from many different people as far as the artists’ community goes, of different fields. It was interesting for me because I saw how much the work system here differs from the experience I had in England. I was very lucky that the team of the Mayor’s cabinet supported me very much and they took care of me. I was the youngest among the directors.
And it was very challenging as a job because there were so many problems. The other thing is that you are leading the sector of culture, youth and sports in the capital. So, there are so many demands. But at the same time, I learned a lot. And what I expected to see and understand is that we have to start learning to trust each other more and work as a community. We are not so well organized as a nation. We have a great potential, so we have to work together.
And the other thing is that we don’t always understand that we have great youth. I am speaking because of the experience I had in England. I am not saying this to brag about my country, but our youth are very intelligent. They have a lot of capacity to develop in various fields. We have a lot of capacity within such a small country to, to have various generations of various experts and there would be a need to have people from other countries at all. But unfortunately, they aren’t often given the opportunity to develop and move forward.
Aurela Kadriu: Can you tell us what did you continue doing after the mandate?
Saranda Bogujevci: After the mandate in the municipality, I went to England for several months. Then I decided to come back and run for MP, as part of the Vetëvendosje! Movement.
Aurela Kadriu: Okay, if you don’t have nothing to add, then I would just like to thank you…
Saranda Bogujevci: Maybe since there is the part about Kosovo independence, I would just like to say some things that we have to start thinking about working, as I said before, together, to create trust in each other. To think about a long-term future, rather than thinking about today for tomorrow. Trust in ourselves more, and then this connects a collectivity, we can take decisions for ourselves, what we think is the best for us. Even if we make mistakes, there is nothing wrong with it, because we learn from them. And it doesn’t mean that someone else always has to know better about us than we know about ourselves. Maybe we should have a common feeling and thought about each other. And we have to love our country more beyond words, it is better to show it through work.
We are a small country but we have big potential. We have many opportunities. We have abilities and we can develop our country, we can make our country move forward. But we all have to take the responsibility for ourselves and be active. It doesn’t mean that we always have to wait from the institutions or the politicians. But as citizens, each one has to be active in their own way, to ask for accountability and to work together to make the country move forward. Because it’s been ten years since Kosovo became independent, almost 19 years since the war was over. And for a small country as we are, we could have much better conditions than the ones we currently have.
Aurela Kadriu: Thank you very much, Saranda!
Saranda Bogujevci: Thank you.
 Clothes and embroideries that fill up the bride’s trousseau.
 See qeiz.