This is the first of a two-part life story of Shukrie Rexha, as she told it. Ms. Rexha was born in Pristina in 1966, she joined the Reconciliation of Blood Feuds Campaign from its beginning in 1990, served as the Head of the Pristina Reconciliation Council, and throughout the ‘90s was active in the National Movement for Kosovo Liberation and the Kosovo Liberation Army. She lives in Lyon, France and on occasions organizes panel discussions on Kosovo and Balkan themes.
The Reconciliation of Blood Feuds Gathering, may 5, 1990, at Bunari i Hajratit [The Well of Hajrat] which was renamed Fusha e Pajtimit [The Reconciliation Field] in Pristina. In the photograph: Milazim Sfishta, who forgave the blood of his two brothers, Prof. Zekeria Cana, Shukrie Rexha and Ahmet Osmani, a reporter from Radio Pristina.
I was a student of the Faculty of Medicine in Pristina at that time, in the spring of 1990. I was also a member of the newsroom of the pamphlet Refleksi [The Reflex] and a member of the literary group at the same faculty. Let me try to go back in time…On March 9, 1990, we were invited to a meeting at the Institute of Albanology to go and attend a blood feuds reconciliation in the village of Shtrubullovë in Drenas. The queue of cars with students, former political prisoners, Albanian professors and intellectuals led by Professor Anton Çetta, member of the Academy Mark Krasniqi, and Dr. Zekerija Cana, stopped at the yard of xhaxhi [uncle] Beqir [Sahiti].
That afternoon in the oda [men’s chamber] I heard about wisdom, reason and above all about professor Anton’s patriotism and love for the nation as well as the bravery of uncle Sahit, who forgave the blood of his son, Besim, 23 years old. “May you be honored, because the honored honors,” were the words of professor Anton that I still hear as an echo…! We felt mixed emotions with pain, pride, tears, sweaty fists, which for me were followed by sleepless nights and a determination to engage in the eradication of this weight of blood feuds from our hearths!
After this, I was invited by professor Jakup Krasniqi, who had collected some data about families in enmities, to establish a Council of Reconciliations in Pristina. Within a few days, the data about the families in enmities increased, and we created three sub-councils of reconciliations in order to take action in as effective ways as possible. Soon the sub-councils merged in one council with the following members: Bedri Veseli, Fatmir Brajshori, Jakup Krasniqi, Ramë Miftari, Rrahman Dini, Behram Krasniqi, Feim Salihu, Shemsi Bajrami, etc. etc. I was proposed and elected the head of this council. We always miss someone when we mention names, and I apologize for that.
We were surprised by the high number of families in enmities who lived in great pain, families that were forced to move from their villages, and from the villages of Gallap had settled in the neighborhood [of Vranjevc] at the periphery of the city. We, the activists of the blood feuds reconciliation campaign, treated every case of injuries and misunderstandings with commitment, because each family and each pain had its specific aspects. There were many hours of coming and going to families, much patience, but also pleasure, when families forgave bloods; they would also ask us to join the Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliation. We felt so close to the families, that we managed to talk about all the difficulties of the time with such frankness.
In Pristina, after the gathering of the Blood Feuds Reconciliation took place on May 4, 1990, at the Bunar of Hajrat [The Well of Hajrat], with around 200.000 attendees, we decided that the field would be called Fusha e Pajtimit [The Field of Reconciliation], while all the children who would be born that week, were to be named Pajtim [Reconciliation] and Pajtime. Today, any time we meet children born on that week or that year, we feel a special emotion. At this gathering, the greatest after Verrat e Llukës, the special education teacher Nazmi Krasniqi forgave the bloods of two of his brothers and on the podium he said, “I forgive the blood of my brothers to the Albanian youth and nation, but never to Branko Mamula, Kadijević and Lubčić.”
After this gathering, during which the discussions were very substantive and were hurting the occupier, the Serbian-Slavic regime, the gatherings were stopped, which made us look for other ways of [organizing] reconciliations gatherings, with more attendees! The garden of the Bajgora family, close to the elementary school Zenel Hajdini in Pristina, was named the Garden of Reconciliations after the reconciliation gathering that took place there, in which the honorable professor Anton Çetta also participated.
During our stay with families, during our honest communication [with them], we, the activists of the Blood Feuds Reconciliation, were convinced that people weren’t happy with the name Vranjevc, which was given to our neighborhood by the occupying Serbian-Slavic regime of the time. Kodër, Kodër e shehrit [Hill, the City Hill], this is how it was called by the people. But taking into consideration that our neighborhood was a safe shelter to the illegals of every generation; that the families of our neighborhood open-heartedly welcomed students and the others at the end of the bloody protest and demonstrations; and that youth of our neighborhood were always a symbol of resistance – Rexhep Mala, Nuhi Berisha, Bajram Bahtiri and Ismet Krasniqi were killed in our neighborhood, many activists were mistreated and arrested; taking all these things into consideration, in the gathering of blood feuds reconciliation held in our neighborhood, in the closing speech held on behalf of the Council of Reconciliation, I proposed to change the name of this neighborhood into Kodra e Trimave [The Hill of the Braves], which was happily accepted by everyone, and since then this neighborhood holds this name with dignity.
Of course, the activists of the Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliation were persecuted, they were stopped and threatened, that is why we always had to be vigilant and not keep notes with us, but overall, the action wasn’t stopped and this is the most important thing.
Every case had its specific aspects, but I will highlight the case of the Sfishta family and mother Sabile, who became very brave and forgave the blood of her two sons, one of them a student of the Faculty of Medicine. She had lived in pain and anxiety for over 14 years. She had two other sons who were hardly convinced to forgive the blood. We spent many hours and had long discussions in this families. We all took action together in order to achieve forgiveness.
In the end, I hugged mother Sabile and asked, “How are you feeling?” “Ah,” she said, “my daughter, it is difficult, as difficult as swallowing a mountain, but for the youth, for the whole Albanian nation, I forgive the blood of my two sons.” I hugged her with a lot of love and respect. Later, we met the two sons of mother Sabile and we realized that they were feeling relieved, first because they forgave, and then because they weren’t saving the gun for each other, they became part of the great Movement!
During our stay with the families that lived in the villages and city, during the first meetings with the families in enmities, I found that the pressure on the families living in the village was bigger than on those living in the city. Living near the families was an important element. I was engaged in the villages of Presheva and Struga as well.
After being notified that a certain family is in enmity with a certain family, we would notify the family of the victim that, “We will come on this day.” The family who was in feuds would notify their cousins and friends and set an hour in which they would expect us. When we sat in the oda, we would tell them that we were students who closed their books and came to their family on that day for a cause that in that moment was bigger than studying and books. The Serbian-Slavic regime was getting harsher, that is why it was necessary for the time to get together and fight the mutual enemy. In many cases we noticed the long hand of the occupier. Guns were deliberately left with certain families, the court was not just. The feuds and killing of brothers really fit the Serbian-Slavic regime of the time, that is why they cunningly fed this great harm.
As a girl, I was very welcomed, because by reflecting a lot of love and respect, I felt the respect of everyone. I often started the heavy and very emotional conversation for the forgiving of blood, injury or misunderstanding. Of course the families felt it, and knew why we had knocked on their doors to help them be relieved from that concern. I am convinced that only the activists who were part of the reconciliations can understand the tears and sighs of the people when they forgave the blood, men, women and children, all of them crying, and often we cried too! We felt in our very bones the anxiety of the family and the relief of the family from this anxiety when the reconciliation was achieved….
In the villages of Pristina it happened once that we were together with professor Anton Çetta, professor Muhamet Pirraku, professor Mujë Rugova, professor Mehmet Halimi and professor Kajtaz Rrecaj. Professor Anton never entered the oda before us. He let us speak with much respect, and the people who were there listened to us with much respect and not once did I not feel good in that environment. On the contrary, I felt like I grew up in the oda.
In these moments, I also remember the case of the Gashi family from Pristina. On May 4, 1990, Haxhi Sefë Gashi forgave four bloods, the blood of his father, mother, brother and the blood of an infant, because his mother was in her last days of her pregnancy when she was shot to death. Since 1963, when the case happened, Haxhi Gashi had remained alone at home, he was very traumatized and we could hardly convince him that the time had come for him to free himself from such a heavy burden and forgive the blood of his beloved. Professor Mark Krasniqi said that, “No, forgiving a blood is an easy thing to do, but it had never been easier than today because today you forgive to the Albanian youth and nation, and not to the perpetrator or the one who committed the crime.”
First, Mr. Haxhi hesitated to open his door to us, then, when we entered, he didn’t light up the stove in order to let us know that there was no time for us to talk for a long time. We respected every emotional situation and tried to feel his pain. When we saw that he was not ready to talk longer, we set another meeting. So the other meeting was a little more relaxed and we continued coming and going, until he gathered his forces to forgive.
At that time, the memory of the bloody spring of 1989 was very fresh, then there was the echo of the miners’ strike, the return of Albanian young men in coffins from the so called APJ [Armata Popullore e Jugosllavisë/Yugoslav People’s Army], and especially the great pain that was felt after the killing of Afrim Zhitia and Fahri Fazliu on November 2, 1989. In the oda, in Pristina and the region, we repeated that Afrim, Fahri, Fadil Vata and many others organized, took action and sacrificed themselves in order to shed light on the path of national liberation, that is why we were obliged to come together and continue this one-way road. Once we obtain freedom, we would have our law that will deal with these issues, so feuds and brothers killing each other will disappear. Blood feuds are a cancer to our body that we need to cure, and you should be part of this fight, together with us students, youth, intellectuals, Albanian patriots. You should join us! We said it loudly looking directly in the eyes of the head of the family, since there was no other alternative at that time. These were the last words and nobody wanted to remain alone, isolated behind the threshold of the house, waiting for the enemy to be released from prison in order to avenge the blood and continue the harm.
The repression of the Serbian-Slavic regime at that time continued being very harsh, it only changed its ways. Everybody’s life was so insecure… in the demonstrations of March 27, 1989, among others, the young Ismet Krasniqi from our neighborhood was killed. I was very close to him, together with thousands of other protesters. He was killed on the railway, with both his hands raised, shouting, “Kosovo Republic!” Usually the protesters withdrew from the city center to the Kodra e Trimave neighborhood, which was inhabited only by Albanians, where they found the doors open to rest, and to be honest, to even sleep in the houses, and to get onions against the tear gas that smelled like gunpowder.
I was part of blood feuds reconciliations in Presheva and its region, we went there together with professor Musa Limani, professor Mujë Rugova, professor Muhamet Pirraku, Akile Dedinca, Abdullah Zhegrova…
And a family in the village of Rainicë has remained in my memory… the head of that family had been killed and we were welcomed to talk about the forgiving of the blood by two young boys and their mother, while the daughter was seen in a corner that was separated from the oda by a see-through curtain.
Professor Musa Limani made the introduction and started the conversation to be followed by the others. We argued about the reason for forgiving, but it looked like the family needed to hear more. The young boy stood up twice to forgive the blood and fainted in the middle of the room. We all felt their pain and the burden of responsibility that those men carried on their backs. Those scenes will remain in our memories forever. But in the end, when with our help the girl joined the discussion, they all felt more powerful and managed to forgive the blood. We were aware that it was not easy to ask them to forgive the blood of their beloved, but we had no other way at that time and in those circumstances. Of course, they have grown up now, and have created their families, but I still feel my soul shaking when I recall those scenes.
I would like to mention here that we were welcomed very warmly everywhere because in some way we were their daughters and sons, students who dealt with their worries with full heart and mind. They could trust us and rely on us. Our people were thirsty for knowledge and in all the conversations it was obvious that they admired the University of Pristina that was only two decades old.
In reconciliation assemblies, we had gathered for the first time students, professors, people from villages, workers, priests and muezzins, women and men, and youngsters, and cried over our worries together.
Beside the blood feuds reconciliations, when there were many people, we also discussed the continuing repression by the Serbian-Slavic ruling power, and the political situation in general. We would analyze it all together. We would talk about the need to build Albanian schools in the villages, so that children would not get exhausted by travelling for many kilometers [to get to school]. We would talk about the need to build streets that would increase the wellbeing and ease the routine…we would discuss about the problems they were preoccupied with and so the message was transmitted that the time had come to believe in each other in order for us all together direct our energies against the Serbian-Slavic occupier.
The whole national Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliations, which started its activity on February 2, 1990, and finished it on May 17, 1992, was recapitulated at Verrat e LLukës, which was attended by around half million people. The barrels on the tanks looked like children’s games in front of that scene that was boiling. We, as students who were forbidden to stay in groups, and who in our everyday life were very careful with whom we communicated, found ourselves in this crowd of people who had forgiven the blood of their beloved in order to come together against the occupier.
There were also women who showed up there to forgive and discuss. It was a pleasure to see women raising their fists, as if they felt freer in their mutual journey. A magical scene! Verrat e Llukës will always remain something that has never been seen before, a massive gathering, a unity, a mobilization, an awakening of the national awareness, an oath. I think that the Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliations was the core of the creation of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Of course when I talk about the Movement for Reconciliations, I cannot forget to mention two initiators of the Movement, Hava Shala and Myrvete Dreshaj, whom I highly valued for their right approach, the engagement and their whole activity, not to leave aside Akile Dedinca and other women who were former prisoners and activists of the whole national Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliations!
All those who generously welcomed us in their oda, may they be blessed, while we will always be grateful to those people who forgave the bloods of their most beloved.
“The return of Albanian young men in coffins from the so called APJ [Armata Popullore e Jugosllavisë/Yugoslav People’s Army],” refers to a wave of alleged suicides of Albanian conscripts in 1990, which were never investigated and always denied by the families.
“Branko Mamula, Kadijević and Lubčić” were officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army [JNA]. The speaker mentions them because they were believed to be the ones who killed the Albanian recruits.