Afide Topalli Kuka: After the investigations, all of that havoc, the indictment was filed around January I think. We actually went on trial in February, it was eleven of us. We received sentences from one to eight years, from one and a half years to eight years. The trial lasted for four days, on the fourth day, because the press interest was high, they weren’t allowed. The Amnesty International organization was there the fourth day, it was made possible for them. Amnesty International applied pressure, they pressured the Belgrade government to release the ones of us who were pregnant on probation. On condition that when the child turns one, we would go serve the sentence.
My husband was sentenced to four years, I received a year and a half sentence, but the decision was made to release us. Now I don’t forget the Miners’ Strike was on the fourth day, we weren’t far away. Because usually when something was happening outside, the press wasn’t allowed. Then they took me, the director, to his office, he said, “Don’t talk, don’t talk and you should behave well.” I went back and I called… because we would usually talk to each other when there were no guards around, they would sometimes leave and we would talk. I called her, and she asked, “What happened?” I said, “Something happened outside,” I said, “because this hasn’t happened before, we went on trial for three days,” I said, “they didn’t take us [to the office] any of the days, why today?” She said, “Me too,” she said, “there is something,” she said, “outside.” When we went on trial, we found out that it was the Miners’ Strike, which had already started.
Anita Susuri: It started in February.
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes, in February, on February 24.
Anita Susuri: ‘89.
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes, if I’m not mistaken because February 24 was the fourth day of the trial when we received our sentences. When we were released, I remember a group of students had come in front of the court on the opposite side. Now, mothers as mothers, Naser’s mother was out of it because her son was stuck. I was talking to her and my brother came, he said, “Come because a group of students came to see you,” we went out. But we were, I don’t know what state we were in, I don’t even know who they were. We greeted each other, we talked, but I don’t know. It felt good because it was a young group, 15 to 20 people who came. And I was released.
But, it was April and I gave birth to my daughter, I was released on February 24. I gave birth to my daughter on April 8. Then I had to register my daughter late, I registered my birth four months later. My daughter was left nameless for six weeks, until Naser sent a letter from prison and christened her with the name Besforta. This name identified our endurance. That’s it. Every… because when my child would become one, I would have to go and serve my sentence.
But, I had four kids, one after the other and I would just send the certificate. Time after time in the underground, because honestly the underground was difficult. I stayed… to be pregnant and give birth in other people’s houses was hard, because I couldn’t even dare to go to a doctor, where would I go? Besides my oldest daughter to whom I gave birth in the hospital, I gave birth to the three others in houses, yes. Once at a house, a night there, a night here, I got tired at some point honestly, I got tired.
Anita Susuri: What about your husband, did he serve four or five years in prison?
Afide Topalli Kuka: No, my husband was sentenced many times as a recidivist, he had four years in ‘82, four years in ‘88. He was absent in ‘95, ‘98, he had many. Let’s not talk about how many times he was, he can speak for himself. When… in 1992 Naseer was at risk too and he received [ information] from his friends that Naser should flee Kosovo definitely. We went to Albania. I was three weeks postpartum. We went to Macedonia and people from Dibër sent us to Albania. We didn’t have means, I mean documents, we went there in an illegal manner, illegally.
Anita Susuri: By foot, right?
Afide Topalli Kuka: By foot. I remember the family we stayed with, Haki but I don’t remember his last name, he was from Dibër, and my daughter was three weeks old. Then they said to Naser, “We will keep your little daughter because when you go to Albania, because Albania isn’t in good condition either, so when you get comfortable and settle, you can take her,” Naser told me this and that, I said, “No, we either all leave together or not at all.” There was a young man from Gjilan as well, I don’t remember his name, with us when we crossed the border illegally. He was an only son and had eight sisters if I’m not mistaken, and when we arrived at the hot zone, because the people from Dibër sent us there by tractor pretending they were going to manure the land. We climbed on top of the tractor.
When we arrived at the hot zone, Naser said, “You walk, I will stop. I will deal with myself last,” I said, “Let this hasretboy go through. We will either all go together or we will remain here.” My older son was one, because at that time I had three children. My older son was two, one, and my daughter was three. Then when we arrived at the hot zone, Besforta said, she said, “Hush my brother,” he didn’t cry, “hush my brother don’t cry because when we cross to the other side your sister will buy you bananas,” and her tears were falling down. Because children feel that too. We stayed there for three months because… we got on our way to Germany but they sent us back from Italy. So…
Anita Susuri: Where did you stay at in Albania?
Afide Topalli Kuka: We stayed with Yll Pinari.
Anita Susuri: Were you familiar with him?
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes, Naser’s friend, he was his friend. And he let us stay at his mother’s apartment and it was during the time where there was a lack of food supply because it was ‘92, it was chaotic. He had his brother-in-law, he worked at the border. They took care of the food and everything. And after a month or six weeks, I don’t know, another friend from Elbasan came and took us, “No,” he said, “you are staying at an apartment with your children? No,” he said, “because we have cows, we have this…” and we stayed in Elbasan. Elbasan became like a second house to us, we went back again.
Anita Susuri: I wanted to ask if this was the first time you went to Albania then in ‘92?
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes, the first time.
Anita Susuri: What did Albania seem like to you?
Afide Topalli Kuka: I, to tell you the truth, I said it myself, it’d be better if I didn’t see it like that. I would stay thinking about it like I did in the past, because the schools were closed down, broken doors, broken windows, destroyed daycare, toys, people walking on mud. It was a mess, but I said that, it’d be better [to not see it] at all. But that passed too. We returned to Kosovo again, sometimes underground, sometimes half-underground. Whereas, 1994, in January, in Flaka e Janarit [Alb.: January’s Flame], my husband was tortured, like many other friends who were tortured a lot that night, him too.
They broke his arm, his leg, and when he came the next day, when he came he said, our children jumped on him, he sent them away and went upstairs. When he went into the room he said, “They messed me up,” he said, “they beat me up badly, but don’t tell my mother.” I said, “It doesn’t seem like you can avoid telling her, but they destroyed you.” After two-three weeks, we had to make the decision of fleeing the country. They came looking for Naser again, he was at a different house, I was somewhere else with the children. The next day they came looking for me. I had my son in the cradle, together with my son we went out in-between two houses, we have a small door there and we went out into the neighborhood.
The whole neighborhood was blocked. Police were everywhere from the gas station and we went out and then we went to the village. A neighbor had his tractor and loaded it with manure, I went out with my child and we climbed on the tractor and we went to that village. My daughter was two years old, she was wearing my son’s boots and they had fallen along with her socks… when we arrived they were freezing. We decided to flee, but I ensured a travel document, a friend sent it to me and she had two children. My two older children remained with Naser’s mother. Naser went to a hospital in Albania, I went to Germany. After six weeks Naser managed to come to Germany. After we settled there, my children were stuck here. We took our children after a year.
Naser’s mother called on the phone once and said, “I protected them until now,” she said, “but today they came,” she said, “they put,” she said literally, “their gun to my throat,” she said, “they put it telling me to show them Naser’s children,” she said, “it’s written that I will die, but as long as I’m alive they won’t have the children.” She took them to our neighbors because she woke up at 5:00 AM to feed our children and she took them to our neighbor’s that even in case somebody showed up, “Naser isn’t here, his wife isn’t, his children aren’t. I don’t know where they went, I don’t know.”
We organized it, they sent them illegally because the children didn’t have any documents and they sent them to Struga. From Struga to the family of Naser’s friend, Xhevdet Murtishi. His father sent them there without any documents. He took a van, filled it with women, young women, girls, children, old women. He said, “You, Naser’s mother, don’t send any letter at all,” at the border, the Macedonians asked him, “Where are you going?” “We are going to a wedding,” and that’s how he sent them. Then we took them to Germany from Albania.
Anita Susuri: Did he take that van only to take them to the other side?
Afide Topalli Kuka: Only to take the children, only to take the children. People did a lot, because look, we wouldn’t be able to do anything with Kaçanik, they helped us. Because keeping two [former] prisoners [at home] without anyone being employed, only with a pension wasn’t easy. They couldn’t even come for a visit. Kaçanik took care of us, our friends took care of us, our rreth took care of us. We had a house [to stay at] everywhere, cities and villages. We had [friends] in every city in Macedonia, we had them wherever we went. IThe same in Albania, they didn’t always keep us. I remember when we went to Albania, Haki from Dibër sent us money three times. Because [they were aware] that we didn’t have a source of income, we didn’t and what would we do with our children?
I am thankful to everyone and starting from this neighborhood, they protected us, they watched us. Because every time the police came to surround us, we were already notified, we left the house, we left early. I heartily thank them a hundred times, everyone who helped us. Because we wouldn’t be able to do anything without people helping us. So, I appreciate everyone. And I will say one thing, everybody who gave even one glass of water for the good of the country, for the country’s freedom, I respect and value them greatly.
Anita Susuri: In the ‘90s when you migrated to Germany…
Afide Topalli Kuka: No, in ‘94 in Germany, yes.
Anita Susuri: I think you stayed there until ‘98?
Afide Topalli Kuka: No, until, Naser came back in ‘98, I stayed until January, on January 20, 2000.
Anita Susuri: After the war.
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes. To tell you the truth, when we came back, because Germany never seemed good to me, never! When we came back through Skopje, when we entered the border in Hani i Elezit, I don’t know what kind of feeling that was was, like something opened up, a soft breathing in my chest and I told my mother-in-law, “We entered Kosovo.” She said, “No, how can you tell?” I said, “I will ask the [bus] conductor now.” I asked, “Did we enter Kosovo?” “Yes.” Because the air itself, I don’t know what kind of feeling, because I didn’t think I would ever see Kosovo again, this place ever again. But thanks to the Liberation Army which is the pivot of everything, everything and that we reached freedom, it’s the Liberation Army, the great army which I bow down to.
And for them to keep the architects of the Liberation Army in jail unjustly, that is heavy for the entirety of Kosovo, not only for them. I wish, I wish they will be released as soon as possible, as soon as possible and let justice triumph. Because freedom has a price, sacrifice, imprisonment, besa, murder and everything. For example, we had soldiers who came back in coffins as well, the best boys of the best families. Getting here was a lot of effort, great sacrifice, starting from the Second World War, we have NDSH, we have 1968, the demonstrations, ‘81 which shook the core of former Yugoslavia. The ‘90s when there was a movement and it woke up the entire nation, raised awareness, it made them aware. And we have the war, The Liberation Army, the great [army] to which I bow down to till the end of my life.
Anita Susuri: I wanted to ask you about the years when you were in Germany, did you continue your activity? For example, there were people who engaged in sending materials, financing and stuff.
Afide Topalli Kuka: To tell you the truth, my husband did. Because our children were really young and somebody had to take care of them. However, every time there was a need, I helped. When it was necessary, I helped him, whether it was a protest or something else. But I wasn’t entirely involved myself. I dealt with the children, yes.
Anita Susuri: During wartime when you said your husband came back to Kosovo…
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes.
Anita Susuri: What was your experience? Did you have contact with your family? With your husband?
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes, we did, we did through the phone. Sometimes it was like that, sometimes he came to Germany, he stayed for a day or two and came back, yes, he came back. But, we were prepared each time, we were aware that Kosovo won’t be liberated without war, not with prison, nor killing us one by one every day and beating us up every day. Without war, without pointing the end of the gun, we were aware. But yes, [the people] became aware, because at the beginning, earlier in the ‘80s and before the ‘80s, it was a problem because the issue was with making the people aware. Because if your people don’t support you, the nation, everyone, it’s an issue. But the people became aware. Slowly the education, the university did its thing, everything, reading, these all played their role.
Anita Susuri: Yes. How did you receive the news that Kosovo was liberated? What kind of feeling was it for you?
Afide Topalli Kuka: I am saying, when I received the news, until I came back it felt like I was dying every day in Germany and I wasn’t seeing Kosovo’s liberation, I wasn’t seeing it. I felt suffocated. Because every time, because during the war, we didn’t even eat without crying, we couldn’t. A massacre there, massacre here, massacre there.
Anita Susuri: How did your life continue when you came back here?
Afide Topalli Kuka: We came back with that great enthusiasm. It continued well. For some time, because we were unemployed for some time. But, in September of 2000, I was employed in the gymnasium. After one year I moved to the Municipal Assembly. I work as Head of the Archive Sector and my husband works too. So, we were good. Because we survived even when we didn’t have anything, we knew how to survive when we did and when we didn’t [have anything]. Freedom kept us going, our ideals, because we sacrificed to get here. It sufficed us to not be under the Serbian boot ever, yes.
Anita Susuri: How is the work at the archive going? What kind of documents [do you work with]?
Afide Topalli Kuka: Well, it’s going good, good. It’s mainly Municipal Assembly [documents], from ‘46 until now.
Anita Susuri: Could you describe, for example, a very important document or anything that impressed you?
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes there are, there are documents which impressed me. That’s history, there is history. For example, there are [documents of] the social political organizations we had, the punishments, expulsion, because many which I forgot to mention, even the Committees of the Communists’ League expelled us as a family. As the people say, “Even if the pite was eaten, the baking pan still remains,” the lynchings which happened, the slanders, the blackmailing, they’re all there.
Anita Susuri: Mrs. Afide, if you would like to add anything or…
Afide Topalli Kuka: I don’t know, if I don’t remember, I know, what do I say…
Anita Susuri: Thanks a lot.
Afide Topalli Kuka: Maybe we couldn’t involve everything in detail. We tried to mention some key things, some, but maybe even the main thing was left [unsaid]. We made an effort to mention the most significant things, because it’s beyond measure that period, not only for me but for all my friends. My friends with whom we shared the same ideal, it’s beyond measure. But we made an effort to some extent but maybe even the most important thing was left [unsaid]. Maybe I even got in debt with someone for not mentioning something, I don’t know. But the ones I remembered, I mentioned.
Anita Susuri: Thanks a lot.
Afide Topalli Kuka: Thank you to you too. I wish you success in your work, in your family and all the best.
[The interview was interrupted here]
Anita Susuri: Mrs. Afide, you wanted to add some things which you talked about earlier, if you want to, please continue and tell us about them.
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes, true, it’s been a long time and you can’t include everything in a short time.
[The interview was interrupted here]
So, I am talking about the investigations, besides interrogating us day and night, there was another time when they came and took me for interrogation in the State Security offices in Mitrovica and they had opened all the office doors, they made it dark and they placed me on the opposite side of the office. For several hours they only left me like that. They played a song, it was like in horror movies and there was noise, “I will kill you, I will kill you,” then there was the reply, “Kill me.” I couldn’t tell if they were torturing somebody or they staged the whole thing.
They did because we didn’t break in any way and they wanted us to, to break us spiritually and one of them said, “Naser,” he said, “was killed last night,” besides the one hour or I don’t know how long that song and noise lasted. “We killed him,” he said, “last night. Do you want to see? If you do,” he said, “you can go on the other side,” but I had always prepared myself, even if it was reality, that the Yugoslav State Security only lied. And I took that as a lie. Then, “You didn’t tell us about your activity, not even half, not even half of it, we won’t leave you even in Burrel,” the other one would say, “No more, she will never see it.”
After some silence they went out, after some silence, they came back. “What do you think? Will you come see him?” And I stood my ground that it wasn’t true, they were lying to me. I said, “No,” “Hey,” he said, “why would you care,” he said, “Kosovo has lots of men,” he said, “lots of men,” he said it like that. Trying to insult me. At some point the other one said, “Yes,” he said, one after one, besides two of them who were present, there was another one, they would switch.
[The interview was interrupted here]
And then the other one came and said, “Not even alive nor dead, you will never see him. We will release one and keep the other, one like this, one like that.” And that’s when I understood that it wasn’t…
Anita Susuri: They were playing.
Afide Topalli Kuka: Yes, they were playing. This lasted a long time so they left me there, they didn’t speak, or… they would wander. The other side was a mess and this was stuck in my mind that they were able to do anything just so they could break you morally, physically, and destroy you on all sides and your family. Then they would come back, “Why did you marry Naser?” They had forbidden his right to study at all universities in former Yugoslavia. I attended university, “Why do we have a faculty? Why like this…?” They tried… and then when my mother-in-law came to visit, they told her all sorts of things, “Why do you keep her as a bride?”
But I’m grateful to her, she never said a word. She supported me during every single visit, she always took my side. Not a single word was spread beyond our rreth and I have massive respect, not only for my family from which I come from, but also for my husband’s family, Naser’s brothers, his sisters, everyone. I have endless respect. Not a single person from Naser’s family, when I go to chat with them for fun, none of them speak to me in an inferior manner or hastily tell me “Have a good day!” [until they] sit down. I have especial respect for them.
And another thing that I didn’t remember about my family. Besides his engagements as an activist, my big brother Avdi Topalli was a member of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the operative zone of Nerodime. He was in exile, he came back from exile and went to war. I would say one thing, twice, I was criminally convicted, despite that I didn’t, I wasn’t given draconian sentences because there were friends who had bigger sentences, they were sentenced.
But, nevertheless, it wasn’t easy. No person, no friend got in trouble because of me, to be taken in for questioning, to be arrested, or during the investigations to be tortured because of me. Or for a mother to cry for her son or her daughter, that didn’t happen. I am very happy that I managed because I always prayed to God, “God, make me strong, make me strong to endure this and not reveal names,” and God helped me. God convinced me to remain strong and I came out with a clean face.
Anita Susuri: Thanks a lot!
Afide Topalli Kuka: Thank you! All the best from me to you.