[The interviewer asks the speaker about the danger that members of families with a political profile were exposed to vis-a-vis the Serbian regime. This part was removed from the video interview.]
Flamur Gashi: Of course there was always danger for those families, because they were in the eye of UDB and the police. And sons and daughters of these families were easy to identify.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Yes, was it a matter of life or death, I mean the danger?
Flamur Gashi: There was a permanent danger. I mean, you were always a target to them. There was one case when I was wearing the coat of someone else who was a political prisoner as well, and the police shot at me thinking that it was him. They actually didn’t recognize me in that moment. Because the moment was such that they were not able to identify me, but they had the image of him with that coat and we were physically alike and we both wore glasses and it happened. We always had, it followed us… maybe we co-existed with death. Especially these families that were identified for being against the system.
Then there were boys and girls who were politically organized in various Marxist-Leninist groups and so on. To be very honest, I was not organized [in such groups]. Maybe I could, but the situation was such that I was not organized. They were even more problematic for the system and they were endangered more each time. Three-four important murders happened in Peja at that time, Qamil Morina was murdered, as well as Ali Hysvukaj and Gani Daci. Why am I mentioning these murders? These murders were extraordinarily difficult for Peja, because tens, tens of other citizens were injured.
At that time I was in the area of Peja that was called Kapeshnica, with a deceased friend of mine, a former political prisoner, an extraordinary boy, an amazing boy who unfortunately was murdered in the last war in Kosovo, he is a Kosovo hero, Xhemajl Fetahi from the village of Raushiq of Peja. We were in Kapeshnica together with him and we had, how to say, safe houses. Because wherever we slept was dangerous, because we were engaged in organizing the demonstrations, and our safe houses, again, were people who were nationally and politically proved.
The first was the house of Cufë Sokoli. Cufë Sokoli was a political prisoner in 1954, a person who had tried the prisons of Goli Otok and so on in the former Yugoslavia. And we found shelter at his family, Xhemajl Fetahu and I. We slept there for nights in a row. We had the house of mister Hasan Berisha, who had come somewhere from Krushevac, or from the village of Shikës of the Baran region and settled there, a well-known family. So we chose the families where we could have maximal safety while organizing the demonstrations.
These three murders happened. I don’t know, maybe because I was dealing with writing, I liked dealing with journalism, I was studying literature, and the case was like that, that I led those three funerals, so, the main speeches in the three funerals. I was in charge of organizing the funerals. I don’t know why! Even if you ask me today, I don’t know why, why they assigned that task to me. I can raise hypothesis, I might say that it was because of this or that. I think I had a youthful courage, from a young age, I was a little more… and I led these funerals. The last funeral was done in the village of Nabërgjan, at the Nabërgjan Mosque, the cemetery of the village of Lutogllavë and Nabërgjan, they are together there.
I led the funeral and I saw that in front of me I had three-four families who were in enmity with each-other. There was an amazing girl who unfortunately had killed two brothers in self defence, in order to defend her brother and her father who… and unfortunately those two brothers were the sons of their father’s paternal uncle, so they were their relatives. I saw others as well, the children of those two brothers. They were sitting in a line in front of this.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What did you say in those speeches?
Flamur Gashi: Those speeches were messages… this is where I wanted to get to, the greatest message for the citizens was how to unite, how we need to reconcile with each-other. I said that we need to reconcile without knowing what I was saying, to be honest. Because it would be absurd if I said today that in that gathering I was talking about blood feuds reconciliations. I said that we needed to reconcile because I saw Serbeze Vokshi there, as well as the sons of the victims in the same front row. I knew their families and I knew that they were murdered. I saw other families that were in enmity there as well, and I said this sentence. Then when I saw the footage I said, “But I didn’t know what I was saying.” And I really didn’t know what I said.
The next day we met in Peja to organize the demonstrations with this group, Xhemajl Fetahu, Hava Shala, Myrvete Dreshaj… it was a very big group of the students who had spread in different areas. And we met again at a family which was problematic for the resistance against the Yugoslav system which was the family of Din Grabovci who unfortunately was massacred during the war by the Serbian [military] forces – the brother of mister Adem Grabovci, who is the leader of the Parliamentary Group of Partia Demokratike e Kosovës. [Din Grabovci] was an extraordinary man, an extraordinary brave person, a par excellence helper. We gathered there to talk about the demonstrations, what to do, how… I was there by accident, because most of them were former prisoners, former political prisoner youth, very close friends with each-other, and maybe I was the most outsider person there. I told you that I was in no political organization.
The topic about Blood Feuds Reconciliation was opened and Hava Shala said, “Some days ago, at the demonstration, I had a problem with a close friend of mine from the village of Lumbardh in Deçan who couldn’t make it to the demonstration because he told me, ‘I would love to come to the demonstration, but also the person X from my village whose father was murdered by my paternal uncle will come there. And I can even be shot by a sniper or the automatic weapon of Serbian police, but he will be blamed for it. I know that he would never kill me there, but he will be blamed for it.’ And with his eyes full of tears, he didn’t come to the demonstrations.” And here, what do we do, how do we do it, how do we reconcile people… until then we had around 35 or 36 people murdered in Kosovo in demonstrations and protests. What do we do in order to organize and reconcile? It was a problem because some Reconciliation Councils were working at that time within the People’s Socialist League [Lidhja Socialiste e Popullit] of former Yugoslavia, and they often made the matters worse rather than solving them.
And we came to an idea: what if some of the professors would help us, this and that. I said, “I know professor Cana, because he is engaged with the Council for Blood Feuds Reconciliations.” “Alright, we go and talk to him.” And we decided to come to Pristina, a group of students, and talk to professor Cana. That is where we took the decision to go to Pristina. That day Serbeze Vokshi and I came to Pristina…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Who is she?
Flamur Gashi: This is the girl who had killed two brothers because she was afraid that they would kill her father and brother. Myrvete Dreshaj, Ibrahim Dreshaj and Bajram Kurti came as well. So we were the first ones who came to Pristina. And we went to the Institute of Albanology where we met professor Zekerija Cana. And since I knew professor Zekerija Cana from before, we talked, he welcomed us in his office, I told him about the problem. He said, “Flamur, I don’t know how to deal well with this issue because I am a gjakovar, but we have to talk with professor Anton Çetta about this.” And we went down to the first floor of the Institute of Albanology, to the office of professor Anton Çetta. We talked to him and decided to meet him again. I came, we met him. In the meantime Hava Shala, Adem Grabovci, Xhemajl Fetahaj and the group of other people worked on the ground to organize the first reconciliation.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Was Xhemajl murdered after the meeting?
Flamur Gashi: Xhemajl was murdered in the last war, in Koshare, when the border between Albania and Kosovo was broken.
Then when we talked to him and organized the first visit to Peja, we came to pick up professor Zeqa and professor Anton. We had set the meeting in Peja that day, the brother of professor Ymer Jaka had died, Sokol Jaka. And professor Zekerija was obliged to participate in his funeral so he couldn’t manage to come with us. We remained with professor Anton. And during the whole time we were interested in finding other people who could join us there. We talked to many personalities whose names I won’t mention because of ethical reasons, who didn’t join us in this Action. The first one who [didn’t] joined us was a very prominent personality who was called by professor Anton and he didn’t even want to hear about this thing.
The first one who joined us was Ramiz Kelmendi, professor Ramiz Kelmendi. Back then a [Albanian] Literature professor within the University of Pristina, one among the coryphee of journalism in Kosovo, he prepared and came with us right away. Our invitation was automatically accepted by the deceased Azem Shkreli, a well known writer, and by Bajram Kelmendi as well. Among the first ones of this group was professor Mark Krasniqi as well. So, this was the main core of the intellectuals from Pristina who joined the Blood Feuds Reconciliation Action.
There was another group of intellectuals in Peja to whom we had already talked, there was the attorney Adem Bajri, the attorney Mustafë Radoniqi, doctor Mustafë Ademaj, doctor Hysen Mazrekaj. So, this was the group, let’s say, of the first intellectuals who supported our initiative and this is how we initiated the great Action for Blood Feuds Reconciliation.
The first day when we took off by car, there was Riza Krasniqi, a professor of the Peja gymnasium who had a car and who in fact came to me for an intervention in a reconciliation, the brother of another professor in the gymnasium of Peja had killed his maternal aunt’s son and he wanted to reconcile. Because the word that we were dealing with blood feuds reconciliations had already spread. He had come for this thing and I asked for his help since he owned a car. I was a student, I didn’t own a car. He came by car and in the car there were, Riza Krasniqi as a driver, professor Anton Çetta, professor Ramiz Kelmendi and I, in our car. In the other car behind this one there were Bajram Kelmendi, professor Mark and Azem Shkreli.
And when we went to Klina we stopped at the motel Nora for coffee. I will never forget two expressions of professor Anton. I was very desperate about a professor I loved so much, I admired him, who didn’t even accept to talk to us about blood feuds reconciliations. And as a young man, I said, “Professor, I admire this man, he is great.” Professor Anton said, “Flamur, do you know what is the difference between a mosque minaret and a great person?” I said, “No, professor.” He said, “The further you stand from the mosque minaret, the more it seems like it’s uniting with the floor, it seems very small. The people we hyperbolize and who seem very great to us, the further you stand from them, the more they seem to be touching the sky, they are untouchable, they are very great. When you get closer to the mosque minaret, the closer you get to it, the more it seems like it’s touching the sky, while the more you know these great people, the more you realize how little they are.” I will never forget this!
And really then each time I glorified someone, when in my mind I thought they were great, I was reminded of the saying of professor Anton, let me get closer to them first, let’s see if it’s like the mosque’s minaret or it’s like a flat balloon, like this. And the second expression of professor Anton that day was, “Flamur, let it go, let’s start this Action for Blood Feuds Reconciliation. There are many risks, many risks, many sacrifices, but remember one thing: you should keep a directory in your mind. You are the youngest.” “Directory? Why a directory, a directory is kept at libraries in order to keep notes for each book, where, what, why professor?” “In case we fail, they will swear and will not let anything unsaid about us. In case we succeed, dogs and cats will stick to us and nobody will be able to find out who was the one who initiated it and who was the one who finished it. But the most important thing is that blood feuds get reconciled. But you should keep this directory in your head because you are young.”
And it really happened like that. Fortunately, the Action turned out to be successful, and today, 25 years after, there are people who come out as initiators of blood feuds reconciliations, ones who were never there or who joined after five-six months, come out as if they were the leaders, but it’s not important. The important thing is that the Action began with success, many people joined it and over 1600 injuries, murders and misunderstandings were reconciled in Kosovo. Why do I say that it was successful? I am absolutely convinced, and I don’t think that I am wrong, that without the Action for Blood Feuds Reconciliation and without that uniting spirit, the resistance of ‘91 until the end of the ‘99 war in Kosovo would be much more difficult. This Action united Albanians, it gave them a spirit of collaboration for their national aspirations.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Could you tell us about the Action, how did you keep in touch back then? How did you organize?
Flamur Gashi: We divided into groups. First, we divided the groups in the cities. We found our friends. The group of prisoners found their friends who were imprisoned, let’s say in Prizren, Gjakova, Mitrovica, Pristina and so on, and so on. The group of students found their group. We united and spread in the field. I was in Peja, I was in the Action in Lipjan, in Prizren, I was all around. We spread to the places where we had our connections in order to make this more vocal, this action. The first way of contact was going to the families that were in blood feuds, collect the information and go to their houses and tell them. We prepared the ground.
In the beginning the reconciliation was done on an individual basis. In the very beginning, with one feud… then it spread. We found a village and two-three bloods were reconciled in the same village. Then the big gatherings for blood feuds reconciliations followed.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were you in those gatherings?
Flamur Gashi: Absolutely yes. A big gathering took place in the village of Bubavec, another one in Verrat e Llukës, then in the village of Nabërgjan, in Lutogllavë, near the mosque where I told you that I saw that, that I told you that I didn’t know what I was saying about reconciliation, where tens of bloods were forgiven. It also went to the Western Countries. A reconciliation front was created. People reconciled. Fortunately, in our first steps we had no revenge that could demotivate our Action.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: You mean, those reconciliations were sustainable?
Flamur Gashi: Sustainable. There might be sporadic cases, four-five cases, let’s say ten. But ten cases in 1600 reconciliations are nothing. So like this it grew. It continued during the whole 1990. The momentum fell in the second part of 1990, because the intensity fell. There was a big intensity of reconciliation in the first three-four months. Then it continued in ‘91 as well, but it was a little slower.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: With the same group?
Flamur Gashi: It became… now everybody was a reconciler. It became a national spirit. It became a Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliation. This Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliation then was identified with Anton Çetta and the Peja youth. Who was the Peja youth was not important anymore. Who was the student youth was not important anymore. But professor Anton was a plak, the smartest, a man of oda who was also a collector of folklore. Besides professor Anton, professor Zekerija Cana gave an extraordinary contribution which we should always be grateful for.
Professor Zekerija Cana was the promoter of the Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliation. Professor Zekerija Cana was a promoter in the Council for the Defense of Human Rights [and Freedoms]… I don’t know, if someone wrote something about the history of Kosovo of the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s and Zekerija Cana was not mentioned as the leader of many movements, I believe they wouldn’t be saying the truth. We should be very grateful to that person.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Who were the bloods forgiven to, how was that process?
Flamur Gashi: The blood was forgiven to the family of the murderer.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Yes, and how was that mediated?
Flamur Gashi: Yes, in the beginning we had good support, I will never forget it when I sent the first video cassette of the Blood Feuds Reconciliation to Radio Television of Pristina, back then RTP, at the time when Veli Vraniqi, a sports journalist was the news [desk] director. And Veli Vraniqi did what only a few people would do.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: This was Radio Television Pristina, 1990?
Flamur Gashi: Pristina Radio Television, 1990. Pristina Radio Television was not taken by the Serbian police yet at the time. And Veli Vraniqi found the way to broadcast this news, he showed it on the news, and I will never forget Violeta Rexhepagiqi, who back then was in charge for broadcasts outside [of Kosovo], something like that, and Violeta Rexhepagiqi gave this reporting of blood feuds to the foreign media. Fortunately, this time it was well covered and filmed by the now deceased director, Fahri Hysaj. The director Fetah Mehmeti as well as the journalist Nezir Istrefi were in charge at the time, who were… Mehmet Kajtazi and Skënder Zogaj wrote for Rilindja as well.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were there consequences for mister Veli Vraniqi?
Flamur Gashi: Yes, the Television of Kosovo was closed then. Mister Veli Vraniqi was a pragmatist type of person, he overcame it… he was extraordinarily funny, he overcame it with a few drinks, but he was the first one who did it. And he gave us an extraordinary help, the broadcasting of the news of the beginning of the Action for Blood Feuds Reconciliation in Kosovo. An extraordinary help! And we are grateful to Violeta Regjepagiq and him. And I am sorry for all those other people, journalists whose names I am not mentioning, because there is a long list of people who joined us and wrote for us. When Rilindja was shut down, there were other newspapers, such as Bujku [The Farmer], Fjala [The Word], Bota e Re [The New World], Zëri [The Voice] that wrote about us. And there was Alternativa [The Alternative] newspaper which came out in Ljubljana, that wrote, as well as many many other newspapers that… Radio Pristina only broadcasted for five minutes within Radio Zagreb.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How was it represented in the media?
Flamur Gashi: The great Action for Blood Feuds Reconciliation; the Action is led by professor Anton Çetta, collector of folklore, a good scholar. The well known personalities of science, culture and art in Kosovo who were part of it were represented. The most famous intellectuals of Kosovo joined in the second-third week. Then… because there were political movements which began with the Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës led by Ibrahim Rugova on one side, and more political parties were being created everyday. And the Action for Blood Feuds Reconciliation was in the other side. So there was a kind of how to say, pluralism in opinions as well as in actions. Everybody wanted to become important and to contribute something. There was a spirit that was trying to mobilize Albanian forces in Kosovo for the freedom and independence of Kosovo.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Was it shown like this in the media?
Flamur Gashi: With the space it had, yes of course. There was no Facebook back then, there was no Twitter either, there were no social networks, no Viber nor What’s App which people could use to connect with each-other. But the best system was that it was transmitted mouth to mouth, ear to ear. Its echo was big. And in this case, pleased people are what makes the best advertisement in the media. Such is multilevel marketing [in English], when it is said that the pleased consumer is the best advertisement, such is the case here, where the pleased people and this Action were the best marketing of our work.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: This inspired many people to forgive the blood, right?
Flamur Gashi: Absolutely. This inspired people to forgive the blood. There was an expression of professor Anton Çetta, he said, “It is a burrëni to forgive, not to kill. Strong is the one who forgives, not the one who kills.” It is true, only those who haven’t experienced it themselves don’t know, because there is nothing more difficult than forgiving. Especially forgiving the blood of their sister, brother, child, daughter. It is terrible! The splendor in Blood Feuds Reconciliation belonged to those who forgave….We were there at the right moment and at the right time, some promoters and servers who may have put in the gear in order for it to work. But the greatness belongs to those who forgave.
We found ourselves in the historical moment, the times has drawn us in. But the people who forgave the blood of their only brother… there were two sisters who forgave the blood of their only brother, or one sister who forgave the blood of her brother. Or there were fathers who forgave the blood of the only son they had, he had no other daughter nor son. It is terrible! And how do you say, the son of the brother or the sister says, “I forgive it to Kosovo.” How great! Because that sounds folkloristic, to the new generations it sounds very folkloristic, but back then it was great. Put everything in the context of 25 years ago, and put everything where the violence and repression of Serbia in Kosovo was escalating each day more.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Did the police create obstacles for you?
Flamur Gashi: Absolutely, a lot, a lot. There were obstacles all around; apart from the physical barriers, they did… that was the case when the gathering took place at Verrat e Llukës. Professor Zekeria Cana and I were arrested by the police in Deçan.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How long did they keep you?
Flamur Gashi: We were kept for five-six hours until the protest happened and they released us. Because they surrounded the Police Station, there were thousands, hundreds of thousands of people in the protest… in the gathering at Verat e Llukës. They heard about it and surrounded the Police [Station].
Erëmirë Krasniqi: That protest… I mean, were they notified about Verrat e LLukës?
Flamur Gashi: It was not important whether they were notified or not, but gathering five-six hundred thousands people, one million people….Do you know what it means to gather five-six hundred thousand, one million people? And remember a historic date where Albanians reconciled openly at Verat e LLukës. That was terrible for Serbia. But then there was something amazing about this Action for Blood Feuds Reconciliation, it was the intertwining of the youth and the elderly, the students and the intellectuals, girls and boys, women and men, religious leaders. Religious leaders gave an extraordinary help in the Blood Feuds Reconciliation Action.
We should never forget the extraordinary contribution of Mulla Idriz Kokrruku, one hoxha who was working in the Kosovo Archive, an imam; Mulla Xhevat Kryeziu, the hoxha of the village of Bubavec in Malisheva. The extraordinary help of two religious leaders cannot be left aside, such as the one of the Catholic [community] and the one from the Muslim community of Kosovo: doctor Rexhep Boja and the future bishop of Kosovo, Bishop Mark Sopi. The positive spirit since the very beginning of the Blood Feuds Reconciliations of one of the coryphees of religion and nation in Kosovo, Bishop Nikë Prela, who was the first Bishop of Kosovo, before Bishop Mark Sopi. It was extraordinary! These were the ones who helped us a lot, who even helped in overcoming religious barriers.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: But there were no inter-religious feuds?
Flamur Gashi: There were, of course there were. There were inter-religious feuds as well as inter-religious reconciliations. There were around ‘89-‘90… before the Action for Blood Feuds Reconciliation started… see, history didn’t begin with us, the reconciliation of blood feuds didn’t begin with us. The reconciliation of blood feuds existed all the time among us, but at the time when we were engaged in blood feuds reconciliation, it took another shape, it took another dimension. Kosovo had extraordinary blood feuds reconcilers. There was Mulla Zekë Bërdyna, a former political prisoner of Goli Otok, a personality who was engaged in blood feuds reconciliation in the Dukagjini Plain, Ramadan Shabani from the village of Kieva, Mujë Loshi as well. There were many personalities who were engaged in blood feuds reconciliation. But this was motivated in a different way.
We had… the first call for blood feuds reconciliation didn’t begin with us, didn’t begin with me when I told you that I spoke there. Calls for blood feuds reconciliation were made from the miners of Trepça in the village of Stantërg [Stari Trg]. Three bloods were reconciled after their call. But it didn’t work, it didn’t have an echo. At that time there were two religious leaders who influenced blood feuds reconciliation, Muhamet Lipa, the hoxha of the village of Baran, and the priest of the village of Gllogjan, Don Anton Kçira, these were the ones who influenced the reconciliation between Muslim and Catholic families. So, here was the greatness that people there didn’t care who was from the city and who was from the village, or who was Catholic or Muslim, or who comes from the Dukagjini Plain or from Drenica. It took a national dimension.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How was all this trust gained? You told us that there was a bad experience before, when the Commission of Blood Feuds Reconciliation existed, where there were people from UDB involved, who created more troubles than reconciliations. I mean, how did that transition from a bad experience…
Flamur Gashi: The trust was created because the youth took over. And there were no interests. What personal interest would I have from a reconciliation of a family in Kaçanik? There was no personal interest nor material one, the work was being done. The youth had no personal or material interests. We walked on foot for many hours in a row just to go and ask someone whom we didn’t know to forgive the blood. But we asked this for the sake of the Kosovo youth, for the sake of Kosovo destiny, for the sake of our unity. And they saw that we were not… there were cases when we didn’t know, we didn’t know who was the victim. So, we had no connections at all with the parties in conflict.
If we had a connection with the parties in conflict, then we could be biassed. We could be accused that we were doing it for them… but we were young, our only goal was reconciliation and stopping the killing of brothers and revenge. Why? Revenge and feuds happen where there’s no state. Where the state with its mechanisms doesn’t work, that’s where people take over the justice system. The state with its mechanisms in Yugoslavia wasn’t interested in solving these problems, in judging them fairly, in punishing the murderer for the murder. But the state only sentenced them with four-five years, the one who had murdered a 27 years old boy was released. So, the family on the other side was pushed to take revenge. This is how it happened.
And in this moment, in this emptiness, this phenomenon happened, this phenomenon is to me only an Albanian wonder. I have said it once before, I will repeat it today as well: I would be the happiest person on earth if there was only one person who survived without being killed because of the work I did in the blood feuds reconciliations, not to say more. Because you haven’t experienced it yourself, but you don’t know how much the eyes and faces of the people who reconciled shone. The ones who could possibly be murdered were not the only ones to feel relieved, but the ones whose turn was to murder were very relieved as well.
Why? There were also misinterpretations of the Kanun here. The Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit is a wonder in itself for the time it was written and functioned. But taking and approaching the Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit five hundred years later, is an absurdity, it is a crime. And those who were allegedly engaged in reconciliations, interpreted the Kanun wrongly. Because the Kanun says it clearly that the murderer should be murdered, the one who murders should be murdered. Why did it say this? Because it forbids the murder of the other one: in case you murder, you should know you will get murdered yourself. This is a preventive measure in order to stop feuds. While others interpreted it differently, “The best male should be murdered…” and I don’t know what else. That is why the spiritual freedom of those who forgave was extraordinary.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How old were the cases of enmity?
Flamur Gashi: There were cases from the beginning of the century. There were 50 or 60 years old cases. There were one hundred years old cases which happened in a chain, it multiplied. There were cases where 25 years old boy was murdered because his family murdered someone’s grandmother. I mean, there was everything. Unfortunately, there was everything. For our bad and black fate, there was everything. We had the great luck that the youth took over this Action, it was undoubtedly supported by the best class of Kosovo intellectuals, and the Action turned out to be successful.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Where were most of blood feuds forgiven, thanks to the actions?
Flamur Gashi: Verrat e LLukës.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How many?
Flamur Gashi: There were over forty something feuds and misunderstandings. It already took another shape and echo.