Anita Susuri: You told us about market day. Can you describe the atmosphere at that time?
Halit Gashi: Now I have to think back (laugh). It was fun, it’s true, it was fun, it was lively, people got supplies, manufacturers and traders. Manufacturers were mostly the ones who brought their produce from villages like Banulla, Gllogovc, Sllovi, Smallusha. They never took anything back, they sold everything.
Anita Susuri: What did they sell?
Halit Gashi: Well, vegetables, milk and dairy. All dairy products were sold…
Anita Susuri: Was there also plastic?
Halit Gashi: Products made out of plastic are Janjevo’s. Those were made for sale, but they were not sold on the market day, but in other cities. Whenever a fair was organized, as they were called back in the day, you always had ten-fifteen businesses from Janjevo, whenever in former Yugoslavia.
Not only in Kosovo, but everywhere in former Yugoslavia. For example, I did my army service on a Yugoslav island, it was called Vis, it is in Croatia. Even there you had Janjevo Albanians, I mean Janjevo Croatians. An island where no tourists were allowed… but even in the furthest point of Yugoslavia, you could find Janjevo people. But they supplied us with dairy products, vegetables and fruits, actually no, not fruits, we had fruits. But, vegetables didn’t grow here because of the water, the lack of water and quarry soil. We were supplied with vegetables from the villages around.
Anita Susuri: Who mostly visited the cafés?
Halit Gashi: Well, Croats. Those who called themselves Croats. There were few Albanians, few Albanians. Two teahouses belonged to Albanians, not in the center where you were. They all belonged to Croats. The one you went in was called Bash Çarshi even before. The one who bought it, the Albanian, kept the same name, didn’t change the name of the café. The others changed the names, but that is the only one… I don’t remember when that café was opened.
Anita Susuri: That café, Bash Çarshia, do you remember, was it there when you were little?
Halit Gashi: Yes, yes, I told you. It was a little different, it was renovated, the last buyer renovated it a little, but I don’t remember when it was built, that’s how I always remember it, as a café. I am 53 years old, so that café has existed for at least half a century.
Anita Susuri: Can you describe it for us, because we heard that people sang there, drank, ate?
Halit Gashi: I told you that Janjevo is known as a residence that didn’t have any interethnic conflicts for 800 years, even though today you go into a café and you can hear one person talking Turkish, another one Albanian, Roma, the other one Croatian, and you don’t know who is Albanian, who is Croatian, who refers to themselves as Turkish or Roma.
There was nightlife in Janjevo. I told you I wasn’t part of the nightlife, but my uncle lived further away from my house, so I passed by the center on my way to his house. There were around twelve, thirteen cafés in that small center. Twelve, thirteen cafés full of people, they were always crowded, and nightlife continued until late night, until morning.
Especially when there were holidays, Easter and Saint George. Saint George of Roma, they actually kept the party going. They started playing music and stuff a day before Saint George. Now, there aren’t celebrations like that.
Anita Susuri: What about a café in front of Bash Çarshia, was it open when you were younger, do you remember it?
Halit Gashi: Yes, in front of Bash Çarshia…
Anita Susuri: Yes, 1928.
Halit Gashi: It says 28 but that café had singers, it had live music. I never went in, but I have seen it at night from the outside, especially during the celebrations of Croatian holidays. There was live music and a great mood was created, it was… and they had a great income from those places. As I told you, Janjevo people for nine months earned a living outside of Janjevo, but they spent it all in Janjevo in three months. Those three months that they could not work during the winter, they spent them in Janjevo. They had a lot, all the cafés in Janjevo had a lot of work.
Anita Susuri: What else happened during high school? How did your life continue after that?
Halit Gashi: For me, unfortunately since high school until I finished university was a very hard period for me, extremely hard. I finished primary school in 1981, and when I was in eighth grade the demonstrations of ‘81 happened in April and March, March and April, it was an extremely hard situation. Then, we went to school in a Serbian village. Even in ‘83 when we went to Lipjan, we had to pass three Serbian villages, which didn’t have a positive attitude towards us, they didn’t. We didn’t have any conflicts but we were never comfortable with each other. Every time I traveled out of Janjevo, then when I finished school and university, my mother, may she rest in peace, I always found her at the door waiting for me, thinking something might have happened to me since I had to pass by these three villages. It was a very hard period for people from Janjevo, Akllap, and teqe. It was extremely hard.
Anita Susuri: Do you remember the demonstrations of ‘81, did you take part?
Halit Gashi: Yes, yes, I did. We organized a demonstration in Janjevo as young people without any full awareness of what was happening.
Anita Susuri: How old were you?
Halit Gashi: I was 15 years old. Now I can’t brag, I say I was fully aware of what I was doing, I did it because we were supposed to. I joined it even though I could not have known the cause. Now, I can easily say that I knew, but I didn’t know the cause. But it was a date we remembered. I think it was April 4th or 5th when they tried to organize a demonstration in Janjevo. The police and organizers found out quickly. I don’t know who organized it, but I was part of it.
Anita Susuri: Did everyone take part or…
Halit Gashi: No, a few, it was a small number of people. Croats didn’t care about this, they didn’t care about this.
Anita Susuri: After high school, did you continue your education, where…
Halit Gashi: I finished the Faculty of Law in Pristina. But as soon as we would finish high school we would get a call for military service.
Anita Susuri: What was that period of time like?
Halit Gashi: Military service was also extremely hard. After the ‘81 demonstrations they didn’t have… any of the nations that lived in former Yugoslavia didn’t have a positive attitude towards us because of the propaganda. They had an aversion toward us without even knowing us. They didn’t know us but they had an aversion towards us. When you don’t do anything to someone and they feel aversion towards you, it just shows their weakness, we didn’t have anything against Slovenians, Croats, Bosnians, or even Serbians.
Throughout history they continuously tried to assimilate us. We don’t have the feeling that… we didn’t give life to anyone, and we don’t have the right to take anyone’s life. But it was hard. I was young and it was easier for me but for people who were 24-25 years old… there was a guy from Presevo, after he finished university he worked at the school library, he had extraordinary difficulties, they would take him to informative conversations. They didn’t do that with us, because we were young and didn’t achieve anything, but in general it was hard.
Everybody went through that, at least for those thirteen months that we served in that army they would take each of us for informative conversations which were very hard, there was extraordinary psychological pressure.
Anita Susuri: Did you go to university in Pristina?
Halit Gashi: Yes, Pristina.
Anita Susuri: How did Pristina seem to you back then?
Halit Gashi: I, if I ever move out of Janjevo, maybe I would live in Pristina. I would trade Janjevo with anything because my family’s history is weird. Our ancestors moved from Pristina to Janjevo. My grandfather’s father came to Janjevo. His wife was from Janjevo, he came to live with her and he stayed in Janjevo.
Anita Susuri: Why did he live in his wife’s house?
Halit Gashi: They were nine sisters and didn’t have a brother, and their parents decided that one of the girl’s husbands would live there. And out of all their husbands, my ancestor was the most laid back, so he came to Janjevo from Prishtina. Now, I would only live in Pristina, nowhere else. Janjevo… Pristina, I had a very good time here, and now for some time I work in Pristina.
I had the best times of my life. The best time of our lives is between 20 years old and 40 years old. I spent that time of my life in Pristina. I have very good memories, extraordinary. For example, I worked in Lipjan for eleven years, but nothing links to Lipjan, absolutely nothing.
Anita Susuri: What was Pristina like when you first went there?
Halit Gashi: Pristina has changed a lot, unfortunately, not in a good way…
Anita Susuri: What do you remember that has changed?
Halit Gashi: Pristina was a clean city, but I’ll talk about its physiognomy. There were a few buildings, and it wasn’t crowded. A quiet city, in general it was a quiet city. Students from all over Kosovo would make it lively, just like the high school in Lipjan… Lipjan is slowly becoming a lively city, but Pristina is lively thanks to students and cultural life.
I went to the theater a lot. I enjoyed going to the theater and watching the premieres. We tried very hard to get tickets for the premiere, because seeing reruns wasn’t as interesting. I have good memories of Pristina, it was a quiet city. They liked creating, doing things, doing good things, giving to Kosovo, people from Pristina had the chance to give a lot to Kosovo.
Anita Susuri: What kind of impression did you have of those premieres? Because they say people prepared in a special way when they went to premieres.
Halit Gashi: Anita [addresses the interviewer], it’s hard now because you have to experience those moments and talk about them. It’s easier for you. When Sabri Fejzullahu [Kosovo singer] and his son sing I tell people that you have the means to record, record every emotion, you have the means to record every memory. We had trouble saving even these pictures that we took. But photographs say enough, there are a few… the flaw, the flaw of my generation, I’m saying generation, is that we didn’t write, we didn’t keep… I didn’t keep a diary that would refresh those feelings. Because when you read something you remember it, but it’s unfortunate that we didn’t write.
Anita Susuri: Did you continuously travel from Janjevo when you were a student?
Halit Gashi: No, no. I only traveled the first year, after that I lived there. I lived in a private apartment for a year, and in the Student Center for two years. It was a poor but excellent life in the Student Center, a very dynamic life, a very likable life. Amazing friends, amazing. They…
Anita Susuri: What did you do with your friends? Did you go out?
Halit Gashi: Yes, we went out. As law students we had the advantage of not having to read a lot, to finish university we didn’t have to read a lot. Now they don’t read at all, but we studied for at least one or two hours, we didn’t read, we studied. We really studied. We also went out a lot, we were a group of friends who went out a lot.
Anita Susuri: Which places did you visit?
Halit Gashi: Well, in general there were a few places. We mostly went to Gërmia park. There were a few places, a few cafés, but we made the most out of them, we went to a different one every day. Arabeska [coffee shop] was known…
Anita Susuri: Where was it?
Halit Gashi: It was in front of Newborn.
Anita Susuri: So were you married while you were in university, or did you start working? When did you start working? Tell us a little about the period after university?
Halit Gashi: After university, pluralism began in Kosovo. I graduated in 1990 and then it got ruined. In ‘90 the strikes of September 3rd happened and all the employees in social enterprises and in the administration were fired. People were fired even from the cooperative; the situation was extremely difficult. Then I came. In those years I started getting into politics. I was in the Democratic League for many years…
Anita Susuri: You started right after university?
Halit Gashi: Yes, yes, immediately after university. And I never…
Anita Susuri: How did you decide to get into politics?
Halit Gashi: It was spontaneous, it wasn’t prepared. I’ll tell you a fact about Janjevo. In Janjevo there were a few well educated people, unfortunately there were just a few. Shtjefen Gjeçovi’s Janjevo had very few educated people. I am one of the few. Now, I had a good life in Pristina and I continued the same way. Even though I finished university, I didn’t have a way of using the knowledge I had gotten from the law university, so I had to do something.
And this… I never thought that after my family invested in my education for 16 years that I would have an unsecure future. Maybe the only opportunity I had was to get into the politics of that time, organizing the plural life in Kosovo. And in ‘93 I started working as a secretary in the primary school. I worked as a school secretary until 2000 but…
Anita Susuri: Vladimir Nazor or…
Halit Gashi: Shtjefën Gjeçovi. It was called Vladimir Nazor until ‘90 then… Janjevo is a characteristic case, it is characteristic for many reasons. It’s called sui generis, sui generis, a special case. From all over Kosovo, Janjevo and Lipjan are the only places where even primary school was prohibited. We taught students in warehouses and… I’ll try to get a copy of that CD, I think a teacher of information technology has one, a video that we made in ‘95. Where students were sitting to follow classes, we turned oda into offices. Mine and the director’s office was in a three-by-three-meter oda, we had a sofa, a table and a chair, and we used it as an office.
This was, I’m sorry, I forgot I’m talking in front of the camera, I got a little emotional, you reminded me of that time. It took an extraordinary commitment to organize lessons for students. We didn’t have desks, we improvised desks. I wasn’t a handyman but I worked on some chairs for students. I didn’t even know how to use nails, but I had to improvise and be a master of desks. Since I was the school secretary I had to prepare. In the first year they sat on bricks and crates. Then in the second year, in ‘95, we made some chairs. A businessman gave us some planks and we improvised chairs.
Anita Susuri: Where were these houses?
Halit Gashi: In our neighborhood, a little further down.
Anita Susuri: The Saraj street, right?
Halit Gashi: Yes, yes, on Saraj street and Dardania, the main street. It was called Nene Tereza then, now it’s called Dardania. Because they had to be near each other, so we wouldn’t put students all over the place, students took their breaks on the streets because they didn’t have… the buildings weren’t in the same place. We had to have five-six warehouses like that to turn them into classrooms. It was hard.
The documentary that the information technology teacher has reflects this very well. He is very smart, he still hasn’t retired, he is a good teacher in Lipjan, he teaches there. Now he is successful, he sent his students to compete in America, the school in Lipjan, Hajrit Rashiti. But he has that amazing documentary that is history and documentary.
There’s another fact, it’s said that some documents exist that say that the first Albanian school was opened in Janjevo, within the church of Janjevo. By a Franciscan order, the school was opened, it had 13 students who learned Albanian in 1625. No one from the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Albania has come forward to deny this…
Anita Susuri: Is it the building near the church, or was it somewhere else?
Halit Gashi: Now I can’t really tell you if it was that building, or another building, because it’s true that that building was used as a school after the Second World War. My older sisters have finished two or three classes in that building, then this old building was built, the one that was demolished, and left to the mercy of fate. The new one was built later on.
Anita Susuri: Why did this change happen?
Halit Gashi: Due to the large number of students. The old school did not have sanitary facilities inside, only outside, and then the citizens of Janjevo gave five percent of their family’s income from ‘81 to ‘89 to build the school. They invested in it, they contributed to building the school. Also this new school building is a contribution of Janjevo citizens, not the state. But we all gave five percent of our family’s income for the new school building…
Anita Susuri: At the time when you were in the school, was it hard to manage it, I mean there were Albanian, Croats, Roma…
Halit Gashi: No, unfortunately I only worked in buildings outside of school. Actually, I worked from July ‘99 to December 2000. But the first year after war, the first year after war Croats were hesitant, they didn’t come to school. Then in 2000, at the end of 2000 I quit education, I never went back to it.
I generally worked in administration institutions and I don’t know the feeling of having Serbian teachers, Albanian and Croatian students and Albanian and Croatian students in the same school. I don’t know that feeling. But they all went to the same school, Croats, Roma, Albanians, and those declared as Turkish. But, I attended classes at that school.
Anita Susuri: You grew up in Janjevo and you still live here. How are these relationships between people? Are they friendly?
Halit Gashi: I said that for 800 years we have lived together and there was never any conflict. There might have been brothers who killed each other, but there were no ethnic conflicts, there were no individual or collective conflicts. Of course, children had small and spontaneous verbal conflicts, but in Janjevo there weren’t conflicts such as killings among Albanians due to revenge or so. Among Albanians or anyone else. There was a little or no conflict at all in Janjevo. Luckily, it still is so.
Anita Susuri: When did you get married?
Halit Gashi: A long time ago (laughs). I got married in ‘93, September of ‘93.
Anita Susuri: What are the traditions of Janjevo like? Celebration or wedding traditions.
Halit Gashi: I told you that preparations for weddings started a year before. For example, when I got married, the preparations started two or three months before. Not like the others but… there was music in my house every day for two or three weeks. The neighbors came from afternoon until late night, or early morning, there was music all the time. We would drink tea, eat sweets, it was a nice atmosphere. That went on for three weeks.
Another difficulty for us, it was difficult for us because the fuel was expensive, gasoline and oil cost two or three marks, and we couldn’t afford it. As education workers, our salary was 50 marks and paying for one liter of gasoline, three or four marks… But I am thankful to everyone who came to my wedding. There were 30 cars when I… I didn’t go and get my wife myself, it wasn’t like that then. I made a mistake by not going, I should have broken the taboo.
Me and my wife picked each other. 30 cars went to get her at a very hard time and the national flag was on the first car. They had trouble with the Serbians here because of the flag, but luckily there were no problems at my wedding.
Anita Susuri: How did you meet your wife?
Halit Gashi: We met in Pristina, I knew her sister, she studied in Gjilan and we met accidentally through a friend and our relationship started.
Anita Susuri: Did your wife study?
Halit Gashi: No, she didn’t, she didn’t study. She finished high school in ‘90 when the system collapsed. She didn’t study.