Erëmirë Krasniqi: As I told you earlier, the interview is mostly biographical. We would like to start from what do you remember from your earliest memories? Your family? The circle you grew up in? Education? Everything you remember and however you remember yourself.
Isa Rexha: I came from a village, Barileva. First I’ll tell you I’m born on 17.01.1959. Since I enrolled in the Faculty of Economics as a 20-year-old… through the Faculty, the cooperative of students, I was employed at Grand Hotel, as a worker at Grand. From 05.02.1980 I was a security worker until 14.03. 2004, actually in ‘83 when I gained the status of a worker, not as a worker at Grand but at SLOGA.
SLOGA included Hotel Grand, Božur, Belgrade Restaurant, Villa Gërmia and a hotel in Fushë Kosova. It had 18 locations. At SLOGA I started working in accounting. In ‘83-’84 I was the accountant of fixed assets and small inventory. In ‘85 I received the title of chief liquidator at the SLOGA Company. I made the payments, supplier transfers, from then until ‘89 when Serbia applied measures inside of SLOGA. I lost my job and continued working as a liquidator, a liquidator until ‘97 when I quit.
No, they didn’t fire me but I quit. I didn’t want to work with them anymore so I got engaged with other workplaces. When I first came to Grand, it’s interesting… today I say that a lot of hotels have stars, and Grand had five stars, but the conditions Grand had, there isn’t any other hotel that has them today, not in the world, because there might be, but not in Europe.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What kind of conditions where they? Can you explain it a little?
Isa Rexha: Yes. First of all in the basement… Inside the Grand Hotel, there’s a bowling alley, billiards, tennis, it has… Anyway, on the second floor, there is a washer and, on the same floor, that was a wardrobe and bath. There were two pretty big wardrobes. Even though you have to go through… You have to make a request to record those through the PKA because we aren’t allowed to record them.
There were two huge wardrobes for women and for men. There were divisions for women in the kitchen, every cook before starting work… Even the cleaning crew couldn’t get inside the Grand Hotel if they did not get in… Every sector had four cabins, shower cabins, you had to take a shower, and wear the uniform to come to work. Or the guest could not go inside Grand Hotel, I am talking about the ‘80s because I was a security guard myself, they could not come inside Grand Hotel until ‘89 if their shoes weren’t clean, clothes ironed, you couldn’t go inside with jeans, or if you weren’t shaved or something.
So, the conditions were great. Not even the cleaners… excluding the administration that didn’t have a wardrobe and didn’t have special cabins, shower cabins. The others, the cleaning crew, the cooks, the waiters, everybody had them. They had their own wardrobe. So, it was super nice. But, since ‘89…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Let’s not rush. Let’s go slow, build this part….
Isa Rexha: But, I’ve been there constantly since 05.02.1980, excluding ‘97- ‘99, August 10, ‘99.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: While you’re telling us, don’t rush to get to ‘89 because I’m interested to know the atmosphere here. What did you work on? What did you do? You told us shortly, but if you could tell us in more detail, the more details, the better for us. I would want to go back to the ‘80s when you started working and what… I don’t know what we could ask him.
Aurela Kadriu: Maybe you can just tell us what the Student Cooperative was, start there. How did the Student Cooperative bring you in and then those three years that you worked as a security guard?
Isa Rexha: Yes.
Aurela Kadriu: What did you see during your work?
Isa Rexha: I wanted to, since it is more biographical, I talked shortly, I explained the work…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: We are not interested to talk shortly, we really want to stop and talk about the details because through details we can understand more…
Isa Rexha: The Student Cooperative still exists. It’s in front of the Economics Faculty…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Really?
Isa Rexha: Yes, yes.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: I didn’t know.
Isa Rexha: It still exists.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: It’s called the Cooperative?
Isa Rexha: I don’t know what it’s called. There’s a small building at the Economics [Faculty], that building in front is what used to be the Student Cooperative. Xhaferi was the director at that time. But, I didn’t mind who it was, I came here through the Student Cooperative.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Okay. Let’s start, how did you come to Pristina? Let’s start there, tell us…
Isa Rexha: How I came to Pristina…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How do you remember Pristina at that time?
Isa Rexha: Aaa, my family was here, my father was here, here started…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Did you start [addresses the camera]?
Besarta Breznica: Yes.
Isa Rexha: My father was here. He used to be a smith. He worked… he had his shop at Xhamia e Llapit. So, after time after time, at least once a week I would come to Pristina. So, I was familiar with Pristina even when I was in elementary school at Brileva, Ali Kelmendi School. I came to Pristina and finished Xhevdet Doda Gymnasium, it used to be where the Cathedral is today. Then I enrolled in the Faculty of Economics. There was only one course because now there are many.
The first year, to tell you the truth I was interested but not, but imposed by my circle. And I came to Grand Hotel through the Student Cooperative. I was paid by Grand Hotel, but they gave 20 percent to the Student Cooperative, that was the percentage that was given then. They took their percentage, 20 percent, they gave the rest to me as a monthly wage. I was there from the second month of ‘80 until the fourth month. From 13.04.1983, when on 12.04 I gained regular employee status and I went to SLOGA.
But, when I was a worker from Student Cooperative, I’m talking about the time I started at Grand, for me it was, not to say… I don’t know, I don’t have words to explain it. It was something very, very, very good. It was very serious, they worked well, they had a lot of guests, the discipline was on point. There were people who were engaged, but they were civilians from the police, apart from us. There were civilians who walked around here to keep the order at Grand. There were… it was the only hotel in Kosovo that international guests came to…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What kind of guests? From all over Yugoslavia…
Isa Rexha: From all over the world. I’m talking from all over the world, not Yugoslavia. There were guests from all over the world there. From all over the world and all kinds. It was an aspect you can freely call Kosovo’s Oda, because people… just like Swiss Diamond is today…. Ambassadors, state presidents and so on. On the third and fourth floor, especially the fourth, they worked only for Tito.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Tito?
Isa Rexha: Yes, yes probably heard of him, I didn’t know him. I had the opportunity to be present when Tito came. The fourth floor is still called Tito’s residence. But… anyway, I’ll go back to what I was talking about, but in Tito’s residence, before the war, now, even during the war, the leadership that led the army, the police during the war didn’t stay in the police station but they stayed here at Grand. And they have directions from here, from Tito’s Residence. Now for the security, I don’t know what to say, I didn’t have even the smallest problems, the security was…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What was your routine like? What was your work routine?
Isa Rexha: It was… I started working from 17:00 to 04:00 in the morning so… because I was also a student, I wanted to learn, this was it. Then I started working from 21:00 to 04:00, since I had exams and lectures and so on. So, I worked. But, when I noticed here that every sector in Grand, the kitchen, the waiters, they all have their own uniform… at that time, their own showers.
I noticed that even the cleaner who picked up the trash during the day or something, they couldn’t go to the hall in Grand without first taking a shower, wearing the work uniform and begin working with a clean uniform, not go in and out however they want, let’s not even talk about the cooks and waiters. So, there was order, there were many people like this.
On the thirteenth story there’s a restaurant, it was called Restaurant Panorama, where you can see almost… now Pristina has widened, but at that time you could see all of Pristina. Then on 13.04 I gained the status of regular worker…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: I wanted to stop here, what kind of city was Pristina at that time? Was it safe when you worked security? In a way did you have some kind of awareness about safety in general?
Isa Rexha: It was somewhat safe, but no, because in ‘81, on April 11, March 11, ‘81 I was a student and I took part in the demonstrations of ‘81. On April 1, on April 2, on March 28, I took part in all the demonstrations as a student. But, here in Grand, inside Grand there was great safety. Since they didn’t bother us, they didn’t bother us. The protestors didn’t come in but also the police surveillance inside the facility didn’t increase during the demonstrations.
There were two people, Xhaferi, he was Albanian, and I don’t remember the name of the other one, Sali, if I’m not mistaken. There were two people all the time, whether there were demonstrations or not, so they were present at Grand, but even during the demonstrations there weren’t more people to come and check or soon. But the protestors didn’t come inside Grand, the protesters at that time. They didn’t come inside Grand to bother us or to break something or… they didn’t break anything, they didn’t bother us. Work was done here in a normal way, as if nothing was happening. But we saw what was happening, the guests noticed.
At that time there were no rooms for the foreign journalists who followed the demonstration of ‘81, there were no rooms. Even though, in ‘81 they told us… there was a curfew and it was after 8:00 in the evening until 5:00 in the morning… because the kitchen worked until 24:00, but there was no way to go out. They had to provide a place to sleep here, rooms where the employees slept. But, there were many journalists, I am talking about the whole world, there were just a few from Yugoslavia. But there were many journalists. So, I said earlier, there was an oda and they gathered here, they followed the demonstrations and all of them were here… it was always full, there was a lot of work, the salary…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What was it like for you since you were also a student. You worked as security here but at the same time as a student you were in protests there. What was it like to live this double life at that time?
Isa Rexha: Well, look, some people at work were interested to know where you were, what did you do, how was it, did they get to you, but it was very interesting for us, very interesting…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Wasn’t it a conflict of interest?
Isa Rexha: Working here?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Aha.
Isa Rexha: Ah, no, no, no, it didn’t… no, no, no. Not at all. No, not with work. No one asked me something like, “Why were you there, were you there?” On the contrary they asked, “How was it today? Did you have any problems? Did they take anyone? Who did they take? Where were there more people? Where were the biggest problems?”
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Where were they, can you tell us?
Isa Rexha: Well first, when they began, they were at the Student Canteen, at the Student Canteen but they were mostly here behind the theatre, the theatre was… they were always the biggest there and at the Student Canteen. There were always the biggest, behind the theatre and at the Student Canteen.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: When the police came, I mean even the military came to stop this nationalist explosion as they described it then, what did the students do? Do you remember?
Isa Rexha: Well, we always protested…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Because it was a big crisis, how fast Yugoslav forces intervened in Kosovo in that manner to stop a protest and they didn’t write much about it. For example, Rilindja doesn’t write about the protests at all. How was it communicated about what was happening in that protest?
Isa Rexha: Well at that time they called them all, well not today even Albanians who were leaders were called nationalists. In reality, I said we asked for our rights, we asked for some kind of republic that at that time was… we had autonomy but we asked for a republic, as all other republics. They called us nationalists just because we had… because we were Albanians. The police came… the military didn’t come out into the streets, the police did. They came from all the republics, they even came from Slovenia and Croatia. Then later the police of Slovenia and Croatia stepped back because separation inside Yugoslavia began. So, then there were many sentenced…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were you as a student penalized in any way since you took part?
Isa Rexha: No, no, in any way. I had four cousins in the village Besi, at that time they took around one thousand automatic weapons from a truck if I’m not mistaken. So, they were in prisons around 14, 15 years.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Why did they take them?
Isa Rexha: Because they stopped a truck, it was filled with weapons so they took, the people took up arms at that time. I don’t know the exact date, I don’t know. But, they took notes, so they took them during the night. Whoever took them were all sent to prison, around 500 people. There in Besi, those who were part of that, when they stopped the truck coming from Niš, from Serbia, they took the weapons.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: You said you were here, you came to Pristina time after time. I’m going back, that you came to visit your father at least once a week. Do you remember when Hotel Grand was built? When did the construction begin?
Isa Rexha: I have a picture of Grand but I don’t have it with me today, before it was finished.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Are you in the picture or just the building?
Isa Rexha: No, no, just the building. I said after ‘84, ‘83, well after ‘85 I took care of registration and everything. Also after privatization, I knew more about privatization than the owner. I have the purchase contract, so when it was sold by PAK [Privatization Agency of Kosovo], actually the purchase contract the owner had. There were a lot of differences, there were a lot of changes since the privatization, but especially since the violent measures in ‘89, Grand had great changes.
The wardrobes aren’t functional, the showers aren’t functional, they were destroyed. At the time when Grand started construction, as I said, it doesn’t have a building permit today. Grand doesn’t have a building permit. The project plan exists only with floors. You can find it in Kosovo’s archive just by floors. This plan was designed by… the designer was Matej Rudić.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Bashkim Fehmiu?
Isa Rexha: There was also Bashkim, but Matej Rudić was the head, he worked on all of them, they were under his supervision, he is Albanian.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: He was a painter, right?
Isa Rexha: Yes, a painter, he was Albanian but lived in Croatia. This project was done from Dubrovnik, they couldn’t find a place and Tito said to bring it here. They brought it behind here, this building was the command of the former Yugoslav Army for Kosovo. And at this part here where the theatre is, they thought of putting a memorial of Tito there. His hotel was here, his rooms were here. So, his room is as big as this hallway, not to say that one of his rooms is over 200 square meters. It doesn’t have a building permit, you can’t find…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What more do you remember from that period? Do you remember when the construction began?
Isa Rexha: No, because I was little… but I accidentally found a picture when Grand was under construction, before it was done. I will bring that picture.
Aurela Kadriu: When you came to Pristina to visit your father, when you saw that a hotel of that category was being built, how did people talk about it? How do you remember it? What did people say as Grand was being built?
Isa Rexha: Well, to tell you the truth, back then I was a kid and we were more interested in playing rather than talking. But, when I started high school, I lived here at Xhamia e Llapit, so I passed by here every day. I remember that my father said that it used to be a well here and that it was a cow market back then. So exactly where Grand is, there was a well, a pool that you couldn’t swim in. They couldn’t even play there, and it was a cow market back then.
But when Grand was built… Ramiz Sadiku built it, the construction is strong, the walls are thick, they’re all concrete, there’s nothing… if you’re interested we can go out and see the exterior facade, but the interior one is horrible. The walls are more than half a meter wide. Now at that time that was the standard and it was really good. There was the project that exists to connect with the Sports Center, that was called Boro Ramiz before, that their halls be used by Grand Hotel’s guests, and these two act as one.
So Grand Hotel and the Sport Center are like an organization, to be used there and the guests from there to come here and they… An overpass was foreseen, a one floor down, there the exit forms the hall towards where the Central Bank is now, where the SDK used to be, and overpass to be built there, covered, to go to the Sport Center now, it used to be Boro Ramiz. And their halls to be used by the guests of Grand Hotel, but also guests from there to come here. But they were never finished, those connections never happened.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Let’s continue with Grand, because I would want, if you can, to go back to your father and store as a smith. How did it work at that time? Because I find it interesting that your father was in Pristina and he was in the old part of the city. Do you remember anything from the old part and for the craftsmen? There were probably others and was that part of the city organized?
Isa Rexha: Yes, yes. My father was interested in private work since he was young. He was a smith, they were called blacksmiths here. He built the first cars with wooden wheels back then. They made some, I don’t know what they’re called today, but we called them qëkërrka to water the ground, they were turned around by a horse, the buckets were connected with one another and the water came out in that qëkërrka and each had its own pool, when it came there, the water filled and went up and and it emptied. He was very hardworking, we were in good conditions, I have four brothers, so never…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Did you help him in his job?
Isa Rexha: Ah no, no , no. He was very interested in school and he loved school a lot. At the time when the shooting was happening, he said… because my father had Cyrillic literacy. My oldest brother knew Cyrillic, he is now 80 years old… so at that time the Law University didn’t exist here, he took him to Niš to study law. So he loved school. All my brothers are… our father said to us, “You have everything ,you need just finish school.” So at that time.
When the shooting was happening he told us, for example, they asked me for a rifle and I said, “I don’t have any, I don’t have any, I don’t have any.” They would send a letter. They would bring you a letter, “Beat him up because he doesn’t accept the rifle.” My father read in Cyrillic. And he tells by name who got the letter in the village. He went to the police with his own letter and they beat him up. He said, “I read it and I didn’t give up because I have…” He loved learning a lot, he loved school.
And, I don’t want to say… he died in 2008 with the worry about what will happen to Kosovo, what will happen to Kosovo. He lived for 100 years, three months and seven days. But he loved school, he had money as a smith, so we had good financial conditions. We have land in the village, there were around eight hectares. He paid workers with money and he didn’t let us work it, just learn, just learn. So, everything, all the conditions that most people don’t even have today.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Those qëkërrkat that they made for gardens, were they popular in the city?
Isa Rexha: No, not in the city, but in villages. Not in the city because…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: They say that Pristina had a lot of gardens, that’s why…
Isa Rexha: There was Lakrishtja. They planted a lot of cabbage, that’s why it was called Lakrishte. To water the garden… I don’t know, maybe I’ll find a model and take a picture of it. In… I don’t know how to explain it. There were some buckets, but they came with their own cradle and when they fell, the water poured but it poured from aluminums out of the well, and then the water would come out in the ground. Drip water system didn’t exist, it wasn’t even thought that it would exist.
But in ‘74 he retired and since then he worked the land. He did that work even before but 80% of the work was done by the workers, but even his pension was good until ‘89 when they ruined it. There were no more pensions or anything, the pensions were poor. But we all got jobs, so he didn’t need… though everybody needs money, but he had everything. He worked the land, he would take care of the cows and so on, so his needs but also ours. So, we had everything, there were no problems.
Aurela Kadriu: Do you remember where exactly was his store?
Isa Rexha: Yes, I do. Now some from Bajgora of Lupç have it.
Aurela Kadriu: Where is it?
Isa Rexha: At… Azem Fana was in front of us. What is that thing that people from Lupç own? Before getting to the bus stop at Xhamia e Lllapit, around 20 meters before getting to the bus stop.