Anita Susuri: Where did you live?
İskender Muzbeg: In Pristina… I mean, when I enrolled in the faculty, they gave us dorm rooms, but there were two types of dormitories: dormitories for second and third year students and dormitories for first year students. Of course, according to the conditions of the time, they were not good conditions at all. We used to walk to bed with shoes on. It was a very simple place. But when I started working at Tan, a few months later, we were given an apartment at that time. We shared four rooms of an apartment with four journalists and the conditions were very suitable for working at that time. So, I finished university in time.
Anita Susuri: Where was that apartment located?
İskender Muzbeg: The apartment was at Tre Sheshirat or somewhere further beyond the Faculty of Philosophy. In fact, they had given that apartment to our director Süleyman Brima. Since he was in Prizren, he came and went every day, he gave that apartment to us and we studied in that apartment, Bayram İbrahim was there, I mentioned him a little earlier, Altay Sürey was also in that apartment, whom we employed later. We also had a photojournalist, Sedat Shporta, all four of us used a room in that apartment.
Anita Susuri: What was it like to live in Pristina at that time?
İskender Muzbeg: Of course, we mingled with people in Pristina, especially because this was a very important development for Tan. In other words, in terms of Turkish culture and within Tan, young people came to Tan every day, submitted writings, brought news, and we visited the schools. We visited schools to report. The gymnasium of Pristina used to be the Meto Bajraktari school of Pristina, as well as the Vuk Karadžić school, today the Elena Gjika school. In Meto Bajraktari as well as in Vuk Karadžić there were Turkish classes, and we as Tan were in close cooperation with both the teachers and the students. We organized literary classes, invited them to Tan. In this way, we also became closer with the people of Pristina.
Anita Susuri: What kind of reportages did you do? [speaks in Albanian]
İskender Muzbeg: Since I was working on the culture pages at the time, we mostly reported on education problems, cultural development problems, the condition of factory workers, social development, and we also had a page about women. Müberra Tuna prepared a special page, she always conducted interviews with women on various topics and published them here. Among these cultural pages, there was also a sports page. Safet Rekiç prepared the sports page. In other words, Tan was not just a newspaper, it was our culture magazine, our music magazine, we even had a composer doing music compositions at that time, Hüseyin Kazaz whose work still lives on. He also created various songs for children and we tried to help the students in this way by publishing them in Tan.
Anita Susuri: Did you write, for example, about Kino Rinia? [speaks in Albanian]
İskender Muzbeg: Yes, there was also some news about Kino Rinia, so, news when the films were coming, but our work was mostly related to the association. Among the reportages that I have done, it was with Azem Shkreli, who was the director of the Regional Theater at that time, National Theatre, with whom we did a reportage. Then we worked with artists, theater artists, and we made reportages with professional theater actors. Be it Albanians or Serbs, of course there was no professional Turkish theater. Sometimes we watched movies at Kino Rinia, but I don’t remember any particular reportage.
Anita Susuri: What kind of movies did you watch?
İskender Muzbeg: At that time there were more films either about the people’s liberation war or films coming from the West always with gangsters with something, and in most cases these were American films.
Anita Susuri: Western [movies]? [speaks in English]
İskender Muzbeg: Yes Western from the West. I still remember that time, not when I was in university but I’m going back a little bit. We didn’t know English, but there was a text circulating, and in that text you would write a word, two, and send it to the postal address of the artists from those films that would be shown. For example, at that time there was Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, who else? We would send them letters, and ask for autographed pictures, ask for autographed pictures. Now I remember one from Elizabeth Taylor and [it arrived] in the mail after a month, [or] two months, we would get their signed pictures at home.
Anita Susuri: Really?
İskender Muzbeg: Really, it’s really interesting. Their signed photographs really [were sent], they didn’t even know us, we knew them, but whoever wanted wrote a letter. I am sure that it said that we liked them and we asked them for a picture. I mean, we wrote to them without knowing its content.
Anita Susuri: Prishtina was different from Prizren, it was a bit more of a city, wasn’t it?
İskender Muzbeg: More developed, you mean…
Anita Susuri: Was it so? What was it like according to you?
İskender Muzbeg: Of course, Pristina was an administrative center, state bodies were also there because at that time, Kosovo was an autonomous province and had state bodies and if we compare it to Prizren, Prishtina was already the capital and all activities were taking place in Pristina. Prizren has been a cultural capital, a center of culture, not a capital, but it breathed as a center of culture. Perhaps the difference may be here.
Anita Susuri: I could say that the 80s [speaks in Albanian], the ’80s were more… how to put it… the situation was a little more difficult because the demonstrations began in ‘81 [speaks in Albanian]. What were these years like for you?
İskender Muzbeg: Now, of course, I was not in Pristina then because I graduated from university in 1974 and left Pristina. I came to Prizren. Of course, those political developments were troubling people. There were some very difficult situations, but since I was usually interested in culture, I focused on those issues. Even in Pristina, in Prizren and in other cities, the 80s were turbulent years, they were turbulent years, of course I remember them.
Anita Susuri: When you returned to Prizren, what did you do?
İskender Muzbeg: Now when I was working in Pristina, at Tan, in Prizren… I hadn’t finished university yet, a person in Prizren named Refet Kiser told me one day, he said, “Why don’t you come to Prizren? You are an only child, your mother and father are here, in Pristina… come to Prizren, I am the director of an enterprise” he said, “come here as a lawyer.” I told him that I hadn’t finished university yet. “But you [should] come [anyway] because we need [someone]” et cetera. And so I came to Prizren without finishing university, without receiving my diploma.
I started working as a lawyer at the Universal company in Prizren. A year later I moved to the municipality, to the Municipality of Prizren. And in the Municipality of Prizren, at that time, I had also passed the law and the bar exams. I worked as a public lawyer in the Municipality of Prizren. Public lawyer [speaks in Albanian]. Not of the people, the public lawyer is different. This institution of the public lawyer protects the property of the municipality and represents the municipality in the courts, protecting the rights of the municipality. I worked in this position for 13 years, so, I worked as a public lawyer.
Anita Susuri: Is there something interesting that happened, any case? [speaks in Albanian]
İskender Muzbeg: Related to my job as a lawyer you mean?
Anita Susuri: Yes.
İskender Muzbeg: Now, for example, Lumbardhi… Lumbardhi, I remember at that time, when I was working as a lawyer, it was the former owners who wanted to get back Lumbardhi, they were the former owners of these premises and they filed a series of lawsuits, but I don’t know exactly how those lawsuits ended. Another reason why they sued the municipality. For example, in Has, Has was without water, there was no water, in order to find water in Has they brought a company from Croatia which had researched [how to get water], researched, but did not find water and since water was not found, they didn’t get paid at all. In this case, they sued the municipality and I, as a lawyer, defended the rights of the municipality. I remember we settled it with a deal then. So, the duty of this municipal public lawyer is to protect the municipal property.
Anita Susuri: How did your work continue then? [speaks in Albanian]
İskender Muzbeg: I then went to court. I started working in the courts. I worked at the court for about ten years as a judge. Then after the war, after the 1999 war, my work related to human rights for Natasha Kandiq here in Prizren, I worked in human rights for Natasa Kandić at the branch of the Humanitarian Law Center in Prizren. After working there for four years, I also researched the topic of human rights, especially in the villages of Theranda Municipality, we worked on the missing persons in the war. I went to houses and did interviews, got information. Of course, I didn’t speak Albanian that well. But after the war, I was received very well in those houses. Even though I didn’t speak Albanian that well, they welcomed us very well. They always gave us all the information we needed.
I turned 75 years old. When I go back to the past, of course I remember everything as if it were yesterday, but still many journeys have passed. By the way, I am a poetry enthusiast, I have published my poems in various magazines and newspapers and I have also published them as a book. For example, my first book of poems, Kaynak, was published in Sevinç publications in 1972 in Skopje. Then the novel Yanan Sevgiler [Tur.: Burnt Loves] was published in Tannewspaper. Later, in 1974, my book of stories titled Sevil was published in Tan. And again in 1983, my book of poems was published under the title E vërteta [Alb.: The Truth] within the Birlik publications in Skopje.
Taşa Türküler [Tur.: Songs of stone] was published in Birlik publications in 1987, The sun warms me was published in Tan in Prizren in 1997, and again in Tan in 1998 the book of poems titled Sülo. Sülo is a stylistic figure in my poems, it is used as a type that keeps our existence alive, that gives us courage. He is also my first director at Tan, Süleyman Brima. I have also used Sülo in the sense of the person who keeps our existence alive. From these books, there was a second edition of my book Kaynak published because it is used as a textbook and as an additional text in schools. In the same way, a second edition of the book Taşa Türküler was published, since it is taught in schools.
Allow me to tell you again, I like teamwork. Regarding the contribution to education in Kosovo, for example with Bedrettin Koron, we have prepared History books for our schools, History for the fifth grade, History for the sixth grade, and History for the seventh grade. In addition, I work with translation, literary translations, that is, with cultural translations. For example, I have translated Bosnian poetry and Albanian poetry and published them in Tan newspaper, in Cevrem and Kuş magazines here, in Sesler magazine in Skopje, and in many other magazines in Turkey.
For example, as part of the translations from Albanian poetry, I have translated the poems of Esad Mekuli, Faik Beqaj, Muhamet Kërveshi, Mirko Gashi, Çerkin Bytyqi, Selahadin Krasniqi and others into Turkish. From Roma poems, Kujtim Paçaku and I have translated and published poems by five or six other people that I can mention. I have translated both Bosnian and Serbian poetry. So, I also translated from Turkish literature, Turkish literature of Kosovo and samples of poems from Turkish literature that developed in Macedonia from Turkish to Serbian and published them in magazines in various cultural centers of Yugoslavia. Our poems were represented in Serbian and Romani, but also in Italian, within Yugoslavia at that time.
Anita Susuri: Alright… what were you up to in the 90s, what were those years like for you?
İskender Muzbeg: The 90s were years of oppression, they were years of oppression. I was a judge at the time, but of course there were different judicial procedures. There was a criminal procedure, for those who committed crimes, and at that time there were many such problems, I dealt with inheritance procedures, inheritance [speaks in Albanian], in this context, I think I contributed a lot to the fixing of these relationships of our people, namely in the inheritance procedure I made a lot of contribution. For example, someone had died and his property, who are the heirs, we made a decision. For me it was a separate issue, it was one of the subjects of my field.
At that time, a law had been made, the law on the sale of apartments. In the past, companies gave families apartments for use, additional to rent, and in the early 90s a law was passed that whoever uses that apartment has the right to buy it. Well, but I’m saying it was a difficult situation then, for example, the company Perllonka in Prizren allowed Serbs to buy these apartments. An agreement was made in companies that with a little money, you could buy the apartment in which you lived until then, but those who were not Serbs had a problem, why? Because the same company, let’s say, wouldn’t sell you the apartment.
And according to the law, they had to appear in court and I handled these [cases] in court. In at least 50 files, I had [made] decisions that these people, whether Albanians or Turks, so not Serbs, had the right to buy the apartments they had used until then. And the company didn’t sell it to them, they came to court, and I made a decision, and in the end this decision actually changed the contract, changed the contract and they became the owners of those apartments by court decision. So, in those difficult situations, it was quite difficult to finish these jobs.
The company immediately appealed against my decision. The appeal [speaks in Albanian]… and it goes to the highest court and they reject it until it’s over, but I’ve finished at least 50 cases this way. I mean, they were certainly tough years. After that, in the human rights organization that I started working for after the war, I used to interview people and examine things and these issues. So, what rights were violated and how.
Anita Susuri: Was there any other type of pressure, because that was an important decision which you made… [speaks in Albanian]
İskender Muzbeg: Of course there was… For example, they would tell me, “Let’s talk” because there was a higher court on the floor above. I would go, “What is this?” The would say, “What decision did you make?” I said, “I made this decision based on the law, what the article of this law says, if a person is not given permission to buy the apartment, that person comes to court. The court looks at the conditions, looks at the conditions, if they meet the conditions, if there is a contract to use it for rent, if the apartment is given to them, then they meet the conditions” and that’s what I told them. But they said, “You know how things are.” “I know, but I am a person who follows the law.” Of course, that’s how I finished these documents, and in the end no one could say anything. Those people, those people are now the owners of those apartments.
Anita Susuri: I wanted to ask earlier, but we diverted from the topic a bit, how did you meet [speaks in Albanian], how did you meet your wife?
İskender Muzbeg: In the Shkolla Normale, in the Shkolla Normale I was in the fourth grade, my wife who isn’t alive anymore, she was enrolled in the first year [of the Shkolla Normale]. We met there, and of course the youth and the way people got to know each other at that time is not the same as now. Now young people live in very different conditions, they meet, get to know each other, of course the first thing was meeting, maybe you wait for months to see if you will meet them and so on. But we got along, I waited for her to finish school, then we got married and in this marriage we… Ah yes, she also worked as a teacher, she worked as a teacher until she died. From our marriage we had three children, two sons and a daughter. Even the children, thanks to Allah, have all completed [university], my eldest Esin has completed his studies at the Faculty of Communication at the University of Ankara, the younger Beng has also completed his studies at the Faculty of Communication at the University of Ankara too, my daughter Belge studied here and is a teacher, graduated from the Faculty of Education, now works as a teacher. I also have grandchildren, that’s how life goes on.
Anita Susuri: How did you spend your time during the war, what were those years like for you?
İskender Muzbeg: Of course, those were very difficult months, the situation and social-political relations, which began to become difficult in the early 90s, gradually reached their peak, the violence increased, and so the war began. I spent the war time with my family in Prizren, there were many difficulties. It was difficult for everyone, for example we went out early in the morning to buy bread. There was bread delivered, a few bread loaves, and then there was no more bread. In other words, it was also a very difficult psychological situation and the fighting did not take place in Prizren, but there were conflicts around. In the evening we heard gunshots and other noises which instilled a lot of fear, especially among the children. During war, war means chaos, total chaos. The person you knew well until yesterday was now showing their hidden face and you got confused. Does this also happen? But unfortunately there have been such cases. Fortunately, it did not last long, because if it had lasted, the number of deaths would have increased and these traumas would have been greater.
Anita Susuri: After the war, you were in Prizren, right?
İskender Muzbeg: After the war, in Prizren, Natasa Kandić, through her organization, did research related to the war and I prepared reports by writing about what happened in the war. Then our reports were sent both to the Hague court and to various institutions in Europe through Natasha Kandić’s organization, her organization.
Anita Susuri: You did this work until retirement, right? [speaks in Albanian]
İskender Muzbeg: No, four years, four years later the branch of that organization in Prizren closed down and I continued working as a lawyer. While working for Natasa Kandić, she said to me one day, “You have all the conditions to be a lawyer, why don’t you register as a lawyer?” I said, “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said, “You can work as a lawyer in our organization.” Because at that time, after the war, several trials were initiated against war criminals. It was in Gjilan, for example, I went to Gjilan, and in Peja, I went as a supervisor, as an observer and prepared reports. So, I remember there was an event about the murders in Gjilan. There was a Serb who had killed two or three people, and there was his file. Even in Peja… Ah, even in Prizren there was a man tried for war crimes, a man from Rausa. So, I used to go to the courts as an observer and write my reports.
Anita Susuri: How do you spend your time now?
İskender Muzbeg: Now I am retired but I still work as a lawyer, now I work a little as a private lawyer as much as I can. But, my goal, my desire is to better organize this creative work that I have done over the years, prepare my poems from scratch and publish new books. However, as I said earlier, I have grandchildren. I am also dealing with them, that is a special joy.
Anita Susuri: If you would like to add anything else for the end… [speaks in Albanian].
İskender Muzbeg: No, thank you [speaks in Albanian].
Anita Susuri: Thanks a lot to you as well… [speaks in Albanian].