Ismail Gashi:I hear many say, and I heard them say, “I was the leader of the Reconciliation Movement in this municipality and that municipality.” Even in our municipality they say that Avdi Kelmendi was the leader. We never chose a leader. Even Anton Çetta himself did not… this is my opinion, don’t take it for granted. There was never a group elected as leaders. There Mark Krasniqi, let’s say, Kajtaz Rrecaj, Muhamet Pirraku, there was Ramiz Kelmendi, they were with, around Anton, with Anton, but they were not chosen. Not even Anton, he said it himself several times, “I am not the leader of the Reconciliation, I am a reconciler, an activist who does the walk.” People wanted him around because he had his ways, he was a natural. He spent time in the oda, he worked in Drenica for 15 years on folklore, he collected folk songs, he learned the oda mentality. Yes, but whenever we had a more relaxed conversation, he would say, “I did not know who my people are. Only now have I learned about the people, because I didn’t 70 years ago. How many dark stains they had, suffering in such ugliness, tormented within by the conflict of revenge.”
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Was it difficult entering oda and suggesting people to reconcile?
Ismail Gashi: No, at some point, at some point, at some point, at some point, to be honest it was easier for those of us who were men and who were a little older. But, I always, when we went as groups, we usually had many girls and it seemed that girls hesitated a little in the beginning, that’s why we had to privilege them, to make them sit in the main spot. And they were more privileged, because they deserved it, the ones I mentioned. They helped us a lot, Nekibe Kelmendi, Sanije Gashi who was an editor-in-chief at Kosovarja [The Kosovar]. She got women very engaged here.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What about changing their minds? Changing the mentality? Because reconciliations did change the mentality inside the oda a little. How difficult was that first, then convincing them?
Ismail Gashi: It has changed, it has changed because the cases are…There are special cases which couldn’t change. When the disagreements were very deep, closer to the farefisi, more inside farefisi. Or when let’s say men were killed and women were left alone, we had to take the women [activists]. Because women whose husbands were killed were the ones who had to give the word of reconciliation, yes, the state that not reconciling, the feuds will impoverish you economically and spiritually, because it impoverishes the people, because one cannot go out to work the field, to plant potatoes, to plant wheat, to plant seeds, there will be shortages in the market, there will be less, there will be less and that’s how the people get impoverished. As for the other spiritual side, you will always think about the blood that they took, about the blood you owe, about how to kill them? When to kill them and once I kill them I will go to prison, what will my children and my wife do, my daughter, my son? That was a burden that weighed on people’s arms, to, almost to impatience. To impatience. So, reconciliations were useful. Anton of course, professor Anton used to say that, “You reconciled, but it will be hard for you, save it! You shouldn’t ruin it! You fixed it, but you shouldn’t ruin it!”
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What kind of cases did you reconcile? Were you more a reconciler, or a mediator?
Ismail Gashi: No, we were reconcilers, with groups of friends, with the youth, with…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Could you tell us about some cases?
Ismail Gashi: Yes, we had, for example two-three people were killed in Smallusha, it was a property conflict. They left their wives and children behind. We went not only once, but many times, many times. We also took, as I said, Sanije and Nekibe with us to talk with the women there, to convince them, because the brother-in-law, how to say, the only man who had remained, two of his brothers were killed and he was the only man who had remained and it was not easy for him to forgive [the bloods], because he was concerned about what his sisters-in-law would say, the ones whose husbands were killed, or their children.
That’s a problem within the family, of course we have to understand it, because we are on other levels now, we are supposed to understand. And of course there was a need to have Nekibe with us there, to have another Nekibe or another female student, female teacher, female professor, female journalist, to talk to them and tell them that, “You cannot live in peace if you don’t forgive . You will have a better living if you forgive , because he will not come back. If you forgive, you will set your children free, you will be spiritually relieved, you and your children will be freer, your life will be more open, our environment will open. And just as the saying goes, even the sky will open.”
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Any other case?
Ismail Gashi: We had cases for example when one as killed in Krajmir, he killed his brother’s son. They were killed outside and we had to say to him, “Forgive your brother for killing your son.” And he managed to forgive but when we said, “Come with us to your brother’s,” Mulla Idriz Kokrruku was with us, he helped us a lot, you know because he was more often with us, Anton as well, but he was even more often than Anton, he said, “I can’t come.” He also had his father, their father was alive. He was an old man, 85 years old. “Come with us, bac ” we said to him, “Come with us to your other son’s, we will send the forgiveness to him.” “How can I come, more?” He said. “Because not only are we embarrassed, but we also spent a lot, we spent a lot of money on lawyers, defending him and this one.” Asking this and that for money. They sold everything they had, his son was killed and not only were they in enmity with each-other, but it also impoverished them. There were various cases. Each of them deserves to be mentioned. They even had conflicts over a bridge, “Why are you building it here? Why does it have to pass in front of my door? It bothers me, build it further.” Or over property. Sometimes I thought that it was even a moral issue. I don’t want to mention it in such cases.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were you in oda? I’d like to know how was kanun discussed there. Not kanun, but blood feuds as a phenomena. Because many say that it is not ours, it was imposed to us, and…
Ismail Gashi: We talked and see, because let’s say there was also a useful political situation at the time, the foreign country because we were always under foreigners slavery and we still are. These were helpful of course, and of course the Serbian State didn’t feel bad, neither did the previous occupier for the fact that Albanians were being killed, especially Serbs didn’t feel bad about it. That’s our closest enemy physically, but also the one we’ve spiritually suffered in the worst way. And that enemy planted the seeds for Albanians to have troubles between each-other. It planted that and the ruling power helped it, or they asked their collaborators or the people who were closer to them, who were more sympathetic to them, right? They encouraged them to fight someone else, because they didn’t feel bad at all about seeing Albanians killing each-other. We used such cases, even in reconciliations because the situation was like that.
We were actually in the frontline with Milošević, with Serbia which was our historical enemy, our historical enemy, and they started using stricter measures against us, we had to face them. In those big gatherings, such as Verrat e Llukës which gathered over 500 thousand people, where it was also shown that… and what was happening here was a little sad for Serbia, because there were also other gatherings besides the one at Verrat e Llukës, there were other gatherings as well. We had a gathering in the village of Gadime, not as big as the one [in Verrat e LLukës], but there were tens of people gathered, and people spoke there, they appealed, “Forgive the bloods, get closer to each-other, talk to each-other, don’t be in enmities, stay away from feuds.” I believe that all of these had their influence.
It even seems to me like you mentioned the changing of the mentality. It has changed a little thanks to them. It’s positive. It’s positive. Even today when I spend time with people, usually in the mournings, because I am not engaged in politics now and I am retired, I am not engaged in political activities, but I have remained as a plak in mourning and I go, I always mention how we reconciled. We didn’t only reconcile the feuds, but also in politics. We reconciled politically as well, we don’t stand against each-other anymore. I mentioned the case of Fadil Hoxha and Hysen Tërpeza, yes.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What kind of conflict was that? What did they represent?
Ismail Gashi: Yes, Hysen Tërpeza was a ballist, he escaped for 50 years, he remained abroad. Fadil Hoxha was a partisan commander, I mean, he was a high-level leader. Both of them were present in a gathering in Pristina and Muhamet Pirraku was talking to some other friends, “Can we ask them to reconcile? To hug each-other?” And they…they accepted.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: During the Reconciliations?
Ismail Gashi: Not during the Reconciliations, it happened a little later, but it was a good episode of the political reconciliations. They even were, because Hysen was a commander-in-chief of Balli and Fadil was a commander-in-chief of the partisans, when they hugged, “I am forgiving it to you, and… everything, because I’d kill you if I met you.” He said, “You’d kill me if you met me” (smiles). They hugged each-other and left their big enmity behind. To me that was a great agreement at the political level, also the national level.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: So, you told the people that blood feuds were not ours as a tradition?
Ismail Gashi: It’s, it’s… fictional. It might’ve been imposed to us but we made it worse. Even though, looking at it traditionally, historically, it might’ve been planted since the time of the [Ottoman] Empire, because that’s how the Kanun treats it. The Kanun is not recent, it’s medieval, but nobody had the Kanun back then, we were the only ones to have it, because Albanians are special in the sense that they have testimonies of being an old nation, because our Flag is one of the oldest Flags in Europe, but also the Kanun, other nations did not have the Kanun. No matter the difficulty, [revenge] should not be used nowadays, because we have legal norms, we have a judicial system. It would be a step backwards if [this tradition] still worked, even though it is not going away, and it cannot be removed easily.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Could you tell us how was it at Verrat e Llukës?
Ismail Gashi: There was a big mass at Verrat e Llukës. I know it was taken from the central level.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were you there?
Ismail Gashi: Yes, I was. It’s a… Reconciliation gatherings took place there historically, even at the time of Haxhi Zeka and earlier. It was held there with the intention of keeping the tradition. People from all around Kosovo came there. As far as I know, there were 60 bloods forgiven there. I know that they went there and sent the letter that, “I forgive the blood of my son, my brother, my father.” I know that they went, they went there and then I mean. Besides some tens of bloods that were notified that would be forgiven. It was a very great ceremony, very positive, very historical for Albanians. Even though in the circumstances that we all know.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How was that day?
Ismail Gashi: The police didn’t intervene. I’ve heard that on our way back police stopped people in various regions. They tried to use, to prove that they were there, that they could use violence and so on. They never stopped violence, they never did, but that gathering which was a very great one couldn’t be stopped even if it was provoked by tens of policemen, that was not something that could be stopped, that was one, one big volcano.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were you an activist of LDK at that time? LDK was still recent at the time, right?
Ismail Gashi: LDK was the only political party…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: You were there as a member of LDK, right?
Ismail Gashi: Ah?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: While you were helping in Reconciliations, did you go there as an activist or as a member?
Ismail Gashi: No, no, no, we went to the Reconciliations normally. We mentioned the party sometimes as well, because that was a political process, that thing was positive. But we didn’t go there as political party members. We went there as Albanian, as equal people. Even though those other three-four political parties we had were very minor compared to the Democratic League, but you know, they existed. Because the Human Rights Council played its role as well, since it was established earlier than the Democratic League, on November 14, ‘98 I guess, the Democratic League is in December 23…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: ‘88?
Ismail Gashi: ‘98, no ‘89, ‘89, ‘89 because I mistook the years. But they had their own function, people enjoyed that movement, that resurrection, that resurrection. No matter the violence, that resurrection was the power of resistance, you know, a power of resistance. An energy that was obvious, because one might’ve thought that this nation was enslaved, was enslaved, yes, it was enslaved, but it had the energy for resistance, it had the energy. And I mean, it was proven. We didn’t leave the state educational system by chance, we separated, we separated it in the ‘90s from Serbia and we made it independently in houses, schools, because if we didn’t do that, we would remain four, nine years behind. A 7-year-old would have to be in the same grade with a 15-year-old. We would have cut the chain of the continuity of the educational system for eight years.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How did you organize the educational [system]… through LDK, or through local activism?
Ismail Gashi: See, at some point we had to create some governing bodies because we had declared a Republic back then, and that Republic was not recognized internationally, but we recognized it from within, because we recognized our being, we had that Republic because we established state institutions. We had the Financial Council for example, the way we called it back then, the Educational Council, these were not political party subjects. They were established from LDK because it had 90% [of the votes], they were established through LDK. But, since the Ministry was abroad, we had the decision, for example I took, the leader of Education, I took it from Bicaj, it was signed by the Minister of Education of the Republic of Kosovo. I was assigned the position of leader of the Education Council on August 1, ‘95. I received that decision after three days. I mean, the government existed, not the political party, but that government was established by the political parties. We had an Assembly. We had an Assembly where all the political parties had some deputies depending on how big they were. It is known that LDK had around 80% of the seats, because we were bigger, we were larger. Because after the war I was not engaged in any party and in LDK either. I was in the General Council of LDK, until the last mandate, the one when we almost got destroyed, and then I left the political party.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How did you spend the time of war? How was the war?
Ismail Gashi: I stayed here during the war, I was here during the bombing, not in this apartment but somewhere else. I have moved here three years ago. I live here with my wife and my daughters who is married in Tirana, she stays here most of the time. I stayed in Lipjan the first night because of my work, the second night I went to my village, Sllovia. I stayed there until April 15 , on April 15, they attacked Sllovia where they killed 45 Albanians, it’s the village that suffered the most. I went to the mountains, then the next day I went to Smallusha. I stayed there until April 27, in April 27 I went to Ferizaj until May 20, when I moved to Macedonia. Since May 20, I stayed there for one month, not a full month, I stayed in Gostivar. Then I returned after the war.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Did you lose anyone during the war?
Ismail Gashi: No, relatives yes, close, in the farefis or the wider rreth, not from my house. Because many in my village were killed. 45 [people] were killed there.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: By locals or by Serbian paramilitary forces?
Ismail Gashi: There were locals, there were local Serbs as well as paramilitary forces. Everybody who could kill, did so there. The village was attacked at 1:30 o’clock, from both sides, everybody who could shoot, did so there. I was even the first one to attempt escaping, I was the first one who escaped (smiles). I went to a hill over the village, I saw the mess, where you could not realize what was happening, when we thought in the end 45 [people killed] I said, “That’s the least in the end, we survived easily.” Because it was attacked very badly. Then we had 72 Serbian houses inside [the village], they had kept people there.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Did they wear [uniforms]?
Ismail Gashi: Around 26 of them wore [uniforms], 26-27 of them were thus dressed. Mobilized as reserve policemen, as reserves of the army, only with uniforms.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What about when you returned then as refugees from Gostivar?
Ismail Gashi: From Gostivar, I first returned to my village where I spent one week, because I had left my paralyzed father there. My father was paralyzed when I left, my father lived with me for 25 years but my big brother kept him during those days. And I was afraid he would die before I saw him, and all the efforts I did would go to waste. I found him alive, but he died after one week. Then after one week I came to my apartment. We organized other things then, the mourning across the municipality’s territory, also in my Sllovia, we had the mutual mourning of the school, because we had 37-38 families whose people were killed. One person could not come for condolences to 37-38 families in two days. That’s why we organized it in the school, we called those people. One or two from each house, for seven days, and buses came from Peja, [with those] who had heard about it. We had announced the 45 people who were killed, and the mourning is like this and like that.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How did you become an activist after the war then?
Ismail Gashi: I didn’t become an activist after the war. I worked as an adviser for high schools in the municipality, to be honest it’s not that I did an effective job then, because reforms took place, and foreigners came with some forms giving some lectures and trainings us, “No, the school should be kept like this, not like that.” I am not against improving, but the Albanian school has a tradition. It has a tradition which we didn’t give up even during those ten years of occupation. We removed the ideological system in our lectures, we removed communism, we removed brotherhood-unity, we added Informatics as a subject exactly during the occupation, while we were under occupation.
We added Civic Education to the Education, we added it during those ten years of occupation, because I led them myself, I know how we agreed even at the national level, with Albania as well. Or even five subjects which are material for a national [curriculum], Language, History, Geographics, Musical Art, Figurative Art, we added the Albanian fields which were not present at the time of communism. We made a national education program, and this was no small thing, but the circumstances were like that, 1000 children were taught in one private house, 38 children sat in a 4X4 room. That is when this woman from Belgrade for Human Rights, I forgot her name…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Nataša Kandić?
Ismail Gashi: Yes Kandić, when she once came, because she came to Lipjan many times…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: During the ‘90s?
Ismail Gashi: She came, “Can I enter the private school?” “Yes, more.” When she entered, she told me herself, in this private [parallel education] school, “If I were not doing what I do in the Milošević’s system, I would never accept to work or I would work as a taxi driver.” But in the Milošević’s system, how does he not feel embarrassed for the children, 40 children to sweat in such a little setting, without a blackboard, with some thick doske ..to sit on, to sit on. We didn’t have furniture…we didn’t have any inventory there.
Not the Ministry…now it doesn’t make sense to speak, I am a little, to be fully objective, we don’t, we don’t go out, the way we are speaking, we don’t go out, even in the sense of a government. These people went to exile, I don’t know what they did. I know more about Education businesses because I was related to it. We had three people here who did the job of the Minister: Abdyl Rama, Xhavit Ahmeti and Rexhep Osmani. These were the ones who invited us, leaders of education in the municipalities, every second week or even more often or less, depends on how they wanted, and we talked to them there, how to do this and that, let’s elect the directors, let’s open a vacancy for a teacher, we will do this, I mean, we governed in collaboration with these three.
I met the Minister once in Tirana. I went there for some other work, I didn’t go for it, I met the Minister in Tirana, Mr.Bicaj. Because he was abroad, I mean, maybe they sent programs or something to them, but I don’t think so, because we took everything in collaboration with Albania, we were more open back then. Now it’s only that abetare [primer] we did and they even forgot, I don’t know whether they are implementing it or not. We made a single abetare for the Albanian nation, we distributed it there and here, but nobody checked whether it is being used or not. I know that in Albania they use at least two or three. Not to talk about the other things we didn’t do. We had this program even before the war, to make single national texts, to create the national school calendar. We thought about not starting the school year in different dates, on [September] 1 and 15, but to start either on the 1st or the 15th. We wanted to make it the same for both countries, for all the Albanians, you know. Now I am going deep, let’s not go to this discussion.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: You mean, the communication back then was much better than after the war?
Ismail Gashi: Now, now we are free to go to Albania, I go…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: I mean, at the institutional level.
Ismail Gashi: Now I also have friends, and I go there on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes during the summer we go to the seaside, but only on weekends, our son comes with his wife as well, I go with my old lady, I don’t dare call her old, with my wife, but for you I will call her old (smiles). Because we go now, it is free, we have the freedom to go and we even go faster because of the highway. However, I don’t think we are doing well in the sense of national integration, it doesn’t seem to me that we are doing well. We can do much more. The school text should’ve been one, they should’ve done the curriculum how they are calling it nowadays, not to take the Romanian curriculums and translate them into Albanian and materialize it into Albanian and not take theirs [Albania’s]. Theirs, or sit and make one together, we have experts.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: You mentioned that you were part of this Lëvizja Nacional-Çlirimtare [National-Liberation Movement], they were pro unity and had some ideas about Albania, how did you abandon those ideas?
Ismail Gashi: Bac Metush, bac Metush was the difference, I believe that, I have that opinion, maybe it’s not true, but I know that pretty much is, he was not an Enverist. Sometimes he even said, “Look, don’t speak ill of him, don’t do it, because it doesn’t make sense, but don’t go out in Europe and say to someone, to a German, or to a French, ‘Marxism, Leninism,’ he [the German] has Marx but he makes no mention of him.” I mean the difference was between him and bac Adem [Demaçi], bac Metush was totally different. He was a giant, a giant, greater. He wanted to work, he wanted to work and had more intelligence in his works, but the danger was of course big. We didn’t withdraw from that, in my opinion this road cannot be stopped, but in future circumstances somebody says, “Don’t mention it because we will be united within Europe.” It’s not good for us to be united in Europe, but when we are united…we have a certain border that is totally formal, we also have the same language, the same history, we have the same tradition, we should have the same abetare, we should have the same Flag.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: When did you retire?
Ismail Gashi: Eh?
Erëmirë Krasniqi: When did you retire?
Ismail Gashi: On June 14, 2010.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What do you do now? How do you organize your time?
Ismail Gashi: Now I do nothing, I do nothing. Sometimes I scribble something. But I didn’t work, I didn’t know how to write when I was young (smiles). Now, because of so much free time, I have to pretend to write something in order to kill time.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Would you like to add something?
Ismail Gashi: Thank you very much, thank you very much! If there is something good I said, then keep it, if not, then just drop it.