March of 1998 was a month of many protests. The women’s informal network organized eight out of eighteen peaceful protests held in that month. The protests were in response to the violence exercised in Drenica, Kosovo by Milosević regime. Through protests, women activists called out to international community to intervene and put an end to violence. This series of interviews map out the history of women’s activism in the public sphere, shed light on women’s political positioning, and forms of resistance in 1998.

The interviews were produced in partnership with ForumZFD, University Program for Gender Studies and Research and Oral History Initiative.

Greta Kaçinari

Professor

…after the opera I wanted to treat my friends from the church. You know, I worship St. Anthony, St. Anthony and I prayed to him a lot as a young woman. Thanks to him, my life took several important turns, and I said to him, ‘Look,’ you know, I am talking to St. Anthony, and I said to him, ‘Look, all the money I will be left with after I treat my friends with coffee, I will donate for your cause.’ We went out after the opera. We were out of the opera hall. We were going for a coffee, but everything was closed, no coffee shop was open. It was 10 p.m. and everything was closed. I said, ‘Oh come on, now I have to give all the money to Anthony,’ ‘Which Anthony?’ I said, ‘St. Anthony.’ (laughs) So, all the money we were supposed to spend on coffee, I said to him, ‘Here, I brought it all to you.’ 

But when I asked for St. Anthony’s guidance, I even said to him, ‘Look, you guide me however you see  fit,’ when I met a man, ‘if you think that he is the right man make it happen, if not, do not make it happen.’ He did not make it happen the first time around nor the second. I said to him, ‘Look, if you don’t think he’s right for me, don’t make it happen.’ It didn’t happen. When I met the third, I said to him, ‘Look, St. Anthony, until now you stopped them all from happening. This time around I will decide on my own.’

Nerimane Kamberi

Professor of French Literature

We went there, descended into the mine pit, and from the archives I recalled, but I also remember it myself that I had many emotions, too many… because they have locked themselves in for Kosovo. Not to forget that news of all kinds was being published. We were all eyes and ears interested in the decisions that were about to be taken for Kosovo, and there was news of all sorts. So we were falling prey to news that today we would call fake news. 

[…] I sent my message to the miners, the message that the students stand in solidarity with them, that we are with them. And I remember that… even the archives reminded me of that, that I cried there because it was very touching. We realized that some of them were really in poor health. 

When I returned, I remember this very well, I took the word again as a woman, as a young writer, as a student of the University of Prishtina. I quoted Anne Frank, who said the following, ‘A terrible ending is preferable rather than an endless terror.’ We sent out our message to the miners that we were with them, and they thanked us for that. And really, it was a profound and powerful moment.

Florina Duli

Executive Director of IKS

The first protest was with white sheets of paper, the second with bread for mothers and children of Drenica. The bread protest was organized at a time when Drenica was entirely isolated from the rest of Kosovo. […] The goal of the walk was not simply to send bread there, so it was more about the effect it had on the international media, so we stopped and turned there. […]  I personally bought the bread and I think each… there was enough bread and bakeries gave away bread, but there were also people who bought it when they left the house, since we knew we would… You cannot imagine the level of solidarity at that time, it’s indescribable. Back then we didn’t think about the material side of our political engagement at any moment, there was always a way. […] There were also many protests which were simply symbolic, so they were an expression of the revolt that people needed to express, it was necessary for people to find an outlet for all that revolt that was built in them over the years.

Gjylshen Doko Berisha

Head of the Gilan’s Municipal Museum

Mrs. Lemane was my mother’s first cousin, the daughter of her maternal uncle. She completed the High Pedagogical School in Tirana and I think I inherited from her the desire to study Albanian Language and Literature. The way she taught us from fifth to the eighth grade was very unique. She would take the record player and play us poetry from well-known [national] poets, such as Naim [Frashëri], Andon Zako Çajupi, and others. So, we listened to recitals and music. She was like that, very good-hearted but also very harsh and that intimidated us. 

She was my aunt. When she came by our house to pay us a visit, I would hide in the other room. My mother would take me out by force. I would say to her, ‘No, because she…  she’s my teacher, I can’t show my face.’ So when my mother took me by force in the room, she would praise me in front of her. But what happened recently, quite recently, because she passed away four-five years ago, I went to her and asked her, ‘Aunt Leman, I always liked them, where did you get the poetry recordings?’ Today, no teacher would take the effort to do that. She said, ‘I recorded them myself. It was my voice.’ She had a very ringing voice, very melodic, but as a child I never thought it was hers, I thought it was just a recording.

Ajnishahe Azemi

Sociology professor

While talking to my students, together we saw it fit and we decided to open our school [Xhevdet Doda], but it was characteristic how we would open the school on both sides, on both wings {shows with her fingers}  of the school there were two tanks. While discussing it we were deciding that if we open the school door, the main entrance, they would see us, stop us and we wouldn’t achieve anything with that,  and then the violence, repression against us. 

And I said, ‘You know what? We are allowed to open the school elsewhere,’ because I knew it well, I worked for a long time. I said, ‘Since this is an old building and it has some window bars, but it’s possible that those bars, maybe you can do it together and we can remove those bars and get in through…’ it was the window in the basement, of the bathrooms {describes with her hand} of the basement. And we went there with those 17 students and we decided to open it.

[…] They did not stop us, nor did others come to stop us from opening it. And we stayed in that school. Of course, they came to school later asking, ‘How did you open it?’ and so on, but not to get us out of there. Maybe it was, how do I say it, a political maneuver so they could say in front of the world, ‘We are letting them, but they don’t want to. There’s this school that works in their school premisses, because we are letting them, we’re not stopping them.’

Edita Tahiri

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Negotiator

Mother was always busy, she had two jobs. Before noon she worked at the textile factory, she got that job after my father was imprisoned, and since my father did not betray his friends, all of them were free and so they made efforts to find a job for my mother. And my mother had to become a tailor, she took a course and became a tailor. So, in the first half of the day, she had an eight-hour shift, and then she worked at home. So, she was busy making sure we survived. But what I appreciated her for, is her commitment to our education. Too much, so, that when we had to study, she would never interrupt us because of house chores. […]

I remember how she always sang songs of exile (smiles). Well, that was my mother. Also, mother was known as one of the strongest women of Prizren, because… I don’t know if you are aware of this, but in that time the Serbo-Slavic regime not only would imprison Albanian patriots, but had a tendency to abuse their spouses. So, I remember her saying, ‘Whenever I go to prison I have a pair of scissors in my bag.’ As a tailor, they were her working tools {pretends to hold a pair of scissors in her hands}. ‘I have my scissors in my bag in case someone attempts something.’ And this behavior of hers showed great strength of character, moral strength, and that turned her into a Prizren icon. So, whenever the most powerful women of Prizren are talked about, my mother is among them.

Flora Brovina

Poet

My little sister was small when we visited our father in Peja. In Peja’s prison, which was filled with Albanian prisoners. Why do I know this? As a child, well I was quite little myself, I wasn’t going to school yet. I know because in front of the prison all the families that came to visit the prisoners gathered and had a bag in their hand {makes a move to describe the bag}.

[…] But these miseries that childhood carries will follow us throughout life because childhood [experiences] leave a trace. Luckily it did not fill me with hatred and I like that oblivion did not take over. I remember them because I never took them as personal, but I believe I share them with all the people who waited to visit theirs in prison. I share them with all the people who have been excommunicated, politically persecuted families, excommunicated by the society, a time when your neighbors did not pay you a visit because they were afraid.

Albertina Ajeti-Binaku

Architect

…we had no tendency to give it a political connotation. It was more about giving it a humanitarian connotation, because families for days, with weeks have been under the siege. There was no free movement, you know to be able to go out and get supply, food and other things. And this was it. You know, we as mothers, as women who  sympathize with mothers at that time in Drenica, who had no food for their children. […] And I remember that we were like, you know we were in a row and on the side we had police forces. Until we reached that point, then we were not allowed to go further. [Women] They wanted to negotiate, but they were not ready. So with an authoritative statement they ordered us, ‘You have to go back, otherwise we cannot risk, because then anything can happen to you and we cannot protect you…’

Vjosa Dobruna

Activist

I always wanted to buy expensive shoes, dark blue Bruno Magli, and everyone said that when they were questioned in the police station, besides being beaten, they also were sexually harassed. The first time when they sent me to the police station I was wearing those shoes, I left the police station in the center of Pristina and I was walking, looking at my shoes the whole time saying, ‘Oh, these shoes brought me luck. I will never stop wearing them.’ And many times when I talked with the now-deceased […] Bajram Kelmendi, he told me ‘Vjosa, tell me immediately when they call you, do not go the police without me.’ And we always laughed with Bajram when he said, ‘Are you wearing your Bruno Magli shoes?’ I would say, ‘Yes.’ ‘Did they beat you up?’ […] ‘No, no, I passed this time without sexual harassment, and the shoes are bringing me luck.’ Even when they deported me from Kosovo, I wore the same shoes. Those shoes lasted for a long time and I kept them since I had this fixation that they protected me. One creates any kind of mechanism to protect oneself from fear.