Marjan Dema: Those were the historic circumstances, the historic moment, that difficult… it wasn’t too much… not to say that in the beginning, until they broke the ice, the activity was, the engagement of the youth and intelligence, but however, the historic momentum brought the circumstances… I think that no matter the engagement, the youth has a role… the youth itself as the most beautiful part of the nation, the intelligentsia helped, the religious clerics, the media of that time, they were all unique, everything breathed, thought and talked about reconciliation. And those circumstances, that moment, that momentum can hardly be repeated. But as far as the question goes… the answer to your question, after the blood feuds reconciliation, which was organized in the church of the village of Zllakuqan, where the participation was very high, then the reconciliation teams invited me to participate. I served more as a symbol, maybe I helped more when I didn’t speak at all and they only mentioned my case… I am talking about when we went outside the Dukagjin Plain because there in the village of Lugu i Drinit, in those areas where they knew… the families knew me and of course it was difficult for me when I heard cases when they had to forgive the blood of their son without knowing who had murdered him, they didn’t know, they forgave, they forgave it to the unknown perpetrator, and this was used, “When Marjan had forgiven three bloods, I have no guts to turn you back.”
I mean, this was something that made me feel both at the same time, good and bad, because they forgave. To them, theirs was the most difficult case, because every problem is the biggest one to the person [whom it belongs to]. But however, one forgiveness, compared to the heavy weight of forgiving the bloods of three brothers, that had its influence. So, I didn’t stop participating. Then I tried to give my contribution all the time, we went even later, the first time was at Rudina Xhunga’s TV Show where I experienced, I simply told what happened and my idea was that I could be the same person who could be murdered, I could also be a perpetrator, but I had chosen the best way for my family as well as the family of the perpetrator, which was forgiving three bloods, saving three lives, but not only three lives, because thanks to that many others were forgiven, it had its influence, many many other lives were saved.
I consider that in life I had many results, many successes, but what makes me feel mostly successful, if I make a ranking, is the forgiveness of bloods. Because fighting against feelings was difficult, fighting against the institution of revenge, which had its very deep roots in our nation, was difficult. It is difficult hearing children cry, a mother, the whole family cry when a life is taken away not by a normal death nor an accident, but exactly by the hand of the first neighbor. There are some moments, this is a very difficult path to talk about, not to talk about experiencing it or being in it, I was a living part of all of this, all of this process.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were you at Verrat e Llukës?
Marjan Dema: Yes, I was. I was…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How was it there, could you give us details?
Marjan Dema: Look, that was the first time in my life that I saw such a big mass of people, a mass that was surrounded by police forces, a mass where nobody was afraid, a mass that continued the ceremony, we all had the will, the enthusiasm that we would eliminate revenge, brotherhood-killing among Albanian nation. Maybe nobody thought about death there, maybe we were all in a condition, not to say, abnormal condition. When one doesn’t think about death but only about who will forgive the blood. People came out of the mass, all of a sudden, unprepared cases which in fact gave a message. That was when the back then ruling power started being afraid that this nation couldn’t be stopped.
And I am deeply convinced that the blood feuds reconciliation does not have the place it deserved, because that was the first time when the nation was homogenized, the first time when they addressed, the first time when the nation breathed with one soul, mind and idea, not only for blood to be forgiven… blood feuds reconciliation, as I said before, was the momentum brought by the situation, maybe that was all inspired and powered by the fact that we all loved freedom, we were all exhausted, deeply irritated by the classic occupation, the tortures that the ruling power used against Albanians at that time, with imprisonment, the murder of youngsters who went to the military service, then the violent displacements, persecutions and so on. I mean, those were difficult moments that in a way had awaken our feelings to feel happier in that gathering.
Maybe if… if I was asked by someone, “Were you ever, did you ever have any happier moment in your life?” I would say, “No.” Because we were all, if I dare translate it this way, drunk from… from the pleasure that our nation was bringing the killing of brothers to its end, our nation doesn’t want to shed blood for unimportant things, just as I lost three brothers. That was simply, I don’t know, I don’t know how to explain it, but we managed to do that, we managed to be together, the hoxha, the priest, the sheh, and I don’t know who else, the old and the young, the villager and the intellectual, we were all together, we all had one wish, one aim, for no blood in Kosovo to remain unreconciled. And of course the results were the highest and maybe it is difficult for such a result to be repeated.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Do you remember, do you remember how many bloods were reconciled?
Marjan Dema: Quite a lot of time has passed, 25 years, I know that there were bloods and misunderstandings, around 1200 cases but not only 12000 families, But if you count the fact that they had a fis and of course when one side or the other was harmed, you could not have good relations with the fis of the other side. So, when that is multiplied, families at that time had approximately ten members, if you add the fis as well, then you have more than one quarter, maybe even more than 25 percent of the population in blood feuds.
And imagine if that reconciliation didn’t t happen and war found us in that feud, how would we be able to know who killed whom? Taking into consideration the Serbian propaganda that Albanians are killing each-other because of blood feuds. I mean, that was something that even if it were planned with a strategic planning, I am deeply convinced that it happened spontaneously because the youth, we didn’t know it at that time, it was more because of the peaceful opinions, the nation was not prepared for the war to come. So, I think that the Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliation is one of our nation’s masterpieces that made liberation possible, that made it easier to shut up the propaganda, the mouth of our occupiers, also closed every case that could happen, let’s say with the background of blood feuds and other things.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were there cases when someone didn’t, didn’t forgive the blood in your presence, that was stubborn?
Marjan Dema: We, we had such cases as well. We had cases that usually weren’t, they weren’t difficult, but people were difficult. I understand them, I never judged them because it was difficult, it was difficult to make a leap from a situation and it didn’t… we are talking about a change within a night, people were unprepared, there was no preparation. At that time, you know, everything was controlled, and our nation goes to the institution of reconciliation from a well developed institution of revenge. Now, within all of that, that number was negligible, but people who couldn’t overcome this trans… this transformation from a totally different situation, I understand them, because it was not easy for us, neither was it easy for them…
But what makes all of us who were part of it, I mean the protagonists, proud, because I said that the heroes of that time were the ones who forgave their son, mothers forgave their sons, fathers forgave their sons or sons forgave their father, or the son forgave his grandfather or his sister, there were such cases as well, those were fewer. Because they swallowed that rock and said the word that the blood of a brother, a paternal uncle, a son, a father, a very close family member, was forgiven. But, but, a power came out that made it easier for us to say those words, a moment came that was created by the youth, it was created by the intelligentsia, religious clerics, the media. How can it happen that, for example, we all converge to the same point [to solve] a negative phenomenon nowadays? It is very difficult, back then we had that strength, it was a very rare moment, which I believe hardly happened ever before and can hardly happen in the future.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Do you remember which are the arguments that were used in the oda when you went to reconcile [feuds]?
Marjan Dema: In the beginning, methods were used according to the cases, all the methods were used when cases were difficult, but mainly a big part of them were built on the basis of that momentum that was created, while many kinds of methods were used in other cases.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: What was said about feuds as a tradition?
Marjan Dema: Usually when we were with professor Anton he had some proverbs, he found difficult cases, glorious cases when people forgave, which were not so many because forgiving was not part of our tradition. But he found those cases. Then, it was very important that the youth or the intelligentsia didn’t have to deal much with the environment where they were, because when they were in that environment, it was difficult to help the rreth, because the rreth was either part of the fis, or they were involved in one way or another. But when the youth, the intelligentsia and the religious clerics went, they had the credits to ask for the forgiving of blood. And usually, I am saying this about most cases, at least the cases where I was, they were not difficult. We had such cases, for example, where they didn’t want to collaborate with us, they didn’t even allow us to express what we wanted to. There were cases where there were 70 of us who went, when we went the first time we were warmly welcomed, the second time they didn’t wait for us or they left an old man to wait for us and so on, and so on….
There were various cases, but what was most important was our commitment, determination, because we understood them. We understood that in front of us was a person who was raised and inspired, who matured with the opinion that they should avenge blood for blood. That was a, a tradition that had its roots very deep and it was difficult to change it. But however the result was the highest and all the possible methods of fis, family, and all the ways in order to come to the inspiration, in order to come to the point of creating the environment, I actually said that the environment was already created in the nation, but to create that environment in the family where we had to take out that, that word. I understand them, because it is not easy to take out that word or let everyone imagine it for a moment that someone kills their brother, son or father and is it easier to take out the word, I forgive the blood of my brother father, son, grandfather or whoever? It is a very difficult act, it is very difficult to take that word out, very difficult.
But, however people were heroes, I call the ones who took out that word heroes, who did that act, it is a good luck that there was no revenge after those reconciliations. I mean, the reconciliations were, they were pure reconciliations, those were not reconciliations where bloods were paid or bought, or somebody was paid. People travelled with their own cars or by foot, we covered the expenses, that was the only activity where we all covered the expenses individually because we didn’t communicate with the perpetrator, we usually communicated with the ones who were supposed to forgive, the ones who forgave had sadness, pain they had very difficult moments. You know, those bloods were forgiven with tears, and the other side accepted them with tears as well. I mean, it was, it was an atmosphere where maybe the ones who had to forgive felt as bad as the ones who had to accept the forgiving. Because it is not easy to have in front of you one person whom you have looked at as your enemy, someone who murdered your relative to whom you have to extend your hand, or the perpetrator or his family, he felt bad because it was not easy for them to see the harmed side who besides losing their relative, have tears in their eyes, and with tears in their eyes and in their hearts take out that word that is difficult to be taken out.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: How was your life after reconciliations, after the whole movement?
Marjan Dema: The quality of my life changed after the forgiving of the bloods, those years come, the end of the ‘90s, the war begins. My family and I were very unlucky during the war, we were lucky because none of us was killed, we didn’t die, but the case was that I changed ten houses, because the paramilitary, police and military forces came and chased us. So, it was it was, it was a very difficult month, with four children, until they even burned my car in the village of Banulla. Then I somehow managed to go to the border, there I had two very big dangers which I don’t forgive to myself, but I did them in that moment, I went to the border and I was in the same car with the son of my brother, he stopped and wanted to pass, they didn’t allow us to pass and I didn’t want to wait in order to pass, I didn’t want to leave my place, I didn’t want. I took the car, and I know that the children cried, I don’t know how I took that decision. I left at 7:00PM from the border with Tetovo, I arrived in Pristina at around 9:00PM, I saw tanks on the road, I saw death with my own eyes but I thankfully survived, then…
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Were you living in Pristina at that time or how?
Marjan Dema: My house… I lived in a neighborhood where there were Serbs, a bomb exploded and my windows broke, my windows broke and my house was damaged, it was unusable. Then I went to Pristina to a, I didn’t know him well, he was a far fis, I mean the brother of the wife of my sister’s son, then they chased us from there, I went to the village of Banulla then to Gadime, then I returned to Banulla again. Then it was the time we were reaching an agreement, I returned to Pristina, then I changed houses here in Pristina as well. And then I met Anton Çetta’s wife, and she asked me, “If you decide to leave Kosovo, please,” she said, “Take me with you because I have two daughters and I am afraid they will be mistreated [raped] by the military and police forces.” And I gave my word to her that if I decided…And now, having all these, let’s say salty experiences during the war, my children started not feeling good, you know, my youngest son was four years old, from the shootings, for one moment I almost got burned in the house in Banulla, this is very interesting as well.
It was the Easter Saturday, we were at the family of a haxhi, they had, I don’t know, we were surprised by what the had cooked in order to celebrate Easter. It was the son of my brother and I at that family when the police forces came and besieged the village. “They are looking for the refugees.” “Alright,” the son of my brother and I went to the second floor in order for them not to find us, I don’t know who came, shouted and called us, others were leaving because the house had started burning. I mean, it was a matter of seconds if we remained in that house, then we left… from Banulla to Gadime, we went there on foot, a very long road. Then, there I went to a family who had five children, two rooms, they gave me one room, a poor family, they didn’t even have a bathroom, but they were very welcoming, big hearted, they gave us one room. Now, the family that remained [the aforementioned], they lost the family… I mean they lost their house, but we cared, because we created a friendship and they found me another house.
Then I returned again to… but it was the, the very important moment, now when we returned to see the house they were there, they had started to cook lunch, the sweets, the meat, they even had found raki, even though that was the house of a haxhi, I keep that family in my heart. But we didn’t manage to celebrate because… but we managed to survive, they didn’t want to kill us, because when they shot, I had, they weren’t more than ten meters from me, if they wanted they could, but they didn’t….It seems like their interest wasn’t to kill us, but to make us go away, but no, they took… (coughs) there, that is where my car was burned and I remained without a car.
Then I decided to go, I gave my word… let me return to the wife of professor Anton Çetta, now I had a car, I returned, I had a bad car because mine was burned, the window of that car was broken, on my way with my children I decided to go to Fushë Kosova, the train to Tetovo was still working… to Macedonia. And I passed, they didn’t stop me, I passed, I left my wife with four children at the ring in order for them to arrive. And I returned to take Gjyste with two of her daughters, I planned it that way that they would arrive by foot until I arrived, and my wife went to the Train Station by foot with four of my children. Then they stopped me, that is when they stopped me, they got me with my hands on the wall, I don’t know whether there were informations that there was a control there, but they only said, “Get in the car and don’t stop anywhere.” Because they noticed that I was there for the second time, and that is where I saw death with my own eyes but I took the risk because I wanted to help the family of professor Anton.
Then I went to Macedonia, I was a professor there, I taught in the University of Tetovo. I continued there, we were welcomed by a family, they found me a house, I lived in good conditions there, a house with a yard. A colleague, a professor gave me the house of his brother. Then there was a program to… an American program to take 20.000 refugees from Kosovo, and of course mine was among those families. I went to America, I settled there, I… I took a one year of unpaid break, I returned the next year.
Now when I returned here, some problems showed up again, there was a, a, a movement to fire some retired professors. I was teaching Mathematics together with a professor, with Fuat Rizvanolli, he remained without classes, my family was in America because I returned alone in the sense that, to later on take my family as well. And the management of that time was mad at me, they were really mad, “You ruined our plans,” I didn’t even know what plans I had ruined, they wanted to fire them and I said, “Listen, I only did it because I don’t want to let the professor down.” And now this is connected to 2001 when I returned, I took the one way tickets in order to never return to America again together with my family.
And the same group didn’t let me, they didn’t give me classes… I was sad, I was sad, what did I decide? Then I took one way tickets again, this time to never return to Kosovo. My children didn’t want to return, because they had returned, they had me their friends there, even though we had all the opportunities, but however they didn’t know the language, they didn’t manage to integrate in the environment where they were living. Then we returned, when I returned with the aim to never go back to Kosovo. Of course I integrated in the society there, there was a big Albanian community, I bought a business, I was economically stable, I started working and was also engaged in an American University.
Erëmirë Krasniqi: Where did you live?
Marjan Dema: I was in Michigan, in Michigan… then here in Prishtina there was the problem of the rector, the government didn’t accept the rector, there were elections, and a group of my friends, “Come, apply for the position of the rector.” I said, “Eh, rector, it has been four years since I am not in Kosovo,” it was 2004, I said, “No.” Then we talked, many Mathematics professors had died, “We need you…” “Ah,” I said, “I return as a professor but I want to be full professor,” I said, “Because I returned to be full professor,” “No, there is no problem.” And I returned, if somebody asks for the reason, I left my children, my wife, I returned to Kosovo. I thought that we were stable, I had the business, my children, my youngest son was 12 years, all the others were over 17 years old, because I have four children.
I returned, when I returned there were the obstacles of the back then government, I returned without a contract nor anything. I worked for one year, I promised that I would return, I worked for one year but luckily there were private universities, I was hired by those private universities and I started, I started having a good time without material problems, I fixed my house. Then, I stayed for one year, I stayed on my own, then I took my wife and my youngest son. My son stayed for one year, when we…when we returned because in the meantime I had taken the American citizenship. I was integrated there and we had founded, we founded an Association of Albanian-American Intellectuals in Michigan, which was an Association with a very good leadership, I was its leader, we conducted various activities, we provided education in Albanian and many other activities.