Anita Susuri: The ‘90s were very difficult years, but I am interested to know what they were like for you? What were you doing?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes.
Anita Susuri: I think you started working with KMDLNJ in ‘94.
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes, yes. I mentioned this earlier, I got married in ‘89 and after one year, I had my son Korab, then one year after that, I had my daughter, Kaltrina. And then I continued studying. And in ‘84, actually my brother-in-law was working at the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms and he was a former prisoner. They had to migrate to Switzerland and I saw it as an opportunity to start working there. I really wanted to work there because that seemed like the only credible institution at the time. The fact that it connected me to the contacts, to the former political prisoners, to all the activists, there was a spirit of flare, everything was flaring. It was a very difficult situation.
All the events that unfolded, the miners’ strike, the ‘98 demonstrations, the killings, the mass arrests, and then the usurpation, the revocation of autonomy, firing people from their jobs, families’ economic situation worsened, because people were left unemployed, people fleeing because of the lack of security, they couldn’t make a living. The moment people were fired from their jobs, what could they do? You could see professors working at the market, working as illegal taxi drivers, so it was an exceptionally difficult situation for our people.
Of course we were part of that everyday life. I began my activity in ‘94, first I worked at KMDLNJ’s department in Pristina. And then after a short period of time I moved to the central office of KMDLNJ. And I worked in the information sector, I mean, preparing weekly reports. KMDLNJ had daily information constantly. They had their weekly report which they published on the internet and shared it in the media, the report of events I mean. The report consisted of information gathered from the field about the violation of human rights by the regime and the power.
I worked in that field during the whole prewar time, preparing weekly reports. When it was needed, we went out and took people’s statements regarding different events that would happen. There were cases when they would come and give their statements in the office, and there were cases when we had to go to their houses to interview them and ask them about what happened. We had an exceptionally large network of activists at the Council for the Protection of Human Rights. It’s estimated that there were over three thousand members because all the cities, towns, and all the villages had a representative, a contact person with KMDLNJ. And we received information systematically from them, whether sent by fax, over the phone, or information that was written by hand.
We had application forms that they would fill out outside and they would bring them to us. It was a voluminous work of the citizens who were mainly either political activists or political prisoners, or teachers. People of different profiles. But what was important was that Kosovo citizens believed in the credibility of KMDLNJ’s work. And as an institution, we had international credibility. Everyone who appreciated it, all the international contacts who came to different visits whether from internationally, or from different global organizations, it was impossible for them to come to Kosovo and not visit KMDLNJ. So, we did exceptionally great work, which I think has historical value, national value and it has to be said one day, for this national value to be systemized and preserved by the state.
Maybe regarding the period of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Kosovo’s history is recorded in KMDLNJ. I mean, that was the work system, that everything that happened within 24 hours in Kosovo, we were informed. And they say that… I remember for example, one of our most known activists, Halil Barani in Mitrovica. He, for example, used to send us information by fax every 15 minutes. About everything that happened within the territory of Mitrovica’s municipality. They were exceptional activists. And then a big part of them took part in the war, a part of them were arrested. There are some of them who, for example, there was one person from Pristina who was killed by the Serbian forces only because they found his KMDLNJ badge. I mean they executed him.
It was extraordinary work. I personally remember it as a time period of work which impacted Kosovo’s history and its future very positively. Because there was a lot of work and we informed the whole world about the repression, violence, and crimes that were happening in Kosovo. So, we were a great information source to notify internationals about what was happening. I mean, to not… because these things historically happened in Kosovo during the last hundred years, but there was no system of information, with some exceptions. For example, in 1912 there was a, I don’t know, a diplomat, or I don’t know what he was, he wrote that book Golgotha shqiptare [Alb.: Albanian’s Golgotha] where he wrote about the crimes and massacres on Skopje’s and Kosovo’s Albanians in 1912.
But, those are written by foreigners and there were no notes by Albanians. It was never exactly known how many people were killed, how many were killed, which was a genocide on its own. In the book, it says that for a very short period of time, 150 thousand people were executed by the Serbian forces. This was a big deal which simply determined the political developments in Kosovo later on.
Anita Susuri: Do you remember any specific case that happened or that you were present at during those years?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: I remember that during ‘89, during the time of ‘89 demonstrations, they came to my house two or three times looking to arrest me, because they would gather everyone they registered who were in prison before. But, fortunately I wasn’t caught and at that point they gave up as well. While I worked at the council, I wasn’t personally attacked, I didn’t have anything like that happen to me I mean, but we knew we were continuously under surveillance. The State Security cars would constantly drive around the building where we were located.
We had offices at a hall in, where the Faculty of Islamic Religion is now, inside the medrese in Pristina and our office was public, it was open, it was registered as an office, as a nongovernmental organization. It was registered back then, as far as I know, you had to register it in Belgrade and we had very good contacts with all the activists. For some time while I was there, Adem Demaçi was head, who I have a lot of respect for and is somehow my idol for the political aspect of Kosovo. And all the political prisoners were part of the work in KMDLNJ. The esteemed professor Pajazit Nushi, Ymer Jaka and many other names who are public figures in Kosovo.
It was extraordinary work, I had amazingly good coworkers. At the time while I was there, there was Halime Morina, there was Violeta Hamiti, there was Arjeta Emra. She is now director of the British Council here in Pristina. There was Mimoza Ahmeti, Fahrije Qorraj later on, there was Ibrahim Makolli, Basri Berisha, there was Nazlije Bala, there was, I mean a lot and most of them are public figures today. Bexhet Shala, he was the office secretary for a long time. But it was extraordinary work.
Anita Susuri: Did you participate in the demonstrations organized by women?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes, yes.
Anita Susuri: With keys…
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: With keys, with bread, with white papers, with, I remember the one on March 8 with white papers where we demanded peace, bread for Drenica, yes.
Anita Susuri: What were they like?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Well they were exceptionally organized…
Anita Susuri: What do you remember?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: It was good, they were organized well. There were many various activities and this, I mean the ‘90s is when women’s activism began. The first women’s NGOs began to appear, the Qiriazi Sisters, the association, Center for the Protection of Children and Women in Pistina, and then there was an association called Elena as far as I remember. That’s how the first women’s associations began, women’s activism in Kosovo.
Anita Susuri: Were you here during the war period?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Until March 24, I was. On March 24, I went to Turkey with my children, my son was young, about one year old, and the other two were seven and eight. I resisted until the last day, I mean when the bombings began, I didn’t want to leave at first. But, my family’s insistence, both my husband’s family and mine, to go and take shelter in Turkey was very strong. My husband remained in Kosovo with his parents, in Pristina, meanwhile I went with my brother’s wife and her sisters, we went to Istanbul. The other part of my family was expecting me there.
We had a terrible journey on the bus. It was a terrible day for me, I had a very bad experience. It was a bad experience because first of all, I was forced to leave. I experienced intense fear, because we traveled by bus, we went through Gjilan, and then from Gjilan to Bujanovac and then we traveled through Serbia the day of the bombings, and it was like in horror movies. So we went from Bujanovac to a city around there, near Pirot where we crossed to Bulgaria. Niš and Leskovac and all these cities. We didn’t get to see anyone on the street. We were waiting to be stopped and massacred.
We were the first and only bus that was allowed to travel, they turned all the others back because most of them were men. While our bus was mainly women and children, we only had four men with us on the bus. It was the two bus drivers and there were two other men. One was old, the other one was younger. The others were all women and children. There were 104 people on the bus with women and children. It was a terrible journey because until we reached Bujanovac, the police stopped us every two kilometers, the police checkpoints. They entered the bus with masks, without masks, with guns, the children would be terrified. We passed that too.
When we entered Serbia, there was the horror of mental fear, because you didn’t see people on the streets. They were all, the blinds were up, there were no cars on the street, all streets were open. We passed the road and nobody stopped us. We arrived in Bulgaria. When we arrived in Bulgaria they said, “You are the only bus that was allowed to pass. They turned all the others back.” So, they turned them back to Bujanovac. Actually, I remember one of the buses was of Selo Tours [company], they beat up all the travelers because they were all mainly men.
When we arrived in Macedonia, I mean in Bulgaria at around 8:00 PM, we stopped to eat dinner somewhere and we saw the bombings on Euro News. But the idea was that they wouldn’t be able to resist and I went with the conviction that, okay we are going, but the war will end within the week, because we didn’t believe they would resist 75 days of bombings, you know? When I went to Turkey, we arrived the next day, my family came to get me. My husband and brother, my second oldest brother, remained here [in Kosovo]. Although my older brother had gone there with his children earlier.
We stayed with our family members, the conditions were extraordinarily good. But I was worried about my husband who remained here, I didn’t know what was happening with him. The next day, the old post [building] in Pristina was bombed and all the phone lines were cut out with that phone network, so I couldn’t communicate with my husband anymore. And then I found out that they reached our neighborhood, but I couldn’t understand anything more. Until a relative went after some time, my brother-in-law from Switzerland asked someone to go and they found out, they saw that they locked themselves in the house, but they were under total isolation and in a very bad state.
As soon as the war ended, of course, as soon as I found out that the NATO forces were entering Kosovo, the first opportunity I got to come back, I immediately came back with my children (laughs). And I came to Pristina, I came back to Pristina on June 27 . It was an extraordinary day for me. A painful joy. Painful because when I came to Pristina, the situation was really bad. I mean, half of the city had emptied, more than half. You would see burnt houses here and there. Robbed houses, open doors, you know, it was like in horror movies. But then we slowly got back on our feet.
Anita Susuri: What about the place where you lived, what kind of state was that in?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Where?
Anita Susuri: Your house for example? Your apartment?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: We live in the Kacallar neighborhood, the one behind the City Park, it used to be called Morava street, it was populated mostly by Roma. So, about seven or eight houses, maximum ten houses who were Albanian and the street above was all Roma. And they committed a lot of atrocities back then. Roma people collaborated with the Serbian forces unfortunately, that part of the residents there. Not all Roma, Egyptians and Ashkali in Kosovo, but that part of Roma people did a lot of bad things. They robbed a lot, they did a lot of bad things in the city. When I came back, I found them fleeing, so during the time we came back home, they were leaving in Serbian buses, they were going to Serbia.
Unfortunately, that part was painful too, because I saw women and children fleeing, leaving their houses which repeated the pain from all sides. I felt bad to see the situation they were in. But, the uncertainty, I mean, they created panic and uncertainty because of the acts they did, a part of them. So, they left. Otherwise, the military forces stole a lot in that neighborhood, I mean based on what my husband told me, terrible things happened there. They robbed the houses, they violently kicked people out of their houses, violently, they took stuff from their houses. So, it was a very terrible situation.
During the time of the bombings, for example they raided our house several times, I mean paramilitaries and the police and… They looked for my husband, but they never found him because he, at the time when they came… the house was positioned in a way that they couldn’t directly go in. He always had the opportunity to secure himself, to hide, so he wouldn’t be arrested. And the last time…
Anita Susuri: Did he stay in that house?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes, yes. The last time they went in the house, they beat up my father-in-law, and they took some things. There were a few family friends staying there too, so they had come from another city. And they arrested their son in our house. So they took their car and arrested their son. That was it. So, these experiences were… actually, the last time they went in… there was a building in front of our house, they had seen the [paramilitary] forces going in. There was a family from Gjakova who didn’t flee. And then they said that when the paramilitary forces went in, they knew something very bad would happen there, because they came in large numbers and the paramilitaries…
Anita Susuri: I am interested to know after the war, how did recovery begin in your family?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes, after the war I immediately continued work in KMDLNJ. I worked there for two more years, so, ‘99 to 2001. At the beginning of 2001, I moved to the Center for the Protection of Women and Children. At that time I started to deal with women’s issues more and I worked there until 2016. I was a director of that center for twelve years later on. We had a shelter for women who were victims of domestic violence, that center is still there and it works.
I then opened the shelter for domestic violence victims in Mitrovica. Later on that turned into its own center and then I opened one in Drenas, led by Kadire now. Me and Kadire opened the center together in Drenas. Later on, that one became independent from our center as well. In 2016, I quit it because it required a large budget and there was a lot of pressure. It required a lot of work and I simply didn’t have the spiritual power to deal with that work pressure and I quit it. I rested for about a year and then I began working here.
Anita Susuri: Now you work in the commission…
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes, yes.
Anita Susuri: How is work going now?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Well, good, good. My work here is mainly about decisions about compensation and entering the data… because mainly, first of all there is a procedure here and the review procedures should pass by the commission and then for the documents to be complete, to enter them in the database and then make a decision for compensation from there. There is a list, it’s taken to the ministry, so there are several procedures here.
Anita Susuri: About compensating former prisoners?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes, yes. While at the Center for the Protection of Women and Children I worked a lot in the area of domestic violence and trafficking. I was part of all the working groups for drafting the law for the protection against domestic violence, the law about the protection of trafficking victims, the standard procedures for trafficking, the standard procedures for the functioning of shelters. Actually, I did the draft procedures about the functioning of shelters myself. For a long time, about eight years, I was head of the shelter coalition. But the work was so dynamic and dense that I simply got really tired at some point.
Anita Susuri: I wanted to go back and talk a bit about an earlier time. About your family’s history in 1912. You mentioned that they were deported from Kosovo to Turkey, do you know anything more?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: All I know is the story I heard from my grandmother, from my mother’s mother. She died at 102 years old and she had a very clear memory. She remembered a lot and she described the way they left Kosovo in a very interesting way. I mean, her story. Otherwise, I didn’t have any other information. She told me that in 1912, when the [Serbian] forces entered Kosovo, they violently kicked a lot of Albanian families out of their houses. She would tell us, “They violently kicked us out and everything we had… we fled, on a horse carriage, the grown ups took everything they could find at the house that they thought was necessary. I was a child,” she said, “and I remember that we traveled for several days,” she said, “on a horse carriage.” Until they arrived, most probably in Thessaloniki, because she described the ride with a train from then.
Actually, no. Not in Thessaloniki, but they rode on a horse carriage to Turkey. She said, “We were,” she said, “probably about 30-35 family members,” she said, “who traveled together,” she said, “half of them died on the road,” she said, “about 15 of us,” she said, “arrived there,” she said, “among those who survived,” she said, “it was my grandmother,” her grandmother who had an amount of lira, money. [She had] gold lira with her. She said, “When they took us there in Bafra after we arrived in Turkey,” she said, “they sent us to Bafra,” she said, “there,” she said, “they placed us in the houses of Armenians,” because at that time there was the ethnic cleansing Turkey committed against the Armenians.
The Ottoman Empire killed Armenians, they displaced them from their homes, they executed them, they kicked them out of their houses and placed Albanians there. She said, “And then,” she said, “they immediately took the men who were adults and sent them to war.” So that was…
Anita Susuri: The First World War, right?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: The First World War. And she describes a horror, a horror they experienced regarding the way they were deported, the way they were placed there, the poverty they went through, the heavy work they had to do. And then, these communities couldn’t integrate there for a long time, I mean still, my [maternal] uncle’s family, when I went to Bafra for the last time as a child that I remember, they always spoke in Albanian. So, within that community, within that village, they all spoke to each-other in Albanian and they threw weddings in Albanian [traditions] and… my father also told me this, so they preserved the traditions a lot.
These communities were in rural areas, because the ones who were placed in urban areas assimilated quickly because they had to integrate. Whether they wanted to or not, they had to go to schools, to get jobs, to learn Turkish, to know Turkish well, to integrate in society there. So that contributed to assimilation a little more than the ones who were in rural areas.
Anita Susuri: From what place in Kosovo did they leave?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: My mother’s family comes from a village called Jashanica of Klina, in between Peja and Klina. I mean, they were from that part. While my father’s family originates from Llap, but they moved to Pristina very long ago, so they came to Pristina.
Anita Susuri: And then a part of your mother’s family came back?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: No, no, no. They never came back.
Anita Susuri: They stayed there…
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: They are there. I mean all of them are there, besides my mother who got married and came back with my father, the others are all there, they’re all there. Despite the fact that my uncles and aunts were all born in Turkey, they speak Albanian. So, we communicate in Albanian with them. Their children always spoke to each-other in Albanian.
Anita Susuri: So, when your father moved…
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: My father moved in ‘56.
Anita Susuri: So they met there?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes, yes.
Anita Susuri: So, from Pristina.
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: From Pristina.
Anita Susuri: Now I am interested to know about something else too, in Ranković’s era, were they forced to leave or did they…
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: No, they were forced, they were forced. I talked about this part with my father more, but also my grandfather because he was alive as of late. I mean, after my father died, I actually got to spend a lot of time with my grandfather, because he was an imam. And he came to stay with us for some time after my father died, because he was in Turkey as well, he passed away there. And so I talked to him about the details and stuff. And he told me how they were interrogated, how they physically abused him, how they kept him in rain barrels until the morning until the water in his yard froze. He said, “And when I went home,” he said, “my clothes were all frozen, all frozen.” He said, “At that point,” he said, “I realized that they simply want to kill me or I have to move.” And they made them sell their fortune.
They sold their fortune to the state and with that money they only managed to buy the train tickets and the proper documentation, I mean vesika, a kind of visa guarantor that you had to pay for back then, and that’s it. He said, “All we took,” he said, “were the clothes we were wearing, 400 kilograms of books,” the ones my grandfather had, he had 400 kilograms of books, “I took them with me,” he said, “and the clothes we were wearing. We couldn’t take anything else, we left everything,” he said, “they took…” a part of their fortune was confiscated when my father’s uncles were executed, they took them, because we also had vineyards, we had a house, we had land. As a nationalist-ballist family, they were confiscated and then they were forced to leave at once.
Anita Susuri: So they were under pressure because of the uncles as well?
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: Yes, yes.
Anita Susuri: All right, Mrs. Naime, thanks a lot. If there is anything you would like to add or something you might’ve forgotten…
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: I believe I said everything, I don’t know (laughs).
Anita Susuri: Well then, thanks a lot!
Naime Maçastena Sherifi: You are welcome!