Anita Susuri: After a few months, because the situation didn’t improve, the political situation…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: That’s right.
Anita Susuri: The strike began too. I am interested to know your point of view on the whole event,how it happened, how you saw it, if you could describe it?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, the miners’ strike, if I haven’t forgotten, a long time has passed, it began on February 20 of ‘89 and lasted until February 28 of ‘89. So many things happened within those eight days that I can’t explain it in a short way. I vividly remember how the event happened. I was a witness, I was the main doctor. I worked there in Stari Trg and the day the strike began, I was working the first shift.
Around 8:00, we received the information, because the medical facility was close to the mine, they said, “The miners have started a strike.” My father was still alive, my mother and other family members. They were living in Mitrovica. And they said, “The miners’ strike has begun. The miners are dissatisfied. Starting today, they started a strike and promised they won’t come out until their demands are met.” It began around 8:00. I received news that it was happening around 8:00.
At first we continued working at the ambulance in Stari Trg and gradually, we were compelled to become a part of [the strike], as some miners came at once, some of them were sick. One of them, an engineer who had epilepsy, came one night. The engineer supervised the work of the miners, the miners didn’t want to work, [they were] on strike. The engineer, I don’t know if he’s [still] alive or not, came, he had epilepsy and we gave him first aid at the ambulance in Stari Trg.
Later on we were compelled to go downstairs, to see where the miners were. They were settled on different levels and we went to see if they were in good condition. They began to not eat, not drink anything. A sort of hunger strike, they expressed dissatisfaction through demands. Kosovo was alarmed, Yugoslavia was alarmed, as well as Serbia and the European and international community, [they heard] that a big miners’ strike began in Stari Trg. We as doctors joined them, since we were also there on duty to help the miners with whatever they needed.
They were tired at first, exhausted. One night, two nights [passed by], the situation and health of the miners began to worsen. We sent some [of them] to the Mitrovica hospital, but they didn’t want to go to Mitrovica. The ones who were sicker wanted to stay there. And we spontaneously set up an ambulance station at the miners’ canteen, restaurant. We began removing the chairs and placing the patients on some blankets and giving them an IV infusion or injection or whatever they needed. This station was set up spontaneously, because the number [of patients] began increasing.
We also gave aid to them inside the mine because some of them didn’t want to come up to the station. They would say, “No, I won’t be separated from my friends and come upstairs and lie down comfortably while my friends stay .” Some even set up a station with 20, 30, 40 beds. Nobody wanted to go to Mitrovica because there were some Albanian doctors, some Serbian doctors who were against the miners’ strike and against… and they used to mistreat them. None of them went.
It was the help we gave them, the doctors and nurses who were working there, later on we received help from Pristina too, from the Faculty of Medicine, and some from Mitrovica, but we carried most of the burden. There were also spies there, Albanian doctors, some of them live in Belgrade today, Albanians, there are. They are in Belgrade today, they worked and acted against our values. But, we continued aiding the process.
At some point we also ensured some beds from the [residential] blocks where people lived alone. The patients who were getting IV infusions got [on those beds]. Actually, one person, maybe he’s since passed, we gave one of the miners a banana, he said, “I am not a monkey,” he said, “I am not a monkey. Oranges either,” (laughs) he said, “don’t give me any of these. I am going downstairs, I don’t want to stay here anymore.” He went back to the mine sick. So, this was a seven-eight day period when we told the alarming situation in conferences we held down in the mine.
At some point later, some people from Serbia also came to visit Trepça, the health minister at the time in Yugoslavia, he was Macedonian, Janko Obočki. In Kosovo, there was Skender Boshnjaku, who is alive today and still works. We corresponded with him, we accepted the situation, with their help. There was a person, he was the Health Minister of Kosovo. We had a good time with him, very good, and I still thank him to this day, he is a good man. We organized the work together.
Anita Susuri: I think there were many people who offered help, for example from Slovenia and Croatia too.
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, they did, Croatia’s minister, I unfortunately forgot his name, Slovenia offered help as well, their Health Minister. There were also journalistic teams who came to warn about the situation, mostly from Slovenia, none from Serbia. We faced pressure to not help them [the miners] there [in the mine], but to send them for [medical] visits in Mitrovica. But, despite the pressure we had from our directors and from… we didn’t stop, we continued our work with the miners there.
Seven days, with my daughter, Nita, I was checking her because my wife… we were living in Stari Trg, she said, “Our Nita is sick.” They called me from the mine and I dropped the stethoscope and went straight to them. So, I couldn’t check on my daughter because they called me down to the mine, “Come urgently.” This was a time period which today I remember in a very unique way. A very, very difficult time.
Today it’s easy to go out to protest and oppose our system, but opposing the Serbian system was… since there were guns, Kosovo was surrounded. It’s easy today to protest and throw stuff at the Prime Minister, very easy. Like that. It was a very alarming situation because the patients, the miners, didn’t want to eat or drink, [they] revolted. But in the end, the political class of Kosovo were deceived by Yugoslavia, they tricked the miners to come out. They thought this person would resign from their position, that person would resign from their position.
The miners were imprisoned, and the strike ended. The miners were in prisons, in courts, unemployed, in poverty. That was the period of ‘89 and the strike. If I managed to elaborate on it, that is it more or less.
Anita Susuri: Yes, but I am interested to know about some other details as well, since for example, I can say that each and every miner mentioned they came out with bandages all over…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, over their eyes. Well down [in the mine] it’s dark, but there are some very dim lights. When the demonstrators came out, they had to put bandages over their eyes immediately. Together with our health minister, and other Croats, they said, “It’s better to protect them from the light because it could damage their eyes.” All of them came out with bandages because they didn’t see [light] for eight days and eight nights. It’s dark in the mine, it’s like neon lights, they’re dim. And it was a period when they gradually took the majority of them [miners] and imprisoned them and mistreated them, even in hospitals… it was a dark, evil period for us. It’s true what you mentioned. They had to come out of the mine with their eyes covered to protect them.
Anita Susuri: Do you remember how long it took them to leave the mine? Since there were 1300 miners.
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, well to tell you the truth it was about seven, eight, ten hours. But we were organized well. Fortunately nobody died in the mine. There were miners whose family members died, and they didn’t want to attend the funeral, they didn’t want to leave their friends. There was a promise, there was a besa there, do you understand? Today you don’t see that. The miners back then were more organized than our political class today. It’s very surprising, very surprising! Because nobody had personal interests then, there was a national interest. And that’s what makes that time period different from today.
Anita Susuri: I am interested to know from your point of view as a physician, how did you see the change in the miners’ condition from day to day? Both mental and physical.
Nexhmi Zeqiri: The mental and physical condition was getting worse every day, so at the time, I will only talk about the speeches the miners gave when the Yugoslav leaders visited them, no politicians today can give speeches like that. They had nothing written down, it was all their words.
So much that in one moment, it was Mursel Haziri, he lives somewhere abroad I believe, and Radiša Gačići, he was a Croat, he said, “My father was a miner too,” he said, “are you a miner as well because you’re really good at elaborating,” he [Mursel] said, “Yes, yes,” he said, “my father was a miner too, but I know how to write and read,” he [Radiša] said, “I don’t believe that you’re a miner.” He replied, “Trust me, I am a miner.” They couldn’t convince themselves that there are miners who are smart and skillful. They thought all of them were illiterate.
Anita Susuri: Were you present when there were visits from delegations?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, we escorted them, for example, to the elevator. They entered with Radiša Gačić and Stipe Šuvar, [both] Croatian. At the time, Stipe Šhuvari was an official. We went to the elevator together. And one of them says, “By God, they won’t let the miners get out,” he said, “really?”. Stipe Šuvar and Radiša Gačić and others that were there became frightened.
We went to the mine and two or three miners gave a speech. They became so emotional, for better or worse, they couldn’t believe they were miners. Their speeches were so good, that at one moment, one of the miners fainted. We gave him [first] aid, I revived him myself there. Isa Qosja had some photographs during the revival, but they took them from him afterwards, Isa Qosja was a director. He was present because it was being filmed, so it could be documented that the leaders of Yugoslavia came to visit the miners.
But they said, “We won’t leave.” Stipe Šuvar said, “They really mean it because my father,” he said, “was a miner and the miners are the first set of people that see what’s going on.” That was that period. We then continued work for a little while. They fired us, around…
Anita Susuri: What did you think would happen next? You saw the consequences of the strike, you saw…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, some of the miners and leaders were taken to prison, they were sentenced to a few months in prison. Me and some of my colleagues were also taken by the police and they asked us, “Who made you set up an ambulance there? Why did you help them and not send them [to Mitrovica’s hospital]?” We explained to them that it was spontaneous, not planned.
It took some time, we went there a few days in a row for interrogations, “How did the event happen?” But, fortunately, the presence of Yougslavia’s minister at the time maybe saved us, and that he came there to visit them, and [the presence of] our minister Skender Boshnjaku and that we were hired there as physicians. It was our duty to help there. So, they didn’t punish us in that manner, with prison or anything. But when it was time for the dismissals, they fired us from our jobs, we were left unemployed.
Anita Susuri: Were you there when the second strike happened? Was there a second strike?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, yes. I was there…
Anita Susuri: Who were violently removed.
Nexhmi Zeqiri: They were violently removed, they got there with the police and removed people from the mine.
Anita Susuri: They didn’t have help or anything…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: No, no, no, no. They took them and sent them to the police by themselves. The system was different, since there were less [miners] the second time.
Anita Susuri: There was a violent director at the time too?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, yes, I know. Shala if I’m not mistaken. Shala [is his last name], but I forget his first name. You have knowledge because you researched the process (laughs). A violent director.
Anita Susuri: I think he was in that position until ‘90…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: That’s right.
Anita Susuri: Yes, yes, I am interested because most [of the miners] told us that after the strike, the work never went back to normal.
Nexhmi Zeqiri: No, there was no more normality. There were violent workers and directors who were servants. The core dissipated. They gave us some documents, “Do you recognize the Serbian state?” We informed our independent union, I was the Head of it. We created it in Bajgorë. There were some physicians who were older than me, I said, “No we don’t dare, we can’t.” And we created the union at a nurse’s house in Bajgorë, The Independent Trade Union of the Trepça Occupational Medicine Agency. We sent it to the director who was Macedonian, he said, “More, don’t do this because Serbia is powerful,” I said, “Alright we won’t be part of the union.”
Unfortunately two Albanian doctors didn’t become members of our union. We created our union which was working, they fired most of us from work, though some of them remained working. It was a duty, if we accepted Serbia, it was in contradiction with the workplace. We were unemployed, we continued our activity with the union, it was political and there were many loyal people who didn’t conform. They left everything to continue their mission and get away from Serbia, that was a period…
Anita Susuri: I am interested to know about how the ‘90s were for you? [You were] Unemployed…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, very problematic. We organized around the union, I was part of the Independent Health Union, in Kosovo’s Leadership, with the late Dr. Bajram Rexhepi and a few other colleagues, we created the union at the state level. We were trying to organize and help some of our colleagues. And then we organized and set up an ambulance which was called the humanitarian ambulance. Doctor Bajram Rexhepi, former prime minister…
Anita Susuri: In Mitrovica, right?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: In Mitrovica, we lived in Mitrovica. It was the people who were fired from the hospital and the other [medical] centers and we created a hospital called The Humanitarian-People’s [Hospital]. We created it somewhere in Tavnik, a Mitrovica neighborhood. We worked there 24 hours a day. We created it and we offered help. The lab was working, all the physicians were engaged, day and night, 24 hours. We did great work at the time. On top of it, through the union, we helped several physicians and their families who couldn’t afford to…
I worked there in the ambulance, I actually also worked at… I was a specialist and I worked, I sold medicine at a pharmacy so I could take care of my family. This was a period with no jobs and it was very difficult. Later on, the Nënë Tereza hospital also opened. I was active there and I was the director of three ambulances: one in Koshtova, one in Mitrovica and one in, two in Mitrovica, in Bair. Three ambulances where we offered medical service through the union were based in Pristina, and had an office in Mitrovica. This happened in ‘93-’94-’95.
We actively worked in the Nënë Tereza hospital. My wife was active too. She’s a physician, and there were also other colleagues. We all worked at the Nënë Tereza ambulance and at The People’s ambulance in Mitrovica without being paid. But, yes, we would receive help, pasta, beans, and some other food items offered by the Nënë Tereza organization. But we didn’t get paid.
Anita Susuri: How did you manage to live through those conditions?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Well, it was very difficult at the time. Life can be anything, but we survived with the food items we received from Nënë Tereza. I mentioned earlier, I also worked at a pharmacy, I was paid 300 marka [a month] if I’m not mistaken. There were some guys who opened a pharmacy, I survived through that [my wage there] and the help we received. My children were small, we lived in northern Mitrovica.
Actually my wife and I worked in the High School of Medicine in Mitrovica, we taught at houses. We were an active part of education. We worked on that a lot as well. So, in the People’s Ambulance in Mitrovica, in the Nënë Tereza ambulance, and in education. These were the three things we worked on during that time.
Anita Susuri: What was it like to work at home schools?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Very difficult. The conditions were bad. The will was great, but the police stayed near the windows. They would bring us out, “What are you doing here?” We dealt with these kinds of problems. We had so many issues.
Anita Susuri: Could the learning process remain normal?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: To some extent. To some extent. I can’t say we made a big deal, but we never stopped the [educational] process. We taught at houses, at schools. I am talking about Mitrovica’s medical school, where I worked. That was it.
Anita Susuri: What were the following years like, in ‘98, how to put it, after the Jashari family was killed and we had a war…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: That’s right.
Anita Susuri: The intensity of the war grew. What was that like for you?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Difficult years, very difficult. It was the atmosphere of a war. That process began in ‘98, maybe in ‘97, I don’t remember very well. These guerrilla units led by Zahir Pajaziti and his friends, began to go and attack Serbian cops who were more violent in different police stations in Kosovo. So, Zahir Pajaziti and his friends. And the situation began getting more agitated, life was getting riskier.
But, we continued our activities, we continued our lives. We didn’t go abroad although we could, we were offered, but we didn’t feel spiritually well if we left Kosovo at that time, although it was difficult. My wife and I could’ve gone abroad together with our two children. We had the opportunity to leave, we were physicians who were violently fired from our jobs, but no, we stayed in Kosovo. The processes of armed confrontations began from our people and we were an active part of that process, my wife and I.
The problems began immediately during the war in ‘98-’99, [when] the war [began]. During that time we were still living in Mitrovica with our two children, we were renting because they weren’t giving apartments anymore, we were left without an apartment. We began renting in the northern part [of Mitrovica]. That’s where we did daily activities with friends, we had meetings, we had… and the big war broke out. It began in Drenica earlier than anywhere else, but it could be sensed in Mitrovica too.
Me and Dr. Bajram and a few other colleagues decided to become an active part of it and we began going to Shalë, we would go in order. There were more surgeons and orthopedic doctors and stuff, but also us as specialists, went to Shalë to supervise. During the war…
Anita Susuri: You went there to offer the soldiers…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes, yes, help, yes. But also during the war when the NATO bombings started, they started around March 24. At the time we were in the north and we were at risk. I lived near the hospital, in the northern part, and my parents were there as well. Latif Berisha was killed that night as well as the famous writer and also LDK activist, Agim Hajrizi, together with his son, who was friends and classmates with my son. Others were also killed on March 24, the night of the bombings, all were Albanian.
We stayed in the north that night. I also brought my parents who were in their apartment to a stay with us in the house I was renting. The next day we went south, we took what we had in small luggages and we went to the southern part. We went to Tavnik, it’s a neighborhood where we had relatives. And then we went to Zhegrova to some other relatives, they were relatives of my wife’s father, friends. And they hosted us for a week.
The ambulance was there during that time, the one Dr. Bajram organized together with some other colleagues. Me and my wife [contributed too], my wife would check the children, and I would assist Dr. Bajram in the ambulance for about five or six days. That was a dangerous week, going from one house to another. That’s what happened during that period. And we were at risk, wondering what we would do next. We had nowhere to go. I was with my two children, my parents, my brother.
We continued moving [to different places], and then Dr. Bajram said, “At around 2 am, we won’t be here in this ambulance anymore, you have your parents, children and wife, try to find a solution, however you can. My wife and daughter aren’t here in Kosovo. I have my revolver, I have two grenades, I have explosives, I won’t fall into their hands. I have it easier.” He was a great man, a great patriot, there is no match for him.
We separated, we said goodbye. I took Agnesa and we went to the station to see if we could go somewhere, there was a bus to Macedonia. I made the decision, together with my family, to go to Macedonia. My wife went to the north since her mother was still there. She pleaded, “Come bre, come!” She died after the war here in Pristina. “No,” she said, “I have children in Pristina, I can’t leave them.” Separated.
We went to Macedonia for a night, and then continued to Germany. We were worried and missing our family… after two or three weeks, I got a passport to come back and see what’s happening. My wife, children and other family members remained there. I didn’t go back to Germany anymore. I immediately found something, the French were in northern Mitrovica, and Albanians began to work in these institutions as physicians. And I got a Serbian apartment, we had nowhere to go in the north. I am talking about the southern part, it was near where the Center for Family Medical Care is today in Mitrovica. And I told my wife, “Take the children and get on a plane,” she came after three weeks.
We started working in Mitrovica’s Hospital together. We went there by bus because we had no other way. With the help of UNMIK, they brought us in. God saved us and we avoided being killed by Serbs because we were thinking we got all of Kosovo. And we continued working, and then Serbian protests and problems began, Mitrovica’s hospital was closed. And after four or five days I decided to come to Pristina to continue work and life.
I traveled from Mitrovica to Pristina for about two years and then I moved here with my family, where I continue to live and work at the University Clinical Center of Kosovo together with my wife who is a professor and a doctor of physiotherapy. [We live] Together with our two children.
Anita Susuri: I am interested to know something about the war…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Go ahead.
Anita Susuri: There were some lines of people in Mitrovica, people were forced to leave their homes…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes.
Anita Susuri: Did that happen to you?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: I left where I was living early on because I was surrounded by Serbs non-stop. There wasn’t a line [for me], I immediately left the house, so on March 25 or 26. I went to the southern part and joined Dr. Bajram in treating patients.
Anita Susuri: How was your journey to Macedonia? What was the journey like?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: A journey which I hope nobody experiences. I am speaking out of fear, nothing happened to us. But, the police and the paramilitary would stop us and I feared for my little daughter, and there were other people, the bus was full. And it was an unpleasant situation. My brother and his wife and kids were with me, but my daughter was a little more grown up, and we were scared because they would take people out of the bus and they would never see their family members again. The road to Skopje, I mean to Han i Elezit, had a hundred obstacles. Fortunately we avoided the worst.
Anita Susuri: What about when you came back from Germany, how did you find the place? In what condition?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: It smelled like ash, a burnt smell, and dust, there were a lot of collapsed buildings. On July 5  I think, I came here to Pristina and I went to Mitrovica to see my sister in the southern part. I slept over at my [paternal] aunt’s [house] in Pristina, the next day I was at my sister’s and then I visited my mother-in-law in the northern part. She stayed there all the time, she didn’t want to leave her house. She stayed there during the entire war, in the north, among Serbs. But she survived, fate saved her.
Anita Susuri: You said that you are currently living in Pristina and that you are still working here…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Yes.
Anita Susuri: You also have your children…
Nexhmi Zeqiri: I do.
Anita Susuri: How is your life now?
Nexhmi Zeqiri: A satisfactory life to some extent because the political class in Kosovo is not working how they should. They’re after their personal interest and their parties’ interest. We didn’t imagine them in this condition. I came back from Germany with a lot of will, on a [Volkswagen] Golf 2. I came from Germany through Italy and I was very happy. There was a long line of people. It took me 10-15, 20 hours to arrive in Pristina from Durrës, and I didn’t imagine this situation, I didn’t imagine it, nor did most people. Even the vocabulary of people in the parliament is low.
A miner today could give a lecture to these people. I am honestly saying this. It’s embarrassing, it’s painful for Kosovo’s parliament to deal only with themselves, out of spite for each other, they don’t pass laws for Kosovo[’s good]. That’s it. It’s like these political parties were formed for their personal interests. You see the exodus of young people today, it’s something to cry about that they’re moving to Europe every day, through all kinds of opportunities, only so they can leave Kosovo. No order, no rule, no law, no decent employment based on merit, only through personal connections and clans. This is the problem that will cost us a lot one day, but I guess this is what life is like.
Anita Susuri: Mister Nexhmi, if there is something you’d like to add at the end.
Nexhmi Zeqiri: I have nothing to add, only that I hope our political class wakes up and works for the country, and not for power. To rule over their people is easy. But to increase the quality of the country and to fulfill the amanet of those who gave their lives, they have to work a little differently. I hope the political class wakes up, and all of those who will work in politics in the future.
Anita Susuri: Thank you very much for your time.
Nexhmi Zeqiri: Thank you, you took me back to a very interesting time, I thank you from my heart.