Political Engagement During the ‘90s: Part Two

By Shukrie Rexha

This is the second of a two-part life story of Shukrie Rexha, as she told it. Ms. Rexha was born in Pristina in 1966, she joined the Reconciliation of Blood Feuds Campaign from its beginning in 1990, served as the Head of the Pristina Reconciliation Council, and throughout the ‘90s was active in the National Movement for Kosovo Liberation and the Kosovo Liberation Army. She lives in Lyon, France and on occasions organizes panel discussions on Kosovo and Balkan themes.

The photograph is from the protest against the imprisonment of Kosovo Albanians in Serbian prisons organized by the Association of Political Prisoners, Pristina, 1999. In the photo: Adem Demaçi, Shukrie Rexha and Pajazit Nushi. 

I have been more actively engaged in the struggle for liberation  when I was a student, but  also earlier. In 1984, when activists of the Fronti Nacional Çlirimtar [National Liberation Front] such as Sejdi Veseli, Rrahman Bahtiri, Shemsi Veseli, Afrim Zhitia, Agim Krasniqi and so on, were arrested,  we were rehearsing  the drama Toka Jonë [Our Land] and some of the members of the group were arrested. The arrest of this group was a big strike against the Liberation Movement.

Then I participated in the spring 1989 demonstrations and the students strike in support of  the demands of the miners. From early March 1990, I was actively part of the Movement for Blood Feuds Reconciliation. In the same year, I participated in founding the Independent Students Union of the University of Pristina. People still remember the organization of the great “literary hour” of the students with the former political prisoners at the Faculty of Philology. That affected the awakening of national consciousness and mass mobilization. Also, in this year, I participated in founding the first branch of Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës (LDK) [Kosovo Democratic League] in Pristina, and for the two following mandates I was  vice-president and member of the General Council of LDK.

During this period of time, among  other things, I remember with respect and admiration  the readiness   of the heads of the families in the neighborhood Kodra e Trimave to turn their houses into schools. All the activities were patriotic from head to toe and aimed to mobilize  citizens for the resistance. From 1993 I was engaged in the Lëvizja Kombëtare për Çlirimin e Kosovës (LKÇK) [National Movement for Kosovo Liberation]. My status was semi-illegal. Bahri Fazliu and Agron Rrahmani, who are national heroes, were part of it, as well as Avni Klinaku, Fatmir Humolli, Valon Murati, Liburn Aliu and many others.  

The production and distribution of the LKÇK’s organ Çlirimi [Liberation] was extremely special. I was one of the editors. On January 26, 1997, 20 of us, members of the LKÇK group, were arrested. It was a wild winter.

I stayed in prison, under investigation, for four months and four days, and I was sentenced  to three years of prison. The trial of our group was special. I still get emotional about our trial on  the day when we the closing arguments were presented in court.  We were a group of youth who demanded freedom and fought for liberation, but we were being sentenced for terrorism. “If a pen can be considered  a tool of terrorism, then we all are [terrorists],” was a part of my speech there. We sensed that heavy and long sentences were prepared for the whole group. The resistance locally  mobilized big crowds of citizens in front of the court but also all around the occupied lands. In that situation, with my hands cuffed, I decided to take a step.

At that time, I was in a relationship with Avni Klinaku, who together with us was expected to be sentenced  to many years of prison. During my final speech, I announced my engagement with him. It was not a day to realize our plans, but it was a message that the life of Albanians will continue in spite of the Serbian-Slavic attempts to extinguish it. I can still hear the echo of the applauses of our people who were present in court, I still see the shock of the judges.

When I was released from  prison, I got engaged in the Association of Political Prisoners, where I was a member of the leadership. During that time, besides other things, I was engaged in  supporting the families of the political prisoners, in preparing the food boxes, and organizing the prison visits. I personally knew the heroin mothers of activists such as Liburn Aliu, Asllan Selimi, Enver Dugolli, Demir Limaj, Nait Hasani and so on, as well as miss Myrvete – the sister of the intellectual and patriot Ukshin Hoti, with whom we travelled to make  visits to  the prison of Mitrovica e Srem. Our journey was dangerous and full of surprises. At that time Serbia denied that it was keeping Albanian political prisoners in its prisons. To counteract this,  we conducted many interviews with relatives and collected them as testimony of the cruel mistreatments of Albanians who were being held in Serbian prisons. I have published a summary of those in my book Në Pranga [Handcuffed], published by the Association of Political Prisoners in 1998.

In one of the meetings of the Association of Political Prisoners’ leadership, in 1998, we decided to support the Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës (UÇK) [Kosovo Liberation Army] with all possible material and moral means. I remember with respect the meaningful discussion of Professor Sami Peja regarding    need of putting the whole activity of the Association at the  service of UÇK. In January 1999, together with former political prisoners Hydajet Hyseni, Teuta Hadri and Ilmi Ramadani, we went to the [UÇK] Central Headquarter in Berisha where we met Jakup Krasniqi, Adem Grabovci, Rexhep Selimi, Fatmir Limaj and many others. We spent one night there and the next day we visited Radio Kosova e Lirë [Radio Free Kosovo]. There we met Berat Luzha, Martin Çuni, Nysret Pllana, Nezir Myrtaj and so on.

After the war, since establishing Kosovo institutions was a need and a necessity, I was a member of the Transitional Council of Kosovo. I especially remember the protest that was organized on December 31, 1999, on New Year’s Eve, in the center of Pristina, and the massive attendance. At the same time, I was the leader of the Organizing Council of the successive protests until 2001, and the 24 hours hunger strike for the release of Albanians from Serbian prisons, and the uncovering of the fate of those who went missing.

Today, in these new circumstances, my political and intellectual engagement has changed its form, but the aim remains the same: eternal honor and respect for the fallen on the field of honor. The road of national unity is one and one way.