The former political prisoners in Kosovo during the Yugoslav period were mostly charged for irredentist and nationalist activities, and considered internal enemies of Yugoslavia. They were identified as Ilegalja, a blanket term for the underground groups organised in threes. The movement still remains obscure due to their form of activism that acted in secret. The political legacy of Ilegalja is discussed within different historical contexts. Contradicting narratives about this movement calls for new ways of mediating this difficult-to-approach heritage.

Igballe Novosella Mehmeti

Jurist and activist

It was summertime, and people usually went to the sea. We weren’t thinking of the sea, we were preoccupied with the issue of our brothers. Which one is in prison, which one we should prepare a care package for, where is… I got two large bags. I think at the time, both Selatin and Sabri were in prison. I had two large bags and was on my way. I ran into a friend in the city, at the square, she said, ‘Where are you going?’ The prison was where it still is today. We lived next to Dodona and usually went… We had the right [to visit them] twice a week, initially twice a week, and then it was once a week, Mondays and Thursdays, to send them clothes. When we visited every two weeks, we would send them food as well.

I was carrying two bags, I was walking, and she asked, ‘Igballe, what’s up?’ I said, ‘Not much, you?’ ‘Are you going on vacation?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘You will have fun.’ I said, ‘Yes, yes, I hope you will have fun just like I will,’ you know. She didn’t quite understand [what I meant]. I was going to prison to send the packages. […] In other words, we were worried about our family members, the children were small, the wives were without husbands, we were not thinking of going on vacation or anything.

Martin Çuni

Journalist

One example from when the events of ‘81 took place, there was an order that we had to play a Serbian song in the Serbian language during the Karavan të Fshatit [The Village Caravan] airtime. ‘Yes, okay,’ I said, ‘but I won’t take responsibility for [picking] a Serbian song, I’m not familiar with it, I’ll play whatever they send me, I won’t pick it on my own.’ And [they said] ‘The music editor will give you a list, and you will pick from that list.’ ‘Okay.’

[…] In Gllogjan, I remember well. They closed down the high school there, the classes. Outraged, I went and did a news report. The report was about five minutes long. […] And I wrote in the report, ‘The latest: a school has been closed down, now children will become shepherds and may God help them.’ They picked to play the song Ćobani, ćobanice [Srb.: shepherds]. I found it. And at the end, after saying that, I played the song Ćobani, ćobanice in Serbian.When I went to work the next day there was the editor-in-chief, [in fact] two editors were waiting for me at the front door of the Radio. […] I was invited to the director’s office, but the director was waiting for us at the editor’s office. It was Shaban Hyseni and some Dimić, Slobodan Dimić. Shaban said, ‘Martin, what did you do?’ ‘What did I do?’ I said, ‘Did I say anything that’s untrue?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘but you didn’t say even one positive word.’ ‘I didn’t have anything positive to say.’ He said, ‘Where did you find that song?’ ‘Ah,’ I said, by God’s will, ‘I won’t take responsibility for the song, I said I don’t know anything about it.’ He said, ‘Don’t ever play a Serbian song again.’ That was the first and last time a Serbian song was played during Karavan të Fshatit.

Zyrafete Berisha Lushaj

Albanian Language Teacher

It was the anniversary of the ‘81 demonstrations. I lived on campus, at the Student Center, and while on campus, of course, nothing happened without me knowing about it. I was prepared for something to happen, I was prepared because my brother was also part of the Movement and I knew that if something happened, I knew what I would say, I know where I am and I know well the reasons behind it. 

[…] I went out with friends in the yard in front of the dorm and met my brother. I met many of my friends, many university colleagues. I did not know that we were being photographed [by the police], each movement was photographed, such severe police measures. So, they tracked us down and after a short while we were arrested, my brother and friends. The three of us at once were arrested. And that’s when the torture started while we were under investigation and the sentence in prison was being decided.

It was a very, very terrible period, because you had to be aware of what you were saying. My concern was protecting others, I was not concerned for myself. […] But, I remember that my brother who was three years older than me, was more courageous and said to me, ‘Don’t say a word!’ I remember only this.

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.

Hava Shala

Social Worker

The beginnings of the Blood Feuds Reconciliation Movement.

The spokesperson of Milosevic’s government appeared on [prime time] news at that time […] And said, ‘They were not killed by our army and our police,’  by them, ‘primitive Albanians were killed because of blood feuds.’ […] It was very irritating, it was unacceptable to me, it was very discriminatory, it was very untrue, it was very dehumanizing.

And the next day I went to Peja. Myrvete was the first person I wanted to meet and the one I went there with the intention to meet […] I met her in Peja and we started talking, I don’t remember whether she had watched the news or not. Myrvete and I, we always understood each-other well, we were friends even before, before prison, during prison and after prison. And we understood each-other, we didn’t have to explain much, we didn’t have to put an effort to convince each other… she considered [blood feuds reconciliation] very important and she said, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’ […]

Brahim, Lul, Myrvete and I went to Adem’s [Grabovci] house that day, and we talked and we agreed without hesitation, I mean, we didn’t need to discuss much, we didn’t need to talk much or philosophize. […]

Then we thought about a person, a honourable, treasured and valuable face who also has the competence to enter the oda, to hold oda-style conversations, it was professor Zekerija Cana and professor Anton Çetta, Zekerija Cana first, respectively. He was honourable, at least to us, but not only to us,  we knew his engagement, his writings.”

Ismail Gashi Sllovia

Former Political Prisoner

I hear many say, and I heard them say, ‘I was the leader of the Reconciliation Movement in this municipality and that municipality.’ Even in our municipality they say  that Avdi Kelmendi was the leader. We never chose a leader. Even Anton Çetta himself did not… this is my opinion, don’t take it for granted. There was never a group elected as leaders. There was Mark Krasniqi, let’s say, Kajtaz Recaj, Muhamet Pirraku, there was Ramiz Kelmendi, they were with, around Anton, with Anton, but they were not chosen. Not even Anton, he said it himself several times, ‘I am not the leader of the Reconciliation, I am a reconciliator, an activist who does the walk.’ People wanted him around because he had his ways, he was a natural. He spent time in the oda, for 15 years he worked in Drenica, on folklore, he collected folk songs, he learned the oda mentality. Yes, but whenever we had a more relaxed conversation, he would say, ‘I did not know who my people are. Only now have I learned about the people, because I didn’t 70 years ago. How many dark stains they had, suffering in such ugliness, tormented within by the conflict of revenge.’

Ibish Neziri

Former Political Prisoner

‘What are the conditions?’ ‘There is no condition, the conditions are that you behave like a good man, don’t provoke, don’t badmouth him, don’t harass him, these are the conditions, there aren’t other conditions.’ ‘No, he did not forgive me.’ ‘More [man], he did forgive you, we just came from his house.’ The same thing was repeated three times, ‘No, he did not forgive me.’ Then when he said it for the third time, I put my hand in my pocket and took out five bullets and placed them in front of his face, I said, ‘Do you see these?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘These were prepared for you, mister,’ I said, ‘we took them with us […] so, behave like a good man and don’t harass the man, don’t… in case you see him in the street avoid him, stay out of his sight, don’t provoke him!’ When he saw the bullets in front of him, he said, ‘Really,’ said, ‘he did forgive me,’ he said, ‘few times… lately… few times… in the last days he went out to confront me,’ he said, ‘I knew he was up to it, so I avoided him, I ran away.’ He said, ‘He really forgave me.’ […] This is, this is the grand part, when he says, ‘Take these bullets for Kosova, these were prepared for the head of the hasmi [the man he was in feud with].’ This, you know, is something really grand.

Zahrije Podrimqaku

Political Activist

In that moment a colleague  of the Council comes, he worked at the Council, he was quite old, Ismet, but I don’t recall his surname and he says, ‘I swear to God, you girl, Zahrije, the Council has been surrounded by police inspectors,’ continues, ‘and they are looking for a girl with curly hair.’ And I had my hair long, you know, up to here {shows the length of her hair}, I had my hair all curly, all… and I was young then, all different. There was no other girl with curly hair, except me (smiles). Right there, Ibra says to me, Ibrahim Makolli, ‘What business do they have with Zahrije? Zahrije has a low rank.’ Do you understand? They were not aware of who was being followed, what kind of assignments I undertook, and how I was being followed and how the police, for example, knew my movements well.

And they said, ‘If someone has to be taken away,  I am the Secretary of the Council, Behgjet Shala, you are a member of the Chairmanship, bac Adem the director,’ he said, ‘they should take us with high ranks, they have no business with Zahrije.’ ‘So, Zahrije, have you eaten?’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t.’ ‘Come, there is a burek shop near the Council, let’s eat a burek.’ […] When we were out, they ambushed me, the inspectors came right to me and all of the sudden started searching me, thinking I have a weapon and that I am armed. I took out only my ID and they looked at it, and now Behgjet, they didn’t want to take him, for sure… Ibrahim Makolli and me, yes. But about Ibrahim Makolli, they thought he was Agron Ramadani. Because they [the police] through the phone… when Agron spoke with the Llausha Brigade, the phones were tapped.

On that moment, when Agron and I were taken, they put us in the car, closed the doors and called the main police station 92, he said, he spoke in Serbian but I understood right away, he said, ‘We arrested Zahrije and Agron Ramadani.’

Adem Grabovci

Deputy at the Kosovo Parliament

In this regard, during our conversation Hava tells us of a case, she says, ‘I saw a young man today,’ because there was this plea, ‘Whoever doesn’t join us is a traitor,’ so she notices the young man, whose name unfortunately I can’t recall at the moment, and he’s crying. She says to him, ‘Join us!’ He says, ‘I’d join you, I’d march with you, and I am with you. But I am in a feud with my neighbor. And if I joined you, I’m afraid the person I am in feud with will target me. He’ll kill me, and then I will compromise the movement, you know the protest,’ because, ‘Albanians are killing each other’s.’ And that was very touching to all of us. […] But it was a moment in which we identified some good, some beneficial aspects. First, we would fight a phenomenon which was fed by the occupier, by the regime of that time, for the purpose of dividing, disrupting our people. And second, it was an opportunity to approach the masses, to urge the masses to prepare themselves, to put it simply, for the armed struggle.

Enver Tali

Political Activist

However, I went to my neighbor’s, my neighbor’s son was four or five years older than I was. ‘Come,’ he says, ‘let’s go and hide.’ Where should we hide? They owned horses. Because of the horses, they had grass sheds, what do they call it, hay, so he says, ‘Come, let’s climb on the hay shed, and crawl inside.’ ‘Okay!’  [I said], being younger than he was.  My mother didn’t know, nobody knew. We got up and climbed into the hay. He went to a corner of that room, removed some grass and entered the hole, just like that, he hid on his feet, he put the grass on his head. […]  I couldn’t do what he did since I was younger. I gathered some hay and spread it, I lied down, covered my head with hay, and my feet were outside. When they entered to search for someone, they didn’t find anyone in the hay shed. They found me, and drag me by my feet. They took me, got me out of there and took me to the yard, … not the yard, the street. They shot a lot of people by the stream. There were seven or eight old people from my neighborhood tied up, I knew them because they were from my neighborhood. They tied me with those old people, to shoot me. Three people were guarding us with some kind of Russian automatics… machine guns that can stand on the ground on three legs. And they were armed up to their teeth. […] They killed what they could, so it was our turn to be killed. However, behind our tied up backs, Shaban Haxhia’s partisans were approaching  the bridge on that stream. They were armed. ‘Don’t move, don’t’ move, don’t move!’ They yelled. They raised their hands. ‘Don’t move, don’t move!’ They raised their hands. We turned to see [them] and they had the five-pointed star, how could we trust them. But anyway, because they spoke Albanian, we had some hope. When they came closer, ‘Who are these?’ ‘Enemies,’ they called them, ‘neprijatelj, enemies, enemies.’ […] He hit me on my arm and got me up, since in my condition I was weaker. He got me up a bit and said, ‘Is this child  an enemy too?’ He had a gun in his hand, he killed the three of them without a word, those who were waiting for us.