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.

Gani Krasniqi

MP in the Assembly of Kosovo

They came and arrested me in the name of the people. They held me… so it was around 10:00. That day was Relay Day, it passed through Pristina. We had a duty, each of us there, to disrupt it, to mess it up. But they arrested me. […] But then I found out that they had, in the office they had wiretapped me. I didn’t talk in the office because I was aware that I had an office phone, but I would go to the post office for phone calls. I came across a tape and that’s how I found out. Tito was on his deathbed, it was in those, in those Slovenian hospitals and the weather was kind of cold, I don’t know. I talked to him [activist of the underground movement] I asked, ‘What is the weather like there? Is it freezing?’ ‘No, no,’ in Belgrade. I said, ‘It’s freezing in Slovenia, hands and feet are freezing,” you know, because they had amputated [Tito’s limb]. That’s where I found out that I was wiretapped. And then I knew even when they came to wiretap me, you know. I then knew. But they watched me, they were wiretapped.

Shahadije Neziri Lohaj

Political activist

I participated in the ‘81 demonstrations too. We were at home, and we heard that there was a demonstration. I was young, so I had just turned 15 or something like that. My mother told me, ‘Don’t go,’ she said, ‘because you shouldn’t go there, you are way too young.’ ‘Yes, yes.’ And my brother and I ran away and joined the demonstrations. […] At the railroad there was a crowd of people who gathered and we began there and joined, we started chanting various slogans, ‘Kosovo Republic.’ […] We started chanting, ‘Trepça is ours.’ […] There were different kinds of slogans and I was part of it together with my brother. And then, the teargas was thrown, the police began intervening, to hit people, to push the demonstrators and that’s when we dispersed. To tell you the truth the teargas was so terrible that it suffocated you. There were people who were more prepared, who were older and said, ‘Take onion and place it close to your nose for it to go away.’ So, they had thrown poison. We ran from there and we came back home.

Binak Ulaj


The treatment was terrible. It was a very humiliating treatment. As you can imagine, let’s say, every time they brought lunch, after two-three minutes they would ask us to give back the portions [of food] we had. Or, this is not something bad to bring up. Even when they sent us to the bathrooms, three-four minutes, ‘Get out, get out, get out!’ Without… we were five-six people, seven in the room, et cetera, et cetera. […] It was terrible, it was difficult, it was, it was a kind of, a kind of extreme insult to our dignity I mean. However, I will say once more, fortunately we managed to preserve our dignity, we didn’t, we didn’t revolt in the sense of reacting without foreseeing the consequences. Each time we reacted by writing complaints and when… with hunger strikes. […] But solitary confinement sometimes is… they say, ‘Sometimes prison is not as difficult as the prisoners,’ because we, I mean since we didn’t get [proper] treatment, it means we had special treatment for the worse, but our status as political prisoners wasn’t recognized. That’s why they put us together with other prisoners, with other felons. I’m not talking about those convicted of murder, still they had a… but with thieves, with rapists, that was exceptionally difficult.

Naser Kuka


A day before my arrest, now this happened on March 5 or March 6 [1982], I am not entirely sure. But a day before, I mean, within these two days, a friend of mine was arrested, a fellow activist, one of my closest friends I had during those years in the underground movement and also later as well. I was informed about his absence at home during the night by one of his sisters. You know, he didn’t go home all night, ‘Do you know where he is? Where did he go?’ Questions like that.

[…] Now when she told me he didn’t come home all night, I was 99 percent sure that he must have been arrested. When I went out in the city, so this happened on a Thursday, Fridays were a market day in Kaçanik and I would usually get the newspapers when I went out. I saw unfamiliar faces that… were wandering around. Then of course I took the measures I had to for any possibility so they wouldn’t find anything at home, and if it was true that my friend was arrested, then I knew I would be arrested too. Because of our proximity, and the shared duties we had. I took some measures, made sure to keep in place communication within the group and ensure the continuation of the work, regardless of what happens to me that day or the next day, and I went home in the afternoon to hang out, to see my family once again, because to tell you the truth I didn’t want to be arrested in the presence of my family. I had the opportunity to flee, but I didn’t want to, because if they imprisoned my friend, a friend of mine, it was Hysen Shehu, then let them imprison me too.

Sherafedin Berisha


My grandmother received it the worst, and then my mother too. My father took it well, he took it well. Even my wife, compared to what I thought, she took it very well. Actually when they sentenced me to five years, she said, ‘I was relieved when they gave you five years.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘I thought they were releasing you,’ and said, ‘and would label you as a traitor.’ It felt good. […] prior to my sentence being pronounced, I was prepared to be sentenced to up to ten years.  I prepared myself to not mind it up to ten years, above ten years would’ve been more difficult to handle. When they said five, it really felt like they told me I was being released. Because it didn’t seem like a long sentence compared to other friends.

Nuhi Bytyçi


…the moment when we were caught came, we were imprisoned, we didn’t object. They caught one of our friends red handed, and he couldn’t contain himself, and the police came and took me early in the morning. I wonder how they knew, that moment was interesting, because they came straight to my room. And to my bed, not my brother’s, but to my bed. They said, ‘Come on, get up Nuhi.’ I got up. My mother wasn’t doing that well health wise, my grandmother, one of my [paternal] aunts, my father, they all got upset. […] They sent me to prison there, and then the torture began. To tell you the truth, I had a neighbor, an investigative judge, Skender Berisha. He really was our first neighbor in Prizren. He asked me to take it back and to leave from there, to repent. He gave me a cigarette, he said, ‘And don’t say the last word,’ he said, ‘first.’ ‘Shall we begin?’ […] The typist there {pretends he is typing} and said, ‘Let’s begin, Nuhi.’ I said, ‘I don’t feel guilty, I am totally aware of what I did.’ ‘Stop it, stop it,’ he said, ‘stop it here!’ […] And he told the typist to stop, to not type. He said, ‘Nuhi we agreed to not say the last word first. Shall we continue?’ I said, ‘Let’s continue.’ I repeated the same things again.

Afide Topalli Kuka


When they released me, they released me the day before. My family didn’t know, my family was expecting me the next day. They [the police] told me, ‘You will be released from prison tomorrow and you will have to take the train.’ I went back and told my friends, I told them this and that. Nazife had the most experience in these matters, because her brothers had been imprisoned before and she got to visit them and deal with blackmail and all that. She said, ‘If you asked me Afide,’ she said, ‘don’t take the train.’ She said, ‘You’re better off to take the bus,’ she said, ‘and follow public roads.’ ‘Alright,’ and that’s what I decided. […] I was released wearing the prison uniform, it was very bad. Gray colored uniform, it was bad. There were some knee high socks and they were kind of loose. There were some shoes, old women used to wear them, I don’t know.

[…] when we entered Merdare everyone started [speaking] in Albanian, the whole bus was with Albanians. A man said, ‘Let’s stop here in Podujevo,’ he said, ‘because it’s far, there are no buses.’ I said, ‘You’re speaking to me in Albanian now, huh? Now you’re speaking,’ I said, ‘it’s not a problem, arriving here is like going home.’ And I came back. Fortunately, I arrived at the bus to the village in time and the first person I saw was my cousin, Islam Topalli, Ylber Topalli’s father. And we went together. He said, ‘Afide,’ he said, ‘don’t go inside right away. I will go in and inform them.’

Idriz Mehmeti

Political activist

We had a principal, a very bad man, very bad, he was the head of high school dormitories. If I am not mistaken, his name was Qamil, but I will not say his last name. I feel sorry, though he did not feel sorry to treat children like that, I was a child then. They’ve figured it out while going through my writings in my notebook and so on, they’ve figured it out that I have written it [the slogan]. He called me to his office, two people from UDB were there, though I wasn’t aware that they were UDB people and he said to me, ‘Can you please write down an open call? I have to… my typewriter is broken.’ I was very naive, he dictated and I would write it down. Years later in the Pristina prison during the investigations, the UDB people showed me that letter that I had written by hand. I had written a letter, that letter was… we placed it at the canteen, we couldn’t even eat breakfast due to some issues there. […] When I was arrested in ‘75 they [UDB] put it in front of me. You know, this happened because the head of the high school dormitories told on me.

Hidajete Shabani Dërmaku

Political activist

Samiu [my husband] said, ‘Let Vlora go and stay in Kosovo for about a week.’ And then Vlora was getting ready. Mimoza, my youngest daughter was watching her, she wanted to go too. She said, ‘Kuku,’ and then I said, ‘Mimoza wants to go too,’ he said, ‘Perhaps you want to go too?’ I said, ‘Yes to be honest,’ I said, ‘Sadie told me to go see my mother and she would give me her passport,’ my sister-in-law’s sister, [the sister] of Muhamer’s wife. I said, ‘Lude said she would give me her passport if I wanted to go to Kosovo as well,’ and she went, Geneva is 150 kilometers away from Biel. She went to take Muhamer’s sister-in-law’s passport and we thought of coming to stay here for about a week.


When we got on the bus, they said, ‘No,’ they said, ‘go back with this bus,’ for two days. I said, ‘Okay.’ And we got up and came with someone else’s passport. And my mother didn’t know about it at all. So I went. When we went to the village, we arrived at 11 PM, I think it was a Friday, 11 PM. And I covered my head with a blanket so they wouldn’t recognize me (laughs). So the people wouldn’t recognize me, and I went home. […]


I stayed that night, and another night I think, and I went back on Monday. I stayed there on Saturday, Sunday and I think I went back on Monday, yes. That’s it. Living abroad is very difficult. […] I would think to myself ‘How?’ The days would seem so long, time went by slowly, like a century.

Agim Sylejmani

Political activist

In ‘78 the relations between Albania and China ultimately deteriorated. So, at that time while we were listening to Radio Tirana and Radio Kuksi that they were sending various letters in support of the Labor Party and Enver Hoxha, we also wrote such letters here. We sent many letters, me and some friends would send them in Bulgaria, in Sofia, we sent them straight to the [Albanian] Embassy. But we also sent them by mail. Of course, at the time we tried to remove the traces as much as we could and send the letters directly to the mailbox. […] a special year, because it was the year, the hundredth anniversary of the Albanian League in Prizren, when they came from Albania, they organized different exhibitions, symposiums. That was a very dynamic year. So very easily we came into contact with young people, people with whom we shared the same ideas.