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.

Zyrafete Kryeziu Manaj

Political activist

After I was released from prison, all of my rights were limited. I didn’t have the right to work, nor in governmental institutions, nor in sports activities like I did before, nor literary activity. I either had to change my last name or find a connection through friends to publish poems here and there. So, from that small prison, I came out to this big prison called Kosovo, and [it was like that] until I married my husband. Before I had the wedding, I got a marriage certificate so that I could take my husband’s last name. I changed my last name and then I was able to work for about four or five years in the Municipality of Klina. After five years, they tracked me down and fired me from there as well. From there I went to the Municipality of Lipjan, to Gadime. I read in the newspaper that they were looking for a physical education teacher. I submitted my application there, they accepted me and I worked there for a few months. They expected me to be politically compatible with them, a trait that was required at the time. I didn’t have it in me.

Skender Vardari


The content of the treatise called for commemoration of the ‘81 demonstration, for it to take place again in ‘82 and it was a call for demonstrations. Based on the content we understood the goal and that sufficed for us to organize an activity with friends, a close circle of friends, three or four people, and we took that treatise upon ourselves, making copies of the treatise. […]

We made copies in a simple way, we worked on it until a day before. We planned to go out on March 10 [1982], me and another friend, we got out to distribute the treatises and we ran into the police. In an attempt to avoid them, to run from the police in a very steep alley of Pristina, I slipped and fell. They got to me, while my friend was waiting not knowing what to do. I told him, “You run!” And he managed to escape, I was caught while distributing the treatises and I was imprisoned.

[…] I remember that we had a considerable amount of copies of the treatise hidden under my clothes at the chest. We would take them out one by one, two by two, like that. […] I know that they were almost finished, so they caught me with only a few copies. I had distributed the others, but it was my fate to be caught in the act. And then there were investigations, prison and other things.

Selatin Novosella

Political activist

I knocked, he didn’t open. I knocked, he didn’t open. ‘Sabri, it is I, Selatin,’ he opened it. He had closed the door with a hook of sorts. When I went inside, I saw the entire room was covered in red, yellow and black high quality silk. He had received an order to sew flags. ‘Can you help out?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ I was good at drawing, I was a student of the esteemed professor Engjëll Berisha. He said, ‘I need you to draw the eagle because I received a letter my brother,’ he didn’t really receive it […] he said, ‘Here,’ he said, ‘I received this letter.’ He said to me, ‘Go Selatin…’ [he] was a tailor, he had a workshop, but he also owned a little sewing machine with which he sewed at home after work hours.

[The letter read] ‘Go to this place on this date, time, minute. Take this fabric and sew a hundred Albanian national flags. Fold them and leave them in that place. Don’t tell anyone, no one can know. And if you don’t do this, we will end you and your entire family.’ I was terrified. The letter was false, but it was a way for him to justify his deeds, you know. So a flag went bad but we sewed 99 of them. Those 99 flags were distributed across Kosovo, of course including Pristina and Prizren. And that was an action of the organization Revolutionary Movement for Unification of Albanians, which was founded by Adem Demaçi…

Meriman Braha

Political activist

Solitary confinement is a specific type of punishment. Confinement causes great trauma. Confinement causes great memory loss. A person could forget things which are unimaginable in a normal life. […] There were times, at specific periods there were no reading materials, no newspapers, no magazines, no books, nothing. Sometimes they would leave books. But mainly not, mainly not. And it was confinement within yourself. Then you would have to, I witnessed people in prison making a lot of noises because of solitary confinement, people trying to run away. It became very normal to me, I couldn’t imagine being in a place where I was not alone. I got used to solitary confinement and that seemed normal to me. An abnormal state in my psyche became normal.

I would think to myself, how will I be around others? Will I be able to adapt to having people around? 13 months. It was very difficult, the days wouldn’t pass by, they were very long. I was able to know where I was only based on the conversations they had with me or channeled towards me and I would realize then where I was. I had a lot to say, I still have a lot left to say (smiles).

Hatmone Haradinaj Demiri

Albanian Language Professor

My [paternal] uncle made a cassette for me, he said, ‘Take this,’ he made a compilation of patriotic songs, ‘take this and play it at your dorm.’ So that was it, it wasn’t like he directly assigned me to do that, I took it, and on March 10 in the evening, barely anyone was asleep, we stayed outside all night and the weather was really nice, warm, and I placed the cassette deck on the window, dormitory number one, all those patriotic songs. […] There was a feeling that night, nobody slept until late, so it was all of us, there was a sort of, a sort of freedom before that turmoil happened the next day. So it was all of us, we were aware that something was happening, but we didn’t know exactly…

[…] We joined at the canteen and we took some onions with us, we also took some nails and put them in bottles, I don’t even know why we took them, what we could do, but however that’s what we took with us, [we took the] onions in case they threw tear gas at us. We didn’t even know who gave the idea, since it was our first time directly participating in a demonstration where there was tear gas, so that was the night when people joined, at certain moments.

[…] There were chants, ‘Kosovo Republic,’ ‘Trepça works, Belgrade prospers,’ ‘Republic, either through peace…’ We didn’t chant these at the beginning, at first we said, ‘We want better conditions,’ ‘We want food, we want…’ you know, they were a little softer, especially at the beginning of the protest in the canteen. But later on, gradually, as per usual, at first you start softer and then people start saying their own slogans, in a different way, until it reached the extreme.

Naime Maçastena Sherifi


But, no, I wasn’t part of the organizing [body]. I was only a participant like all the other citizens. I remember that on March 26 [1981], when the most difficult student demonstrations took place at the square in Pristina, and after the demonstration took place, I went out in the city with my father and saw the square in a terrible condition. I mean, I saw people’s hair on the ground, heels, people’s belongings. They beat up any student they caught, they beat them up so badly that it was horrible just to think about it. And then, during the April 1st demonstration at our school, I was a student of the Meto Bajraktari elementary school, so all of our group were students of the same class and the Meto Bajraktari school. They isolated our school that day, they said… we were in class. They said, ‘You shouldn’t go out.’ And among other things, during our first class for the day, the students from Emin Duraku school came with flags, they came in an organized manner shouting in the school yard and they called us too. So, they invited us to join the demonstrations. Since our doors were locked and the teachers were supervising the halls, we found another way, we found a window on the first floor through which we all went out. […] That group of children with the flags, mainly young 14-15-16 year old students, we then [together] joined a bigger group of demonstrators.

Teuta Hadri

Gynecologist/ Political Activist

Their biggest worry was that there was Tito’s [Youth Relay] baton. Our goal was to interrupt the relay ceremony so that it doesn’t take place in Kosovo. That was the biggest crisis for which both parties were aware of. And they didn’t fulfill our demands, because if they did, that thing would have been silenced. Maybe, I believe, although the mass was energized. And they didn’t fulfill our demands, and a revolt broke out there, revolted, people aimed to go to Ulpiana where the baton was being carried. But they… we weren’t aware that we were surrounded. […] When we broke that cordon, there were some fences like round bars dividing the street. We jumped over them and someone fell over, interrupting the relay. That’s when the massive shootings from the police began, with guns, with… they shot. […] It was a revolt and the first confrontation with the police forces.

[…] A student had the national red and black flag leading the mass, and when that student was knocked down, Trëndelina Labënishti ran, she was also a political prisoner, imprisoned for three years in Macedonia. She took the flag, since at the moment it doesn’t occur to you, you know, but it did occur to someone to take the flag. Trëndelina took the flag and said, ‘Don’t let the flag fall into the hands of the police,’ and stood up. But, the police went after Trëndelina, she wrapped herself in the flag so they wouldn’t take it. […] At that moment I also took the flag and I couldn’t lift it because it was quite heavy, about five, six, ten meters long. It also had that wooden pole, it took strength to make the flag fly.

Enver Dugolli

Political activist

In the 1981 demonstrations, although we were already part of illegal groups, we discussed that it would be good if we organized [it in Gllogoc] because the demonstrations broke out throughout Kosovo. We were expecting some sort of information or push from our group. And while waiting, on April 2, 1981 […] a letter was going around, a letter which was multiplied, it was multiplied and it was going around among the students. And that letter fell into my hands. It was a call for demonstrations. The call was for 12:00, it was a market day, it was Thursday.

[…] I told two or three of my friends who were near me, since we read the letter together and… the reason being that I thought if we leave it at 12:00, it would fail. Because of the militia, the police of that time began, they were alarmed and began to come around the school. But the other risk was that the professors wouldn’t allow [the students], if they entered the classrooms, they wouldn’t allow the students to go out. And I said, ‘We’ll begin now.’ I took that initiative and a big group of friends got out of there and went to the center of Gllogoc, which was near the high school. […]

I took the initiative to explain to everyone what was going on, without anyone appointing me to do so. No one told me to get on top of a vehicle which was parked nearby, to draw the attention of the students and the professors, and so I began to read the call for demonstrations. I ended the call for demonstration with the slogans which read, ‘Kosovo Republic!’ ‘Republic, Constitution. Either through peace or war!’ ‘Trepça works, Belgrade prospers!’

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


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.