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.

Zelije Kryeziu Ramadani

Political activist

There I was surprised by my mother’s stance, Zelfie, without a single day of formal education. But she devoted body, heart and soul to the cause of Kosovo. When she got up [there], I saw that my mother was brave, like many other mothers from Kosovo. My mother wore a headscarf, she was covered when she went out on the street. I don’t know, but it was surprising to me. When she got up to get ready, she tied her scarf around her mouth {describes with hands} and filled it with onions. She filled the scarf with onions. Then we all went out. I was there in the frontlines. There were many other women, there were many others. We began the demonstration, ‘Independence, Democracy, Republic!’ The slogans of that time, ‘Freedom!’ The first teargas was thrown in that neighborhood. You have no idea. […] When the first teargas was thrown in front of the demonstrators, my mother had layered dimia, she opened those layers and sat on top of the teargas canister. We all yelled terrified, ‘Don’t, don’t, don’t!’ She managed to get that teargas before exploding. Because it was making that zzzz {onomatopoeia} it made, before releasing the gas. […] And my mother threw [the teargas] back at them. The whole crowd began to mobilize and throw them back. That was the last straw which revolted the policemen when they saw how we were mobilizing quickly.

Saime Isufi

Political activist

It was sometime around 10:00 when Ibrahim Kelmendi called me. He asked, ‘Did Kadri come back?’ I said, ‘No, he didn’t come back.’ Of course Kadri would come back that night because it was Sunday and he had to work on Monday. He didn’t come back. […] They didn’t have a phone at home, the Gërvalla brothers, so they would go out to call from a payphone at the time. On their way out it happened because they were ambushed. They waited. They just wanted these three to come together and to kill them. That was UDB’s task. […] And then, Ibrahim Kelmendi called again and Hasan Mala picked up the phone. He said, ‘I want to let you know,’ he said, ‘that there was an assassination in Germany. Kadri Zeka,’ he said, ‘Kadri is dead,’ I heard that because it was, the night was quiet. I heard that. It was  not known about the other two yet, because [it was thought that] Jusuf was wounded. […] When we got there Jusuf’s wife came out and said, ‘Come on young bride,’ I was recently married, not even two weeks. She said, ‘Come on bride, three dead.’ It was a bomb. Despite that the pain was great for Kadri, but at least if someone survived, it was very difficult. So that was it. And then, the people there, fellow Albanians all stood up because they were, how to put it, the heads, their leaders. It was a, a shock for everyone. Everyone came to me for condolences, for material help. They tried to return them to Kosovo, but there was no way, the embassy did not allow it. So, the burial took place after three weeks, so to say, in Germany, because they didn’t allow us to return them and so on.

Sami Dërmaku

Activist

One of the days I saw a photocopier that they had placed in the hall. Actually, he gave that statement, Isemt. And I asked him, ‘Ismet,’ I said, ‘what is,’ I said, ‘this mimeograph,’ I said, ‘why did you put it here?’ He said, ‘We got a new one and we put it there.’ I thought to myself even if we took it won’t cause you trouble.

I passed by it with Rexhep Malaj, I told him, ‘Rexhep, here in the hall there is a mimeograph, but I just have to break that light there,’ because there was that public light. I said, ‘And get it done, steal it.’ He said, ‘Listen to what I’m saying, don’t dare to do that because you come here often,’ because in Electro-Kosova, electrical engineer, of high voltage. ‘Leave it, I will get it done,’ ‘No, no.’ ‘If you want,’ he said, ‘to go to prison and send your friends to prison, do it. But you shouldn’t, you come here often and they will suspect, they will suspect anyway.’ When one day passing by, I saw the light was broken and I thought Rexhep has done it, Rexhep Malaj.

Sabri Novosella

Political activist

The second imprisonment happened like this […] I think this was in ‘70. One of our friends from prison, Hyda Dobruna, got married. He was a member of our organization, [together] with his friends. He got married in Gjakova. He invited us friends to go to his wedding. And in the wedding it was proposed, actually here Meriman Braha, he is here, he works here. I know, he proposed from someone to go up, there were more than 200 wedding guests, and to ask for a moment of silence for Fazli Grajçevci and as a sign of respect for the prisoners who were in prison. They found it reasonable, they suggested me, so I got up. I greeted the wedding guests, I congratulated the wedding and I asked for a moment of silence for Fazli Grajçevci and as a sign of respect for our friends who were in prisons. That was done and the situation immediately got messy. That’s when they imprisoned me, they imprisoned me… I was sentenced to two years in prison. And then, what Meriman Braha said, there were investigations and everything, everything, I didn’t accept any names.

Xun Çetta

Publicist

When the demonstrations of March 11 [1981] broke, I was not the one to organize them, though I was here. I am not the one to say who started it, though I recently discovered something. Because members of our organization, part of the sentence, because the accusation included 21 students, with Ali Lajçi at the helm, Bajram Kosumi, Musli Kosumi, Merxhan Avdyli, Gani Vlana, let’s not mention names, Gani Koci and others. We were all included in one accusation, 21 students, not all 21 of us were part of one organization. But their politico-legal strategy lumped us together as one organization to portray us as a terrorist organization and include 21 of us. They were like there are three here, four, five there, six of them worked in groups of two, three, four and they lumped us together and made us out to be the organizers of ‘81. I don’t know how they organized, four people organized it. I also mentioned the names in other places, but I won’t get into that to waste time. I was sentenced to 13 years.

Ajet Duli

Teacher of physics and chemistry/ Policeman

The first conversation was about why I joined first of all, why I became a member, with whom, how? […] The first dusk had already fallen. They came. I was alone for a while, in the meantime two workers from the State Security, Muharrem Bektshi and Januz Loshi, came. […] That first night after they came, they sat there and called someone to bring them something to drink. There was a waitress, they called her. The waitress came there, they ordered. They asked me, ‘What do you want to drink?’ ‘I don’t want anything, I don’t want anything.’ ‘No, no, that can’t happen here. We’re all drinking and you will drink something as well,’ forcefully. ‘Okay then,’ I said, ‘I’ll have tea.’ They brought it and I started drinking tea. As I drank the tea, my body warmed up. I noticed something was wrong. In the meantime, I lost consciousness. There was a big long desk and there were chairs. I don’t know how but I fell on that desk. I bent down and fell. But I don’t know how long I was in that state.

I saw Muharem Bekteshi when he was, I didn’t see him, but he took out… he had or I don’t know now that rubber rod, a baton as they called it. Right next to me, he banged on the table with that rubber baton. It made a banging noise and as I was above, I woke up from that slumber and I made an effort and got up on my feet. It felt like I had a hole in my head here {points to his head}, everything was foggy and I was sweaty. I was dripping, I was completely wet. I said, ‘May God punish you, what have you done to me?’ He said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘you will now,’ he said, ‘sing like a nightingale,’ he said, ‘you will talk about where you were, what you did, how you organized to overthrow our government.’ In the meantime they came, a guard came and took me to the cell. When I got up the next morning, I was the most desperate man in my life.

Teuta Bekteshi

Physician

You cannot imagine how crowded it was, how much enthusiasm, you cannot… there were elderly, you had, there were women […] When Hydajet Hyseni got up, in that part of the city’s promenade that Pristina has today, next to the Zahir Pajaziti memorial […] When they got up, we were very close and one of our friends from the group got up there, Remzije Limani, she also got on the tree. […] While the demands Hydajet made were articulated, you know, dressed, masked and everything. But the problem was very serious, because it was so crowded that it was like this {puts her hands together} one after the other. And then they started throwing teargas. Then the crowd of people, because it got to that part at first, they were the first who started to have serious problems. You didn’t have a chance to go back, but the crowd pushed. Here, it got to me, it knocked me down. I fell down, because the crows pushed me. You had nowhere to hold on to, because the person behind you ran away. I fell to the ground on asphalt, so, my brother fell on top of me. Teuta was on the ground because we were there together and I was smothered. Teuta said, ‘A really big person fell on top of me,’ she said, ‘I couldn’t even breathe underneath.’ And my brother was on top there and when we stood up after the crowd dispersed, when we stood up, there were already chants, the demands came to light. […] We were running, some that way, some this way. On our way back up there, I mean the main streets from the canteen, where the main street is now, the street, shoes, sneakers, stuff all over the ground as the people ran away.

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

Professor/Translator

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.