The oral histories of women activists offer a unique space that gives visibility and permanence to a history of women’s subjectivity that has been consistently marginalized if not forgotten. Whether engaged in protests against the occupiers in the Second World War, the campaign to abolish the veil, the fight for girls literacy, the engagement in nationalist movements, the resistance against Milošević, and the fight for women’s rights across ethnic divisions, women tell vivid personal stories intersecting with the broader historical events of the time.

Lindita Cena

Jurist

They were stranded, you know, they were under the siege of Serbian forces and could not secure food or basic medicine, for which they were in dire need, because they were surrounded by police forces. The protest was organized on March 16, 1998. We planned to start the march in Dragodan, at the America Embassy [Office]. There were a great number of women and girls, who, each of them held in their hands a loaf of bread and medicine, hoping to get to the families stranded in Prekaz. 

So, at the very beginning of the gathering there were various provocations by different people. But we did not stop the march. […] Near the Agricultural High School, throughout that part of the march we had people following us with cars that had Serbian plates. They provoked us, shouted at us, they tried to scare us or… but we did not stop, we continued marching, we did not shout back at them because we knew very well why we were going there. 

In one moment, I don’t remember it myself very well, it was a matter of seconds, and one of them drove the car into the crowd of women protesters. From that point on I don’t know what happened, I lost consciousness, I was one of the women who were hit by the car and I don’t know. I don’t remember what happened afterwards.

Igballe Rexha Jashari

Economist

…when the April 1 [1981] demonstration started, I was actually at home because I didn’t know, since I wasn’t in those activist groups, I wasn’t… but, since I heard that it broke out there, I went out immediately and my sister, who was only 15 at the time, was right behind me. Of course, I was trying to, I mean to convince her to go back home, but here where the Parliament is, we saw that the protesters were coming, rioters in fact, so we joined them. 

I tried to send my sister away from the demonstration once more, took her up to the Green Market, but she had tailed me that day. So, we stayed there, we were right in front of the megaphone, so in front of the stage where everything that was said, we listened until the police intervened. […]

And so we ran down the street, with, the tear gas, of course, affected my sister even more, and as I said that she was a burden in this case, I mean for me, because I had to hold her tight and not let go, even when we were chased by the police.

After a few hours we arrived at home, you know, at night. But, my sister continued organizing the high school students the next day. You know, she has been like that since she was 15. To avoid police persecution, they went somewhere above Shkolla Normale, above Gërmia in that area. So she went around with the flag in her hands like that and she didn’t come back all night. Actually she remained there.

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.

Greta Kaçinari

Educator

…after the opera I wanted to treat my friends from the church. You know, I worship St. Anthony, St. Anthony and I prayed to him a lot as a young woman. Thanks to him, my life took several important turns, and I said to him, ‘Look,’ you know, I am talking to St. Anthony, and I said to him, ‘Look, all the money I will be left with after I treat my friends with coffee, I will donate for your cause.’ We went out after the opera. We were out of the opera hall. We were going for a coffee, but everything was closed, no coffee shop was open. It was 10 p.m. and everything was closed. I said, ‘Oh come on, now I have to give all the money to Anthony,’ ‘Which Anthony?’ I said, ‘St. Anthony.’ (laughs) So, all the money we were supposed to spend on coffee, I said to him, ‘Here, I brought it all to you.’ 

But when I asked for St. Anthony’s guidance, I even said to him, ‘Look, you guide me however you see  fit,’ when I met a man, ‘if you think that he is the right man make it happen, if not, do not make it happen.’ He did not make it happen the first time around nor the second. I said to him, ‘Look, if you don’t think he’s right for me, don’t make it happen.’ It didn’t happen. When I met the third, I said to him, ‘Look, St. Anthony, until now you stopped them all from happening. This time around I will decide on my own.’

Florina Duli

Executive Director of IKS

The first protest was with white sheets of paper, the second with bread for mothers and children of Drenica. The bread protest was organized at a time when Drenica was entirely isolated from the rest of Kosovo. […] The goal of the walk was not simply to send bread there, so it was more about the effect it had on the international media, so we stopped and turned there. […]  I personally bought the bread and I think each… there was enough bread and bakeries gave away bread, but there were also people who bought it when they left the house, since we knew we would… You cannot imagine the level of solidarity at that time, it’s indescribable. Back then we didn’t think about the material side of our political engagement at any moment, there was always a way. […] There were also many protests which were simply symbolic, so they were an expression of the revolt that people needed to express, it was necessary for people to find an outlet for all that revolt that was built in them over the years.

Gjylshen Doko Berisha

Head of the Gilan’s Municipal Museum

Mrs. Lemane was my mother’s first cousin, the daughter of her maternal uncle. She completed the High Pedagogical School in Tirana and I think I inherited from her the desire to study Albanian Language and Literature. The way she taught us from fifth to the eighth grade was very unique. She would take the record player and play us poetry from well-known [national] poets, such as Naim [Frashëri], Andon Zako Çajupi, and others. So, we listened to recitals and music. She was like that, very good-hearted but also very harsh and that intimidated us. 

She was my aunt. When she came by our house to pay us a visit, I would hide in the other room. My mother would take me out by force. I would say to her, ‘No, because she…  she’s my teacher, I can’t show my face.’ So when my mother took me by force in the room, she would praise me in front of her. But what happened recently, quite recently, because she passed away four-five years ago, I went to her and asked her, ‘Aunt Leman, I always liked them, where did you get the poetry recordings?’ Today, no teacher would take the effort to do that. She said, ‘I recorded them myself. It was my voice.’ She had a very ringing voice, very melodic, but as a child I never thought it was hers, I thought it was just a recording.

Ajnishahe Azemi

Sociology professor

While talking to my students, together we saw it fit and we decided to open our school [Xhevdet Doda], but it was characteristic how we would open the school on both sides, on both wings {shows with her fingers}  of the school there were two tanks. While discussing it we were deciding that if we open the school door, the main entrance, they would see us, stop us and we wouldn’t achieve anything with that,  and then the violence, repression against us. 

And I said, ‘You know what? We are allowed to open the school elsewhere,’ because I knew it well, I worked for a long time. I said, ‘Since this is an old building and it has some window bars, but it’s possible that those bars, maybe you can do it together and we can remove those bars and get in through…’ it was the window in the basement, of the bathrooms {describes with her hand} of the basement. And we went there with those 17 students and we decided to open it.

[…] They did not stop us, nor did others come to stop us from opening it. And we stayed in that school. Of course, they came to school later asking, ‘How did you open it?’ and so on, but not to get us out of there. Maybe it was, how do I say it, a political maneuver so they could say in front of the world, ‘We are letting them, but they don’t want to. There’s this school that works in their school premisses, because we are letting them, we’re not stopping them.’

Edita Tahiri

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Negotiator

Mother was always busy, she had two jobs. Before noon she worked at the textile factory, she got that job after my father was imprisoned, and since my father did not betray his friends, all of them were free and so they made efforts to find a job for my mother. And my mother had to become a tailor, she took a course and became a tailor. So, in the first half of the day, she had an eight-hour shift, and then she worked at home. So, she was busy making sure we survived. But what I appreciated her for, is her commitment to our education. Too much, so, that when we had to study, she would never interrupt us because of house chores. […]

I remember how she always sang songs of exile (smiles). Well, that was my mother. Also, mother was known as one of the strongest women of Prizren, because… I don’t know if you are aware of this, but in that time the Serbo-Slavic regime not only would imprison Albanian patriots, but had a tendency to abuse their spouses. So, I remember her saying, ‘Whenever I go to prison I have a pair of scissors in my bag.’ As a tailor, they were her working tools {pretends to hold a pair of scissors in her hands}. ‘I have my scissors in my bag in case someone attempts something.’ And this behavior of hers showed great strength of character, moral strength, and that turned her into a Prizren icon. So, whenever the most powerful women of Prizren are talked about, my mother is among them.

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.

Albertina Ajeti-Binaku

Architect

…we had no tendency to give it a political connotation. It was more about giving it a humanitarian connotation, because families for days, with weeks have been under the siege. There was no free movement, you know to be able to go out and get supply, food and other things. And this was it. You know, we as mothers, as women who  sympathize with mothers at that time in Drenica, who had no food for their children. […] And I remember that we were like, you know we were in a row and on the side we had police forces. Until we reached that point, then we were not allowed to go further. [Women] They wanted to negotiate, but they were not ready. So with an authoritative statement they ordered us, ‘You have to go back, otherwise we cannot risk, because then anything can happen to you and we cannot protect you…’