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.

Greta Kaçinari

Professor

…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…’

Fetije Kasemi

Educator

Every year, we went to Macedonia, Ohrid, Dibra or any other place in order to see the language differences, because we speak differently from them, we spoke gegë there. In ‘72, çak [colloquial], it happened that we started to speak the standard language. It was difficult for us, more difficult for the students and even more difficult for the parents because of additions and suffixes…but they reacted to it, ‘Tell us, tell us how it should be.’ We had a hard time getting used to it, then it seemed all normal to us after a few years. Wherever I go for official visits, I still speak the standard language, I can’t speak the gegë.

Mihane Salihu – Bala

Civil Society Activist

My family is a mixed family. My dad died Muslim and because he fasted during Ramadan he was unlisted from the party. Whilst my mom is an Albanian Jew. In our family we were brought up with all traditional religions. Most of us, kids, are baptized. So we are an interesting mix, I would say, of different cultures. Because in the end religion is something you do just for yourself and not for others. […] To grow up in an environment where your cousins have different religious belonging, and you have the possibility to make a different choice that is… It wasn’t well received at the time. […] I remember when we had different holidays, especially Eid Mubarak, the entire neighborhood made baklava, my mom also made baklava. Other holidays came, my mom prepared a more special food, but she was subtle, so it was interesting. What I remember are September’s feasts, the feast of baking bread and cooking wheat and grape and all that. That’s when it started getting interesting, ‘Ah the grandparents are coming…’ and it was interesting. It was later that we understood it was a different tradition.

Valdete Idrizi

Peace Activist

‘Oh dad, how did you manage? You are ill and tired and you haven’t eaten.’  We saw it on the news. He said, ‘No, more’ he said, ‘my daughter, do you know that there are many like me? I was just one of them, just one of many people who were there. And no one can, when I told them…’ And he turned a little. ‘Never,’ he said, ‘the miners will never separate. And the underground,’ he said, ‘will move everything.’ He said, ‘Because we know, this is our treasure, this is…’ […] He would raise our morale. I will never forget what a feeling he gave me, and sometimes we didn’t need other explanations, as if, as if I understood everything just by looking into his eyes, without explaining anything further.

Maybe I was afraid to ask more questions, afraid that something would happen more, more awful. But what he projected, you know, that side of his that… ‘It was worth it,’ that’s how he put it. ‘It was too much bre, dad, it would not have mattered if you were not there. Everyone knew you were ill.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I could not but be with them.’ This is it. I know that every time [the anniversary] comes, because I don’t like to remember dates much, to remember the commemoration of  this, of that… . But when I go, because I have been in the mine several times, I went to look for my father’s identification number there. His number was 618. I went to the tenth level, because I just wanted to know.