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.

Sakibe Doli


I went easily, but it was terrible to return to Gjakova from the war zones, very difficult. The police were always on guard. The army, the KLA. I wasn’t aware. I came back on my own as usual, I had to get down on the street so that I could wait for a bus or something to go back to Gjakova. […]

I walked and I walked, and I hadn’t reached the street yet when I saw convoys of Serbian vehicles passing through the street where I had to get off. And that was another time when I felt very bad. They told me, KLA soldiers told me, ‘Don’t turn your head, don’t be afraid.’ They placed tree branches in two zones and said, ‘Don’t be afraid because if they stop you, we will take action.’ But instinctively I turned my head and my tears started to flow. […]

The convoy, which knew that the army was there, went as fast as it could. I passed without any problems. But when I went home my emotions took over and I started crying, I couldn’t even speak. After that, the soldiers decided to open a checkpoint in Gjakova. We collected very few material resources and settled in the village of Çabrat. Brigade 137 Gjakova was formed.

Zyrafete Muriqi Lajçi

Political activist

They put handcuffs on me, they were some plastic handcuffs, not like the other ones, metal handcuffs. With Mirvete, they tied us all two by two. They put us in a van, there were inspectors with us. Maybe I forgot, Demë, Demë Muja and Jakup Llonqari were with us. I could’ve forgotten, I don’t know, maybe the other girls remember better. They took us to Mitrovica. On the way, because the van behind had an open space, there were benches around it. […] We looked at each other, but we didn’t have any opportunity, for example, to give any information to each other about what the investigation procedure was like so far. Except that once, you know, Hava gestured to me that they hit her on the hands and to ask if they also beat me with a baton, you know. Just to let them know how the investigation procedure went. But it was already known because they deliberately left the door open so that we could hear each other screaming. It was known how the whole situation went.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Mevlyde Mezini Saraçi


When Drenica was sieged, Drenica was in a crisis, it was counting down to the last of its food supplies. At that time, the Women’s Forum, the Leadership of the Women’s Forum together with other women’s organizations, which began to organize at the time, [they organized the march] ‘Bread for Drenica.’ The delegation of the Women’s Forum from Gjakova was suppressed from the start in Gjakova and wasn’t allowed to continue to Pristina. […] We were on our way because it was a central [meeting] point, to meet in Pristina and to leave for Drenica. And our start had to be from Pristina. We started, and they stopped us at Gjakova’s exit. We were organized and had a car, and the police stopped us, they knew our moves and they got information about our march holding a loaf of bread. […] So, they tried to stop every activity that we did in an organized manner outside of Gjakova. But unfortunately none of us from Gjakova got to go to Drenica because they stopped us from the start.

Lindita Cena


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


…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.