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.

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

Writer

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 since 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

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.