Aurela Kadriu: Can you introduce yourself, tell us something about your early childhood memories, so the environment where you grew up, your family, what kind of family was it, whatever you remember?
Skender Boshnjaku: Can we start?
Aurela Kadriu: Yes, yes.
Skender Boshnjaku: In short, I was born in 1942. I finished primary school at Haxhi Zeka in Peja, then I continued with primary school, because I finished the two first grades, and I continued at Karagaç, that’s how the school used to be called at Karagaç. Then I came back to Ramiz Sadiku school, and finally I finished gymnasium, which was called Gymnasium Real in Peja…
Aurela Kadriu: Mister Boshnjaku, can we stop and talk about your family…
Skender Boshnjaku: Ah, about my family. Family, my father, Isa, passed away, my mother, Hajrie, passed away, I have a brother, Shefqet. I spent most of my childhood in Peja, my early memories are connected to feelings of poverty, penury. Schooling was hard in the sense of not having basic things, say books, notebooks, pens and everything else. But, in that poverty, idealism and persistence existed, so did the thirst to learn, read, for knowledge and so on. So, I finished gymnasium in Peja, it used to be called Real, Bedri Pejani today, and I remember many people from childhood.
I remember my first teacher Hamdi Tabaku, I remember my second teacher, Hamdi Tabaku. And for another two classes the late Kamber Pajaziti was my teacher, Xhafer Karahoda was my head teacher, Muhamet Belegu was my head teacher, Shaban Aliu was my head teacher, Riza Çavolli was my head teacher, Rexhep Geci was my head teacher and so on.
I am happy that, especially about Ahmet Meha, Ahmet Kelmendi, my Albanian language professor whose family… I think he got me to where I am today. My knowledge in language, literature, reading, and to whom I will be forever grateful, and always on Teachers’ Day [March 7], I commemorate him through my Facebook account. I always remind him on Teachers’ Day and so on. And I think I am a generation, a last Mohican who pays respects to my generation, my teachers, for whom I stand up to admire them, and respect them until my last breath.
Otherwise, I remember Peja, I left Peja as an 18-year-old. People, I remember Rama’s wood stove, the taxi driver Shahin Goska, I remember the barber Rexhep Bogu, I remember my friends, Faruk… I was in the same class in gymnasium as Faruk Begolli, Enver Hadri, Bajram Sefa, Ruzhdi Spahiu, as I said Enver Hadri, Ekrem Kryeziu. I am very proud that I was their friend, and that we had a proper relationship, that the generations today did not follow this common solidarity. Jusuf Gacaferri, my friends, I almost forgot, Jusuf Gacaferri was my best friend, we were neighbors, he passed away before me, I think I’ll never forget him. Here…
Kaltrina Krasniqi: What kind of city was Peja?
Skender Boshnjaku: Excuse me?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: What kind of city was Peja?
Skender Boshnjaku: Peja was a city with an extraordinary structure, image. Actually it was an attraction for tourists then, tourists started coming and the main tourist place was Peja, Rugova. As a kid I remember the first tourists who came rushing to try on the plis and kids, we’d go and see what was happening. But, it was always a good memory that they liked Gryka e Rugovës, Peja’s landscape, Peja’s atmosphere.
Peja is a city which is divided by Lumbardhi, I remember Ura e Gurit [Stone Bridge], Ura e Zallit [Sand Bridge], I remember Korzo Hotel, I remember the walks. It was a tradition back then to walk around korzo as entertainment, like in Pristina where we would go out and meet. Maybe we even looked at our first loves while walking with friends, we talked about homework and so on…
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Where did your passion for education come from?
Skender Boshnjaku: My passion for education, maybe I can say that it was my talent, my personal love but it also was affection, an affection, a reach, it was the energy of my teachers, who even though didn’t have supplies or school preparation as teachers… but, an ideal of theirs existed that reduced, hid or masked that lack of papers or diploma, but they loved giving us everything that was possible at that time.
Despite the fact that we didn’t have pens and notebooks, we still achieved, we are a generation who achieved something. I can mention a lot, those whom I mentioned, who have achieved in life despite not having anything, we had nothing. Of 10-15 school subjects in the gymnasium, most of them were in Serbo-Croatian. The Serbo-Croatian language was like a native language, actually we only had a lecture less in Serbian. So, the language was also, it was very… they asked a lot, and I remember they asked us to learn the Battle of Kosovo by heart, and Serbian myths, which we recited.
I read a lot, there was a shortage of books. I… I remember it as if it was today, for example, we borrowed from Naim Luci, the deceased, he left for Albania, he passed away, he had books that he lent, for example, I remember Sul me Lotë [Sul with Tears] that circulated from hand to hand. Then, we transliterated “Këngët e Milosaos” [Milosao’s songs] with a quill pen, on tables, on the stairs of the Bedri Pejani Royal Gymnasium. There we also described “Bagëti e Bujqësi” [Livestock and Agriculture] by Naim Frashëri.
So, we really did not have books, but we tried with those we had. I had a habit of reading, I actually thought I would go into world literature. I read a lot, I actually read in Serbian in gymnasium, I wrote about Don Quixote of La Mancha, then War and Peace, Dickens and so on.
So we are a generation who loved reading, and it’s that way even today. So a book for me is my best friend, biggest joy, and best meeting. If I don’t touch a book during the day, it seems wasted to me… to put to use.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Were your parents educated?
Skender Boshnjaku: No, no, no, no, they were not. My mother finished elementary school, but not my father. So, this is the truth. Plus the language inside is a mixed archaic language. So, language, the late Ahmet Meha taught me language, and it was a pleasure to get a good grade on the essay I wrote in his class. Previously, essays were the mirror of that person. I can say that to this day when I was at the University, University of Medicine, I was committed to my master’s degree thesis, I said, you know, the best test is to see everyone who wants to start a master’s, to see the test of how they write.
Secondly, I taught, let’s go back, for three years at the Psychology Department, I taught abnormality and personality. And for me it was a pleasure that, apart from knowledge, the essay, the test, you write an essay. For the topic that I had, first I looked at the syntax, grammar, how the language and the flow of thought are. So, I think that for each of these people, the first test… I would do it like this, “Do you want to be a minister? Or what do you wanna be? Just write two sentences and I’ll give you my hand.”
So, I don’t know how things with essays are today, but I think they should write essays just like back then. I don’t know how it is today, maybe it isn’t being applied, and one other thing we didn’t have, the Albanian language professor when… To tell you that when I applied to Peja’s gymnasium there was an entrance exam, even though I finished elementary school. So, elementary school, eight years, excellent grades, and again I had to take the entrance exam to get accepted to Peja’s gymnasium.
And my Albanian language professor from day one, when we finished the first year of gymnasium, he gave us the number of books we had to read during the summer break. So, we always had 20 to 25 books to read during the summer. When school started, “What did you read, Skender? What?” And for every book you had to write an essay, prepare a… keep notes of what you read, what you understood and so on.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: In what… When you say you spoke archaic language at home, what does that mean?
Skender Boshnjaku: Mixed language, Turkish and Albanian. So, the influence of Turkish was… that was a big obstacle for me, and I think that the consequences of a long Ottoman reign is that Albanian language didn’t develop as much, and it affected our side, even though captivity lasted long after that, the Serbian captivity led us to be stuck in our narrative. Maybe you can notice it in me too, but I tried being more spontaneous, more fluent…
So, the good part is that Albania got its independence in 1912, and has developed its thinking and lived in Albanian, that’s the most beautiful part. And I think if it weren’t for Albanian translations, now I’m going back to novels I read, I think we would have gone bankrupt [culturally]. I think they have achieved more, they read more, they speak better. I have said that if I could be born again, I would want to be born in Albania, because I think a five-six year old child knows the language better than I at this age. So we have obstacles.
I think in Serbian to this day, then I translate into Albanian. So this is not a good situation, to this day I try to read as much as I can and believe me that these days I’m reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I saw the movie, and I read it in Serbian, but all the novels I read in Serbian, I’m reading them for a second time now. This is all thanks to translations. Especially the extraordinary translations of Pjetër Rei who translated… Fan Noli translated Cervantes, but so did Pjetër Rei. So, there, these things I am talking about I achieved through these readings.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Then when you were 18 years old, where did you decide to go?
Skender Boshnjaku: When I was 18 years old, after I finished the matura in Peja, there was the matura thesis, the preparations. My thesis was “Romani i Kosovës” [Kosovo’s Novel], I wrote about “Besniku” [The Faithful] by Rexhai Surroi, “Karavani” [The Karavan] by Azem Shkreli, I wrote about “Rrushi ka nisë me u pjekë” [The grape started getting ripe] by Sinan Hasani and whose novel…. These were the first novels in Albanian in Kosovo.
And after I finished the matura I collaborated with Radio Pristina, time after time the program Kolovajsa e të Dielave [The Sunday’s Kolovajsa] was broadcasted on Radio Pristina, so I asked my colleagues, “Ekrem, what do you want to study? Skender…” There was Skender Shala, I asked all of them. And at the end, I asked myself, “What do you want to study, Skender?” Medicine was the first time, the first time was medicine. It was spontaneous and I sent the report to Radio Prishtina and there I said, “This many students, this many of my friends are going to study.”
I decided… I enrolled in Belgrade [University] without an entrance exam because my grades were… back then I had good grades, excellent, and I got accepted [without entrance exam]. And a colleague, Sejdi Berisha, not the poet, he is a veterinarian, he was at the Veterinary Faculty, and he tells me, “Skender, you are accepted to the faculty and I want to enroll you,” because I didn’t have the money to enroll, so he did.
Then after I enrolled, I left the Peja train station with my father’s suitcase, wooden, all alone to study in Belgrade. Without a scholarship, without any support, so all alone I went to study in Belgrade, and so on.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: What was it like going to Belgrade from Peja at the age of 18?
Skender Boshnjaku: It’s a, I think life, I didn’t have time to think, just like getting into a river, into an ocean, like the sea taking you and you don’t know where you’re going. That’s how I drowned, I mean I got into this game of life and I didn’t think much. And I enrolled, actually when I went to Belgrade, Sejdiu told me, “Here is your diploma, Skender,” and I competed in… I lived in the dormitory called Vrdovc back then, before the Second World War, and I was in the same room as Ekrem, Faruk Begolli, Enver Nimani, Petrit, Petrit…
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Imami?
Skender Boshnjaku: Not Imami, Petrit Begolli, Petrit Begolli, Ali Berisha, we were all in the same room. There was a room, snow used to get into the room, and every morning we had to… we had a bakery, and it was our responsibility to go buy bread in the morning so we could go to the university. So there I was the most random, but when it was someone else’s turn…
Then we had to light up the stove with coal, we felt like it was too much work, so we were more cold than warm. Then in the second year I lived in the new Belgrade dormitory, new Belgrade, a, a Student Center of 40 thousand students in five blocks. There were four blocks for men, and one for women. Then I lived, I was lucky in Belgrade, in Ivo Llolla Ribar, it was the center where foreigners mostly lived, but I was lucky.
Then I lived in Svetozar Penezic, and then in the end I came back to Vrdovc, the new dormitory for students, and that’s where I finished my studies. I started my studies in 1961 when I finished high school, and I finished them in 1966. I think I finished them on a rok with a 9.0 GPA. Throughout the studies, I was, I said I went with no money, but I applied for a loan in the second year. I carried coal during the summer with Albanians to the train station in Belgrade.
Meanwhile I got a loan in the second year, but after I finished the second year, I was a good student, I worked as an assistant at the Institute of Biochemistry in Belgrade, Biochemistry in Belgrade. So, the salary that I got from working as an assistant was much higher than the loan. And the loan that I got when I finished university I went back to… back then, it was the order where they send you, so they sent me here and I went to the Executive Council, that’s how the building where the Parliament of Kosovo is today was called then.
There was a worker there, I went there, I said, “This, this… I finished it, I want to go to Peja. I am from Peja.” They just wrote some sort of act for me, almost told me to shut up, “Go to this hospital and that’s it, go to this hospital.” I… I cried, how do I come here? How do I go? I dreamed of going to Peja, but I stayed here.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Which year?
Skender Boshnjaku: In 1966.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: What was Pristina like in 1966?
Skender Boshnjaku: Pristina was a small town with parts, I experienced it with cubes, granite cubes, Pristina’s city center. Back then a hotel called Božur existed, then Iliria, the Parliament of Kosovo, I experienced that, I experienced the opening, the opening, they took us there from our high school, I took part when the Brotherhood and Unity Monument was put up in the 60s, now it’s Adem Jashari Square, now that it was renovated.
We came by train, by animal’s train, they brought us here in train wagons, and we were allegedly accepted in… to attend the meeting of, of, of… Svetozar Vukmanović – Tempo spoke. I remember the road that used to be called JNA, now it’s UÇK, all muddy, the station, there’s a station… in the corner where the train stop is, where the stairs that take you to Arbëria or Dragodan, there was a train stop, another stop was there, where the train station of Pristina was, also the road, I remember this road. The Grand Hotel was opened in 1977, I remember Bankkos, I remember the Bank of Ljubljana which is here to this day.
The roads were narrow, not paved with asphalt, I remember Mark Isaku, the road was also muddy. All the roads were muddy, but Pristina had a flower park, a, a…
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Where was this?
Skender Boshnjaku: Excuse me?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Where was this?
Skender Boshnjaku: It was here, in front of Behxhet Pacolli’s hotel now, that’s where the flower park was. Then the linden trees and the other decorative trees, that even nowadays seem to be disappearing, and it’s a disaster, now it’s… it’s not mine, it’s not in my memory. It’s a Pristina covered with cubes, and dedicated to children’s toys and bikers, to… everything. And that is not my Pristina, my Pristina is with linden trees and other trees that grew for years, but they don’t exist today, and it seems that they will disappear completely.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Where did you live when you came to Pristina?
Skender Boshnjaku: I moved onto the street… there were no opportunities to rent houses back then. I moved to the Aca Marović street back then, a neighborhood where Serbians lived and…
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Is it still called Aca Marović?
Skender Boshnjaku: No, now it’s called Tringë Smajli, going from Mother Theresa Boulevard, near Behxhet Pacolli’s hotel, in the direction of… near Hotel Sirius, to the city park, that was the street, and I lived there a year during… first I finished residency then I was accepted to the General Hospital, back then it was called… I forgot to tell you that when I came here there was only the surgery building, only that building and back then it was called the Hygiene Office. There were no other buildings [in the General Hospital Complex].
I actually have a picture, but I couldn’t find it. You can see the Pristina General Hospital building in the background. The Pristina General Hospital was finished in 1964-‘65, and I came here in 1966, and I worked there until 2007 when I retired.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Tell me how that hospital changed since you started working there in 1966?
Skender Boshnjaku: Well I, the Pristina General Hospital was at that time the biggest in Yugoslavia, and it had, when it came to autopsies, it had had the highest percentage in ex-Yugoslavia. Pristina’s hospital had… and in the hospital, I’m honored to tell you, that I met, and again I have to move, today it’s forgotten, the late ophthalmologist, the best of Albanian medicine, Xheladin Deda, I also met Talat Pallaska, also a popular ophthalmologist, I met Sehadete Mekuli there, there I met… Hajredin Ukelli, I met Simon Debreci, I met Gazmend Shaqiri before me, Hysen Ukmataj, in different departments, Gynecology, Eshref Biqaku Radiology…
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Were you in the same generation as them or… ?
Skender Boshnjaku: No, no, they were before me. To tell you the truth, I was the youngest because I finished it on time. The others, medicine was hard and the generation which I met practiced a lot during the studies because most of the… I was… Musa Haxhiu was before me, I can’t forget him. I think that Musa Haxhiu is the fulcrum and the cream of Albanian medicine. I always said, “I would clean Musa Haxhiu’s shoes.”
He is a doctor who has a lot of references, articles in various journals but he died in the USA and that’s where he is buried. Oh, I should not forget that I met Osman Imami, the first Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Osman Imami. So, there are some people that I’m mentioning who should never be forgotten, and what was created from the 1970s, the return, medicine wise, it has become a ruin, an undoing of the Faculty, which we thought are going to continue the tradition of these people. It has completely changed, let alone other things.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Can you just tell us… since we’re young…
Skender Boshnjaku: Yes.
Kaltrina Krasniqi: I was born in ‘81, they were born in the ‘90s. Can you give us an idea of what was it like when you came in ‘66-‘67? And then how did it develop from decade to decade, what was built around it, because I suppose it was all fields, only Ulpiana was…
Skender Boshnjaku: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. People…
Kaltrina Krasniqi: You went to work every day.
Skender Boshnjaku: People, people who, I mean in politics, even today, whenever I have the chance I mention Fadil Hoxha. There’s a portal, where people from Gjakova are, there’s where culture is, they cultivate culture, even though I think that Peja and other cities also, I’m not saying to you from where… I’m not a localist, I’m not, I love every one. I also love Gjakova, actually with the last name Boshnjaku they say that I’m from Gjakova, I say, “Yes, yes,” because there are people with the last name Boshnjaku there and they think I’m from Gjakova, I say, “Yes,” I don’t deny it.
I have a lot of friends from Gjakova, I have friends everywhere. But the way of the movement of Kosovo’s progress is the fall… On June 1st, no, July 1st, July 1st, the fall of Aleksandar Ranković and his assistant, Svetislav Stefanović at the Plenum of Brion. From ‘66, Kosovo opened its eyes and developed. Maybe those were the best days of development in the century of captivity in a small light, which was the fall and end of the chauvinistic career of Aleksandar Ranković, who created a lot of problems for Kosovo’s people, starting from buying to gathering weapons, etcetera. Also villages suffered from otkupi, from… etcetera.
And from there Kosovo starts to bloom, the University is established, the University of Medicine is established, also other faculties, a lot of buildings are built, a lot of famous factories are opened, the shock absorber factory, the engine factory in Gjakova, the bicycle factory in Peja, the heater factory in Gjilan, the ammunition factory in Skenderaj, the brick factory in Podujeva, etcetera, etcetera.
So, at that time the development was taking place, which, as I remember the University had, there were only in, in, in, there were two hundred thousand employed, there were 15 thousand medical workers in hospitals and institutions of Kosovo. A lot of doctors were doing good, so… PhD, efforts that, people went to America, they went… Gazmend Shqiri got his doctoral degree in Prague, others… I got it in Belgrade, and… I fully developed educationally in Belgrade at the faculty, specialization, master’s degree and doctorate.
So we were all without arms, without a back, like it’s supposed to be and that’s why we practiced an assignment that… I tried to offer people whatever they needed honestly, and we were honorable. This was… Kosovo’s development started from 1966 and until 1980. From the ‘80s and on, the National Chauvinist Movement of Serbia’s church started, of the nationalists of Serbia, of the Academy of Sciences and others. To implement the project of Vaso Čubrilović, the memorandums of the Academy of Sciences in 1986 and so on. Until Kosovo changed the course, moved forward and achieved…
In 1968 there were labor demonstrations and I was a soldier. So, so with people’s effort, the efforts of young people, came what we call freedom, but this is a limited freedom which did not manage to accomplish all that it wanted to, because it was all overturned. The health department was overturned, education was overturned, school was not on that [a desired] level. As I said, we didn’t have much but we were committed until the end and we respected them. All of these don’t exist today, humanity, love, or mutual respect.
So, I’ll refer to you immediately, when Miss Aurela [the interviewer] approached me, I openly accepted. And I believe that what I think is that you are my biography, because the biography of every elderly person is in the hands of young people. And I tried at every moment to get close to young people and wear the same clothes as them, because I think young people and your generation have a harder job, but you also have some advantages that I didn’t have. Technique, technology enabled the change that we needed at that time, and today it offers and closes our gaps, and the information is on Google and Wikipedia, you take the information and that’s your advantage.
So, these changes are more technical-technological changes, rather than mentality wise. When it comes to mentality, we have another way, we continue living in a natural way, and it’s kind of a strut, a fake excitement, living without any effort. So, the Faculty of Medicine is not the same as it used to be in my time, unfortunately. And people are not learning as they’re supposed to learn, because at that faculty, at that faculty, the first generation to finish was Alush Gashi and some others who worked well and… there are other students, there are other students to this day that finished it, but all work individually.
They’re people who went abroad, they’re students that I am proud of, like Afrim Lyta, he’s my student, Ferid Again, my student, I employed them. And I am happy that, I will mention this, too, that I left someone who could continue after me, and I also told them, “During my burial no one can say that I clipped your wings…” that’s what I said, “During my burial…” and I believe that the way things are going, they’re going to experience my burial, because I will die very quietly and I don’t… With no ceremony and I will not allow anyone to come because… I told them.
But, there’s something that I don’t like about this generation, to whom I offered a lot, even Afrim, and Jusuf Ula, and Ferid Agani but… They’re good, they’re better than me… I think they’re approving of what I think, they all abandoned the university and opened their own private clinics and so on. But politics has also affected this a lot, they have to even decide who will be the guard of a public WC, politics decides for the Faculty of Medicine, politics decides everything.
So, the boss there isn’t chosen based on skills but based on political affiliation. I am telling you that anticommunist… I forgot to mention Ali Sokoli, very… extraordinary, great, he finished German language abroad, Xheladin Deda specialized in Rome, and others. But, back then communists didn’t tease Xheladin Deda, actually any senior functionary couldn’t get close to him. They didn’t tease him.
Imagine, nowadays they removed Xheladin Deda from there. This is something… In medicine, order is needed, just like in the army. Here you can’t tell who is doing what. All of them are generals there, you don’t know who to ask, who to make, you become a director within a night, one goes, the other comes with a political coat. So, the political coat is the worst thing that has happened and unfortunately that continues to happen.