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Elife Krasniqi: “Kosovar Albanian historiography reflects a long history of oppression...”

Elife Krasniqi: “Kosovar Albanian historiography reflects a long history of oppression, which conditioned this focus on political narratives”

Memory landscapes in (post)Yugoslavia

Edited by Milica Popović, Sciences Po CERI and University of Ljubljana and Natalija Majsova, University of Ljubljana.

Yugoslavia as a state existed twice, once as a monarchy and once as a socialist republic. Different historical legacies, state regimes, cultural and religious heritage are woven into the region – there is a myriad of different political entities and also a plenitude of political and/or national/ethnic identities. The dissolution of the socialist republic, responsible for an advanced modernization of the country and an unprecedented development of the region, ensued during the crisis of the 1980s, and continued all the way into the violent wars of the 1990s. In January 1992, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia fell apart. The end of the Yugoslav state, however, did not feature the end of the Yugoslav idea or the end of Yugoslav memory. While all are marked by “political abuse of power and the deeply unjust privatization processes” (Dolenec 2013: 7), each of the seven republics of Yugoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia and Kosovo,[1] - reveals a particular memoryscape, abundant in internal battles, which sometimes converge and sometimes diverge, weaving a complex net of (post)Yugoslav memory.

In line with Catherine Baker's observation that “nationalism was an instrument, not a cause” (Baker 2015: 129), (post)Yugoslav memory continues to evolve in dialogue across the borders of (post)Yugoslav states. Although our approach in this series of interviews remains “republic-centered”, this does not in any way imply that we do not believe that (post)Yugoslav memory works as “nœuds de mémoire” (Rothberg 2009), producing new solidarities and possibilities for thought and action.

Before you is the sixth in a series of seven interviews with seven leading scholars in memory studies, each discussing memory politics within one of the (post)Yugoslav republics. While the online edition of Historical Expertise will publish them one by one as they are ready, the printed edition of the journal will gather them all together and provide a well-rounded whole – a comprehensive, in-depth outlook on the memory landscapes in the (post)Yugoslav space today

M.P. and N.M.

  1. The case of Kosovo

Interview with Dr Elife Krasniqi, University of Graz.

Questions and Introduction by Dr Natalija Majsova.

Ljubljana-Graz, 22.05.2020

Abstract: In Kosovo, the youngest (post-)Yugoslav state, the struggle over heritage, memory, and visions of the future is often simplified into the byproduct of centuries of conflict between the Serbian and Albanian communities and the legacy of the Kosovo war of 1998-1999. However, divergent narratives thrive in each of these communities too, reflecting the complexities of local history and historiography, and complicating the reconciliation process. In the following interview, anthropologist Dr Elife Krasniqi discusses the current debates on Albanian collective memory, identity, and history in Kosovo with a special focus on the potentialities of re-assessing the history and memory of Kosovo within the frameworks of anthropology, gender studies, and oral history.

Key words: Kosovo, memory politics, gender studies, divided societies, myth-building.

Over two decades have passed since the Kosovo War (1998-1999), which ended with international intervention and the establishment of an interim UN administration (UNMIK) in this former Yugoslav autonomous province. Kosovo is now a partially recognized state, and political and social analysts are eager to note that the long process of post-war reconciliation between Kosovo and Serbia – while far from over – has not been futile (cf. Baliqi 2017; Miletić 2019). Indeed, documented cases of Serbo-Albanian ethnic violence are on the decline, while Kosovo’s transitional economy has slowly been growing since its declaration of independence in 2008 (cf. Tërstena et al. 2019). At the same time Kosovo remains a perplexing case study for peace-building experts and other social scientists, testifying to the powerful material effects of language, and to the complexity of international relations.

Unlike the other (post)Yugoslav republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia), Kosovo did not hold status of a republic within the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Until Slobodan Milošević’s nationalist intervention in 1989, however, like Vojvodina, it had the status of an autonomous region (1945-1963) and autonomous province (1963-1990). According to the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, its rights were very similar to those of Yugoslavia’s six republics, but this was reversed with Milošević’s constitutional amendments of 1989.

This change in status was followed by the Kosovar Albanian proclamation of a sovereign and independent state of Kosovo in September 1992. The first president of the new republic, only recognized by Albania, Ibrahim Rugova, elected at Kosovo Albanian-only elections held in May 1992, advocated a policy of non-violent resistance against Serbia. However, the region witnessed increasing ethnic and political unrest, contributing to the growing popularity of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), whose approach to securing independence through armed conflict with the Serbian[2] police eventually prevailed. The Serbian police and army responded with violent ethnic cleansing, including episodes such as the Jashari family massacre in March 1998. The massacre, which entailed the death of nearly 60 members of the Jashari family, became memorialized in the form of a cult of martyrdom for the nation and for one’s family, which developed around Adem Jashari, one of the founders of the KLA.

The Kosovo War only ended after NATO’s nearly 3-month-long air intervention in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999. The UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999, after the withdrawal of the Serbian troops, ensured Kosovo’s autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as an interim solution towards the independence. However, Kosovo was effectively turned into an international protectorate. Transitional UN administration (UNMIK) and a NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR) were installed, the international stakeholders insisting that the future status of Kosovo be addressed according to the “standards before status” postulate, which stipulated that interethnic peace, democracy and market economics must be established before Kosovo be granted the status of a sovereign, independent state (Ingimundarson 2007, 95).

Numerous scholars have pointed out that such expectations of a post-conflict region, plagued by various incompatible interpretations of the historical past and visions of the future reflecting competing interests of opposed stakeholders were somewhat idealistic (cf. Ingimundarson 2007; Zupančič and Pejić 2018). Atrocities against the Albanian population committed by the Serbian police and army and paramilitary forces during the war was succeeded by ethnic unrest between the Kosovar Albanian and Serbian communities. This led to both the emigration of thousands of Serbs, and to Albanian attacks on memorial and cultural sites of symbolic significance to Serbia (Bieber 2002, 105), and violence against the Serbian population.

In the post-war years, ethnic tensions were exacerbated by the international community’s failure to find a generally satisfactory, that is to say diplomatically neutral, solution for Kosovo’s legal status. This led to the state’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, which has been so far recognized by 116 members of the UN.[3] Internationally-run institutions, representing stakeholders such as the UN, NATO, the EU and the OSCE, have retained missions in the new state, in order to ensure peace and the development of democratic institutions and civic society, while relations between the Albanian majority and the Serbian minority (mostly residing in North Kosovo) remain tense, as the two forces reflecting interests of different states continue to strive for their own, parallel administration and government.

According to the survey on the perception on transitional justice in Kosovo conducted in 2012 by the United Nations Development Program – UNDP, the majority of respondents identify their own ethnic group as the main victim of crimes and human rights violations during the war. Although the majority of all ethnic communities in this report state that it is very important for justice and reconciliation that all war crimes perpetrators should be punished, the majority of Kosovo Albanians or more than seventy per cent and more than forty per cent among Kosovo Serbs do not think that members of their ethnicity have committed war crimes. (Baliqi 2017, 12)

Kosovo remains a contested symbol, associated with the historical continuity of Serbian statehood and spirit, its symbolism reaching back to the myths about the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.[4] While the outcome and the consequences of this battle remain prone to dubious interpretations, the symbolic significance of the event persists in both national histories, and is to this day harnessed by both Serbian and Kosovar politicians (cf. Di Lellio 2009; Ejdus and Subotić 2014; Kočan 2019).

Recent – mostly pragmatic – efforts on both sides to move on toward reconciliation were epitomized in political steps, such as the Brussels Agreement, which saw the 2013 Serbian formal recognition of Kosovar authorities and administration (but not its sovereignty), which were to stabilize Serbia’s position in its EU-accession process. At the same time, tense discussions and opposing convictions about Kosovo’s past, present and future continue to boil under the surface of political progress. The legacy of the KLA continues to flourish in Kosovar politics, within the Democratic Party of Kosovo (Partia Dekokratike e Kosovës - PDK) and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (Aleanca për Ardhmërinë e Kosovës - AAK) political parties. Ingimundarson’s assessment of the ambiguous socio-political climate from 2007 has not lost its relevance:

On the one hand, the ethno-nationalist discourse—widely shared and articulated by the Kosovar Albanian political elite—is strongly influenced by nineteenth-century notions of nation-state building. It includes the reification of the myth of an ancient past and of a continuing independence struggle, highlighting heroism, sacrifice, victimhood and trauma. On the other hand, Albanian nationalism has incorporated a postmodern civic vision based on the idea that an independent Kosovo should be firmly anchored in supranational collective bodies—dubbed “Euro-Atlantic structures”—that is, the European Union and NATO. (Ingimundarson 2007, 95)

In line with developments in the entire (post)Yugoslav space, ethnonationalist narratives that emphasize the longevity of Kosovar Albanian national identity, aligning it with tropes about sacrifice, martyrdom, and victimhood, thrive in schoolbooks, state commemorative practices, and political discourse (cf. Baliqi 2017). Strategically stripped of references to cultural and religious Islamic heritage (Ingimunardson 2007, 101), they feed into a neoliberal economic model, which responds to the pragmatic interests of political elites in mind, silencing and sidelining efforts to build a more transparent and durable social model. The emphasis on ethnic conflict and national strife obscures deep and historically persistent inequalities related to class and gender constellations (cf. Baliqi 2017; Zdravković-Zonta 2009).

Kosovo has the youngest population – and the highest rate of youth unemployment – in Europe, its median age being 27 according to the 2011 census. Baliqi (2017, 11) tellingly notes: “today’s young adults have ethno-nationalistic tendencies and are strongly politicized as a result of the following causes: long-lasting inter-ethnic animosities, experience of war trauma, lack of transitional justice, and failure to deal with the past.”

The struggle over heritage, memory, and visions of the future is therefore more than simply a conflict between the Serbian and Albanian communities; divergent narratives thrive within the latter and the conundrum of all these antagonisms resonates in the present. Research initiatives, such as the Kosovo Memory book,[5] play a particularly important role in this regard. Using methods such as oral and visual history, research organizations strive to document and preserve knowledge about the complexity of local history, while employing critical theoretical starting points, from ideology critique to gender studies to uncover and articulate alternative narratives that can contribute to all the outlined aspects of the tedious reconciliation process.

In the following interview, Dr Elife Krasniqi focuses on these very potentialities, contextualizing them within their historical and institutional coordinates, and thereby expanding the notion of national identity and identification. Krasniqi is an anthropologist, feminist activist and writer. Since 2018, she has been teaching and doing research at the Southeast European History and Anthropology, Institute, University of Graz. She is a co-founder and former head of the Alter Habitus Feminist Institute for Studies in Society and Culture in Prishtina (2009-2010; 2016-2018). Her main research interests are in social and visual anthropology and social history. Her PhD research examined family and patriarchy in Kosovo from mid 20th to the beginning of 21st century. Her current research project deals with issues of race, power and family in the Balkans. At this stage, she is tracing the black presence on various locations in the Balkans, from the end of 19th to early 20th century, with special attention to the lives of household servants and nannies.

  1. As artist, activist and academic, you foreground persistent and deeply ingrained social inequalities, such as gender, and their tangible and intangible impact. Speaking about Kosovo as a young modern State; you often stipulate that its historiography and memory politics are based around legitimizing the existence of Albanians in the Balkans and their right to statehood. What kinds of inequalities are obscured in this narrative?

This mainstream kind of historiography by and large ignores gender and does not stress the issue of class inequalities; in this sense, it is more important and more telling regarding what it omits, and what the reasons for such omissions are. It speaks also about the very context in which Albanian scholars researched. For instance, the Albanology Institute that was initially founded in 1953, was closed by authorities in 1955 and then re-opened one year after the fall of Aleksandar Ranković in 1966.[6] The Institute of History was opened right after this, in 1967, while the University of Prishtina, Kosovo’s only university until 1999, and the only one in Yugoslavia that held lectures in the Albanian language, was only formed in 1969. One has to have in mind that until the fall of Ranković, Kosovo was in a state of stark political oppression and poverty. Oppressive measures were enforced by the Yugoslav authorities in Kosovo after the WWII in different stages and in different ways. The economic ones, for instance, included the collection of harvests, known as compulsory deliveries – an economic policy in all Yugoslavia that lasted until 1952 (Horvat 1970). This policy demanded that peasants, regardless of their wealth, deliver their crops to the local authorities in order to ensure their equal distribution. In Kosovo collective memory, this period is marked as famine and torture by the authorities (Krasniqi et al. 2016). The action for weapon collection is remembered by Albanians as a painful historical period. A 1966 report of the Commission for the Reorganization of the State Security Service that Yugoslav Croatian economist Branko Horvat refers to, describes the methods that the police used for the search and collection of weapons: cursing, slapping, forcing people into water in winter days, keeping them in cold spaces, physical mutilation and even killings. Often, Albanians had to buy themselves pistols and give them to authorities, with the hope that this would stop the violence. The report also says that the action targeted mainly Albanians, leading many of them to leave to Turkey, but it did not bypass the Serbs and Montenegrins(Horvat 1989, 92).

This pressure on Albanians to leave to Turkey (or Albania), had in fact been conducted most directly and harshly during the agrarian reforms and colonisation in Kosovo in the interwar period (Obradović 1981, 184-192)[7]. The displacement/migration of Muslims in Yugoslavia to Turkey in 1953 was regulated through an agreement between Tito and Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mehmet Fuat Köprüllü, and lasted at least until the fall of Ranković.

During the period when Ranković was in power, even the everyday life of Albanians was monitored closely by the State Secret Service (Uprava državne bezbednosti – UDB). For instance, buying the Kosovar Albanian daily Rilindja, constituted an act for which the person who bought it would be put in the dossiers of secret police (Reuter 1982, 44-5 as quoted by Malcolm 1998, 327).

While existent scholarship has granted attention to the history of political pressure against Kosovar Albanians during socialist Yugoslavia, economic pressures have to be emphasized too, and especially from perspective of gender and class inequalities. Regardless of the late Yugoslav attempts to invest in Kosovo (after the mid-1960s), the very threshold standard in post-WWII Kosovo was not similar to the one in the rest of the country. To illustrate – after WWII, only 2.6 % of families in Kosovo had electricity. Even later, until the mid-1960s, over 70 % of Kosovo’s territory still had no electricity (Maxharri 1985, 3-4). The healthcare sector was also very poor. According to Tribuna, a magazine on social security, in 1974, only one general practitioner doctor was available for 10 589 inhabitants, and one field doctor for 15 702 inhabitants, with two epidemiologists for the whole Kosovo. In 1975, 225 settlements where 46.3 % of the population lived, had health centers, but 56.7% of population needed to seek help out of their settlements (Tribuna, 15th of December 1977). The so-called “golden period” of the 1970s, where one could see a significant development of the province, did not reach everyone equally, and this very development also determined individual life trajectories, and deepened the class cleavages. Most of the inhabitants of the rural areas in Kosovo had to “catch up” in order to benefit from the opportunities available to those from a higher-class background in, for instance, urban Prishtina. Someone in Prishtina, with educated parents employed in state institutions, had more opportunities in life and different priorities than others, for instance those growing up in rural areas where the agriculture and pastoral economy, and from the mid-1960s, migrant remittances were also one of the main sources of income.

The western part of Kosovo, such as Peja, Gjakova, Prizren (south) and Mitrovica (north), were more active in the WWII Partisan National Liberation Struggle (NOB), meaning that the Partisans were from these cities (Ströhle 2016). After WWII, the people from this region had the opportunity to take positions in power. Moreover, more was invested in these cities, and the capital Prishtina, than in other cities, villages or regions like Drenica (central Kosovo where the war started in 1998), that were very poorly developed. In this sense, socialism did not entail an equal distribution of wealth and opportunities.[8]

All this influences people’s perceptions of the past. The minority of Albanians who benefitted under the Yugoslav regime might remember the days of Yugoslavia in a nostalgic way, as these were the times when they enjoyed a consumerist type of life that emerged especially in the 1970s. The rural population, on the other hand, had a different experience; their memories are not at all related to the state or its benefits. This period, as Ströhle (2016) argues did not create only the middle class but also the underclass, which mainly consisted of inhabitants of the rural areas.

  1. As you mention, the exodus of thousands of Kosovar Albanians to Turkey in the 1950s-1960s has been termed both expulsion and migration. The two terms are clearly not synonymic. What exactly is at stake?

Albanian historians and Kosovo collective memory scholars mostly define this type of migration as “displacement” (shpërngulje) and also as “expulsion” (dëbim)[9]. The context in which individuals or families left to Turkey was similar to the one experienced by Muslims from Macedonia, a case which Burcu Akan Ellis (2003) examines extensively. Akan Ellis does not consider this wave of migration from 1953 as forced migration. However, enumerating different kind of pressures that incited people to leave, she argues: “All these perceived “messages” communicated to the local Muslim population the vulnerability of their status in Yugoslavia and reinforced the view that they needed to migrate to Turkey” (Akan Ellis 2003, 54-55). In case of Albanians in Kosovo, Edvin Pezo (2018) uses a similar line of argument arguing that emigration in this period cannot be considered as state-orchestrated forced migration, while simultaneously acknowledging the different types of pressures that existed both politically and economically. These “messages”, to use Akan Ellis’s term, were economic, political, and psychological, as revealed in the memories shared with me by my interlocutors during my PhD research. The economic ones, for instance, included the closing down of shops run by some Albanians, or their other sources of survival simply being cut. Political pressure involved police kidnappings during the night, police interrogations, imprisonment, tortures etc. The psychological oppression involved a general atmosphere of fear and insecurity, created by the authorities.

From the legal point of view, obtaining the required documentation for migration to Turkey was not difficult. One had to prove her/his Turkish identity or cultural identity. This was not difficult for the sheherli (şehirli – from Turkish, urban dwellers), a stratum that has lived for long times in the city and habitually used the Ottoman Turkish language in their everyday lives.[10] But in some cases, these documents were not difficult to obtain even for the Albanian villagers who did not speak Ottoman Turkish. There was also the problem of the domino effect. Once an important family from a certain mahalle (Turkish for neighbourhood) left, many more would follow the example. This trend was in line with a certain general politics of the state toward Ottoman heritage. Communist modernist ideas with the slogan “destroy the old and build the new” resulted in the destruction of many Ottoman heritage buildings in old parts of towns (Çarkagjiu 2011, 53-54) where mostly the sheherli lived. Considered as the carriers of Ottoman heritage, and therefore unwanted, watching their milieu transformed and their neighbours leaving, many sheherli as well as villagers followed. In parallel to this, educated people, such as teachers and others, in particular politically active educators that expressed convictions considered as nationalist (such as the right for education in the Albanian language or the usage of the Albanian flag), or belonged to any kinds of underground movements experienced targeted oppression, imprisonment and violence. Under these circumstances, I argue that the Tito-Köprüllü agreement, remained the only “exit door” from state pressure and violence for Albanians in Kosovo. As Pezo, I use the views of sociologist Anthony Richmond who argued that decisions to leave one’s home can either be proactive – based on economic or cultural motives, or reactive – as consequence of political and social crisis, decisions made in state of panic (Richmond 1988, 17). I believe that decisions to leave for Turkey, in Kosovo, were mostly of the reactive kind, without excluding proactive decisions (which were probably exceptions). These practices do not amount to expulsion, i.e. forced physical displacement of Albanians from Kosovo that took place e.g. in 1999, however, they are also not free migration. I am inclined to call this (for the lack of better term) conditioned migration,

Another important element to discuss here is intergenerational memory. In talking about why an Albanian (Emin Bytyçi, born 1930) left to Turkey in 1964, the interviewer (historian Memli Krasniqi) remarked that there was no weapon collection in 1964. Bytyçi answered that people were still afraid and felt that something bad will happen again, ending his sentence with “they remembered the last [experience]” (Krasniqi at al. 2016, 299) – meaning, the tortures endured by his family after WWII, among others; and they believed these might happen again (Krasniqi at al., 2016: 304-307). Expressed in this way, the issues of trauma and intergenerational memories are brought into discussion. In March 1999, when almost a million Albanians were deported by Serbian forces to Macedonia and Albania, one could hear people in the no-man’s land between Kosovo and Macedonia or in refugee camps talk about the transmitted memories of displacement and expulsion from previous generations in their families.

  1. Your research has a memory-activist dimension, as it challenges certain historically persistent tropes about social organization and dynamics in Kosovo. How can anthropology serve as a corrective to historical narratives?

Yugoslav historiography and, to a degree, knowledge production on Albanians reflected colonialism and cultural racism against Albanians, relying on problematic perspectives concerning rights and freedoms, inclusion and exclusion, centre and periphery, etc. In my research on the family in Kosovo, I engaged deeply with the work of the influential Croatian anthropologist Vera Erlich, who investigated why the Albanian family remained the last ‘zadruga’[11] in Yugoslavia is such an example (Erlich 1976). Based on the analyses of sociologist Rudolf Bićanić and historian Traian Stoianovich,[12] Erlich argued that in the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century, changes in political and economic factors, led to the eventual dissolution of zadrugas in Yugoslavia (Erlich 1966, 48-49; 153-154). When discussing the reasons why “zadruga” survived among Albanians, Erlich enumerated other factors such as Islam, loyalty to tradition, blood-feuds, and the adherence to Ottoman heritage (Erlich, 1976). The first question that arises is why the economic and political factors did not play out the same way in Kosovo as they did in other parts of Yugoslavia, where they dissolved this family form? In the case of Kosovo, Erlich also mentioned illiteracy as one of factors, which according to her was “partly due to the lack of schools in this area, but also due to their animosity towards schooling […]. They [Albanians] also have no reading material in their language and they lack reading habits. The backwardness of the entire economy in the region is the sad inheritance of the Ottoman Empire.” (Erlich, 1976: 248) There are omissions of facts here (apart from the cultural racism in language), although these were not difficult to find and were easily accessible. In contrast to Erlich’s argument, Albanian scholars from this same period considered that precisely economic and political factors kept the Albanian joint household alive. They have also mentioned the traditional element and customs as reasons (Krasniqi 1979; Rrapi 1995). My own ethnographic work in the south of Kosovo, in the region of Opoja, shows that the custom of blood feud, stereotypically characteristic of Albanian communities, and also a factor that Erlich mentioned, is non-existent in this region. None of the village elders that I interviewed remember having ever heard, let alone been involved in blood feud. The stereotype that the tradition of blood feud characterizes all Albanians everywhere is therefore empirically false. With regard to Erlich’s view on how “Albanians have shown that Islam and zadrugas are compatible” (1976: 246), the research of Albanian sociologist Gjergj Rrapi in the early 1970s (published only in 1995) shows that the zadruga was also prevalent among Christian Albanians, with even higher number of members than in Muslim families (Rrapi, 1995: 88). With regard to education, in the 1970s there was an overwhelming interest and investment of families in the education of their sons and daughters, even in the more remote areas such as Opoja (Krasniqi, 2018). After the University of Prishtina opened, an overwhelming number of Kosovar Albanians, including women, enrolled. Dejan Jović’s study Yugoslavia: A state that withered away (2009) shows that in the late 1970s, every third Kosovar Albanian was enrolled in a university program, which counters Erlich’s assumption about Albanians’ “animosity towards schooling”, as well as her ideas about the economy in Kosovo. This surge in levels of education contributed to emancipation, to the development of youth and women’s engagement in the social, political and cultural life. Furthermore, Erlich completely disregarded the issue of the Albanians’ education in the earlier times of the Yugoslav Kingdom. In this period, the Albanian language schools that were open from 1915-1918 under Austrian occupation (Schmitt 2012, 143), were closed or switched to exclusively Serbian education (Malcolm 1998, 267). Few Muslim religious primary schools were allowed (Ramet 2006, 47-48), and private “Turkish schools”, on condition that these would teach in Turkish (Malcolm, 1998: 267). The denial of Albanian language was along the lines of denying the ethnic and national identity of Albanians (Malcolm, 1998: 268-269).

  1. How has scholarship in/of Kosovo changed after the Kosovo War? What are the relations between scholarship and political activism today?

After the war of 1998–1999, history writing became a particularly popular activity in Kosovo, as did different manifestations of collective memory, such as memorial sites and monuments, commemorating this war. After 1999, the liberty to write about the oppression and atrocities committed by the Yugoslav and Serbian regimes against Albanians was greater than ever before, while the landscapes in Kosovo flourished with all kinds of materialized collective memory. Historical research and historiography in Kosovo remain a reflection of society in terms of its gender relations. In this sense, history narratives pull the problem to the surface – they allow us to analyze how gender is understood and conceptualized, and how language is used to define it. This leads to an understanding of the distinct way of writing about women and men, wherein apart from feminist studies, the research on women, i.e. women’s activism, women’s contributions to politics, history and society, is lacking, or is still meagre, despite a recent surge in interest for this part of history.

While particular women in historical studies and textbooks are lauded for their role in nation- and state-building, the narrative mainly remains within a patriarchal framework, where motherhood is the most important role. History narratives, written and televised, tend to situate and describe women as “the mother of this hero”, “the sister of this important political prisoner” etc., neglecting the fact that many of these mothers and sisters were themselves activists. The language used to describe women’s activism is very particular, either revolving around their family status (mother, sister) or stressing their “masculine” character using syntagms such as: “she fought like a man”, etc.

In the mid-2000s, I conducted research on the role of women in the underground resistance movement in the 1960s and 1980s which is commonly referred to as Ilegalja (Illegality). These were clandestine groups that operated underground from at least the 1950s in different waves, and who opposed oppression of the Yugoslav/ Serbian regime. Due to the type of this movement, the topic is a great example of the complexity of epistemological, theoretical and methodological complexity. Women as part of Ilegalja groups performed many roles, from serving as couriers to being members of organizing committees. In order to valorize and produce knowledge on their contribution to national liberation and state-building, one has to think what it actually entailed, at that time, to be a part of Ilegalja, what it meant and what the experiences were. This kind of investigation would involve a combination of methods and multidisciplinary approaches. Usually, only bits and pieces of information are available on the roles played by these women. Apart from the work done by feminists, many contributions on the new history of Kosovo lack a nuanced (critical) view of the past and its multidimensionality, including gender and class.

Deeds, revolutionary for women in a certain historical period, such as refusing marriage and deciding to go to school, are often left out, relegated to anecdotes told by relatives and acquaintances. The scarcity of social history, and prevalence of political history in Kosovar Albanian historiography reflects a long history of oppression, which conditioned this focus on political narratives. At the same time, this structural scarcity is reflected on conceptualizations of gender, wherein women mostly are portrayed within the family and kinship frame, while men are attributed qualities considered heroic, influence the ways their historical contributions are assessed and narrated by the majority of historians. This very language, in turn, also reveals the position of the researcher – in this sense, such historical studies are very telling. Again, methodology is an important aspect of this discussion. The inclusion of feminist standpoint theory, for instance, would have created various understandings on how knowledge is produced in relation to power and positionalities. The problem of such inclusion, however, is not characteristic only of Kosovo, or of the Balkans. This issue is greater in its scope, as international feminist (especially postcolonial) scholarship and activism have repeatedly reminded us over the past century.

In Kosovo, certain feminist activist groups and NGOs like the Kosovar Gender Studies Centre or the Kosovo Women’s Network, have raised issues about the gender bias of texts studied in schools, as well as about women’s discrimination in the public and private sector. The summer school of the University of Prishtina’s Program for Gender Studies and Research – UPGS, (founded and led by feminist academics Nita Luci, Linda Gusia, Vjollca Krasniqi) has also taught courses on issues of methodology. However, it is an immense struggle with slow progress, as everywhere else, since feminist scholars seldom hold decision-making positions within academia. Founding UPGS as an innovative space for interdisciplinary academic and gender-based research, teaching, and social involvement did not go without struggle, constant negotiations and networking. It should be noted that it is because feminist scholars involved hold positions in departments such as sociology or anthropology, there is a course on Gender studies and feminist perspectives are an integrative part of their overall teaching.

  1. What would you define as specifics of current memory politics in Kosovo in relation to the rest of (post)Yugoslav space?

As once pointed out by Florian Bieber (2014) one of the key issues is that “one’s heroes are the other ones’ enemies” (or war criminals). Several incidents in Serbia and Kosovo in 2013 revealed additional post-1999 tensions. In January 2013, in Preshevë, a city in south Serbia, with a majority Albanian population, the Serbian police removed an Albanian memorial built in November 2012, commemorating the Albanian martyrs (2000–2001) of the military formation called the Liberation Army of Preshevë, Bujanoc, Medvegjë (Ushtria Çlirimtare për Preshevë, Medvegjë dhe Bujanoc – UÇPMB). The very next day after the removal of this plaque in Preshevë, the Kosovo War Veteran Association (AWV) in Viti (east Kosovo) responded by taking down a Yugoslav socialist monument. Cases like this are not a typical practice in Kosovo, however, many Yugoslav socialist monuments were destroyed, sometimes by simply being totally neglected. Nevertheless, the example does point to a certain conflation of different ideas – Serbian nationalism and Yugoslav federative socialism – in the construction of the “enemy”. A month later, Albanians in Bujanovac (south Serbia) rallied against the monument that commemorated a Serbian policeman who was killed in Kosovo in 1999. These cases show how the tension between these two states extended to monuments.[13] The polarisation over collective memory, however, also exists within Kosovo, in which case civil society and artists recognising the modernist artistic value of some of the socialist monuments oppose their destruction and politization. One such case is the city of Gjilan (eastern Kosovo) where in 2017 the municipality, supported by the Gjlan branch of the League of Historians of Kosovo “Ali Hadri’, decided to change the location of a socialist monument[14] and put a new monument commemorating a national hero – Idriz Seferi (1847-1927). Civil society organisations and artists in Gjilan organised a petition and a protest against this decision. They claimed that the socialist monument is a part of the city’s collective memory, and has artistic value, and also called for the municipality to engage in a wider discussion with citizens over these matters.[15]

Although the digital age permits the proliferation of various contesting narratives and voices, collective memory in Kosovo is, by and large, still performed and shaped by power – the power of the ruling government and state authorities, and the power exercised by the international community. The international community attempted to denationalize collective memory in Kosovo (Ingimundarson 2007) but did not really succeed. Albanian flag day, for instance, is not a state holiday in Kosovo. Although people celebrate it, acknowledging its significance for Albanian ethnic and national identity at large, it is not an official holiday. An important symbol of collective memory, as the symbol used at commemorations etc., the Kosovar flag, blue and yellow with six stars that represent the different ethnicities living in Kosovo, was specifically designed in a way to preclude any kind of ethnic identification. In this sense, it is similar to the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Yugoslav, and later Serbian state oppression and war did not leave much space for a non-nationalist collective memory. Kosovar Albanians, or rather, the Albanian political elite in Kosovo have created a completely nationalized collective memory, where martyrs and heroes are celebrated and commemorated, more than, for instance, victims of war (Weller 2009). Despite the large degree of state management of collective memory in Kosovo, there are also private way of memorialisation and formation of collective memory, as for instance, the museum of Ferdonije Qerkezi in Gjakovë (south-west Kosovo). On March 27, 1999, the police abducted Ferdonije’s husband and four of her sons, two of which remain among missing persons. Qerkezi did not want to change anything in the house and eventually turned it into a museum and opened it for visitors. On June 14, 2016, the municipality of Gjakova, at that time led by female mayor Mimoza Kusari, announced the house of Ferdonije was a shtëpi muze (house museum) and revealed a commemorative plaque, inscribed: “The traditional house of the Qerkezi family, historical museum of 1999”.[16] Over the past year, my interest shifted to this influence of the private dimension such as family, in the overall praxis of memorialization. I am interested in digging deeper into the “moral reciprocities” between the state and families (e.g. those of the martyrs), and how these are expanded into the public space.

In 2009, Alter Habitus[17] conducted focus-group research in seven different municipalities in Kosovo, asking people how they understood collective memory and transitional justice. We also aimed to create a database of all monuments and memorial sites in Kosovo, equipped with information on their locations, funders, architects, constructors, the martyrs and victims that they were dedicated to, where they were from etc. Our findings were quite interesting; first, the very aesthetics of the monuments and memorials sites, is characterized mainly by national symbols, such as the flag, the white Albanian hat, the double-headed eagle. We were interested in the funders and found out that in urban areas these initiatives were mainly led by war veterans’ associations and the martyrs’ friends, who obtained permission from the municipality for the memorial to get constructed.[18] Aftter 2009, supported by the municipalities, more monuments were built to women who fought in the last 1998-1999 war - Hyrë Emini (Ferizaj) and Xhevë Lladrovci (Drenas). The memorial “Heroinat” (initiated by the former Parliament member Alma Lama) was built in 2015 depicts a woman’s face made of more 20,000 medals, to represent the estimated number of women who were raped during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo by the Serbian forces and paramilitary groups.[19] This monument, or rather ways it was spoken about it, especially by politicians, did not change the romantic discourse women’s involvement in the war in terms of motherhood and sacrifice for the nation. This is especially critical having in mind that, in times of freedom and peace, historically, this sacrifice is never articulated in concrete terms beyond biology.

Apart from memorials, commemorative academies were organized, and Albanian folklore expanded to include songs dedicated to the martyrs. Street names were changed for the third time in the 20th century, in response to the de-Albanization that happened in the 1990s. After the abolishment of Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989, under Milošević’s regime, only in Prishtina, over 7000 street-, school-, and institution-names were changed, as well as monuments and busts, to refer to Serbian cultural and religious icons etc. (Nushi 2000, 114). After the war of 1999, these Serbian street names were removed, some replaced by pre-1990 variants and some newly named by Kosovar Albanian heroes and martyrs, mainly of the 1998-99 war heroes, but also previous politicians, scientists etc. In 2014, with the UPGS and ZFD,[20] Alter Habitus held memorial workshops for students, where the basic concept of collective memory was introduced together with gender studies and feminist epistemology.

Monuments built in Kosovo respond by highlighting precisely the ethnic element that the war was waged against Albanians in Kosovo. Many of these monuments (busts and sculptures), are, more often than not, erected in the tradition of socialist-realist aesthetics seen mainly in Albania. This aesthetic did not appeal to many of the participants of the focus groups in the Alter Habitus study in 2009. Some of the interlocutors would question the militant appearance of these monuments, many of which would represent men with guns. While such monuments do commemorate war, it seemed appropriate to some of participants/ interlocutors that they convey a message of peace, rather than war. At the same time, the funders of such monuments commissioned them to be constructed by particular artists, and in a particular aesthetic, perhaps even reflecting a generational cleavage, i.e. a differing understanding of the aesthetic and functions of commemoration between older and younger generations.

In political discourse in Kosovo, the politics of memory is shaped in a way that capitalizes on the 1998-1999 war and independence, which are perceived as steps to assure a certain projected political future of political parties, built around the current governing political elite’s interpretation of the past. These futures depend on the preferences of the war victors or, in the case of Kosovo, on the preferences of those who managed to secure its independence. The Democratic League of Kosovo (Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës – LDK) (led by Rugova and advocating the strategy of peaceful resistance) thus considered the internationalization of the Kosovo question as their key achievement. From the mid-1990s however, Kosovo was no longer a topic of international political discussion, overshadowed by, for example, Bosnia and Herzegovina in Dayton. After the 1998-1999 war, the political landscape in Kosovo was long dominated by tensions between the PDK and the LDK, reflecting a certain regional dynamic as well. These political options, more often than not, use collective memory as a means to stamp the role they had in Kosovo’s path toward independence into public discourse, in order to convince voters and to ultimately remain in power.

  1. How do these shifts in political discourses on collective memory and their refractions co-exist on sites of memory?

I believe the case of the Velanija memorial site is quite interesting to discuss how memorialization can also reconcile – in a physical space at least – different ideologies and times in which they were dominant. Initially, the Velanija space (usually referred to this way because the neighborhood is called Velanija), was a memorial and cemetery commemorating soldiers fallen in WWII. There is not much of a discussion about this part of the cemetery, but it has been said that most of these martyrs were Serbian soldiers, as not many Albanians from Kosovo fought against the Nazi regime during WWII. This part of history has only recently re-entered public discussions, as scholars, such as historian Mrika Limani Myrtaj, are attempting to open up these issues. The role of Albanians in Kosovo during the WWII is more nuanced from what and how some of Yugoslav historiography portrays Albanians – as mainly allies of Nazi Germany. In relation to this, Oliver Jens Schmitt argues that “The truth is that Albanians in Kosovo did not want a fascist state, an ideology that just like communism did not comply with traditional structures. Albanians accepted the help of those powers, which offered them protection and army technology to fight the return of the Serbian administration; and these powers were the Axis Powers. Neither during the war, nor after, in the western capitals there was no understanding for this attitude of the Albanians from Kosovo” (Schmitt 2012, 171). For the same reason, the Albanian communists from Kosovo joined the antifascist war, with the belief that after the liberation, they would have the right to self-determination. This was expressed in the Resolution that came out from the meeting in the Bujan village in Albania (December 31, 1943 – January 2, 1944) – a meeting that gathered communists from Albania and Kosovo (43 Albanians, three Serbs and three Montenegrins) (Ramet 2006, 155-156). Among other things, the Resolution said “Kosovo is an area mostly inhabited by the Shqiptar [Albanian] people, who have always wished to become united with Shqipni [Albania]. We therefore feel it our duty to point to the road that is to be followed by the Shqiptar people in the realization of their wishes.” (Ramet, 2006:156)

Some members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) agreed with the resolution with the idea that Albania, after the war, would become part of Yugoslavia (Ramet 2006: 156). According to Ramet, the CPY “endorsed the notion of assigning Kosovo to Albania on two occasions – in 1928, before Tito was head of the party, and again in 1940, at the party congress in Zagreb, by which time Tito was the general secretary of the Party” (Ramet, 2006: 155). In 1942, the CPY asked for the support of the nationalities, and reminded them of the oppression that came from the Yugoslav Kingdom. In the Party’s paper Proleter (December 1942), Tito wrote: “we will never depart from the principle stated by our great teachers and leaders, Lenin and Stalin, which is the right of every nation to self-determination including secession […] the question of Macedonia, Kosovo and Metohija, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, will be easily solved, to the general satisfaction of all, by the people solving it themselves, gun in hand, through struggle” (Magaš 1993, 28). Albanian communists from Kosovo were convinced that this right for self-determination would be granted to them. In fact, the CPY heavily criticized the idea of unification and set the issue aside (Magaš 1993: 33-34). Horvat, considering that this very event should be looked at within the frame and dynamics of that period, and referring to an exchange of letters between CPY and the Regional Committee of CP in Kosovo, argued: “From this exchange of letters it is seen that the leadership of the CPY does not object to Kosovars because of the content of the resolution but because they are way ahead with it. In principle, self-determination was confirmed but no decision was made. The options were left open. Again, it was stressed that the legitimacy of any political request depended on the participation in the common fight. Besides, this was the case [even] before Bujan” (Horvat, 1989: 85). In years that followed, the “open options” were closed, in the sense that anyone suspected to favour the idea of unification would be severely punished by the Yugoslav authorities.

To return to the memorial site in Velania[21]: in this very space, apart from the martyrs from WWII, KLA martyrs from the 1998-1999 war are buried nearby. In 2006, the first president of Kosovo Ibrahim Rugova was also buried here, in a mausoleum-like tomb. In 2016, writer, political activist and human rights campaigner Adem Demaçi, having spent 28 years in prison in Serbia, also found eternal peace here. In this sense, under the umbrella terms of the struggle for liberation, independence and statehood, the space of Velanija hill reconciles various ideologies and political courses, from Rugova’s peaceful resistance to the KLA’s military opposition to Serbia, to the underground resistance movement, which Demaçi’s figure was important to.

  1. What aspects of Yugoslav history are currently of the utmost interest to historians and memory scholars in Kosovo?

Political history in Kosovo remains the main research focus for the majority of historians in Kosovo. Special emphasis is granted to the oppression of the Albanians, first in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia and later in Serbia, and the Serbian state’s multiple statements, plans and projects against Albanians from Kosovo. Other aspects of history that are highlighted in official historiography are events that have strengthened the Albanian national identity in Kosovo or that have created paths for the later statehood and independence, social movements (the Underground movement, the student demonstrations of 1968, the demonstrations of 1981 and student demonstrations of the late 1990s), the war of 1998-1999 and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), etc.

While these are among the main topics researched by the mainstream state-funded research institutions, such as the History Institute of Prishtina University, certain scholars within the University of Prishtina, as well as independent scholars and intellectuals have, over the last years, nevertheless turned their attention to the period of the 1990s. This period has been characterized by the peaceful passive resistance against Serbia, led by the former president of Kosovo Ibrahim Rugova (1944-2006), who was also the founder and head of the largest peaceful movement in the 1990s, the LDK. Formed as the first independent political party after 1989, the LDK was the basis of creation of the so-called “parallel system” after the abolition of Kosovo’s autonomy by Serbia in 1989 (Hockenos 2003, 185-187). Expelled from public institutions, within the parallel system, Albanians organized education and healthcare in private buildings such as their houses, garages or basements. Prior to this, Albanians attempted to protect Kosovo’s autonomy, following the constitutional principles of 1974, in a series of events in 1988 (Pula 2004, 803). Nevertheless, Milošević abolished Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989, and a harsh decade of state violence and killings followed for the Albanians. This period offers an interesting insight into how the private and public merged and were intertwined in a political sense and involved in the peaceful political resistance of Albanians. As each sphere of life was organized in a way that bypassed Serbian institutions, this period also marked a new sense of national identity and national pride for Albanians. It is also in this period that the women’s movement, although within the framework of the national cause (Mertus 1999), acquired a certain shape and unity. Women-activists from the previous underground movement in Kosovo in the 1960s and 1980s, women who were part of the Kosovo local administration and public institutions until 1989, or who generally worked in state institutions – by the early 1990s, all were active part of the peaceful resistance (although not all were members of the LDK). At the same time, the rejection of some of the feminists to be treated simply as a part of the LDK, resulted in the first women’s NGO in Kosovo, while cooperation with other women of the LDK also continued (Farnsworth, 2008; Gusia 2016, Krasniqi 2018). Across all these perspectives, the groups that are mostly glorified are those that emerged from the KLA. Counternarratives, or rather individual voices, such as civil society activists or independent intellectuals that challenge the interpretation of the past face criticism by the political elite, and are often manipulated by some of the media that follow the line of the political elites.

  1. How and to what effect do activist groups such as Alter Habitus respond to these narratives?

In my opinion, the 2008 independence of Kosovo was a turning point in expanding or even challenging the historical narratives in and about Kosovo, or, just adding new narratives or new perspectives to the old ones. Certain undertakings by feminist researchers and feminist artists that have since taken place, have given a new dimension to the feminist trajectory, and, with it, have also paved the way for a new history of Kosovo that would include perspectives from different classes and genders. The reason why I relate this to the events of 2008 has to do with a narrative, sometimes latent, which has engulfed feminist or women’s initiatives, especially in the 1990s. In this period, and to some extent also after the 1998-1999 war, similar to the historically prior trends in other former socialist countries, national liberation and then state formation was prioritized. It was implied that after these major projects will be over, gender equality would be part of independence by default. After 2008, this pressure to prioritize national liberation weakened, or simply ignored by feminists. They created their own space for radical contestation and theoretical contextualization. Particularly this is seen from within the trajectory of the feminist movement, where new loyalties were created, based on political convictions and ideologies rather than categories like the nation, the state, family etc. In this line, I also acknowledge the contribution of Alter Habitus that initiated, and/or brought to the attention of the academic public, multiple critical ways of discussing the politics of collective memory (2009-2010, 2014-2017) [22]. Moreover, Alter Habitus has created a space to discuss issues of class and feminist epistemology in social movements by organizing a conference in 2017. After a long time, this event brought together Kosovo and international scholars to examine various facets of social movements in Kosovo during socialism and in the 1990s.[23]

Social movements have traditionally been discussed from the stance of national identity and political rights of Albanians. This is not only characteristic of local, Kosovar historians, but also of many of non-Albanian scholars. Through conferences and debates, as well as other types of memory activism, documented on the website, Alter Habitus created and offered space for students and scholars to present and explore these new research areas and topics together, as well as to develop a critical epistemological approach. With regard to personal narratives and their influence, Oral History Kosova, an NGO focusing on a variety of topics in political and social history, arts etc., offers a digital platform through which personal narratives are accessible in the form of video interviews (and their transcriptions in Albanian). In addition, Oral History Kosova has worked with visual history. For example, this NGO regularly curates online and analogues exhibitions that presented numerous oral history interviews shed light on certain historical events such as Blood Feuds Reconciliation Campaign.[24]

  1. What is the function of gender politics in collective memory in Kosovo? What kind of transformations in gender politics have occurred over the past two decades, and to what effect?

Feminist activists and feminist scholars have changed the way that collective memory is discussed and have also shaped memory activism. A public intervention that occurred on March 8, 2016, performed by feminist activists, who are part of the collective “We march we don’t celebrate”, is a good case in point. Wearing white masks that covered their entire faces, feminist activists changed established street names into streets bearing the names of female teachers, national heroines, artists, etc. Among others, they covered the signboard that marks the Skanderbeg (the Albanian national hero) boulevard, with a tag that read “The square of women’s resistance”. A year later, the UPGS and the ZFD organized a talk about a march in March 1999, where around twelve thousand women with bread in their hands set off to send help to women and children in Drenica after the massacre of the Jashari family that happened on March 5-7, 1999. In 2018, the same alliance, this time commemorating a series of women’s demonstrations in 1998, also set up the multi-medium exhibition “Data: Mars, Women’s Forgotten Activism – Kosovo, March 1998”. For sociologist Linda Gusia who had conducted extensive research on the 1990s in Kosovo for her PhD dissertation, and initiated this exhibition, this was yet another practice that would enable to start a larger collective conversation. These types of events are very important, not only in the level of memory activism, but also as cases that allow researchers to examine the shift in knowledge production. These events do not only provide material for historical patchwork research, in the sense that they fill a gap in knowledge, adding to a new post-1999 history writing of Kosovo; they also problematize and nuance the discussions on both the history of the Albanian nation, women in particular both as Albanians and as feminists, and collective memory. Effectively, the political power that is usually legitimized by both history and collective memory is challenged and detached from potential political appropriations.

  1. Kosovo is a particularly interesting case in point for scholars focusing on Yugonostalgia. Could you elaborate on the specificities of Yugonostalgia in Kosovo today?

This issue is not really present in Kosovo in the same sense that it features in other former Yugoslav Republics. As many authors have stated, to a large extent, Yugonostalgia refers to the economic and political difficulties of the post-socialist Yugoslav successor-states. In Kosovo, for instance, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the market research firm IPSOS in the framework of the “Strategies of symbolic nation-building in West Balkan states: intents and results” project, only 5 % of the population regretted the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Among other matters, this has to do with generation and class. The poor stratum, usually in rural areas, which makes up the majority of the population in Kosovo, are not nostalgic about Yugoslavia. For this majority, Yugoslavia is a reminder of how bad it was and can be. Moreover, the younger generation’s imagination about Yugoslavia before the 1990s is shaped by the stories of their parents, and majority of these stories do not speak about great life, but about great difficulties in terms of pursuing an education, employment etc.

In the public sphere, Yugonostalgia is mentioned occasionally when is triggered by a certain event or public discussion, and people express stances toward it. A dispute among artists with regard to a socialist building – the former Gërmia shopping mall built in the early 1970s is a good example.[25] After 1999, this building was turned into an office building, which first housed the Ministry of Public Administration, and later the Ministry of Tax Administration and Ministry of Infrastructure. Musicians, promised support from the European Commission, wanted to turn this building into a concert hall for classical music, while contemporary artists considered that this building should not be destroyed or changed, but should instead be turned into a museum for contemporary art. Within this debate, the group in defence of Gërmia was often qualified as Yugonostalgic by their opponents and certainly not in a positive way.

Prior to this, there was another issue that involved “jugonostalgjik” name-calling – a debate on whether to remove the Bashkim Vllazërim (Unity and Brotherhood) socialist memorial in Prishtina re-emerged couple of times after in 2000s. The Association of War Veterans (AWV) claimed that this memorial has to be removed and that a monument to Adem Jashari, the Albanian national hero of the last 1999 war, or – as he is commonly referred to – the legendary commander, should be built in its stead. Some Prishtina citizens, mainly civil society activists, who did not want the old memorial removed – as they recalled their childhood memories of playing in the playground surrounding the monuments – were considered as jugonostaligjik, again in a negative way. Based on the dynamics of relevant discussions on social media, for the majority of Kosovo’s population, a jugonostalgjik is a person who belonged to this stratum of Albanian functionaries during Yugoslav socialism who took care of their own and their family’s interests, without meddling too much in the Albanian political cause. It is someone who benefited from the consumerist advances that Yugoslavia offered, especially from the 1970s.

  1. What is memory politics for an artist such as yourself, and what is the relation between art, academe and activism in your own work?

In my opinion, in my literary work, women’s lives, the city and home are connected by a common thread, which is memory. I find literary narrativesespecially those of women who wrote during socialism and in the 1990s, such as Fehime Selimi, Shukrije Gashi, Fakete Rexha etc., to be of particular importance, not only in terms of the history of literature in Kosovo, but more for my anthropological and feminist curiosity. For me, literature often becomes a site where the work of memory occurs by processing individual experiences. In the history of Kosovo, these are greatly shaped by political oppression, the war and constraints felt in the lives of individuals (especially women) in relation to national identity. In the recent past of Kosovo, especially after the 1999 war, there has been an immense amount of work on recollection of the past. This is also evident in the interest that people have in digging into family histories through visual material. During my PhD research, one of the methodologies I used was photo elicitation. I would ask my interviewees to show me their family photo albums. In parallel to this, I examined the Photography collections at the Kosovo State Agency for Archives. The family photo albums and the photos in the archive tell two different narratives. Stories are also told differently in written material, such as literature. For instance, if one reads the literature written by activists of the underground resistance movement in Kosovo, especially by the generation of the 1980s and 1990s, this diverse body of literature informs academic inquiry immensely, particularly in terms of women’s political engagements or even ideologies. However, on a personal level, I find it quite difficult to balance these three seats, so to say – academia, literature and activism. While anthropology offers a great pool of resources for writers, the possibility to actually sit and write consistently is a luxury not always offered to academics. Again, this is very subjective. There are times when I feel as if these three roles are sabotaging one another, and there are times when I feel richer to have all the three. I do, however, see academia as almost inseparable from activism, especially in the sense of the former being in service to the latter.

  1. Given that the interview will be published in a Russian journal, another question remains relevant. What is the public discourse towards the Russian Federation today?

Russia is mostly mentioned with regard to politics, specifically its support and political alliance with Serbia. However, in discussions on the arts, particularly literature, Russian literature remains irreplaceable, especially for people from my generation and older. Unfortunately, even most people from my generation are mostly familiar with the literature of late 19th–early 20th century, but not with current works. Tarkovsky remains important for filmmakers. The feminists in Kosovo followed the developments around Pussy Riot, as did the very small group of anarchists, for whom the Russian anarchists of the end of 19th and early 20th century are an important reference point. I know of no recent (post-1999) initiatives that would encourage cultural exchanges between Russia and Kosovo, while the participation of Kosovar Albanians in international events, such as sports competitions, remains highly challenging, according to the media, due to Russia’s visa policies toward Albanians in Kosovo.



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[1] All references to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this general abstract of the thematic cluster and in the introductory text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo. It is important to note that in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Kosovo had the status of an autonomous province, while the other six states had a status of a republic.

[2] In 1992-2003, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consisted of Serbia and Montenegro. In 2003, it was renamed into Serbia and Montenegro, and in 2006, Montenegro declared independence.

[3] It should be noted that 15 states later revoked their initial recognition of Kosovo's independence. These are: Suriname, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Comoros, Dominica, Grenada, Solomon Islands, Madagascar, Palau, Togo, the Central African Republic, Ghana, Nauru, and Sierra Leone.

[4] The Battle of Kosovo, one of Serbia’s founding nation-building myths, was fought on St Vitus' Day (June 15, now celebrated on June 28) 1389 between the coalition of Christian Serb lords and the Ottoman Empire. Reliable historical accounts of this battle are scarce, however, the battle signified the end of the medieval Serbian kingdom, and the start of more than four centuries of Ottoman rule.

[5] A collaborative work of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Kosovo and Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade, The Kosovo Memory Book lists all killed, missing, and disappeared persons of all ethnic groups during the period from 1998 until 2000. Edited in Albanian, Serbian, and English, this six-volume monument commemorates all those who lost their lives or disappeared during the war and in the immediate aftermath without dividing the victims across ethnic lines. (cf. Baliqi 2017, 15)

[6] Editors’ note: Between 1945–1966, Yugoslav Communist Party Politburo member Ranković (1909-1983) upheld Serbian minority control of mainly Albanian-inhabited Kosovo through repressive anti-Albanian policies by the secret police. Similar campaigns were also – albeit to a lesser extent – undertaken toward the Hungarians of Vojvodina and Muslims of Sandžak. Ranković opposed the recognition of Bosniak nationality.

[7] Author’s note: Obradović divides the colonization in three main stages with several characteristics: the first in 1920, second 1921- 1923 and the third phase 1931-1941. Obradović notes that the state’s goal was to change the national structure in Kosovo through colonization – primarily by pressuring Albanians in various violent ways to leave to Turkey (or Albania) (Obradović 1981, 6, 90). These measures were not only state-orchestrated but also supported by the intellectual elite and scientists. The most notorious was the Memorandum for the Expulsion of Albanians prepared by Vasa Čubrilović, employed as a historian at the University of Belgrade at the time. In 1937, he presented this draft to the Yugoslav government (Malcolm 1998, 284). He argued that the Albanian question in Kosovo had to be resolved once and for all and proposed several possible violent methods for the Albanian mass expulsion. The full text of the Memorandum in English is available here:

[8] Author’s note: In Kosovo, for the first time after WWII, a reaction to this injustice was expressed publicly at the demonstrations of 1968. Despite the fact that majority of historians analyze the 1968 demonstrations through a nationalist lens, in this way focusing on the Albanians’ request for the upgrade of Kosovo’s status to a Republic, the speech that was read by the organizer of the demonstration also emphasized class disparities (Novosella 2008). In a certain sense, the 1968 demonstration was very different from the other 1968 demonstrations in Yugoslavia, due to the fact that Albanians did not enjoy the same rights, such as higher education in the Albanian language. But on another level, it was the same in the sense of opposing the elite in power and the privileges that they enjoyed.

[9] See this discussion also by Edvin Pezo (2018).

[10] Author’s note: For more, see: Akan Ellis (2003, 1-39), Pezo (2018).

[11] Author’s note: A rural community, considered as typical for South Slavic societies, generally formed of one extended family or a clan of related families, the zadruga held its property, herds and money in common, with usually the oldest (patriarch) member ruling and making decisions for the family, though at times he would delegate this right at an old age to one of his sons. Maria Todorova argued that the terminology (e.g. the naming ‘zadruga’) created certain myths regarding this family type in terms of belonging to certain territory or certain people. Todorova considers that ‘zadruga’ indeed emerged in the territories of Ottoman Empire from 18th and early 19th century, in çiflik economy, as well as agricultural and pastoral economies (as cited in Kaser 1994, 39-40).)

[12] Editors’ note: Rudolf Bićanić (1905-1958), Croatian sociologist and economist; Trajan Stojanovich (1921-2005), American historian.

[13] Author’s note: See also Shkëlzen Maliqi “The War of Symbols: Remembrance in Kosovo”

[14] Author’s note: The Monument in Gjilan Nošenje Ranjenika - Ante Gržetića:

[15] Author’s note: See also: Dorentina Kastrati & Taulant Osmani, ‘Gjilanit i zhvendoset “Panorama” gjysmë shekullore’, 10.11. 2017, Kallxo,

[16] Author’s note: Në ditën e Çlirimit përurohet shtëpia-muze e familjes Qerkezi,, 14 June 2016

[17] Editors’ note: Alter Habitus – Institute for Studies in Society and Culture is an NGO in Kosovo, founded in August 2009, by a group of sociologists, anthropologists, linguists and feminist activists. (Editors’ note.)

[18] Author’s note: Especially with regard to the economic and gender dimensions, see an overview of the findings of focus group research(2009/2010):

[19] Author’s note: The inscription on the memorial: “This memorial is built from 20.145 medals, which symbolically honor the versatile contribution and sacrifice of every ethnic Albanian woman during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo. At the same time, this memorial commemorates the cruel crime of rape carried out by the Serbian forces during the last war, against nearly 20 000 women. By joining the contribution and sacrifices of all women, the huge portrait of the Kosovar heroine is shaped. The portrait reflects values of dignity, dedication, education, care, courage and endurance.”

[20] Editors’ note: Forum ZFD – Civil Peace Forum Kosovo is an NGO focused on dealing with the past in the western Balkans by encouraging critical thinking challenging of dominant narratives.

[21] Author’s note: See a discussion about this site by Isabel Ströhle, “Prishtina’s Martyr’s Cemetery: Conflicting Commemorations” (2006).

[22] Author’s note: Some of the activities are seen on the website of Alter Habitus

[23] Author’s note: See; and also an article by Archer (2016).

[24] Editors’ note: The Reconciliation of Blood Feuds Campaign was a call for reconciliation and unity among Albanians of Kosovo, which developed in Kosovo in 1990-1991, at the beginning of the repressive Milošević regime.

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