The journals on this platform show the story of Vjosa Shala - Loca, a girl growing up in Kosovo in the late ’80s and ’90s to witness and document forms of hope, ambition, fear, loss, oppression, violence, protest, party, and punk as formative features of both her and her country’s history.
You will meet her story open and annotated, with parallels drawn to link it with stories of others, her unconsciousness with the consciousness of others, giving it space, allowing it time, awarding it context and curation.
All these days will pass; they will pass in crowds
Over the face of the seas, over the face of the mountains,
Over rivers of silver, over the rolling forests
Like a distant hymn for our beloved dead.
From Setting Suns by Victor Hugo
It was such a big deal when we first used the internet and surfed the world wide web as kids. I remember I felt like it is something very exciting and unknown. I remember we used it mostly in my father's private office in downtown Prishtina (street Qemajl Hoxha, if I remember well it was then called street Mosha Pijade). As the NATO bombing campaign started his office was smashed, computers and everything of course stolen. It was on the first floor, and according to some neighbors, some paramilitary forces occupied it and used to also sleep there during that time.
When we got to Ulqin as refugees, grandmother was already there, and we told her about this. She asked: Everything is gone? The beautiful leather sofas? We’d say, yes probably gone. And the carpets? Gone. And the computers? All gone. And the internet, couldn’t you at least save the internet? Since we mentioned it all the time, she thought it was something tangible.
The first issue of Rilindja newspaper was published in 1945. Since then and up until 1990, when it's activities were banned, thousands of works by various authors have been published. I really love the logos and how they changed shape and color through different editions. Here we can see how Loca colored them.
WHAT DID «S.DAWN» WRITES ABOUT THE EXPLOITATION OF KOSOVARS BY THE BOURGEOISIE?
The peasant, wrote Socijalistička Zora [Socialist Dawn] on November 7, 1920, «should know that in Kosovo it is about a state of criminals who want to live like parasites.» Is there bigger evidence, this communist newspaper asks about Kosovo and Macedonia than the fact that a few people have come to this site without a dinar and after six months have made such a fortune that they can give their daughters with several hundred thousand dinars the dowry?
«In the conditions of the most brutal rule and public plunder in the Yugoslav colony
(this is how «Socialist Dawn» refers to Kosovo and Macedonia) the ministers of today and yesterday came, just before the elections, to give promises to the poor of these parts, until they get their votes, then these same vicious people will ride again at the expense of the people. And so - wrote further «S.dawn», the poor of the ruined villages of this side will know and must know to whom they will give their votes».
«It seems to the bourgeoisie that the population of these parts, continued further the «Socialist Dawn», has forgotten the brutal attitudes and atrocities committed from 1912 until today and is counting that by removing the communist propaganda with a police baton, to steal the votes of the people».
This is from the Rilindja newspaper published on 9th of December, 1988, in Prishtina. This short entry published in serials of “little encyclopedia” is about the pre-history of the Yugoslav Communist Party, established in 1919. Socijalisticka Zora, or Socialist Dawn, was published in the Serbian language in Skopje as a weekly of YKP, covering mostly the socialist activities in Kosovo and Macedonia. It published over a hundred numbers in 1919 and 1920. During 1920, dozens of numbers were published in the Turkish language with Arabic letters as Sosyalist Fecri. The impact of the newspaper was so big that YKP enjoyed unprecedented popularity among the Albanian and Turkish population in local and parliamentary elections. The issue of Socijalisticka Zora is the single most important document reflecting on the genuine inter-nationalism of leftist movements in Kosovo and Macedonia.
It is an anomaly to read a little note on Socialist Dawn in the year when nationalist ideologies took over the socialist perspective. Was it a mere curiosity, a belated note, misplaced historical reminder, or a radical gesture of recalling the bright moments of modernism? Whatever the case, in the same entry, there is also a small note on the historical almanac, giving info, among others, on the third congress of the Yugoslav Communist Party held in Belgrade in 1923. This was when YKP started to acknowledge the “national” question as one of its main agendas.
In the late eighties when these notes appeared in Rilindja, Albanians in Kosovo were experiencing everyday humiliation and oppression, and labor exploitation was reaching the levels before the Second World War. In other words, Kosovo was becoming once more a “colony” of Yugoslavia. Kosovars opposed this reaction and backwardness with the symbolic values of socialist modernism. As every symbolic gesture, it dies out together with institutions giving them a moral legitimacy. Nevertheless, it is always good to remember them; either as symbols, values, institutions, modernities, or socialisms.
In this picture, we see the statue of the soldiers who lost their lives during the second world war as part of the anti-fascist national liberation war of Yugoslavia. It is located in Matiqan hill in Prishtina and it is built in the form of a flower called Bozhur - peony in English, that according to some represents Kosovo. The statue made of steel and concrete in form of a flower holds the names of 220 soldiers from Prishtina and places nearby, each of them represented by a petal. The peony doesn't stand
The title of this article reminds me of when I was a kid, I think it was 1998, the war was almost there. Me and my brother (me 9 yrs and my brother 11 yrs respectively) were going to school and passing through "Fehmi Agani" street near the object of the Ljublanska Banka. My brother was moving my school bag up and down while we walked making my balance not steady which he found very funny, and I didn't. As we continued to walk it became too annoying and I started yelling at him, but he didn't stop. Suddenly, a person yelled at us from afar, we turned our heads and it was a man in a police uniform. He said something like don't tease the girl, leave the little girl alone' in Albanian. I remember we both stopped, didn't say anything, held each other's hands, and just walked away fast.
During our walk to school, we asked each other how can it be that that policeman was Albanian. It can't be I remember saying to my brother. At that time we thought of the police, any police as very bad and in our view, they could not be Albanian.
'I was left alone, everybody ran. So I didn't move from there. I sat down to show that this place is ours and we have nowhere else to go.' - said the man in the picture in an interview he gave in 2019.
The man sitting in the midst of the chaos is Faik Rexhepi, who when asked why he sat down, explained that he asked other protestors to sit as well to show that the protest is peaceful but when attacked by the police with tear gas and rubber sticks people were afraid and intimidated and ran quickly.
It is one of the most important photographs of the Kosovar Albanian resistance taken by Hazir Reka. It is taken in 1990 in front of the Grand Hotel Prishtina where hundreds of Albanians were gathered to both welcome Senator Bob Dole in Prishtina and peacefully protest to make their voices heard. As with others, the protest was brutally stopped by Serbian police.
Images of protests and violence in the city of Prishtina are so familiar to me. So much so that when I look at them they don't necessarily produce a negative or sad emotion anymore. Now they just look like home.
Me and my siblings are at the back of our car. My father had just picked us up from the kindergarten and we were going to go to pick up my mom. She was a teacher at a school nearby “Selami Hallaçi”. We soon realized that the road to the school had been blocked by police vehicles and about thirty police officers were in the school yard. For the first time, I saw a helicopter circling around on top of the school. We turned back and went home. Mami came home very late that night. She and her colleagues were taken for an “informative talk” by the Serbian administration, in the presence of police officers. Soon after, Albanian schools in the city would be closed and the premises of “Selami Hallaçi” would host hundreds of pupils who had nowhere to go. The rest of them got accommodated in “house schools” around town.
My elementary school 'Naim Frasheri' was divided in the 90s in two parts - the one for us Albanian students and the one for the Serbian students. Right in the back of the school there was the police station - we called it SUP then. The windows of the classes that overlooked the police station were all painted with whatever drawings or just paint and I didn't really understand why would the school decide to block the windows. Windows are there so one can see the outside, right? I asked my teacher and she said there are painted so the police can not see us, so we don't provoke them' - were the exact words she used. Why would one get provoked by children?
The illustration also reminds me of when each time the school books arrived a police car would park in front of the school door, they would come to take the director of the school to the station. Once I saw two policemen dragging him to the car and kicking him. They would interrogate him, sometimes beat him, they would make him stay over night. He was always very angry, I remember, he would just scream at us randomly in the hallways of the school for no real point - stuff like "get in the class", "why are you looking that way", "straighten your back"- probably because of the constant fear and pressure he felt.
Around two years ago, I was in a bus in the city and I saw a man passing the street - I looked at him closely for I don't know what reason, and I slowly realized its him, the director of the school. Now very old, his beard white and untidy, his clothes as old as him, - he almost looked like a bum.
We are used to see honors given to soldiers, veterans etc, but as a society I think we fail to give credit to people in different set ups and spheres who little by little and in their own way and by their own means - played also part in the resistance.
The moment before the iconic picture came to life. Before everybody else flees and
Faik Rexhepi remains seated.
It was September 1, 1992. My first day at school as a first grader. Ready with my backpack I was waiting in our yard for my parents were getting ready. We were first going to go to the local photo studio to take some mandatory pictures and then they were solemnly going to take me to school. While I waited, my aunt entered abruptly into our yard all teared up inquiring for my parents. Her 17-year-old son had been called the day before to enlist for the military service. Unwilling to respond to the call he had left earlier that morning with the little money he had left. He spent weeks getting to Hungary, then spent around two weeks in Check Republic until he arranged a fixed to take him to Germany where he lives to this day.
I was in London as a tourist at this particular date (2’nd of July 1990), my parents were calling to congratulate me and my sister on Kosovo’s independence. The funny thing is that my next door neighbours in that building in Earls Court were also my neighbors back in Pristina who happened to be Serbian, my next few weeks in that flat passed by with this nonverbal communication between us, just a few days before the declaration of independence we were doing the usual things neighbourly things, help with groceries, got any sugar any coffee?, some small talk etc, then it all changed in a day. To me that was a weird thing since independence does have a nice ring to it, why would people not like that, why would anyone have anything against you being independent?
Adem Demaçi is by far one of the most important figures of the Kosovo Albanian resistance, if not the most important.
With 28 years in prison and his cold-like steel ideals and attitude, he seemed like somebody unbreakable - almost un-human-like. But what fascinates me more about him is precisely his sensitive and emotional perceptions. In his book 'Dashuria Kuantike e Filanit' - he talks to a pen friend called Dardha and explains in his words the sufferings he endured and the way he made himself see light. The book is divided in 9 letters that contain 9 chapters of his life.
In his interview with Shkelzen Gashi that turned to a book called Adem Demaci - Biografi e paautorizuar, he talks about how bad he felt each time his mother used to visit him in prison. He would feel guilty and anxious for her and his family's fate; And because his mother was old each time she visited he would fear that that would be the last time he sees her.
I'm not translating this fragment because its more beautiful in the original:
"Gëzimin më të madh e kam ndie kur isha i pikëlluar, kurse pikëllimin më të madh kur isha i gëzuar. Isha i pikëlluar atëherë kur më erdhi nana dhe ma dha lajmin për lindjen e djalit, sepse, i vetmuar në qeli, s’kisha me kë as ta ndaja atë gëzim. Kush se ka provuar, i ngjan e pabesueshme. E isha i gëzuar kur më erdhi lajmi për vdekjen e nanës, se një frikë e madhe më mbërthente sa herë më vizitonte. A thua do te jetë gjallë të më vizitojë edhe një herë? Kështu kur ajo vdiq, vet në qeli u shfryva, si një fëmijë i vogël, qava tri ditë rresht. E shfryva zemrën, e cila përndryshe do të mbetej e pashfryrë. Një barrë e madhe mu hoq prej shpirtit. Kush s’e ja provuar, as këtë ska si ta besojë." Adem Demaci (nga Biografi e paautorizuar - Shkelzen Gashi)
The teachers in our elementary school always advised us to take a white a4 paper or some newspaper with us when we went to take our grade books - librezat, after we'd finish semesters or school years. We had to wrap our grade book with paper so nobody will notice it as we walk back home. They were very little, navy blue and had
a two-headed eagle engraved on the cover.
The musical equipment of any kind was so scarce that you would think the musical genre Math Metal was invented in Pristina.
Anyone that had any kind of musical equipment, didn't really matter if they are any good at it would be asked to join or form a band.
Drums equals five bands.
One amp and two guitars equal five bands.
Two amps and two guitars equal seven bands.
A bass guitar with an amp two guitars with amps and a drummer equals infinite bands....but impossible.
Just one band with all the equipment equals...folk music. meh
Elsewhere, music was/is a form of entertainment, for us it was food, more than just music, life itself,
Kosova or more precisely Prishtina Metal must have had its own distinct sound, bordering with industrial due to the improvised DIY musical equipment. Drums made out of plastic bins, drum head skins out of X-Ray film (to a point we had a great inside into the people’s pulmonary issues) drum sticks out of usual wood or a carved tree branch, cheap Bulgarian made guitars with the worst electronics and pickups, headphones serving as a microphone, modified cassette decks as distortion boxes and your usual hifi system serving as amps/cabinets. The distortion coming out of these cassette decks sounded awful, incoherent, you couldn’t really tell what note was playing but it sounded HEAVY, a normal riff sounded like hundred guitars playing all at once.
I guess it was the sound of the times, the sound of apartheid couldn’t have really sounded any different!
1992, around two years into the repressive regime. Anger, frustration and death metal.
From the late 80s Metal music found a lot of fans, afterall there was a small rock/hard rock scene from the 60s onwards and a lot of music was available to cater for all. Life was normal then it all went belly up.
Between us and them (the Belgrade regime) there was this space to fill, Heavy Metal filled it, the aggression and anger helped many kids deal with the hard times, a cure for depression at the very heart of its kingdom.
The usual story, a teenager with different interests, taste, ideas, fashion etc. There were pockets of metalheads in pretty much every neighborhood, you know, there is this one dude who listens to metal and has a cousin “who’s trying” to get into because a girl he likes is into Metal.
Scruffy, pumped, tall, short, thin, fat, in all shapes and sizes, some we knew with just a hi bye or a cool shirt man, yet it was lonely and boring but then the love for Metal music connected all of us, it was a common language.
I haven’t seen these flyers for about 28 years and the memory is cloudy, a friend from those days, the artist Artan B. (who recently did the album artwork for Land of Confusion) who always had a sketch book around didn’t make them, neither did Elod B. (from the band Land of Confusion). Luan Q. who played bass guitar for just about any garage Metal band and for the legendary KEK suggested it might be Tolim K. I also had the same guess, Tolim K. always used the word Welcome on flyers so I narrowed it down to him.
Many flyers from other parties and gigs are missing, there were small gigs at Dodona where many bands showcased and competed, it was weird and funny, small theatre with Death Metal bands blasting.
These flyers are great remnants of an era, not just a pass down the memory lane but more than that, they contain the essence of the industrial and dark image of Pristina in the 90s.
When the special measures got imposed on Kosovo by the Belgrade regime that meant that the schools and all other institutions closed their doors to Albanians. The obvious target of Belgrade’s politics was to destroy the educational system and with an absent education system people regress naturally, both culturally and intellectually, thirty years on these scars still remain in our society.
The repression forced us (Albanians) to create our own parallel institutions, in order not to miss on the education and thanks to the brave people and families (Hertic family in Kodra e Trimave/Vranjevc being one of them) who donated their houses and converted them into makeshift schools we kind of managed to keep the educational system up and running.
Talk about parallel life, we have been there, done that, got the T-shirts.
Talking of T-shirts, our high school was relocated at Kodra e Trimave/Vranjevc, a neighbourhood in the outskirts of Prishtina with a very bad reputation.
It wasn’t that easy being a Metalhead, long hair, leather jackets and all, passing by gangs in the street and trying to keep your cool.
What’s that in your T-shirt, one guy asked? What does it say? Are these the insignias of your gang? What is that long hair?
We would just try to find a nice way to ignore these tough looking dudes, we were afterall a bunch of scruffy kids from the centre of the town who didn’t really understand the language of gangs, we were listening to all these Satanic bands with plenty of blood and gore but in reality we were these Eurokrem grown kids (a cocoa bread spread brand in Yugoslavia) A slap would have been enough, let alone anything more, but more did happen, a friend got jumped and there was simply nothing you could do about it. Better a friend with a broken hand than a whole bunch of us stabbed and with broken jaws. You pass the gangs and you are OK then a Police patrol stops you, harassing you etc.
Once this dude wanted to cut my friends' hair by force but in that luck, this other long haired dude with a Slayer T-shirts appears out of nowhere, his name was Agim, much older than us, in his late 20’s, a tough dude from the neighborhood, nevertheless he stepped in and split the fight up telling the gang DO NOT EVER EVER touch my brothers, a kind of THIS IS SPARTA moment. We remained friends with Agim, he was hungry for music and we had plenty of it.
The funny thing is, there were few of these scruffy and thin metalheads who actually joined the KLA to fight against the Serbian army. You just never know who has it in them.
Strange thing though, a neighborhood such as Kodra e Trimave/Vranjevc had all the ingredients for a Punk/Metal scene, it was poor, angry, dark, violent…you name it. It is these very conditions that gave birth to Punk and Metal elsewhere in the world. If for example the late 70's and 80s New York didn’t exist within those conditions you would have no HardCore Punk scene as it is known today, CBGB would have been just another Country Bluegrass Blues bar.
I guess the issue with RocknRoll and its sub-genres in Kosova in general or maybe Prishtina in particular is that it didn’t come so much from the working class as it did e.g. in the UK but more from the middle or even some kind of upper class (if upper class ever existed in Kosova)
Mitrovica might be an exception though as it was a mining city and Mitrovica is generally regarded as the place where Kosova RocknRoll originated, many talented musicians come or have a family connection to Mitrovica to this day.
I think that a friend (Leart Z) must have had something to do with this party, he was both into Punk and HipHop, he had a lot of respect and understanding for both Punk/Metal and Hip Hop, a bit rare for those days, I could be wrong but the writing Dath Yo (which roughly translates as Take Your Shoes off, Yo) but sounds as in Death Yo has his particular style of humor and wordplay so I would narrow this down to him, it has his humor and it was the time period when he was getting more into hip hop and loosing interest for Punk and Metal.
Computer graphics started appearing on flyers, at the time there were rarely any computer designed flyers, not many people had computers and printers at home, unless someone worked for a company who had access to a computer and a printer, but you could have done it in design shops, it was expensive but the results (at that time) were mind blowing, nevertheless preset designs and computer libraries at that time were pretty limited.
Now, that's what I call a flyer design. Best party, feel it.
All parties were very welcoming indeed. This was all Tolim's fault, he started one flyer with Welcome to the Party and the rest just followed using the same tagline.
Undo must be the invention of the century. Only if the party organisers had such a tool in those days.
I kept on seeing this Happy House a lot, some of these parties weren't really that happy as the name suggests.
The generation of people who were 20 or 20 something during the 1990s in Kosovo - like Loca's - seem full of contradictions but quiet idyllic to me. I do not wish to romanticize their misfortunes, but being denied education, freedom of movement and basic rights at such a fragile age and still having the will to live and to shine - is something remarkable.
Tolim was/is a graphic designer, in Prishtina he gave Metal a face, a bag full of stencils and sprays which would cost a fortune in those times. Once while doing graphiti in the street we got jumped by a gang of skinheads but we made it out with a few bruises. He would also make flyers, one in particular was the flyer for the party that got everyone together, the stencils, the music distributed and now the flyer which made the calling that got everyone together.
Flyer was handed out on hand, no more than 150 people, in my place, in the garage where we did setup a pretty powerful set of speakers, they were a gift from my brother-in-law, a three-way system with a very noisy Yugoslav amp but it blasted Metal like nothing. It has later seen many many parties…..
No bands were playing but my double tape deck did the trick, pre-cued songs from days before, you announce one in a death metal growl then you play the song and same thing again, must have looked pretty cheesy but it felt great at the time, fifteen years old, Hell yeah.
The “show” would have not been complete without the lights designed and built by Ilir H., who knew how to turn scrap into robot lights, strobes, even build guitar amps from cassette decks. Ilir H. was the man in this, he later on managed to build a perfect sounding and professionally looking drum set from wooden floor boards.
Back to the party, a festival of hair, sweat, moshing, screaming, jumping from the furniture setup as podiums, the amps couldn’t handle it anymore, the party ended but it was an event that started long lasting friendships, just what some lost teenagers in those dark times needed.
Then from time-to-time parties started popping up and despite the name, Death Metal gave us a life, a purpose.
This flyer was the most unorthodox approach to making a flyer. I had some basic film development equipment.
Transparent tracing paper, ink, a black and white film projector, photographic paper and other chemicals used for picture developing. Tolim had the design and the hand to draw onto transparent paper. NO undo.
Projecting strong light through transparent paper with black ink onto the photographic paper it turns to opposite after full development.
It was cheap for us since we had all the tools needed.
Tolim was also working for a printing house where he was learning his craft, later on his jacket designs and stencil transfers were some of the best I have ever seen, people would go crazy about the level of detail of the designs on my leather jacket, it was mostly band logos, Death Metal band logos are rather sophisticated, a lot of patience and nerves involved to copy one, taking into account the rather primitive and arduous process of transferring designs to leather for which you had only ONE chance to do it on the first press, you mess it up you mess the whole thing and there is NO WAY to clean that up, I kindly donated my leather motor jacket to Tolim to experiment on but they all turned out great, when I moved back to London this very jacket would make a lot of people ask where I’d gotten the designs done, I remember a shop called Metalheads in Carnaby Street (London) the owner was also a bit jealous that it wasn’t one of his, so yeah, Tolim was the stencil, graphity legend at that time.
This very party is constantly praised by Ylber B. as the event that changed his life. Ylber B. in the late nineties emigrated to US and had his luck to play guitar for Sunny Ledfurd a NUMetal Band that signed to a major label, MCA records followed by a US tour with Limp Bizkit, Korn, Ice Cube etc. Sunny Ledfurd broke up in the early 2000.
As teenagers we would hang around Blues Alley, they wouldn’t let us in but there was noise, it was lively, not our music and the best would be some AC/DC or ZZ TOP..nope. But hanging around was OK to meet new people, Dardania or Kurrizi (Backspine in English) is a maze with plenty of space to hang out.
Located at the business centre in the old part of the town (built in the 80s) and nicknamed "China Town" due to its architectural resemblance of the China Town.
This was an awesome place, owned by an actor and a legendary bohème of the city Xhemil Vraniqi, he both run the club and lived in it, it had three floors with narrow and long staircase leading up to the top where there was a dance floor in the centre and raised podiums around it, but before reaching the top floor there were kind of VIP rooms in every floor and a small dispenser bars, it was quite e unique place. Many parties there, and I would sometimes lend my sound system to them, I wouldn't get paid but got free drinks and I would be allowed to hang out with "The Cool Crowd"
The place still exists but I think it might have been converted into an office, just about anything these days.
Just saw this annotation by Toton, and its just so nice. I guess by trade center in the old town he means the old 'qendra zejtare' how we used to call it, just in front of M club nowadays? Anyway I was just thinking of how great it would be to do some kind of site map of all these places, that shows were they were located, for how long did they function, and tell their particular stories - because all of them had these urban stories of their own like the one Toton explained.
Possibly some notes during math classes. You can tell the degradation of the education system in these very pages. From a little girl keeping notes and being very meticulous about school projects just a few years before and down to a single notebook to keep track of classes.
This is pretty much what happened to everyone, from a normal life with dreams and unto a piece of scrap paper, taking some kind of notes during classes, it really sums it all up. Our generation has never seen the inside of a normal high school or faculty. I was lucky since I was moving between Prishtina and London and had the privilege to go to school in London and become a normal student for a few years, but my friends? My friends had to go through all the pain, evade the Police on their way to these makeshift schools, sit on mats crammed into a room. In a recent conversation a friend pointed out that he has NEVER stepped inside Sami Frasheri high school, the actual one, but he also said that situation shaped him and the rest into who we are today, jokingly adding that if the end of the world comes for all then Kosovars would be well prepared and ahead of everyone else, we are afterall masters in DIY (do it yourself)
We all know that Loca (Vjosa) was a big fan of Sebastian Bach, the lead singer of the band Skid Row. This looks like Lotzas attempt on drawing him but Bach wasn’t a guitar player but a vocalist therefore this has to be Slash from Guns N Roses, the letter S gives it away.
Must have been a pretty boring lecture.
I think this is from the student protest on the 29th of October. The faculty of arts organized a performance and then there were speeches. I believe that Loca herself played in this performance, as she was studying acting at that time.
This is Milot, the love of my life. In the picture he is 22 years old, a student at the faculty of electrical engineering and one of the members of the organizing council of the October 1 protest. When I see different pictures of the protest, I always look if I can spot him.
He is always there, in the second row, holding a red flag. When the police attacked the crowd, he wasn’t arrested, but got heavily beaten. He ended up being carried to his uncle's apartment, where his uncle and his wife would put frozen meat parts in his body to relieve his pain.
One of the most famous slogans the students dressed in white held was: "E nesermja flet sot, neser vone".
I remember that at some period there were peaceful protests or marches organized everyday in Mother Theresa Square, then korza. People used to walk, meet, speak silently. Me and my friends used to go there too, with rollerblades. But when massive protests were organized and announced (protesta gjithe-popullore) my parents didn't allow me to go, because almost every time they would end up in violence.
For me, the image of a young girl/boy sitting in the middle of the street with the two-finger sign on both hands, is the quintessential image of our 1990s. Whenever I ditched the classes to join the protesters in 1998-1999, imitating this posture had became e well learnt reflex. This image and the 1990s more generally gave me a dichotomous view of the country I was living in: we, Albanians were the ones sitting on the ground asking for freedom and an end to repression and violence. The Serbs were the armed others in military and police uniforms controlling and looking at us from above.
Zekeria Cana's diary which he kept during the war titled 'Ditari i luftes' was published after the war. A wonderful book where he explains his time in Prishtina during the Nato bombings. Because he was a public figure, he was constantly on the run to not be caught by the Serbian police, thus almost every night during the war he used to take shelter in somebody else's house. His experiences are remarkable and should be read by everyone who is interested in the Kosovo war.
In one of the days during the bombings he explains that he goes out in the garden of his home and finds a piece of paper which was thrown by Nato planes - some evacuation tips or something. As he reads it he is full with hope that the "big forces" as he says, are on our side and this terror will soon end. In that moment a Serb neighbor comes our of his house and greets him, and says to him in a ironic way - "This is what you wanted right? You see we have a war because of you Albanians, are you satisfied now?". He becomes angry and replies yes, he is very much satisfied. It is funny because I have heard that a lot from a lot of people, that Serbs have held this discourse at that time - in the sense that, it was fine, what happened? - knowing very well that nothing was fine.
I think it was Prishtina's liberation day, June 12 1999 when he explains that he goes out at the Mother Theresa square and joins the celebrating crowds. He says he's not sure whether they recognized him or whether he is just an old man but some young people just grab him and hold him up high and in the air for a long period of time and he says that he has never felt happier than that day.
It had become too dangerous to stay. It was the 29th of March 1999, when my parents decided to leave our home. Together with other families: friends, neighbors, acquaintances - a long row of cars, we planned to reach Macedonia. I guess the idea was that when together and as a group, we would be safer. It was a sad day to begin with, but we didn’t realize it would become that sad.
As we approached the roundabout that leads to Veternik hill, we saw a military tank and some police cars. They stopped us. My father opened the window and the policeman asked him whether he was Albanian. To which he answered yes, and tried to give him his ID and drivers license. The policeman pushed his hand away, he didn’t need them. Instead he told him to get out of the car and follow him. He told us to close the windows and not look back.
I was sitting in the back in the middle seat and I sensed that something is not good at all when from the car mirror I saw another policeman dragging one of the family friends from his car. He was pulling him by his hair. When he had achieved to pull him out of the car, he started to kick him.
After a while, all the other cars engines would start and they would pass us by, leave, one after the other. But my father wouldn’t come back to the car. It seemed so long. He just wasn’t coming.
When eventually he did, his blazer was hanging as if only slightly in his shoulders, as if he had it too difficult to straighten it or wear it. My heart frightened, and my stomach literally upside-down, I don’t really remember now who said what as he entered the car, but I remember he said “We have to go back, I can’t drive like this”.
As he turned his head to look for the traffic and head back to the city - me and my siblings could see his head bleeding, blood flowing from his wound into his neck, his blazer, some drops now making their mark in the car seat. The windows became condensed quickly. It was because of the heat from the blood, and because that policeman told us to keep the windows close, and because of our heavy, heavy, hearts. My sister started to cry, all three of us started to cry, I vomited.
As we got back to our neighborhood now Fehmi Agani street, I remember us helping him climb the stairs to our 4th floor apartment. Our next door neighbor, a Serb, was a nurse and we were lucky she decided to help us. She brought medical tools, pills. She cleaned his wound, stitched his head, folded it with grey surgical tape. They had beaten him with the back of machine-guns and steel sticks. His arm was also broken and his back was full of bruises.
It was that view that forever shattered our childhood ideals and dreams. Us looking at his bleeding head, at our mothers frightened look in her face, and at her deeply wounded soul.
Our future was now as condensed and as blurred as the windows. We were too fragile to be confronted by such violence and hatred and too fragile to realize way too soon that facing evil our parents are as helpless as we are.
Growing up, to be honest, I do think that a lot of childhood dreams get shattered either way throughout life, - but ours was too soon, too brutal, too visual, like an illustration that forever haunts us. I don’t think any child should ever experience something like that.
Sometimes I think that, it doesn't matter how much our hearts and minds have grown, who ever we have became, and wherever we’ll go from here, essentially and quite fundamentally we’ll always be those kids trapped in the back of our fathers Passat, on that bitter march day in 1999.
The next days were also very dim. I remember the view from our balcony: everyday there would be a long row of people fleeing on foot - they were being expelled from their houses and apartments and would walk probably to get to the train station.
But there were also sweet moments, like for example I would sit next to my father as he would lay in bed and talk something gibberish like this: Bab', did you say that after that policeman hit your head he tried to hit your head again? Yes. And you lifted your hand to protect your head and now your hand is broken? Yes. Its very bad that your hand is broken. But its also very good too because he couldn’t hit your head again because then probably you would be dead. Yes. That's good, we should thank your hand. Yes. And I would kiss his elbow and hug him.
Or later I would comment how my fathers body is colorful - it was changing color all the time. Like for example in the beginning it was all reddish and pink because of his fresh wounds, then it became violet, then blue and so on.
So every morning I would go at my parents room and he would slowly turn to show me his back and lift his pajama and say “Qiki vogël i babës, what color is my back today?” And I would say, “Violet”. “oh, still violet?” he would reply. “And what about my shoulder here?”, “Blue”.
The war that I was watching on TV as it unfolded throughout the country was depicted in heavy masculine and militaristic lenses. Reports on warfare were followed by images of bulky tanks, military uniforms, followed by reports of different (international) men in suits talking about options of ceasefire. Women and children in war reporting were mainly given as static subjects: they were either crying while sitting or they were accommodating little children and babies. What is more, the day to day image of warfare was largely absent if you were to watch the war on TV alone. I remember when watching the news about this protest, the chanting of these women as they each held a loaf of bread, I was provoked not only to think of women and children as an active part of the warfare but also of the very basic element of survival for our people – bread – which was the first to disappear in times of war.
As far as I’m concerned, the war in Kosovo started on 5 March 1998 in Prekaz.
I did not know where Prekaz was, nor had I ever heard of it. I had heard of Drenica. I had talked about the situation there, but somehow, whenever we talked about Drenica, we all talked in a low voice. On the contrary, somebody would tap you on your back and ask “who do you have in Drenica? Do you have anyone in Dukagjini?” as a way to signal support for or acquaintance with the armed men.
March and the events in Prekaz would become the beginning of a long and personal war, a beginning that I experienced completely alone, stuck between two worlds. In the one world, during the day, I was touching the wounds of the people with my hand, I was witnessing their pain and stepping over the ashes of the houses of their families, who were already dead.
In the other world, at night, in my apartment in Lakrishtë, in Prishtina, I was counting the minutes until dawn, afraid about Edi, Zana and Hana, my three sisters, and our parents. During the day I was studying the Kosovo map to discover the fastest mountain road to reach Prekaz, Qirez and Likoshan.
I was spending the night dipping my face into the pillow to silence my sobs. The war had come to Kosovo, and it was only a matter of time before and how it would come to Prishtina. We had all experienced apartheid for a long time. Yet, none of us knew what war was like. I had already seen it and it was the biggest secret I had to keep to myself to protect others in those long nights in Prishtina. In the following, I want to share an experience, a passage of the Kosovo war and my war.
The beginning of the war in Kosovo found me alongside my father, running our family business, a pizzeria at the centre of Prishtina, which was a meeting place for all the layers of the city during the day, and of the youth of the capital and my friends and generation at night. From early February to early March 1998, pressure from Serbian police began to mount in Prishtina.
The patrols of their men in plain clothes, who we felt like they were tailing us, had become more frequent. In the meanwhile, we were reading the news that in the other parts of Kosovo this pressure was being manifested in incidents. But, as in previous years, we believed that the situation would calm down, amidst a fear we were all sharing again.
That day, on the evening of March the 3rd, on the VOA, at 6 o'clock, the correspondent in Albania reported on a major attack at the centre of Kosovo, without indicating where the attack has taken place exactly. They just said in the centre of Drenica. The next day they reported there was no attack, save a confrontation between the "terrorists." They did not tell that children were there. Nor that there were women and old men.
I don’t know the exact date, but I remember the names we read in the newspaper. The names and birth dates. We already knew the joint date of death. I cried. I cried like a child. Something changed in me that moment and nothing was the same again. I just felt a need to do something, to help somehow. It was not a "call". Just a need. Something that was so close and so unknown to me.
Amid the confusion caused by fake news and unconfirmed pieces of hearsays, the people around me were divided as to whether Prekaz had actually happened.
What I had seen those days would repeat itself in various forms all the time. A group of people were denying the reality in front of their eyes, as the only way for them to keep living, and another group of people were stuck in Prishtina, unable to help. Then, we were not sure if we could trust each other, who we were supposed to ask, and how we could help. We had only two options: to contribute financially or become journalists. That's it.
Prishtina did not experience the start of the war in Kosovo easily.
Those nights at the pizzeria were full of tension. Well-known Kosovo journalists...Shkëlzen Maliqi, Ibrahim Osmani...were coming to our restaurant, but, since it was in the centre, Serbs were coming there too. I remember it was always noisy, but when someone would step into the restaurant, everyone would turn silent and neither dare, not want to speak. But, information always found its way there. Information was coming and going, for better or worse.
I felt like I was at the centre of developments, but I could not find a way to transmit those events further. After the events in Drenica, foreign journalists started to arrive. Very few of them. One could count them in fingers. Among them was a French journalist from the French news agency, the AFP. He had arrived in Kosovo with correspondents from Belgrade. They asked me if I could go with them to help with translation. They asked me if I knew how to send them to Likoshan, in Drenica. Of course, my answer was: "I know it all," without having the slightest idea.
My first challenge was to find these villages on the map. First I found Skenderaj, written as Srbica on the map. I don’t know the exact date, but it must have been less than a week after the attack on the Jasharajs in Prekaz because when we reached there, the houses of the Jashari family were still burning, the smoke was still coming out.
We found it completely deserted. We kept on walking to Qirez and Likoshan because there were many attacks there that day.
We headed back to Prishtina before dark. I had seen so much destruction, so much burning, so many children wandering from a village to another, on foot, asking for help. They would climb into journalists' cars, and the latter tells would them: "We can't help you." In Prishtina, I did not dare tell anyone what I had seen in Drenica that day. No one would understand me. I was afraid for my family. From that day on, I kept my personal experiences of documenting what was happening in every corner of Kosovo locked in myself.
I could not speak about it. I would constantly lie to my family about my whereabouts during the day because I was afraid I would put them in danger and that if I would speak, the others would find out what I was doing and the police would stop my work. Isolated in my mind from not being able to talk about what I was seeing, I began to nurture the feeling that people would not understand me, that people do not want to know, that they do not want to help.
My expectations from others grew and so did my despair of their failure to meet them. In Prishtina, life went on, while in villages houses were being burned for the third time. And I would go and see the horror with my own eyes. We would film and send the material from Prishtina and in the end, I could not tell my people what I was witnessing.
Protests began in Prishtina. People realized that an entire family had been sacrificed. Diplomats began to go to Belgrade to condemn the Prekaz attack, and the people in Kosovo began to change their minds.
The protests became more regular. Arrests intensified. While walking, people were being stopped and arrested, and there was no turning back. At this time, my friends who had left Kosovo were more interested than my friends who had remained inside in what was happening in the villages of Kosovo. But, over time, this dynamic changed, because the war came closer to Prishtina. Prishtina coffee bars began to empty. There were food shortages. This happened gradually. When the war came closer to our doors, near Komoran, people started asking me about the KLA, about who they were. They thought KLA was a conventional army. “No,” I would them. “Very few of them are trained; most are villagers.” They would not believe me. We had moved from denial of the war to the denial of the fact that we did not have a trained army.
This situation was a result of the propaganda: on the one hand, the belief that the KLA was a conventional army and, on the other, it was not at all. I always had the feeling that I was living between two worlds. Everything that was happening in Kosovo villages was so close and yet so far. Even today I wonder why we had this feeling, and I think it has to do with our inability to do something because there was nothing we could change as individuals. Even if one wanted to help, one would not succeed. From Prishtina to Komoran, the nearest place to the war front, there were seven Serbian police checkpoints. The trip took seven hours. It was only 12 miles away.
People were stuck and, in their eyes, these distances were becoming longer every day.
For me, this infinite distance between Prishtina and the war zone grew into a feeling of guilt. It seemed to me that I was failing the people who were experiencing the war because I was not near them to tell what was happening to them.
I have never hesitated to go to war zones. I was never in doubt. Absolutely never. I experienced it like a mission, though I now realize that I was not ready for war. In fact, nobody is ever ready for war. No one is ready to see pieces of human bodies scattered around in front of their eyes.
The war experience will always haunt you. It will always follow you, and you will always carry it with you. You will remember it. I remember the faces of children. I remember the bodies lined up to be buried by their parents. I can still smell people during the summer. They all appear before me when I close my eyes.
Would I do it again? Yes, no doubt.
The attack of the Serbian (Yugoslav) forces against the Jashari extended family which resulted in the death of 46 people. The discussion that the family did not leave their house but decided to stand their ground until the last person standing gave a new totemic importance to ‘home’ and the civilian resistance against the military attacks. Not leaving thy home took whole elevated meaning in the face of aggression. Not leaving our homes became our defiance. Our act of warfare. We are here! This is our home; this is our land!
Throughout 1998, many of my classmates left Kosovo and sought refuge with their families abroad. Arta was my first classmate to seek asylum in Germany with her parents and her two siblings. We used to sit in the same bench since the first grade. After Arta left, Kaltrina was sitting in the same bench with me. After several months Kaltrina also sought asylum with her family and lives in Sweden to this day. Though the classes were shrinking each and every week, our teachers maintained a stoic yet strange ability to continue with their lectures as if nothing was happening. The fact that our classmates were leaving, that we were still around while the war was progressing, hardly ever featured in our class discussions.
When such news started to be more common both in newspapers and in day-to-day conversations, I got to learn about displacement being a core element of warfare. When my parents also started to prepare emergency backpacks we could take with in case we had to move, as an 11-year-old I started to think differently about my own clothing and unconsciously rethink the whole point of possessions. What do I need to take in a backpack to run away with? What could I possibly not leave behind but would rather take it to the woods?
Globally, the 90s were an interesting time in terms of music, genre crossovers, techno into punk into techno, rock into hip hop, all kinds of stuff, technology was changing towards becoming more accessible (not Kosova obviously) you had these tittle raves of about 150/200+ people, then some bigger.
DJs at the time didn’t play long mixes, beat matching or have consistency in a mix, if you were lucky a DJ might play some imported DJ mix and you would enjoy at least some of it. There was little knowledge of what was the style of mixing of the time and mega mixing was more the thing, where DJs would jump from one genre to the other, from hip hop to rave.
Nevertheless they were trying and we were letting ourselves go…
This is from the second journal, the title saying: "Llausha, last night, at 6 PM".The second journal includes more familiar faces, gruesome images of violence and terror, dark entries, documents of riots and their oppression, but also flyers of underground parties, and a leaflet of Young Liberals of Kosovo about their "Liberal Party" in everlasting yellow-and-blue. The cutout of the photo of Llausha, a village in the North-East of Kosovo, is a poetic statement. It is an ambiguous image, does not document anything specific, but everything in the image is evidence of a crime, of the cul-de-sac. The whole heaviness of the nineties is distilled in this dark grey blur.
I remember having a similar poster when I went protesting with my sister. It read "Am I terrorist?" in English only and in the middle of the poster there was a cut out face of a crying girl around 6. This theme was prevalent for weeks in the protests to counter the narrative from the Serbian media and authorities about "the Albanian terrorists".
Throughout the 1990s, this message "Kill the Albanians" had become part of the urban grafitti around Gjilan. It was casually sprayed everywhere right next to other dominant graffiti "Ceca, volim te" and "Sex".
The legendary DJ James who is still very active. The phonetic spelling of O.G in here is pretty funny O.J, unless he was a fan of OJ Simpson.
People liked it but I hated it. The turbo-folk 'industry' meets rock n roll had one of its beginnings here. Not and never my thing.
I went to two Rave'ish parties here and had some good fun, went there only twice during the 90's, it wasn't really my or friends thing, I did though go there quite a lot after the year 2000, we have some good ones in there.
Not sure what he meant with Winderval but it probably sounded cool at the times, 30 years later it does sounds like a Viking party. Winderval, awesome!
Must have been one of those Raves around 1996/97.
This was quite possibly the last event I attended before moving to London to study Sound Engineering. I remember it well as this was Jericho’s first gig ever. I was helping the band, we had this Moog Prodigy synthesizer which we were trying to figure out in order to make some more complex sounds to suit the band but it wasn’t really happening. I wasn’t playing with the band though but just helping out.
Not sure about Sansara whether they had any gigs prior to this one but the band END was well into the scene and playing as often as they could. END is now split up but its former members still play in bands or have projects such as Por-No and Retrovizorja.
While in London I went to see this industrial band called Godflesh and they had the same Moog Prodigy synthesizer on stage. I so much wanted to have it back in London but the same synthesizer had a different fate, it went down with the house that got burned during the war by the Serbian paramilitary forces.
I don't know at all if its this what I think it is because I was too little to attend any of these.
But I know that at that time Ilir Nekaj - Pizhi opened his bar in his garden and It was popular. I don't know how it was called. It was a cd/dvd/bookshop in the early 2000s and of course later a bar called Soul Bar or Gjoni's where me and my friends used to go to sometimes; Now he transformed it into a tea/coffee place. That place has so many identities and history, and so does Pizhi. I find it also interesting because a lot of people had bars at their homes, in the first floor for example or had built a bar in their garden, like this case.
We Raved in this one. I remember the music was more consistent than at other parties, with much less stylistic interruptions by the DJ.
I can't really tell if these were jacket patches or just designs as I remember them in different formats.