KOHI interviewed Shukrije Gashi in two sessions, on 14 February and 21 March, 2015. Gashi was born on 22 May 22 1960 in Pristina. A former political prisoner during Yugoslav times, she worked to promote peace for more than twenty years, and took part in around 400 cases of conflict resolution. Gashi studied law at the University of Pristina, and currently directs the “Partners Kosova Center for Conflict Management”.
In 1983, she was arrested and charged as an accessory to “the perpetration of criminal acts against the people and the state of Yugoslavia,” the official charges according to the country’s penal code, and spent two years in prison. Shukrije Gashi was found guilty of being a member of the then-illegal Albanian national movement, a loose network of small groups advocating the Republic of Kosovo. As a prisoner of conscience, she was given drugs, forced to work, and subjected to physical and psychological torture, which included being told that her boyfriend and fellow activist had been killed (which was true).
Gashi’s story is a young woman’s gripping account of determination (she was 21 when she was finally arrested after an adventurous escape from the Yugoslav secret police), in order to take a leadership role in the underground Albanian national movement. Gashi drew courage and will from her grandmother, a charismatic local figure who was involved in the “Campaign to Reconcile Blood Feuds” and national mobilization efforts – acts of feminism before the term was globally recognized. Because of their political opinions and activities, Gashi and other members of her family were under constant surveillance, which involved police harassment, pressure to change jobs, and difficulty to navigate the Yugoslav system, in which Albanian demands in Kosovo – for more autonomy and improved living conditions – were considered sedition.
KOHI conducted two interviews with Dr. Vjosa Dobruna, on 3 July, and 11 July, 2013. Dobruna was born in Gjakova/Đakovica. She works as a pediatrician and a human rights activist, and is a founder of the Center for the Protection of Women and Children, a Safe House for women in Gjakova/Đakovica, as well as the Women’s Center in Tetovo.Dobruna served as Chair of the Board at Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK), and as National Head of Department for Democratic Governance and Independent Media under the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Vjosa joined Kosovo’s diplomatic service in 2012 when she was appointed Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo to the Netherlands. She has received several awards, including the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights, the Alexander Langer Award for Minority Rights, the Edward Barsky Award for Courageous Physician, and the International Woman of the Year Award.
Vjosa Dobruna became a fierce advocate of women’s health and women’s rights issues during the Milošević era, when violence against Albanian women in Kosovo began to intensify, after she was fired from the hospital where she worked as a pediatrician in the 1990s. Her political activism began earlier however, when she supported prisoners of conscience, three of whom were her paternal uncles. Dobruna provided the detainees with finely ground valium mixed into sugar – one of the items allowed in prison – to alleviate the pain of torture that all detainees endured.
In 1993, Dobruna founded the Center for the Protection of Women and Children in Kosovo with other local activists who shared her disenchantment with the unwillingness of Albanian leadership to recognize that women were being victimized. She also collaborated with Italian feminists to raise funds and support in quite difficult conditions.
As a doctor and human rights activist, Dobruna’s role was crucial in treating and advising women across Kosovo before, during, and after the war. Like Shukrije Gashi and others, Vjosa Dobruna became a fearless leader through lessons she learned from her family: her grandmother, father, and uncle were active as partisans in the war against fascism, and three of her uncles served a cumulative twenty-five years in detention as Yugoslav prisoners of conscience.
The interview is not dated; however, we can say that it was made in the early 1980s. It has special importance for researching the dissident movement since it explains Đinđić’s activism and engagement in student organizations, his arrest, trial and subsequent release.
Đinđić was one of the members of the Ljubljana Six. This was the name of a group of students arrested in Ljubljana in 1974, and prosecuted under the accusation of “hostile activity.”
At the beginning of 1970, there was a clash of the Communist Party with a group of professors, especially with the so-called Praxis circle, gathered around the Praxis journal. This was only a part of broader restrictions of political, intellectual and artistic freedoms in Yugoslavia. The clash with the group of professors was a topic of discussion throughout academia. It also gave impetus for the Students’ Union of the Faculty of Philosophy to initiate a meeting in Belgrade in December 1973. Zoran Đinđić was at this meeting and spoke about its conclusions: “We see the Faculty of Philosophy as a humanistic institution with a firm communist commitment. None of the members of the Faculty can be disqualified as [an] enemy of the self-governing socialism. Therefore, we are strongly against the exclusion of the so-called ‘group of professors’ from the Faculty’s political principles. In accordance with this, there cannot be a mention of removal of any member of the Faculty of Philosophy.” (Popov, 1989, 130)
Subsequently, in January 1974, students from the three most important Faculties of Philosophy in Yugoslavia (Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana) met in Ljubljana to discuss a joint effort. On this occasion, a Draft Resolution on the Situation in the Country was presented. The draft criticised the repression of and restrictions placed on the autonomy of the university. It is important to mention that the critique came from the leftists and that the draft emphasized the socialist Marxist values of the Union of Yugoslav Communists. The attempt to unify students from different republics and the public reading of the draft provoked the Party’s attack on the student leaders. In the interview for Student, Đinđić said: “It was the time when I worked within the framework of FCSU (Faculty’s Council of Students’ Union). Then, in 1973-1974, it was clear that the Youth Union will replace the Student Union. This reorganization was obviously meant to neutralise FP (Faculty of Philosophy), as a precondition for making personal changes they cared about, and we tried to postpone the collapse of the Student Union. One of the possibilities was to establish a parallel autonomous organization, so that, when the official one would be banned, the parallel organization would declare itself as the official. Thus, for at least some time, there would be two organizations – Youth Union and Student Union. Fifteen of us from FP from Ljubljana, Zagreb and Belgrade met in Ljubljana in order to make a common platform for this kind of organization, but this was forbidden and we were called to trial...”
The authors of the draft were convicted and sentenced to prison, and the Students’ Union was dissolved. The convicted students were Vinko Zalarj and Sarko Štajn from the Faculty of Philosophy in Ljubljana, Lino Veljak and Mario Rubi from Zagreb, and Miodrag Stojanović and Zoran Đinđić from Belgrade. Zoran Đinđić refused to defend himself at the trial and was sentenced to one year imprisonment for criminal acts of “hostile propaganda” and “conspiracy against the state and against the social system.” It is important to note that the Party reacted even though the criticism came from declared leftists/communists. Thus, the Party wanted to keep the right to critique to itself. It was not only important what was being criticised but, also, who was criticising.
Regarding the verdict, Đinđić said, “A year in prison, which was changed to probation due to public pressure. Going to trial was more interesting than the process. A couple of us from Belgrade and Zagreb met with people from Ljubljana, we had a dinner somewhere and discussed what would we say tomorrow at the trial. Someone invited us to stay at his place outside of Ljubljana, on the Sava bank. Around midnight we went to sleep, however, strong reflectors and twenty policemen with automatic rifles pointed at us woke us up. When they threw us out of the house, we saw even more reflectors and policemen whose automatic rifles were ready to shoot. Fifteen of us were put in one police van, even though they had three, kept us for a half an hour and then drove us around until they stopped at an obscure house. They kept us there for another two hours, in some kind of jail cells, without interrogating us. Then they released us, and we had to walk three hours to Ljubljana, where, at the first traffic light, another police van waited for us, and this then lasted for another hour…”Eventually, none of those sentenced went to prison. Đinđić explained his acquittal in the interview: “We filed an appeal; however, we received amnesty entirely irregularly. We were expecting to serve the sentence; instead of it, we got a document saying that our sentence was changed to probation. Therefore, they did not pardon us based on our appeal. Rather they found us guilty, and this verdict went into our personal records, which made it impossible for me to find even a bookseller position afterwards. Since I knew a few professors from the Korčula Summer School, among them Habermas, he suggested me to come and to do my PhD under his supervision in Germany. At that time, an aura around the whole anti-communist movement still existed and there was a lot more will to help than today.”
The interview can be found in the personal collection in box number 3.
- Beograd Karnegijeva 2, Serbia
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