“Feministet Në Punë” (Feminists at Work): A Discussion of Interviews with Albanian Women in Kosovo

by Hana Kabashi

In the process of writing a Master’s thesis, what follows is a primary source analysis using the provided links. For the purpose of this step in my work, the original source was edited to focus on the interviews with various women and organizations within Kosovo taken by journalist Peter Lippman in 1998 and 1999.  I also include some of his journal entries that he wrote during his time in Kosovo.


In 1990, as Serbian nationalist rhetoric became stronger and stronger in the former Yugoslavia with Slobodan Milosevic at the helm, the autonomy granted to Kosovo in the years before was slowly stripped away.  The Serbian government’s first step was to disband the Albanian police force in Kosovo and install a force of over 2,500 Serbian police.[1] Albanians were no longer trusted to police themselves and soon a domino effect would occur.   Albanian men and women in various positions of power or authority in schools, hospitals and governmental positions resigned or were replaced by Serbian counterparts.

The Albanian men that were a part of the Assembly of Kosovo—the governing faction of Kosovo that was represented in the Yugoslavian government—continued to try to counteract the aggressive and destructive legislative moves of the pro-Serbian authority but were repeatedly out-ranked and out-maneuvered.[2] Eventually, all Albanian media sources would be suppressed.  Newspapers and broadcast systems were disbanded or taken over by Serbian workers.  As the Albanian population became increasingly subjugated, a seemingly unanimous decision amongst the population was to not trust or recognize the power of Serbia over them, at least in secret.  Many schools were closed, and those that remained open to Albanian children forced them to learn solely the Serbian language and the Cyrillic alphabet.  Soon  a “parallel”[3] society and government would emerge in Kosovo.  Elections for an illegal, secret government were held in 1992.  Schools and classes were held in homes and other private buildings, paid for by parents and donations from Albanians in the Diaspora community.[4] In the early 1990s, the Albanian community would construct an entire society in secret, while publically trying to stay out of the Serbian government’s way.

An interesting occurrence at this time was the emergence of women-run and women-focused organizations.  Healthcare and human rights organizations as well as educational and literacy programs sprang up to reach the rural and most under-developed populations in Yugoslavia.[5] In a series of interviews, journalist Peter Lippman spoke with women from various organizations about each organization and about the general condition of women in Kosovo.[6] In his diary, Lippman recalls a visit to the Center for the Protection of Women and Children (CPWC).  Dr. Vjosa Dobruna, a pediatrician who was not allowed to practice in Kosovo, found and developed the center in 1993 and according to her “ran it until she was deported on 1 April 1999.”[7] The center was/is dedicated to the development of awareness in women about their needs: their bodies and their strength and confidence as wives, mothers, and members of the community.  The center offers psychological support for women and educates women and children on health issues as well as human and civil rights within their community.  This organization is a direct contradiction to the stereotypical idea that Albanian women are all uneducated, illiterate and incapable of organization or self-sufficiency.  The CPWC is an example of the passive resistance that Albanian women (and some men) subscribed to as Yugoslavia began to crumble.  The passive resistance would eventually give way to militancy as patience wore thin.[8]

Another organization that focused on educating women in Kosovo was Motrat Qiriazi (The Qiriazi Sisters), which was founded in 1991.  Named after the sisters who established the first girls’ school in Albania, the organization was started by sisters Safete and Igballe Rogova in Prishtina, Kosovo.[9] The organization is a group of rural women who consider themselves activists and focus on rural areas of Kosovo.  Igballe recalls starting the organization to “provide a voice for village women.”[10] A leaflet they distributed recognizes the oppressive nature of the culture in Kosovo for young girls and aims to challenge that nature.  Through literacy and education, young girls could become fully active members of society, able to control and make their own choices.  What is important to the women in the organization is the preservation of traditions and culture while allowing women to grow and flourish as full individuals.[11] For Igballe, this became what she called a “cultural revolution.”  They held classes, opened libraries, taught sports and did so in hiding.  They had to stay hidden from the Serb police force, but were still able to accomplish a great deal throughout the region.   Igballe continues to do the work and back in the 1990s—when she interviews Lippman—called herself a feminist and recognized the accomplishments of herself and the activists she worked with throughout the region.

Amidst bombs, bullets, fear of rape and murder, these women struggled.  Born and often raised in a culture of oppression and living through a time of intense darkness and hatred, many women found ways to survive but more so to strive.  Educating themselves and others in human and civil rights, law and healthcare, they created new forums and forged new ways of life for women in Kosovo.  The interviews and the leaflet are only minute examples of the work that women like Igballe Rogova did during the 1990s. ▢

Hana Kabashi is a second year graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY.  She is writing her thesis on women’s varied experiences in Kosovo during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

[1] Julie Mertus, Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), 199.

[2] Mertus, 201.

[3] Igballe Rogova in an interview with Peter Lippman, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/balkans/message/325, accessed 11/1/2010.

[4] Peter Lippman, “Civil Society in Kosovo,” On the Record Vol. 9, Iss. 1, August 30, 1999.

[5] Mertus, 60.

[7] Dr. Dobruna’s self-introduction at a press conference on April 30, 1999 held by NATO.  http://www.nato.int/docu/speech/1999/s990430c.htm

[8] Mertus, 204.

[9]An example of a publicity leaflet handed out by the organization, Motrat Qiriazi. http://balkansnet.org/quiriazi.html – accessed 10/21/2010

[11] Igballe Rogova interview with Peter Lippman.

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