In-depth | Education

A university for 50 years

By - 31.10.2019

Personal accounts from the first UP graduates.

For students of the late ’60s and early ’70s, education was more of a struggle than a guaranteed right. This determined the relationship that early generations of students in Kosovo developed with the University of Prishtina (UP). Enthusiasm, desire, struggles and, above all, sacrifices for knowledge, are some of the common denominators in the stories told by the very first students to pass through.

After half a century, a change in the system, a war and a few controversial governments, it seems that there is a detachment in the historical narrative of Kosovo’s education system. As such, in today’s context, the documentation of experiences and circumstances that shaped Kosovar students, through the memories that they have of being the first to sit in UP’s auditoriums and faculties, is essential for manifesting a comprehensive recollection of education and the founding of the university. 

The first higher education institutions were established in Kosovo during the ’50s, in the form of the Higher Administrative School and the Higher Pedagogical School. However, the foundations of student life were laid in the early ’60s, with the establishment of a number of branches of the University of Belgrade in Prishtina.

The end of the ’60s was accompanied by the fall of what is known as the Aleksandar Ranković regime, under which Kosovo Albanians were treated as second-class citizens, without basic language rights or access to education. The fall of Yugoslav Vice President Ranković in 1966 opened the way for Kosovar Albanians to articulate political demands for autonomy, language rights and education.

For students of that time 2019 is the jubilee year, because it marks the passing of half a century since they became the first generation at UP.

After two years, in 1968, students from different University of Belgrade faculties in Prishtina strived to found the university amid the different political and social waves that came as a result of student protests around the globe.

Throughout its 50 years of existence, UP has been at the center of Kosovo’s state-building process, so being a student in these times was not only a personal decision but also a political one. It gave these early generations responsibility and would place them in an important position during key political and historical moments.

The students’ determination during the demonstrations of ’68 that their demand for a university was non negotiable would soon yield results. In June 1969, with the official founding of the Faculty of Medicine, the final precondition for the founding of the UP was met, and the first academic year began in November 1969.

The formal opening ceremony didn’t take place until 1970, so officially 2019 marks the 49th anniversary of UP’s establishment, but for students of that time this is the jubilee year, because it marks the passing of half a century since they became the first generation of students at UP. 

From the “semi-rural” city with muddy roads, to the lack of elementary living conditions and educational infrastructure, students from the early generations passing through UP recall the first years of the development of Prishtina as a city and the emergence of its identity of a university city, but also of the autonomization of Kosovo.

K2.0 takes a trip to the past to experience and understand the beginnings of the university through the personal accounts of some of the first students in Prishtina. 

Nazmi Rrahmani — Albanian Language and Literature, Faculty of Philosophy

Photo: Aurela Kadriu / K2.0

Nazmi Rrahmani was born in 1941 in Ballofc, Podujeva. He earned a degree in Albanian Language and Literature in Prishtina in 1964 when the faculty was still part of the University of Belgrade. Rrahmani worked as a journalist at Radio Prishtina and later at the Rilindja newspaper. He has published a series of books.

After finishing primary school, I was determined to continue my studies at the gymnasium, which existed only in Prishtina, so I had to move here. It was a sort of selected generation, because the gymnasium had few students at that time. We were about 30 students in my class, and there were around 120 Albanian students in the whole gymnasium. 

In my last year at the gymnasium, a survey was organized by Radio Prishtina with senior students from all high schools, in which they were asked to express their opinions about journalism — whether we like it or not, and why. They selected a group of students from different parts of Kosovo, around 30 of us, and after we graduated, we attended a journalism course. It lasted for two weeks, and in it we were lectured by famous radio journalists, as well as journalists from [daily newspaper] Rilindja and [Serbian daily newspaper] Jedinstvo. 

We were also given tasks, to develop ideas and to write. After it finished, some of us were selected by the radio. Part of the group were [publicist and literary critic] Rexhep Qosja, [writer] Rrahman Deda, [linguist] Rrustem Berisha and me. [Actor] Adem Mikullovci was also at the seminar.

In the first semester of 1960, the faculty was still incomplete regarding facilities, staff, the library.

That year, a decision was made to open branches of some faculties of the University of Belgrade in Prishtina, because until then we only had the Higher Administrative School and Higher Pedagogical School, which had been established a couple of years earlier. 

Some of us students decided to enroll in the faculty since it had just been established in Prishtina and it was easier to enroll in it. In the first semester of 1960, the faculty was still incomplete regarding facilities, staff, the library — it didn’t really enable us to conduct deep research studies. But naturally, the beginning was especially joyful for us, because it was the first time that there were students in Prishtina, because up until then people would go to study in Belgrade, Zagreb or other Yugoslav centers.

Prishtina was a very small city. It ended where Grand Hotel is today. Beyond the hotel, the road to the hospital was unpaved, it was full of dust. The area from what was then the Faculty of Philosophy and what is today the Faculty of Philology, all the way to the hospital, was covered with wheat fields. 

So at that time, Prishtina was a semi-city. Tuesdays were market days, full of animals, horses, carriages, dogs. A semi-rural, semi-urban lifestyle was dominant. There was just about no traffic, no cars. They were very rare. The area where the former Rilindja building is today used to be covered with cabbage fields. 

Lectures were held in the facilities where the Higher Pedagogical School used to be, which today is the Academy of Arts, as far as I know. They used to be barracks, but the army retreated. Soldiers were stationed in the facilities of what is today the Faculty of Law. It didn’t have its own library back then. 

It was very hard to get your hands on books, even those written by authors that we were learning about. We would often copy the books by hand or typewriter, and we would distribute five or six copies to students, friends. We would read [Ndre] Mjeda, Naim [Frashëri] or Migjen and other authors. We mainly used typewriters to copy the books.

At that time the Serbo-Croatian language dominated in many administrations, in daily life, in different institutions.

In the first years, since we were studying Albanian Literature, we were lectured by Albanian professors. For example, Idriz Ajeti was the lecturer of Albanian Language, Anton Çeta lectured Ancient Literature. We also had teaching staff who had come from the Faculty of Belgrade and other institutions or departments in the city. 

In the beginning, some of the lectures were held in Serbo-Croatian. For example, we learned Literary Theory in Serbian or in the old Slavic language, staroslovenski jezik [Old Church Slavonic]. Yugoslav Literature was an elective course, which was also lectured in Serbo-Croatian. 

It is a bit paradoxical when we think about it today, but at that time the Serbo-Croatian language dominated in many administrations, in daily life, in different institutions. In fact, in 1957-58, a different atmosphere was created. Certain state representatives claimed that since many students who finished Albanian language high schools could not be accepted in faculties in Belgrade, where lectures were given in Serbian, high schools should mainly have classes in Serbo-Croatian. 

In fact, some went so far as to call for the closure of Albanian language high schools. If it hadn’t been for the insistent response of political representatives and scientists, such as Ali Hadri, Hasan Mekuli, perhaps Albanian language high schools would have been closed. But this didn’t happen.

It seemed that this instilled a desire and willingness to cultivate the Albanian language by writing in Albanian, publishing in Albanian newspapers, opening new schools. In the ’60s the atmosphere changed, and thus came the demands to establish faculty branches. Although they were branches of the University of Belgrade, they were to be based in Prishtina. 

Life was developing in Prishtina, where Albanian was the predominant language. This fostered curiosity and interest in learning the Albanian language. The establishment of the university [of Prishtina] came as a consequence of rapid development in all fields, of economic development and of the changes in the political landscape in Yugoslavia and especially in Kosovo.

There was a general enthusiasm. A completely different atmosphere was created and people wanted to be educated. The beginnings were difficult. There were very few people from rural areas, or girls. 

When I was in high school, there were many girls in the first year. Prior to me, there were only two girls in the gymnasium, one from Albania and one from Prishtina. In my generation, there were only three girls out of 32 students in total; one of them was the daughter of Mehmet Xhevori, who was responsible for education and culture. He had come from Albania with a group of teachers. 

One of the other girls was [journalist] Nehat Islami’s sister. Her father was a history professor in Prishtina. And the other girl was Advije Selimi from Prishtina. There were no other girls in the class. More girls arrived during the second and third year. At one point, there were more girls than boys.

Hedvig Kadriu — General Medicine, Faculty of Medicine

Photo courtesy of Hedvig Kadriu.

Hedvig Kadriu was born in 1950, in Tërnoc, Bujanoc, in Serbia. He studied general medicine and was part of the first generation of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Prishtina. In 1974, he became the first person to graduate from the faculty.

I came to Prishtina on September 1, 1965, to continue my studies at the Middle School of Medicine. I was living in a private apartment with three of my friends at 137 Brotherhood-Unity Street [today League of Prizren Street], close to the Green Market. The apartment I was living in had no water supply, no bathroom. To shower and change our underwear, every Sunday we would go to the public bathroom, the Hamam, as they called it then, which was close to the great mosque. 

The need for medical staff and for improving health care for the population of Kosovo was a priority at the time. In 1968, the built-up dissatisfaction of the people regarding their cultural, economic and social position within the general population of Yugoslavia resulted in the 1968 youth protests. 

One of their demands was to have a university. At the time, a few faculties existed in Prishtina, but with the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine, the legal condition for establishing the University of Prishtina — or the University of Kosovo, as it was called back then — was fulfilled. 

Although I had personally passed the entrance exam and had registered at the Faculty of Medicine in Zagreb, I decided to return and continue my studies at the Faculty of Medicine in Prishtina. In my second year of studies, in addition to eminent professors from Yugoslav university centers, we were also lectured by professors from the State University of Tirana. That year, with the initiative of leading socio-political structures in Kosovo, the agreement for cultural and scientific collaboration between the University of Prishtina and the University of Tirana was signed.

In order to do a demonstration of Pavlov’s conditioned reflex, they brought a dog — to bring it, they had to make a special passport to cross the Albanian border.

I will never forget the first lecture that was held by our histology professor Dr. Skender Çiço from the University of Tirana. All Albanian second-year students took part in the lecture, which was held in the hall of the Biology department, near the Faculty of Philosophy. The atmosphere on that day was very tense.

We, the students, were excited for the arrival of the professor from Tirana. We welcomed him with frenetic applause, while the directors of the faculty and university were wary of potential political incidents. 

Professor Skender Çiço was a very experienced authoritative pedagogue who faced a very difficult task that day. That is why he was very formal toward us students, who wanted to approach him and speak to him to learn more about life in Albania, and about the development of medicine at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tirana. However, professor Skender Çiço was very measured, agreeing to speak only about the issue that he was addressing as part of his histology lecture. 

Professor Minir Karagjozi and his assistant Dr. Nadire Dinasi were the next teachers who came to teach physiology. In order to do a practical demonstration of Pavlov’s conditioned reflex, they brought a dog with them, with which they demonstrated how the dog drools when you show it food. 

We joked about the dog, because to bring it to Kosovo, they had to make a special passport to cross the Albanian border. 

As far as I can remember, in 1972 there was an outbreak of smallpox, or Variola Vera major in Latin. The first person to be infected by this dangerous illness was an individual from Prizren, who had returned from a pilgrimage where he had been infected by this severely contagious disease. During the time in which the epidemic spread, all medicine students from my generation joined the project of vaccinating the entire population in the territory of Kosovo against this disease. 

Our concrete, practical contribution and engagement while we were students of medicine was to protect the population of Kosovo and prevent this severe — and in some cases fatal — disease from spreading further. 

On September 7, 1974, I was the first doctor to graduate from the Faculty of Medicine in Prishtina. The first to congratulate me in the name of the faculty and university was the dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the time, Dr. Musa Haxhiu, who gave me a bouquet of flowers on which was written “The first Doctor.” 

The graduation ceremony of the first six doctors to graduate from the Faculty of Medicine was held on October 12, 1974. A special dinner was organized in Brezovicë for the graduating doctors and teaching staff of the faculty, under the patronage of Mahmut Bakalli, who was the head of the Provincial Committee at the time, and who was present together with his guest, the Yugoslav Ambassador to Cuba. 

From that evening, I want to note the speech held by our professor Dr. Dervish Rozhaja, who was rector of the university. After his speech, with joy and enthusiasm for the successful achievements of the University of Kosovo and the Albanian people, Dr. Rozhaja spontaneously began to sing old Albanian songs, accompanied by Kosovo’s nightingale, Mrs. Nexhimje Pagarusha, who was our guest of honor that day.

Resmije Kryeziu — Albanian Language and Literature, Faculty of Philosophy

Photo: Aurela Kadriu / K2.0

Resmije Kryeziu was born in Gjakova in 1945. She finished her studies in Albanian Language and Literature in Prishtina in 1972. Having enrolled when the faculty was still part of the University of Belgrade, she graduated from the University of Prishtina. She earned her doctoral degree in 1977, also at the University of Prishtina. She has published many studies and reviews in the field of the history of Albanian literature and literary criticism, as well as many books, “Rrota e Ujit” (The Waterwheel) being her most recent. 

After I finished my studies at the gymnasium, that year I got married and gave birth to my first son, Shkumbin. One year later, in 1967, circumstances dictated that I go to live in Belgrade. My husband, Ekrem Kryeziu, was a senior student at the Dramaturgy Department of the Academy of Arts. 

That year, the television station in Belgrade established a half-hour show in Albanian. Being a student at the Academy, Ekrem was employed by TV Beograd as a presenter on the TV show “Pasqyra Televizive.” Now that Ekrem was working and had to stay in Belgrade for one year to finish his studies at the Academy, we decided to unify the family.

I began my studies in 1967. I enrolled in the Department of Albanian Language and Literature at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade. After one year, I returned to Prishtina, continuing my studies at the Department of Language and Literature at the Faculty of Philosophy in Prishtina. 

Had it not been for the University of Prishtina, I would have been left with a high school degree. I graduated in 1971. 

The Language and Literature department brought together people from all over Kosovo. I was good friends with most of them. I must mention how much they helped me during those three years.

Although I was a mother, I tried to live the student life and take part in activities that were organized within the faculty.

At the time when I enrolled, I was already a mother of one. During my studies, I gave birth to two more children, Milot and Drin. So I graduated as a mother of three children. I cannot forget the help that I got from my colleagues who would take me to my house in Taslixhe late at night, since it was far from the university.

It was a cold winter. I was in the ninth month of pregnancy. Daut Demaku [linguist] and Imri Badallaj [linguist] never let me go home alone. For much of the road, they would hold me on both sides so that I wouldn’t fall.

Although I was a mother, I tried to live the student life and take part in activities that were organized within the faculty. At the time, [singer] Sabri Fejzullahu was one of my colleagues. I was the moderator of his first concert in the university hall. I was in the seventh month of pregnancy at that time.

The neighborhood during autumn and winter of my first year of studies in Prishtina was the Dubrovnik Neighborhood [today Gazmend Zajmi Street]. It was a new neighborhood, but the roads weren’t paved yet. When it rained, the mud would get so thick that it made it impossible to walk with any kind of shoes. One day, a lady’s heel got stuck in the mud and came off of her foot as she was walking.

Luckily, in Belgrade I had bought a pair of plastic boots that had just gone on sale. They were green, decorated with chamomile flowers. Before it started raining, I had worn them a few times and felt good in them. 

With rain coming more often in autumn, the trouble began. It was the start of the school year. I still hadn’t gotten to know all of my new professors. 

One morning, I was rushing to get to the faculty, but it was impossible to get there as fast as I usually did. The road was full of thick mud and I could barely lift my feet up while I was walking. With great effort, I got to the asphalted road above the pedagogical school, which is now the Ministry of Education. There was a pipe that constantly poured water into a bucket, which people used to clean mud off their shoes after they descended to the city from Dubrovnik Street.

To my surprise, in the second lecture, the professor was the man whose boots I had earlier offered to clean.

On the first day of mud and rain, while waiting in line to wash my boots, I was late for my lecture. After all but one of the people in front of me had finished cleaning their boots, the tall man in his 60s, well-dressed with a blue overcoat, a maroon tie and a black hat, told me to wash my boots before him. I was too shy to accept this offer from an elderly man, so I replied by telling him that I would wash his boots for him, so that he wouldn’t get wet.

He thanked me and told that he would not at any cost allow me to do such a thing. His shoes were covered with rubber, the ones that we used to call kalaqe. After him, I washed my boots. 

I got to the Faculty, but the first lecture was just about to end. I had syntax. I heard that the professor was more strict than the others, so I waited in the corridor until the lecture ended.

To my surprise, in the second lecture, the professor was the man whose boots I had earlier offered to clean. I tried to hide my face. It was his first lecture. He presented himself: “I am Gani Luboteni, the professor for this course, and I hope that together we will break down all the ambiguities of the pieces that we will analyze over the postulates of literary theory.” 

Professor Gani Luboteni was truly engaged so that we would leave his classroom enlightened with knowledge and appreciation for literary works. To this day, I recall the way he lectured and how dedicated he was to listen to his students. In this way, he eliminated the fear that they had of him. 

It was a fear that stemmed from honor. We loved and respected him very much! To be frank, all of the professors were good. Just about every one of them provided their pieces to us, which meant a lot. Our department had a rich library, which was at our disposal.

Rexhep Ismaili — Albanian Language and Literature, Faculty of Philosophy

Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0

Rexhep Ismaili was born in 1947 in Presheva, Serbia. Having enrolled when the faculty was still part of the University of Belgrade, he graduated from the University of Prishtina in 1971 and specialized at the René Descartes Institute of General and Applied Literature in Paris, France. Today, he is a regular member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Kosovo.

When I came in ’67, we had quite some difficulties. There was no road to Prishtina, no direct road anyway. We would go to Skopje by train, which departed in the morning. Trains to Skopje were quite rare. Late in the evening, we would come from Skopje to Fushë Kosovë, and then from Fushë Kosovë to Prishtina by foot, because after 1 a.m. there weren’t any buses. 

Communication with our birthplace was difficult up until ’68, when the road to Gjilan was built. We would take the Bujanoc-Gjilan road by bus, which went once a week. It only went on Thursdays, no other days. The problem was communication with the family, which was a bit more difficult. Later, it became very normal. We went [to Presheva] every day, without any issues. But here we didn’t feel like foreigners. Here [in Prishtina] we felt at home, so we didn’t have any difficulties. We had many libraries. 

Faculty departments were a bit more organized back then. For example, the branch of Albanian Language and Literature had a library with good books that we had easy access to. 

I am forever grateful for the opportunity that was given to me to work at that library as a volunteer due to the absence of the librarian for a period of time, because it enabled me to read more books in the library, helping me expand my horizons. We didn’t have much money, but we lived in a dorm, so we didn’t need to spend much.

There was a general practice where most rooms hosted one student illegally, since there wasn’t enough space for everyone.

We had so many experiences in the dorm. When I first arrived, we were living in the dorm close to the radio station. There are [now] some shanties near the radio station — those were student dorms at the time. 

There was no water supply — we would heat water in small pots so that we could clean ourselves, because we didn’t have proper bathrooms. Then, in the second year, we were lucky enough to get accommodated at “Dorm #1,” where I lived for the next three years. We had great conditions and were very satisfied. 

Not all students had the opportunity to be accommodated there, but there was a general practice where most rooms hosted one student illegally, since there wasn’t enough space for everyone, and they tolerated it. There weren’t any issues.

In ’71, I graduated here in Prishtina. I experienced the period of the establishment of the university as a student. I remember the meetings that we would hold at the Faculty of Philosophy. 

I was a student representative at the Scientific Education Council of the faculty, and I remember discussions about the difficulty of establishing the university, because in accordance with the practice at the time, it required a Faculty of Medicine so as to fulfill the conditions for being an independent university. Dervish Rozhaja was one many professors who worked in this direction.

Dervish demanded from us, as student representatives, to go to Belgrade with other students to support a candidate for rector, and internally he explained that that rector would then support the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine, and so the conditions would be created — and this happened, in fact. It was established very quickly. We went to Belgrade one day and voted. Naturally, [Dervish Rozhaja] was elected because the students in Belgrade wanted him as well. But we did give our vote. 

Then the Faculty of Medicine was created, and very soon came the formal establishment of the University. Now there were no more references to Belgrade. We had the University of Prishtina, and we were very enthusiastic about this, because it was a sign of Kosovo’s autonomy. 

That climate of enthusiasm was very productive for another reason as well, it was productive in the sense that it added to the list of demands, the ambitions of our youth for more universal knowledge, to escape from the locality, from Kosovo — to go beyond Yugoslavia from time to time. So it was accompanied by a very positive spirit, with our engagement. 

And in that same spirit, back then we had “Bota e Re” [magazine], in which we published different things, among which there were dissentient pieces — as is always the case among the youth. I remember that they prohibited us many times from publishing an edition due to these kinds of pieces, but it was a manifestation of the youth.

Our ambitions grew. We established the “Dituria” magazine and published four editions. But then they changed our editorial team. Naturally, we moved on. 

Generally, students are an unstable population because they finish their studies quickly, and others arrive who are different from their predecessors. However, it continued with the university, within the faculty, with the magazines that we published in the faculty, with the contacts that we sought as much as we could abroad. In my opinion, it was a very positive situation and spirit. 

It lifted the entirety of Kosovo, the whole situation in Kosovo, to another level. Demands were formulated in a different way. Now we had our own university, therefore we were a society that was reaching other levels, had more opportunities, was more equal to others, and so on.

Flutura Çitaku — Albanian Language and Literature, Faculty of Philology

Photo: Aurela Kadriu / K2.0

Flutura Çitaku was born in 1951 in Mitrovica. After finishing the Normal School, an institution training teachers, in 1970 she enrolled in the Department of Albanian Language and Literature at the University of Prishtina, where she would go on to earn her doctoral degree in 2009. She is currently a lecturer at UP’s Faculty of Philology.

I am from Mitrovica. I come from a middle-class family. My dad worked in trade, and also worked as a barber. It wasn’t easy for our parents, as we were four children. My mom did handicraft to educate and to help us. I have three brothers. We were all educated. 

I finished the Normal School and dreamt of being a teacher. But then my parents and people around me kept telling me: “You can go and study if you like.” I didn’t have that great desire to study. I wasn’t convinced right away, because I didn’t know for sure what I would study. 

I liked the subject of Albanian language, and I was really good at grammar in high school, so I decided to study Albanian Language and Literature. I came to Prishtina. This was 50 years ago. That was the year when the University of Prishtina was established. It was considered an important event at the time, not only for me, but for all youths. 

But even before the university was established, we had the Albanian Language department, which was one of the earliest to become a department, founded in 1964. So this department had tradition. I was lucky to learn from renowned professors such as Idris Ajeti, Gani Luboteni, Anton Çeta, Mehdi Bardhi and other famous linguists and members of the intellectual elite. 

In my first year of study, I stayed at my uncle’s. I remember the first time I came to Prishtina, the roads next to and above the faculty. The part that’s called Aktash today was full of mud. I had to buy a pair of rubber boots, because there was no other way of getting from A to B. When we’d get to the faculty, we’d have to wash our boots first, then go inside.

Two months into my studies, my father came to visit me in the faculty corridor. “Did someone die? What happened?” I asked him. He replied: “They are looking for a teacher at a primary school nearby. Wanna come?” I was sold. 

I was preparing to become a teacher and I didn’t want to disappoint my dad. “Perhaps you can study and teach simultaneously.” That year, I returned to Mitrovica to work as a teacher. I was under 20 at the time. 

I would come here for lectures and in the end, I finished with top grades. I didn’t work during my second year of studies because I had only been substituting a teacher who had been ill, at a school close to my house. 

During the second year, I lived with my brother, who was studying electronic engineering. We lived in a private house. During my last two years, I lived in a dorm. We were accommodated there in the third year. We were three people, one of whom was one of my friends from the Normal School, with whom I had been friends since the age of 15.

We would mostly go out for walks in the main square — we would walk up and down for about an hour, meeting and talking to people we knew.

Life in the dorm was very, very interesting, because you met so many people, especially girls who came from different cities in Kosovo. It was a social life, a rich one at that. 

Cultural life was very entertaining at the time. We would mostly go out for walks on the main square, more often with my friend from Mitrovica, because my other friend, who was from Gjilan, came more rarely. There were no bars at that time. We would walk up and down for about an hour, meeting and talking to people we knew. 

We went to the theater every week. We didn’t miss a play. If we really liked a play, we’d go and see it two or three times. The National Theater held many plays at the time. We also watched many films, but our main activity was reading books. Since we studied literature, we were obliged to read and our exams were related to these readings. That was it.

I remember my first exam very well. It was in the class of renowned professor Shefqet Pllana. He was a very engaging professor and pedagogue. 

His classes were always interesting. He would speak about Albanian folklore. He played the violin, so he would play and sing popular songs to us. Students from other departments would come to attend his lectures because they heard that they were very interesting. 

When I went to the exam — with it being my first, I remember it clearly, as I assume everyone remembers their first — I got a 10 and the professor told me: “Since you got a 10, now you’re going to help me grade other students’ exams.” He made me his assistant. 

Drita Halimi Statovci — Geography, Faculty of Philosophy

Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0

Drita Halimi Statovci was born in 1945 in Gjilan. In 1969, she finished her studies in geography in Prishtina, just as the University of Prishtina was about to be founded, and she earned her PhD from the University of Zagreb in 1981. She is one of the founders of the Anthropology department at the University of Prishtina, where she lectured until her retirement. She has published a series of research studies in the field of anthropology and ethnology.

I wasn’t part of the first generation at the university. In my time, it was just the Faculty of Philosophy, nothing else. It included history, languages, but also mathematical sciences. I lectured in geography.

I was born in Gjilan, but grew up in Belgrade. When I was a baby, not even a 1-year-old, we moved to Belgrade because my father was working as an assistant at the Department of Ethnology. 

I came here in third grade of primary school. I continued to study in Serbian, to my surprise. Because it seems — I don’t know — I didn’t know the language well, so they let me continue. Then I went to an Albanian language gymnasium. Right when I finished my studies there, my father went to prison. 

He was imprisoned in Goli Otok [Yugoslav political prison on the Goli Otok island in Croatia, which operated from 1949 to 1989] for 24 months. When he got out, he brought us here to Prishtina. I finished gymnasium here. 

It was called Ivo Lola at that time. I don’t know if it has a different name now. It is the one in front of the mosque. In ’64, I completed my studies in the gymnasium. I decided to study in Prishtina due to material reasons. How could I go to Belgrade? I couldn’t, because I had to take care of my family.

I wanted to study ethnology because my father is an ethnologist, but there was no ethnology branch here. So I studied the social science of geography, which is similar. When I graduated, I went to Zagreb, but I wasn’t allowed to enroll in the department I wanted, they didn’t allow me to change it, so I was forced to pick geography again. 

The specific subject that I picked was called “Elements of Regionalism.” I mainly worked with geographic history, which is very similar to ethnology. In Zagreb, I earned my master’s degree and doctoral degree. 

I was very close to my father, but very close to the department as well, because I loved it. It always pained him that there was no ethnology department in Prishtina, in Kosovo.

The next morning they took my father to jail. A couple of days later, they just told me: “You’re no longer part of us!”

To be frank, talking about my student life is a handicap in my case. Realistically speaking, I had no time for myself. I had to dedicate my time to my family. That was my normal, my reality. 

I was the eldest child in my family. I have a sister and two brothers. The youngest brother was born after my father came out of jail, so at that time it was just the three of us. That was the reality, and I am happy that I was able to work and help my family, while at the same time not miss out on any of my personal plans. 

For example, I was a pioneer in the pioneer movement; I forgot what the exact name was. One day in the movement, we played the role of state ambassadors, and the next morning they took my father to jail. A couple of days later, they just told me: “You’re no longer part of us!” 

Imagine how that hit me. But here I am. Here I am. Work. Work does it all.

It was a branch of the University of Belgrade here in Prishtina during the time when I was studying, then it became a university. To be honest, as professors, it was as if we couldn’t — or at least I didn’t notice a difference, because I was always an outsider, but also because we were all Albanians. All the enrolled students were Albanian. When we took exams, it was all Albanians learning in Serbian. 

It was important, because we didn’t have any books. We had to take notes in Serbian. We would rush to take notes. Even though my notes weren’t orderly, they would often ask for them. 

That’s what it was like. There were very few books. Very, very few books. But there was a lot of enthusiasm, because having a faculty was an event in itself. We didn’t have a university, but we had a faculty in Prishtina. K

Feature image: Graduation of the first Doctors at the University of Prishtina. Photo courtesy of Hedvig Kadriu.

These oral memories have been edited for length with the speakers’ consent. The conversations took place in Albanian.

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