It has often happened that after I praise the work of Professor Anton Çetta and his reconciliation partners, friends and strangers have asked me questions like: “Why are you glorifying the work of the Blood Feud Reconciliation Movement so much?” Or made comparisons like: “It’s good that you have reconciled over 1,500 blood feuds, but what about all the killings that happen otherwise? Do you know how many people die in traffic accidents every year?”
To be perfectly honest, these questions always rub me the wrong way. And obviously, when you are angry, the response is never proper and rational! It was most difficult to explain to them that the consequences of blood feuds were multidimensional and that it was not only about the number of people killed.
It sometimes even crossed my mind that these questions may have been asked to justify the embarrassment that we share as a society because we have not yet published the full works of Professor Çetta. Who knows?
It is clear that blood feuds are a direct consequence of the lack of rule of law, which forces people to take justice into their own hands. It is not a characteristic of any specific religion; in the book “The Religion of China” published in 1915 by German sociologist Max Weber, he writes: “The blood feud is a universal institution. It has existed among all peoples and in all cultures, whereas the enforcement of order through the institution of the police is a mostly modern and Western phenomenon.”
Earlier in 1877, the well-known American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan wrote: “The crime of murder is as old as human society, and its punishment through blood revenge on members of the tribe is just as old as the crime itself.”
We as a society have also suffered from the consequences of blood feuds — besides the killings, which were the obvious outcomes (although there are not reliable statistics regarding the figures), there were many other economic, cultural and political implications.
Conscious about these implications, a few youngsters established the Blood Feud Reconciliation Movement in February 1990, while Professor Çetta was put at its head. I had the luck to be a part of this movement from the first reconciliation that took place in Raushiq on February 10, 1990.
The success of the Movement was miraculous — over 1,500 reconciliations were achieved.
Differing experiences within the same family
Back then, families had more members than they do today — one of the first families that was reconciled in Raushiq, the Buqollis, had over 60 members in total. Since I do know any average figures, let’s suppose — for the sake of the argument — that one household had about 30 members. How did a 30 member strong household live under lockdown?
The men did not dare to go out, and children were not able to go to school. Women were free to go out, because it was known that women were not allowed to be killed, but this freedom had a lot of repercussions.
I remember a conversation I had a long time ago with an elderly woman after a blood feud in her family was forgiven. During the conversation, somebody asked a question along the lines of: “Loke, how would you respond to some scoundrels who would say that women were the real cause of a lot of blood feuds, and not boundaries, waters, fields, insults, and other things?”
Before responding, the Loke (an endearment/honorific way to address elderly women) let out a long sigh: “Young man, you must know that it was precisely women who were the biggest victims of blood feuds!”
“We had the right to leave the house, but there was a price to pay for this freedom,” she told us. “During lockdown, we didn’t only need to complete our tasks as women, but we also had to work in the field, and we even needed to chop wood.”
Furthermore, she told us that when women returned from their work in the forests, men sometimes beat them if they were late. “What could we have done? We didn’t have a choice and we also understood the men… they were locked up in the house all day, it wasn’t that easy.”
And when the men needed to go out, the whole family was struck by the horror that they may not return alive. “When we would see our neighbor’s children go to school while ours were locked down, or when we ran short of flour and the men and children wanted bread…”
And that is when the Loke cut her response short, as though something was stuck in her throat. Her eyes looked like she was barely holding back her tears. After a brief pause, she continued for a little bit longer: “Only those who have experienced life under lockdown know how difficult it is. I wouldn’t wish it upon my enemy.”
But why did I remember the Loke these days? It’s because now everybody is experiencing the lockdown — some in better circumstances than others — which we are calling quarantine.
Key preoccupations, then and now
In families during the ‘90s, it was a big problem to figure out how to pass the time — and we are dealing with the same issue now.
The most common question at that time is the same as today: “How much longer will we be under lockdown? How much more do we have to endure?”
The biggest worry for parents then and now was and is their children’s education. Now they are offering distance learning for everyone who has a TV or an internet connection at home. We can only imagine how children who did not dare go to school felt back then, and how much they lost when they were locked down while their friends went freely!
In lockdown, they needed to hope that they would not fall sick, because they did not know how to find treatment. He who needed to carry out the blood revenge did not care why you left the house. And even today, the virus does not care why people go out, and it does not recognize age or gender; it is only interested in finding ways to spread.
For families who were involved in blood feuds, every day passed in anticipation of news that maybe they were given a truce or the feud was reconciled. This was the most common topic of discussion between family members. And, while we’re in quarantine, every day we wait for news about some vaccine or drug against the virus — this is what’s on our minds most of the time.
Farming was one of the few sources of an income. Locked down men were not able to go out and work in the field, so they were often forced to sell it; and even after families reconciled, they had less land and consequently less income. In today’s quarantine, we can compare this with the people who lose their jobs or are unsure as to how they will secure their livelihoods after the quarantine.
Other parallels can also be drawn but these should be enough for now.
Back then, they did not have internet connections, they had fewer books to read, and only a few families had TVs. If we consider today’s quarantine to be difficult, imagine if we did not have the internet, books and TVs. We hope that the quarantine will only last for a few weeks, while blood revenge lockdowns sometimes lasted for years!
Imagine how great the joy will be when we are informed that the quarantine will end, that we will be free and that COVID-19 is under control. Everybody is dreaming of this news! The joy was similar when locked down families were visited by Anton Çetta, who told them that their lockdown came to an end: “You will be free, the blood feud has been defeated.”
I believe that now everybody will understand why it is a shame that we have not yet found a spot for Anton Çetta’s statue, let alone for a museum of the Blood Feud Reconciliation Movement. How much longer will we have to wait? God willing, this pandemic will knock some sense into us.
Feature image: Riza Krasniqi.