I have come to understand myself as part of a generation grounded in and shaped by the 1990s. At the turn of that decade, I was too young to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, when democracy was believed to have triumphed across the rest of Europe, and many naively thought it would open a new chapter for the European political project that was “under construction.” I was also too young to remember Slobodan Milosevic’s rise to power in Serbia, and his 1989 speech at Gazimestan. There, he would confirm his nationalist political project that would not only ensure that Yugoslavia was about to collapse, but would soon enough become the premise upon which he would carry out campaigns of ethnic cleansing.
But I do remember a night in the 1990s, at age 6, grabbing a pan and spoon and joining my two older sisters on the balcony of our family home, hitting the pan and shaking keys. This was one of the many ways through which protest was expressed at that time. The metallic sound reverberated throughout our neighborhood in Prishtina, and it most probably added to a cacophony of discontent throughout the city; similar snippets are just as much a part of other people’s recollections of how the decade began.
In retrospect, I couldn’t have understood the meaning of that protest. But at the turn of that decade, I was also just old enough to experience ethnic segregation at school, attend cramped classes in houses — including my own — and feel a sense of uncertainty and fear as my mother and thousands of other parents lost their jobs after being fired by the Serbian authorities.
In Kosovo, the ’90s began with the years of protests, and they ended with the years of war. The years in between are remembered as the time of resistance — a period when Kosovar Albanians declared their own republic and organized an entire political, economic, cultural and social parallel system, as they were deprived of civic rights.
Such historical markers are important, as they provide reference points to Kosovo’s recent past. But today, the collective memory of the ’90s has overwhelmingly become restricted to dates, events and heroes. It ignores the multifaceted narratives that could help to feed, shape and contribute to a broader understanding of identity today.
The decade offers a whole other spectrum of experiences, understandings and meanings — stories that are all too often forgotten, unspoken, disregarded or merely marginalized. They are the stories of the everyday choices, struggles, activism and solidarity that equally, or even more so, speak to the fact that resistance was also personal, and that it manifested and occurred differently for different people. This is what this magazine offers, while continuously placing such stories within a context that maps out and recontextualizes the main political framework of the decade.
Our cover story, “Kosovo in the ’90s: Survival and Improvisation,” (see page 34), covers the entire decade and offers insight to how the Serbian government instrumentalized and carried out its repressive regime and how Albanians in Kosovo responded. But it also does not shy away from critiquing and scrutinizing the Kosovar Albanian leadership, which is important from the perspective of today’s constellation of political structures that continuously attempt to uphold and perpetuate glorified versions of “truth” and “history.”
In this regard, the Oct. 1, 1997, student protest and the decade-long activism of women should just as much be part of the modern collective references to politics of the ’90s. The first (“A Time for Action” — see page 110) speaks to a student-led protest that called for an active resistance based on a simple request to reopen university premises and return the public sphere to everyone; the second (“Fighting for the Doubly Oppressed” — see page 116) shows how today’s struggles to break down gender barriers are part of a longer tradition of activism, which can trace its foundations to the 1990s.
Meanwhile, this magazine is also based on the belief that the 1990s embodied a set of values that today have largely ceased to prevail. Such values come across in our profile stories — such as Fatime Bosnjaku, a humanitarian activist from Gjakova, who through the Mother Theresa Society took immense personal risks to organize supplies for villages in her municipality (“A Witness to the War” see page 100). Our photography collection, assembled from personal archives, of lessons in private houses speaks of the immense solidarity and volunteerism — beyond any sort of personal gain — that ensured that education continued when access to schools was being denied (“A Lesson in Solidarity” — see page 71). The few opposition voices within Serbia during the 1990s should also not be disregarded, and our story on the “Women in Black” takes a look at those who dared to dissent (“The Color of Resistance” — see page 122).
Two other stories recall the impact of the NATO air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, an intervention that signaled the beginning of the end of the war in Kosovo that cost about 13,000 lives and saw hundreds of thousands of people expelled from their homes. They are both based in the city of Ferizaj; the first is an account of a young Albanian boy leaving his home behind with his entire family in the wake of the escalating war (“Running to Live” — see page 139); and the second is an account of a young Serb child watching the expulsions in bewilderment, before later having to leave his home, too (“When War Comes to Town” — see page 142).
While all these stories take place within the backdrop of a repressive regime, they meet at a common impasse: a fight and resistance for social justice, political integrity and civic equality. That is why stories in this issue issue rarely extend beyond 1999; they end in that moment. By maintaining this focus, we hope readers can place themselves within the events they read, following individuals as they recall their struggles and becoming part of the recollection that people today carry when looking back on the decade. We also hope to trigger further debate that ultimately leads to more documentation of that time.
Back in the ’90s, the two-fingered victory sign came to symbolize calls for democracy and freedom. Moreover, it represented a form of solidarity, as people traveling between cities would exchange victory signs with others they passed on the road.
I feel no nostalgia for the ’90s when remembering that everyday life was subject to some form of oppression. But the importance of the decade in shaping where we are today should not be underestimated. Lately, a discussion has begun to resurface on what the 1990s symbolized in terms of political organization, cultural defiance and social cohesion. I believe that such discussions, which seek to also emphasize the push for social justice, equality and individual liberties, are driven by a feeling that what the democratic republic sought during the 1990s did not materialize beyond 1999.
On one hand, during the 1990s, the individual was largely restricted through political practice and narratives of participation in the larger cause of independence, and identity was largely confined to definitions of national identity. But on the other hand, individual liberties were also sought within a constant negotiation between ideas and practices of tradition and modernity, community, family, and civic society.
Such negotiations need to be recognized and not erased, as they are under reified visions of the past. Moreover, they can lead to the understanding that the “contract” between a republic and its citizens requires constant challenging in order to ensure that diversity — whether in terms of voice, experience or understanding — exists.
This is precisely what we’ve sought to do through this collection of themed print issues. The debut issue on Image emphasized the fact that greater debate and critique from within is essential in the formation of the republic of the formally recognized independent Kosovo.
However, it also critiqued the idea of Kosovo as a “newborn” country, which in some ways tries to erase any relation to past memories and experiences. This 10th edition marks the end of this collection; it closes with a topic that allows us to revisit recent past experiences and place them within the modern public sphere with the aim of continuing the debate on the future of the republic.
As a media, Kosovo 2.0 magazine has been grounded on a social responsibility, always bearing in mind that citizens, and individual stories, are and should be at the core of any media undertaking. Our work has been based on a determination to document the story of Kosovo, but we have also strived to further a discussion that is not confined to Kosovo alone. We have explored knowledge of current and past developments in social, economic and political formations at the global and more localized levels, and their interconnections.
Within this collection, the stories of, and from, Kosovo do not exist within a vacuum or serve as a definition of a post-war country or a transitioning society. They are the stories of the everyday political and social struggles that societies across the world are increasingly facing, while fighting for individual rights in a world that is more polarized than ever.
The Kosovo 2.0 collection is grounded on an assertion that media are part of the public sphere, and as such, narratives are neither singular nor linear, but made of multitudes of identities and experiences. This is what this issue offers, as does the entire print collection. And this is what Kosovo 2.0 will continue to uphold as an online magazine.