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Migjen Kelmendi
Migjen Kelmendi

Migjen Kelmendi is a rock-star turned journalist from Pristina. He is the editor of Jáva, a newspaper written in Kosovo's native Gheg dialect, not in Standard Albanian, which is based on Tosk from southern Albania. Gheg is the mother tongue of all Kosovars. The choice to write in the dialect actually spoken by Kosovars reflects Migjen's fascination with the development of a distinct Kosovar identity, and a civic and not an ethnic state.

The story of Migjen's family reflects the social transformation of Kosovo in the past two generations:

"My grandfather was a highlander from around Peja. He 'slipped' down the mountains between the two world wars and ended up in the first city at the bottom – Peja! My mother came from an old Pristina Albanian family. Apart from Albanian, they also talked Turkish, the lingua franca of the time. People in their social class did. So, old Serbian families talked in Turkish to old Albanian families"

Migjen's father Ramiz grew up at a time when there was still no education in Albanian. As Ramiz Kelmendi told us:

"W e had no Albanian schools, we had no teacher, we had no history of our nation, we had no connection to Albania. We were not allowed to mention Albania. But the paradox was that the regime of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia opened a Mejtepe, a Turkish religious school. My father has sent me to Mejtepe, where I learned Arabic, "elhamdyrylahi e rabilalemin e rrahmani rrahim". I remember until today what "kuluwallahu ehad" means, because we had imams beat it into us with with sticks"

Ramiz Kelmendi went to study in the 1950s in Belgrade. He was the first in the family to be formally educated.

Midjen also remembers the late 1960 and early 1970s:

"In this period we started to have kind of wealth. There were the first colour televisions and modern furniture and fridges. We started to have a middle class. Everyone was beginning to live like everyone else. The university library started to be built and it felt like we were becoming the real capital of Kosovo. All the streets were being paved with asphalt and asphalt was the symbol of progress. We even called the mayor "Asphalt Nazmi".

"At the time our leaders thought they were fighting the old Ottoman heritage and building a new society, a new language and a new man. So they also started to build new blocks of flats, and people wanted to live in them. If you lived in an old house it felt very old fashioned. One cousin exchanged his house for a small flat. He thought he had made a good deal. Today he regrets the deal!"

In 1976, suddenly, we had the first modern cafes. The 1970s were the best period we lived through in this place. After 1981 everything started to decline. "

1981 saw violent confrontations between Albanians and the police.

"In 1980, with some friends I started a new wave band called Gjurmet  – The Traces. After the demonstrations of 1981, in the context of youth in Pristina identifying with communist Albania, where rock 'n' roll was banned, this meant that you had taken a kind of political attitude. We were declaring ourselves for a 'go west' attitude, and not for communist Albania. Being a rocker meant that you were closer to the Yugoslav type of communism rather than Albanian communism. Amongst many this was unpopular. "

"The song "All roads lead to Pristina" was one of the biggest hits of my band. The song is about immigration from the villages in the city, in the 80s."

This period was followed by the Serbian apartheid regime of the 1990s:

"Suddenly everything went underground. The centre of town was dominated by Serbs. For ten years I never entered the Hotel Grand. There were paramilitaries there, secret police, Arkan. I was afraid. There was no social life, except in private homes.

After the bombing started in March 1999, we were picked up by the Serbian police, gathered together and taken to the outskirts of Pristina, to the old train station. When I got there I saw 20-30,000 people. Milosevic had started the crazy idea of deportation. I was afraid in case they were going to start killing. When I realised we were going to Macedonia I was happy."

Migjen Kelmendi
Migjen Kelmendi

For two years after the war, he worked as director of the literature program for Kosovo's state television RTK. In 2001 he founded Jáva.

"Today Pristina is a mess. People are greedy. They are grabbing houses and land and selling things they don't own. But they are not Pristina people. They are newcomers. They don't feel the pulse of the city. They are building ugly buildings and grabbing public spaces for their own private benefit and ministries and the government are involved. I feel like they are creating a large village out of our city. That makes for a challenge though. Just like during our rocker days. A challenge to start something, a civic movement … "

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Migjen Kelmendi at the "Talking Balkans" Symposium in Vienna on 3-4 April 2008 © 2008 ERSTE Foundation/Igor Bararon. All rights reserved.

May 2008

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