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Miners of Trepca March Towards the ‘Reporting House’ Exhibition

With the aim of commemorating and raising awareness of the importance of the 1989 Trepca miners’ strike in Kosovo, miners from Trepca marched towards the ‘Reporting House’ exhibition on Thursday, where stories of the war in Kosovo, sacrifice, and resistance are displayed.

On Thursday, miners from the Trepca mine in Mitrovica marched through the centre of Prishtina towards the ‘Reporting House’ exhibition, marking the 25th anniversary of Kosovo’s Liberation with a tribute to their pivotal 1989 strike. The exhibition, a collaboration between BIRN Kosovo, KALLXO.com, Pristina Biennial, and Paper Gallery, serves as a compelling narrative of Kosovo’s wartime struggles and the enduring spirit of resistance.

Gani Beqiri, vice-chairman of the Miners’ Pensioners Association, spoke of how the striking miners endured 8 days and 8 nights in extremely difficult conditions, “ I had only a helmet to use as a pillow and a jacket as a blanket.”

Hazir Reka photo of Trepca miner’s march in 1988 exposed in ‘Reporting House’ exhibition in Prishtina

Among them were also miners featured in the Reporting House exhibition.

Isuf Boletini,  a former miner who appeared in a famous photo of a 1988 meeting which can be seen at the Reporting House exhibition,  explained that the strike was an effort to prevent the closure of Albanian schools in Kosovo and the expulsion of Albanian intellectuals from the University of Prishtina. 

“The first strike was for political reasons; the goal was to defend the 1974 Constitution, to defend intellectuals who were discriminated against after being expelled from universities, as well as to protect Albanian schools as we had heard they wanted to close them and expel Albanians.”

Trepca miner’s watching a video material in ‘Reporting House’ exhibition in Prishtina on June 20, 2024: Photo/Florinda Kelmendi

The Trepca miners’ large strike lasted from February 20-28, 1989.

On February 20, 1989, about 1,300 miners initiated a hunger strike by closing themselves in the galleries of the Trepca mine in opposition to constitutional changes that suppressed the autonomy of Kosovo. The strike helped internationalise the issue of the status of Kosovo.

Leaders of the Communist League of Yugoslavia visited the miners during the strike to discuss their demands.  The miners made 10 demands, three of which dealt with concerns about higher education, the lack of political representation for Kosovo Albanians in Yugoslavia, and the autonomy of Kosovo. 

One day after the end of the strike, on March 1, 1989, 13 Trepca workers were imprisoned for 14 months for “irredentist activity”. In addition, all 1,300 striking workers were sentenced and politically persecuted.

Former Trepca miner standing near a photo of miner’s march in 1988 as part of ‘Reporting House’ exhibition in Prishtina on June 20, 2024: Photo/Florinda Kelmendi

A year after the strike, the expulsion of all Kosovo Albanians from public institutions and the public education system began.

This famous hunger strike was preceded by the November 1988 march, in which 3000 Trepca miners marched 50 kilometres to Prishtina.  The 1988 march inspired a mass solidarity movement within Kosovo, and approximately 300,000 fellow Kosovars participated in marches in support of the miners.

Rexhep Rrahmani, a former miner who also participated in the march from Mitrovica to Prishtina in 1988, recalls the difficulties and challenges he experienced at that time:

“I have a plastic leg, and when I looked at it, I saw how swollen it was. When we went to Boro Ramiz, people from Hajvalia, Kisnica, all of Kosovo joined us.”

Miners from the Trepca mine in Mitrovica gather in ‘Reporting House’ exhibition in Prishtina on June 20, 2024: Photo/Florinda Kelmendi

“There were miners who would leave, get first aid, and then return to the mine. We experienced all this for the liberation of Kosovo. Our goal was to defend the 1974 Constitution”, he declared.

By 1992, 94% of Kosovo’s Albanian miners had been fired. These mass dismissals meant the death of the industrial working class in Kosovo, the emergence of which had been a key marker of the modernization which Kosovo achieved during the late-Tito period of Yugoslavia. The sudden loss of this symbol of modernity was a devastating blow to Kosovo Albanians. 

The Reporting House exhibition showcases the work of journalists, photographers, and media workers alongside contemporary artworks reflecting on the impact of war in the decades that followed.

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