The RILINDJA of diaspora

Njomza Dragusha, Basil Rogger

The initiation of Potpuri came in dedication to the revival of printed media in Kosovo, always in reflection to its rich history. Throughout decades Kosovo has been witnessing the birth and the death of various publishing initiatives, be those major newspapers, magazines, printing houses, independent publishing platforms, etc. Nevertheless, in the last decade, Kosovo does not have any printed newspaper, magazine or other similar platform on regular bases.
Of course, there are independent platforms which have kept publishing as an existing practice in the context of Kosovo, but unfortunately today almost all informative press in Kosovo operates either through online portals or through TV channels. Our research in this aspect is still new, therefore we do not know the exact reason of this situation, nevertheless we have been gathering reflections and opinions in this aspect and some of the main reasons of such absence of printed press in Koso- vo seems to be the domination of online consumerism, the privatization of media and the absence of a dedicat- ed public willing to pay for printed press.

In spite of this situation, our work through Potpuri is in quest to learn from that past and from those people who are continuously giving effort on at least documenting and archiving the rich heritage of printed press in Kosovo.

In the summer of 2022 we invited Ervina Halili—an in- dependent writer and committed advocate on the loss of collective heritage of the RILINDJA newspaper—to share with us her work and insight on the printed his- tory of the RILINDJA newspaper in Kosovo.

RILINDJA, widely known in Kosovo, was one of the biggest newspapers in Kosovo reaching a capacity of 234,000 copies during holiday seasons due to its de- mand. RILINDJA newspaper was founded in February 1945 in Prizren as the first printed Albanian newspaper in Kosovo. Experiencing quite a steady growth, RILIND- JA has managed for decades to reestablish itself even in the most conflictual times of the history of Kosovo. It started as a weekly newspaper with four pages per issue, to further continue its publishing in Prishtina at the “Provincial of the Popular Front” Publishing House as a daily newspaper with regularity and minor changes. Its major collapse happened on August 8, 1990 as it was permanently banned by the Serbian regime in Kosovo. RILINDJA came back again to the Kosovo market only in 1999 with the end of Kosovo’s war, but what about it between the years 1990 to 1999, where was RILINDJA?

During that insightful conversation with Ervina, most of us hear for the first time that there is a deeper con- nection between Kosovo and Switzerland regarding the printed history of newspapers. Ervina shares with us that during the years 1992–1996 RILINDJA was printed in Switzerland. More precisely, during these years it was mainly printed in Switzerland, at the Zofingen printing house. In quest and curiosity in exploring fur- ther this period, Ervina suggests that we talk to Binak Kelmendi, at the time one of the editors of RILINDJA in «the west», as they called it. 

As we talk, Mr. Kelmendi suggests that we go to visit the Canton’s Library of Aarau to get a close look of those printed editions as they are all archived and accessible at the Library. Off we went to Aarau to see closely, to touch and to dive into RILINDJA during the years of 1992–1996.
We take the large collection of RILINDJA into one room and dive into them. As we open one of the codexes, here is RILINDJA—E perditshme inform- ative e pavarur (The Independent daily news), the first issue on the archive is “E Merkure, 28 shkurt 1993” (Wednesday, 28 of February 1993). With its simple blue and white-light-colors RILINDJA comes out with an odor of paper and fresh- ness as if it was never before touched nor read by an- yone. You could clearly see the folding shape of the newspaper as it came directly from the printing press to the library. The quality of the newspapers was high, the smell of the paper is still there saved for a dose of nostalgia to hit hard.

In each issue of RILINDJA the first page has a short overview, not always written the exact same but gener- ally referring to the history of the printed medium of RILINDJA:

• The first issue of the newspaper RILINDJA was published on February 12, 1945.

• Since August 8, 1990, RILINDJA has not been released in Kosovo, because by an arbitrary decision by the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and with police violence it was banned on August 7, the day when the issue 11,261 was released.

• “RILINDJA” newspaper—the foreign publica- tion for our diaspora in the world—began to be pub- lished on May 7, 1992.

• In Tirana, the newspaper RILINDJA began to be published on April 18, 1993.

Printed between 12–20 pages per daily edition “RILIND- JA” newspaper during 1992–1996 was printed daily six times a week, except Sundays. In these times RILIND- JA newspaper would reach a capacity of 13,000 copies daily, distributed mainly among the albanian speaking diaspora in Europe, in countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Austria and later also in the USA and Belgium.

As we understood by its content and the talk we had with Mr. Kelmendi, RILINDJA in the west was a tool and medium of first hand information for the Al- banian diaspora in the west, likewise it became a tool of mobilization for foreign support and acknowledgment of the situation on the ground for Kosovo. Mainly sold through continuous support of its regular subscrib- ers, RILINDJA newspaper was spread around the world through special requests as well. The content structure of the newspaper would almost always be the same with a clear structure (eg. Echoes, Daily Events, Current Affairs, From the For- eign Press, Chronicle, Culture, Fejtoni, Sport, Telex), nevertheless there were simple plays and changes happening from issue to issue, such as children’s sections would be added. Concentrated in text and less in visuals, RILINDJA kept a simplicity which allowed the reader to dive into its content easily.
With reading the news being reported, it’s impossible not to see the power and influence of such a newspaper at that time for Kosovo. Often RILINDJA was the only independent platform reporting on Kosovo for the world or better to say the «western world» at that period. The enormous support of the diaspora to finance such an initiative allowed that the public would get informed about what is happening in Kosovo through the eyes of those who were experiencing it.

In addition, it would report about various international movements which for years and decades continuously brought attention to the political, social and econom- ical situation of inhabitants of Kosovo. Thus, RILIND- JA was playing a role in the advocacy for freedom and independence for a group of people which had been oppressed to a point where public appearance wasn’t possible to be exercised freely, let alone the right to free speech. Likewise, through its daily activity, RILINDJA in exile—how I sometimes like to call it—would re- spond to the direct needs of the diaspora, be those ways to connect with their family members in Kosovo, ways to support mobilizations in Kosovo, on how to travel to Kosovo or on how to connect to their culture through various events.

Not to forget, the situation in Kosovo was still faced with resistance on the ground. With the closure of RILINDJA newspaper in Kosovo on 18th of January 1991 the weekly newspaper “BUJKU” (the Farmer) was published—informing about the latest ‘agricultural de- velopments’ in Kosovo. The team behind BUJKU had multiple journalists which once used to run the inde- pendent RILINDJA. Always an example of resistance and dedication, the daily RILINDJA came back to Koso- vo’s market one day after NATO forces intervened in Kosovo. The historical newspaper came back with the ‘liberation’. RILINDJA existed in Kosovo regularly un- til February 21, 2002 since it was evicted from its pub- lishing house by the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), marking the beginning of the privatization of public and socially-run properties in Kosovo. Even though there have been symbolic appearances of RILINDJA in Koso- vo throughout these years, still twenty years later we can witness that such imperialist privatization practic- es have become the dominant mentality within Kosovar society. As the actions and work of RILINDJA are bigger than the physical newspaper, and since RILINDJA for us is a story of resistance, here too, the team of POTPURI takes the inspiration and the courage to continue this resistance in attempt to bring back printing press as for the diaspora as well as in Kosovo.

This article is dedicated to all RILINDJA members who have given us the love for newspapers. Likewise, this article is dedicated to all the memebers of the RILINDJA team in the diaspora who have shown us another side of history through their resistance.

Potpuri është një platformë e pavarur botuese dhe iniciativë bashkëpunuese e fokusuar në metodologjitë eksperimentale të kërkimit, gazetarisë investigative dhe prodhimit. Fokusi i procesit të punës së Potpurit është nxitja e metodologjive kolektive në praktikat e botimit për prodhimin e gazetave fizike. Kolektivi Potpuri është i bazuar ndërmjet Kosovës dhe Zvicrës, aktiviteti ynë kërkon tema dhe urgjenca të përbashkëta sociale si ringjallja e shtypit të shkruar në Kosovë, mungesa e hapësirave institucionale reflektuese për diasporën shqiptare në Zvicër, politikat dhe dukuritë sociale nën përvojat migratore, dhe më e rëndësishmja sigurimi i një hapësire mikpritëse për shprehjet e zërave të padëgjuar brenda mjediseve komerciale.
Potpuri is an independent publishing platform and collaborative initiative focused on experimental methodologies of research, investigative journalism and production. The focus of the work-process of Potpuri is the fostering of collective methodologies in publishing practices for the production of physical newspapers. Potpuri collective is based between Kosovo and Switzerland, our activity seeks for common social themes and urgencies such as the revival of printed press in Kosovo, the absence of reflective institutional spaces for the Albanian diaspora in Switzerland, the politics and social phenomena under migratory experiences, and most importantly providing a welcoming space for expressions of voices unheard within commercial settings.
Potpuri ist eine unabhängige Veröffentlichungsplattform und Initiative, die sich auf experimentelle Forschungsmethoden, investigativen Journalismus und Produktion konzentriert. Der Schwerpunkt des Arbeitsprozesses von Potpuri liegt in der Förderung kollektiver Methoden der Verlagspraxis für die Produktion von Zeitungen. Das Potpuri-Kollektiv arbeitet im Kosovo und der Schweiz. Unsere Themen und Dringlichkeiten wie der Wiederbelebung der gedruckten Presse im Kosovo reichen von dem Fehlen reflektierender institutioneller Räume für die albanische Diaspora in der Schweiz und den sozialen Phänomenen der Migrationserfahrungen. Ein Raum für Ausdruck von Stimmen, die in kommerziellen Umgebungen häufig ungehört bleiben.