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Voices of Kosovo in Manchester… and in Kosovo

The welcome was magnificent, unexplainable. Not just our first steps off the plane at Manchester Airport, but also the processing of all the refugees. And yes, it’s true, the English removed the rags of oppression and truly brought smiles for the first time to our kids’ faces – our kids, who had seen nothing but violence, burnings and killing.

Bedri Hyseni, Voices of Kosovo in Manchester archive

Oral histories are a significant feature of our collection. We currently have in the region of 400 interviews covering a range of experiences, from the life stories of Windrush immigrants to recollections of the 1945 Pan-African Congress.

image shows a bunch of yellow flowers, a large blue book with 'voices of kosovo in manchester on the cover and a photograph of a woman, displayed on a table
Image courtesy Manchester Aid to Kosovo

Many of the oral histories donated to us are generated through community-led heritage projects, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by our Education Trust, with the Resource Centre as the named repository for project outputs. These usually include the original audio recordings, written transcripts or detailed summaries of interview content, and related material such as research, photographs and artwork.

A recent (2016) example of this is the Voices of Kosovo in Manchester project (VOKIM), carried out by Manchester Aid to Kosovo. The project recorded the stories of the Kosovar community in Manchester, many of whom arrived as refugees in 1999 as part of the humanitarian response to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, as well as the voices of Mancunians who responded to the crisis.

As per our usual practice, we created a book of the 29 transcripts, which is now available for readers to study in our library. But on this occasion we created a second copy, which  now resides, along with a set of the recordings, at the National Library in Pristina, Kosovo.

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Pam Dawes and Fazli Blakçori from the VOKIM team presented the book to the Director of the National Library, Fazli Gajraku, on 27th March during Kosovo’s annual Library Week. An exhibition of excerpts from the interviews, translated into both English and Albanian, along with portraits of the interviewees by Manchester photographer Paul Cliff and an art installation of 120 birds carrying embroidered text, was also on display in the library’s Central Hall throughout the week.

An emotional Fazli Gajraku said;

We have been greatly affected by the donation from Manchester and would very much like to strengthen our ties with Manchester Aid to Kosovo, Manchester Central Library and the University.

Two-thirds of Kosovo’s 180 libraries were annihilated between 1990 and 1999. Serbian authorities followed a systematic policy of destroying Albanian-language literature and over 900,000 books – almost half of all library books in Kosovo – were destroyed.This included many records of Kosovo’s history and heritage, so this, the first refugee history donated from a diaspora community to the National Library, has a special significance.

We are delighted to be forging international links such as this.

Much of the VOKIM archive material is available through the project website, and they’re still looking for contributions and stories from Kosovars in Manchester. And if you’re not familiar with Manchester Aid to Kosovo check out the Our History page on their website – an inspiring story of grassroots action in response to an international crisis.

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

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