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feature 04 Nov 16

Kosovo's Reconciliation Councils Struggle to End Blood Feuds

The remnants of Kosovo's medieval code of justice still burden Kosovo's local communities, pitting families against families in an endless circle of death.

Die Morina
Representatives of Malaj and Lufaj family shaking hands as a sign of reconciliation. Photo: BIRN

About a year ago, in the town of Decan in the Western part of Kosovo, Donard Lufaj has accidentally killed 9 year old boy Ylber Malaj.

Lufaj is currently in prison and his trial is ongoing, but the Malaj family was initially not counting on the local court to bring them justice.

The Kanuni i Leke Dukagjinit, a code of law instituted in the 15th century among the tribes of northern Albania by a local nobleman Lekë Dukagjini, in such a case authorizes an eye-for-an-eye revenge.

According to this code, the family of a murdered person should kill a male member of the murderer's family older than 18 years of age.

Over the centuries, the “blood- for- blood” tradition spread across Albania, Kosovo and even parts of Montenegro, and is still present in some local communities in the 21st century.

This phenomenon is believed to be the cause of numerous deaths, as entire families vanished in this circle of killing. Yet even rough estimates of its casualties are not available since local authorities usually - and often deliberately - avoid keeping the track of these disturbing statistics, but add those deaths with all the others.

The Kanuni i Leke Dukagjinit, however, also allows the family whose member was killed to spare the life and “forgive the blood,” which is considered to be the sign of the highest morality.

In some parts of Kosovo, village elders gathered in informal reconciliation councils, have taken up a mission to prevent the bloodshed by helping reconciliation among those families locked in a blood feud.

One of the most recent such cases was reconciliation between Malaj and Lufaj families.

Right after the killing, a local reconciliation council sprang into the action.

In line with the code, the most respected local elder has asked the boy’s family to give “Besa” - a word of honor, to the murderer’s family, guaranteeing them that they will not respond with violence for a certain period.

Meanwhile, the reconciliation council members continuously visited the family of murdered boy, trying to convince them to “forgive the blood”.

Ali Kamaj, the oldest man of the reconciliation Council in region of Decan. Photo: BIRN

“The act of killing a child is cumbersome by itself, especially after the war, when we expect that our kids will grow up normally. This case was immensely touching,” the head of the Reconciliation Council, 81 years old Ali Kamaj told BIRN.

When Malaj family finally decided to “forgive the blood”, men from that area gathered in the reconciliation ceremony. The reconciliation process and the ceremony carefully followed the Code of Leke Dukagjini.

The ceremony itself was held in the building of Municipality of Decan, where the mayor was present too as he helped in the process.

“We, Malaj family, lay down the finger that pulls the trigger as a gesture of reconciliation,” said Gani Malaj, the representative of Malaj family during the ceremony, while offering his hand to the representative of the Lufaj family.

Avdullah Shala, relative of Donard Lufaj who committed the murder. Photo: BIRN

While tears rolled down his cheeks, Avdullah Shala, a cousin of Donard Lufaj who committed the murder, addressed other families:

“Do always talk and warn young boys and girls so that they do not take part in any conflict. Talk as much as you can with youth to prevent such cases."

“This was very hard because we all have children, but is seems there are still men on this earth- among Albanian people - willing to make such a gesture,” the head of the Reconciliation Council, 81 years old Ali Kamaj told BIRN.

The Council members could not tell the exact number of similar cases in region of Decan, but Kamaj admitted that only in Strellc village, there are currently nine blood feud cases.

He said there are also cases in which families of victims do not agree to give Besa to the murderer’s families. In such cases, members of the murderer’s family - especially men - are locked, until a moment of a possible reconciliation.

Kamaj said that the Malaj-Lufaj case required much hard and difficult work, but added that the positive outcome makes him to continue his mission.

“I am 81 years old. I'm tired but I feel in my soul that I have to work on these cases. I hope that people will become more aware,” he said.

Besim Hoxha, a local Imam (Islamic cleric) and another Council member that worked on this case, described it as one of the most touching cases.

Hoxha told BIRN that they the reconciliation process should not be officially institutionalized as it could interfere in the judicial processes.

“We have fought and worked to have an institutional state. I urge the Court and Prosecution to pursue their legal procedures. We also have religious and national duty to reconcile people, but in no way to interfere in the affairs of the judiciary.” said Hoxha.

However, the head of the reconciliation council, Ali Kamaj, trusted more this informal process than Kosovo's formal institutions and processes.

“I don’t trust in Institutions of justice. I trust them as much as I trust a snake. They are not working as they should,” he told BIRN.

Men from region of Decan participating at the reconciliation ceremony. Photo: BIRN
Men from region of Decan participating at the reconciliation ceremony. Photo: BIRN

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