More background info:
Adem Jashari is a name you encounter everywhere in Kosovo
. The international airport is named after him, as is the National Theatre and a football stadium too, every city, town and village seems to have at least an Adem Jashari Square and/or Street. You also find his image on the Youth and Sports Palace in Pristina
(and a Jashari shrine inside). Even in Kosovo Albanian homes pictures of him are said to often adorn the walls. In short: Adem Jashari
is quite clearly regarded as the National Hero of Kosovo
(in fact, after Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 he was posthumously officially awarded a title of exactly that name!), and is also seen as a symbol of Kosovo’s independence. How come?
It helps that his image is very recognizable indeed, with the big bushy black beard and exaggerated moustache and a characteristic hat over his equally bushy mane. He’s often portrayed in paramilitary fatigues, gun in hand and with one or two belts of ammo across his chest (like a proper western-movie desperado).
But to start at the beginning: Adem Jashari was born
to a farming family in the small village of Prekaz
near the town of Skenderaj. Apparently the family had a history in earlier anti-Yugoslav, Albanian-nationalist guerilla fighting. So he grew up hating Serbs and willing to fight for Albanian Kosovo’s independence from Yugoslavia
In the early 1990s
he and his older brother Hamëz were co-founders of the paramilitary organization that became the Kosovo Liberation Army
(KLA), or “Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës” in Albanian, abbreviated “UÇK
”. They and several others received military training in neighbouring Albania
, they launched attacks on Serbian police and Yugoslav Army compounds and committed acts of sabotage, intensifying their efforts from 1995 especially. In response to all that, Jashari
” by a Yugoslav court in 1997. But as usual, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Among Kosovars, Jashari became a popular figure, and he and the KLA even received substantial funding from the diaspora abroad (especially from Germany
and the USA
). Countryfolk from Prekaz and the surrounding area twice came to his defence in large numbers as the Yugoslav police unsuccessfully attempted to arrest Adem Jashari.
However, after KLA attacks in early March 1998, in which several Serbs were killed, Serbian special “anti-terrorist” forces laid siege to the Jashari family compound in Prekaz on 7 March, surrounding the place with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery. They gave an ultimatum of two hours for Jashari to give himself up. During that period several civilians were allowed to leave, but Adem Jashari and his family refused and held out inside their houses. The Serbs later claimed that it was the Jasharis who opened fire first and that two Serbs were killed as a result, but whatever, the Serbian forces with their overwhelming fire power then launched a full-on attack that ended in a massacre. Not only Adem and Hamëz were killed, alongside them almost 60 other family members were left dead too, many of them women, children and the elderly. The Serbs later claimed that Adem Jashari was using his family as a human shield and held them hostage, as if that justified the indiscriminate killing spree. Analysts later concluded that the Serb forces’ aim had never been to apprehend Adem Jashari and his brother but to “eliminate” them, which they did and claimed was a perfectly legitimate anti-terrorist measure.
But the incident backfired. The massacre was widely condemned abroad, putting extra political pressure on the then Milošević regime, which had already come under pressure for its “ethnic cleansing” measures that Serbia ratcheted up in early 1998.
at the massacre drove a flood of volunteers
into the KLA
’s ranks to join the fight against the Serbs. Hence the Prekaz massacre is seen by some as the real starting point
of the ensuing Kosovo War
(whereas other claims say it had already begun in February that year).
The incident certainly cemented Adem Jashari’s status
as a national hero – and now he was also a National Martyr
, whose “sacrifice” fuelled Kosovo nationalism even further and inspired a desire to avenge him. So in hindsight it must be said that the Prekaz massacre was a serious miscalculation on the part of Serbia
The heavily shelled houses of the Jashari compound were preserved to serve as a memorial, and to prevent further deterioration of the ruins, being exposed to the elements, protective roofs were constructed over them and the walls surrounded by scaffolding.
The bodies of the victims were initially taken away to Pristina
but were soon returned to Prekaz and buried by the Serbs in a mass grave close to the site. Locals and surviving family members disinterred them afterwards to give them a proper Muslim reburial. Much later still the whole place was converted into a proper “martyrs cemetery
And by the main road a purpose-built memorial museum was established (when exactly I don’t know). The whole complex has become a proper pilgrimage destination for Kosovars (and the odd dark tourist from abroad).
What there is to see: The most important elements here, especially from a dark-tourism perspective, are the preserved ruined houses of the former Jashari compound. As you approach them you are greeted by a large “UÇK” plaque featuring images of Adem Jashari and other KLA members. On the scaffolding surrounding the larger one of the three houses at the front hangs a large full-body image of Adem Jashari, dressed in military clothing and with a machine gun in his right hand, and above it another UÇK logo. Set back from the houses a few yards stands a large white-marble bust of the man, now with a belt of ammo across his chest. Flowers and wreaths had been placed at the bottom of the bust.
There are stairs up the scaffolding of the two main houses so you can take a look at the damage to the houses from closer up. The walls are riddled with bullet and shell holes, some small, some so big that you could walk right through them (if you were allowed to enter). The scale of the destruction is quite staggering. You can go right up to roof level, where only a certain proportion of the roof tiling is still in place. Here and there you can also peek into rooms below roof level. The inside is mostly bare, though a few items like washbasins, the odd chair and a fireplace can be spotted. Some walls are full of graffiti, but these must be older, as you cannot enter any of the rooms these days.
On the smaller one of the houses at the front is another UÇK plaque and under the stairs is a wreck of a tractor. Behind these front houses is another ruined house at the back, but without stairs leading up the scaffolding. We didn’t walk all the way around that house as my guide (see below) pointed out that behind this house are the present dwellings of the Jashari family so that out of respect we should keep a distance.
From the square in front of the ruins a path along a band of red tiles leads across the street and all the way to the martyrs’ cemetery. The red tiling is to symbolize “the way of the blood”, from the site of the massacre to the graves of the victims. En rout to the latter you cross a little red bridge over a rivulet, then you come to the graves.
The ones in the front row to the left include the tombs of Adem and Hamëz Jashari. Two soldiers stand guard either side of them. (Although we later observed that they leave their position when nobody is about, which drove my guide to being jokingly “outraged” by that behaviour, “abandoning their place of honour guard”!). Near Adem Jashari’s grave is also a tall flagpole flying, not the Kosovan flag, but the red Albanian flag with its characteristic black double-headed eagle. (I asked my guide why and he said that Kosovars feel close to Albania and the newly introduced Kosovo flag is seen as artificial and unhistoric and is therefore not much liked in the country.)
The graves are in three rows on three levels and all have the same design, made of white marble and with a wavy line of red at the top running across the length of the tomb. Inscriptions are in simple gold letters, just the names and the year of birth and (uniform) year of death (1998). Especially tragic are those tombs of the very young child victims.
On the south-western corner of the large square in front of the cemetery stands a noticeable edifice: a steep white pyramid of sorts. This is the Adem Jashari Memorial Museum. Inside you find displays of all manner of objects from the Jashari compound, from farm tools to toys and from singed clothes to bullets and shells. There’s also a piece of wooden furniture under or behind which a survivor, a child then, was hiding during the attack. Of course there’s also a Jashari shrine, with a machine gun and rifle used by Adem Jashari in two glass display cabinets. There’s also a large family tree on which all the victims are marked, from grannies to the youngest children. There are some text plaques also in English, but the translations are rather deficient, while the exhibits’ labels are OK. A small souvenir shop complements the museum.
Outside there are also large roadside stalls selling all manner of souvenirs, mostly ones that feature the logo of the UÇK on them, be it mugs, scarves, caps or whatnot.
From the edge of the cemetery a white-paved path snakes up the hillside. Apparently this leads to a location where Adem Jashari used to have a hideout away from the family home. I saw quite a few other visitors making their way up there, but we didn’t, so I can’t say if there is anything to see at the top (other than the grand view down over the valley).
Unrelated to the Jasharis (as far as I know) but located right next to the memorial complex, is a monument of sorts that my guide explained was a “reconciliation monument”, i.e. a place where two (or more?) families came together to bury the hatchet, so to speak, i.e. ending a long-standing vendetta conflict (which is something that is still rather deeply ingrained in Albanian culture).
Some 500m south-west from the memorial complex is yet another ruined house. As a memorial stone points out this was also a home for members of the Jashari family, 15 of whom were killed in the 1998 attack. This made me wonder: given it’s so far from the main family compound, it couldn’t really have been part of the siege, so was it attacked separately? And does that indicate that the Serbian forces were really after eliminating the whole family rather than just Adem? It remains a mystery.
The house is just a single-storey residential building and the damage here is even worse than at the main site. The roof is completely missing (but a protective one on stilts covers it). The walls are so full of shell holes that the building is unstable and has to be supported by a kind of artificial skeleton of steel beams inside.
Finally, we also made a stop at Skanderaj, the nearby small provincial town to the south-west of Prekaz. On the main square by a pedestrianized road stands a proud Adem Jashari bronze statue, complete with gun and ammo belt, staring wildly into the distance. On a building nearby is a large-scale poster glorifying the UÇK.
By the beginning of the pedestrianized zone is panel with a tourist map of the Skenderaj municipality – and the top ones listed here are those sites associated with Adem Jashari. It’s clearly the biggest thing here.
All in all
, it was a very insightful excursion to this National Shrine of Kosovo. The dramatically ruined houses are the darkest elements, contrasting sharply with the solemnity of the martyrs’ cemetery and the museum – which in turn contrast with all the souvenir vendors. I had learned about this place only a few years prior to my visit (from this excellent blog post
– external link, opens in a new window). Finally making it here in person did feel very special. Absolutely worth the effort and/or money it takes to come here.
in the central part of northern Kosovo
, some ten miles (16 km) south-west of Mitrovica
as the crow flies, but ca. 35 minutes by car, and ca. 30 miles (50 km) north-west of Pristina
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: easy but costly by private guided tour, or a bit demanding but cheap independently.
I visited these sites as part of a longer guided tour by private car with an English-speaking driver-guide. It was a modified/tailored version of the “Western Kosovo Political Tour
” offered by the operator Balkan N’Adventure. My tour also included Gazimestan
. For a price quote email them at <info(at)bnadventure>. Expect to pay in the region of 120-160 euros for the day. Whether they would also do tours just to Prekaz, I don’t know. Enquire. The guide I had was very good, enthusiastic and knowledgable (his name was Arianit Mula; I’d recommend him, he speaks both English and German, in addition to Albanian and Serbo-Croat).
When visiting the site independently, first take a local overland bus from Pristina
to Skenderaj (note that some buses are very old and uncomfortable). From there you can either walk the ca. 1.2 miles (2 km) to Prekaz, which should take 20-25 minutes, or get a local taxi to the site, which should take only 5 minutes and won’t cost so much – but communication could be difficult as local taxi drivers don’t necessarily speak much English, if any (actually you stand a better chance speaking German!).
The open-air parts of the memorial complex should be freely accessible at all times during daylight hours.
I didn’t make a note of the museum’s opening times – or maybe they weren’t even displayed. And I’ve had trouble finding any information online. One source I did find said daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but whether that’s reliable I can’t judge.
For both the memorial complex and the museum admission is free.
Time required: I spent a bit over an hour in total at Prekaz, plus a short stop for a few minutes in Skenderaj, but that was with a guide and by car. If you decide to make your way there independently you will likely need longer – just for getting there and around.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
I did Prekaz and Skanderaj as part of a private guided tour (see above
) that also included Mitrovica
and various Kosovo
-War-related sites en route. Pick-up and drop-off was at my hotel in Pristina
If you want to reach these places independently, from the Kosovan capital as your base, then you’ll have to do it individually on separate days. Getting to both Prekaz and Mitrovica and back to Pristina by bus on the same day will hardly be feasible. For that you’d need a car.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
My private tour guide (see above
) insisted on making a little detour after we had visited Prekaz to include a stop at an old stone bridge from Ottoman, Medieval or even Roman times (I can’t remember which), which is located on the outskirts of the town with the colourful name of Vushtrri (Google Maps locator: [42.8234, 20.9599
I know there are also various old monasteries and fortresses and suchlike in the region, but since I did not visit any of these there’s nothing I can say about them, really. Consult a general mainstream travel source for those things.
- Prekaz 01 - destroyed Jashari home entombed in scaffolding
- Prekaz 02 - Adem Jashari photo and KLA tribute
- Prekaz 03 - Adem Jashari bust
- Prekaz 04 - scaffolded ruin
- Prekaz 05 - stone oven
- Prekaz 06 - at roof level
- Prekaz 07 - balcony
- Prekaz 08 - looking in
- Prekaz 09 - bath room
- Prekaz 10 - smaller ruined building
- Prekaz 11 - big shell holes
- Prekaz 12 - even bigger holes
- Prekaz 13 - fire place
- Prekaz 14 - tractor wreck
- Prekaz 15 - yet another big hole
- Prekaz 16 - view from the rear
- Prekaz 17 - another ruin next to the current Jashari home
- Prekaz 18 - one last look at the memorial complex
- Prekaz 19 - trail of red leading to the cemetery
- Prekaz 20 - bridge of red
- Prekaz 21 - the cemetery
- Prekaz 22 - with military guards
- Prekaz 23 - Adem Jashari grave
- Prekaz 24 - lots of other graves
- Prekaz 25 - very young victim
- Prekaz 26 - museum building
- Prekaz 27 - glas front
- Prekaz 28 - sign above the entrance
- Prekaz 29 - inside the exhibition
- Prekaz 30 - relics
- Prekaz 31 - more relics
- Prekaz 32 - Serbian shells
- Prekaz 33 - motorbike
- Prekaz 34 - singed clothes
- Prekaz 35 - piece of furniture behind which a child hid
- Prekaz 36 - farm tools
- Prekaz 37 - freedom fighter tool
- Prekaz 38 - Jashari shrine
- Prekaz 39 - souvenir shop
- Prekaz 40 - military vehicle
- Prekaz 41 - reconciliation monument and path to Adem Jashari hide-out
- Prekaz 42 - another ruined Jashari home further down the road
- Prekaz 43 - riddled with bullet holes
- Prekaz 44 - young tree
- Prekaz 45 - broken
- Prekaz 46 - propped up by a steel support frame
- Prekaz 47 - rusty motorbike wreck
- Prekaz 48 - rusty car wreck in the garden
- Prekaz 49 - single flower by the memorial stone
- Prekaz 50 - framed
- Prekaz 51 - if only such signs could stop wars
- Prekaz 52 - Skenderaj
- Prekaz 53 - Adem Jashari statue
- Prekaz 54 - pedestrianized main street in Skenderaj
- Prekaz 55 - local tourist map - the Jashari sites top the list