Fighting trauma with capsicums
Fahrije Hoti lost her husband in the Kosovo war. Together with other widows, she founded a cooperative – with great success. The new film ‘Hive’ tells her story.
Today, when Fahrije Hoti watches the film and relives what she went through she can hardly believe it: ‘We are so much better off now than before. It’s almost unreal,’ says the 52-year-old Kosovar. ‘Before’ began on 25 March 1999. Serbian troops attacked the village Krusha e Madhe/Velika Krusa and massacred the male population. 182 men were murdered. Many, including Hoti’s husband, are still missing.
The widows decided to stay and fight for their families’ survival. Vegetable gardens behind their houses and a few beehives were all they had at first. It was tough, and not just because of their traumatic experiences: traditional roles in Kosovo did not include women working in public. ‘For the men at the local markets, it was embarrassing when we rolled up with our capsicums,’ remembers Hoti. The widows even met with resistance in their own families. But the collective stood firm and found partners who offered support.
An agriculture project of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) was one of the women’s early supporters. Mustafe Kastrati, Advisor at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, has been assisting the widows on behalf of BMZ since 2005: ‘The potential of the women’s project primarily rested on their exceptional determination and commitment,’ he remembers. ‘They would have probably succeeded without us, but I am happy that we were able to help.’ Apart from training on efficient cultivation and production methods, the decisive piece of advice was to set up a cooperative. The cooperative is unique in Kosovo, and not only because it is run exclusively by women: ‘Our shared history has generated a special closeness and togetherness,’ reports Hoti.
The 75 women in the Krusha agricultural cooperative processed 1,250 tonnes of capsicums in 2021. Yields this year will be even higher. The cooperative has long been an important employer in the region: around 300 farmers – male and female – supply capsicums and other vegetables to the women’s cooperative and so earn money to feed their families. Most of the produce is used to make preserves and Ajvar, a traditional spread. Only around 20% of the products are sold in Kosovo; the rest is sent to diaspora communities in Europe and as far away as Sweden.
The women from Krusha no longer keep bees. However, with the name ‘Hive’, the film, which has won many awards, alludes to these beginnings – as well as to the sense of community that made the women so strong. Director Blerta Basholli has created a monument to the achievements of Fahrije Hoti and her co-workers. The film is about to be released in Germany. Hoti has already seen it five times. She is repeatedly overwhelmed by a mixture of pride in what she has achieved and sadness about what she has experienced. The will and the power that made the project successful continue to fire her dreams: ‘We want to establish ourselves in the region and so offer young people the prospect of a viable future here!’