Flora Brovina (b. 1949), poet, pediatrician and women’s rights activist, was born in the town of Skënderaj in the Drenica valley of Kosova. She was raised in Prishtina where she went to school and began studying medicine. After finishing her university studies in Zagreb, where she specialized in pediatrics, she returned to Kosova and worked for a time as a journalist for the Albanian-language daily newspaper Rilindja. Soon thereafter, she returned to her true profession and calling of health care and worked for many years in the Pediatrics Ward of the Prishtina General Hospital.
As the political situation in Kosova deteriorated in the nineties and fighting inevitably broke out, Brovina ran a health clinic in Prishtina in which she distributed health care information on matters as diverse as snake bites, dressing wounds and delivering babies. She also used the centre to shelter an increasing number of orphaned children, many of whom had lost their parents during the fighting and expulsions. She and her fellow workers were taking care of up to twenty-five children at any given time.
On 20 April 1999 during the Kosova war, Brovina was abducted by eight masked Serb paramilitaries from the home she was staying in and was driven off by car to an initially unknown destination. She was thus in captivity in Serbia when NATO forces took the capital and Serb troops withdrew from the country. The first news of her abduction broke on 24 April 1999 when her son managed to contact the international writers’ association, PEN, with an urgent appeal that the news of her abduction be made known as widely as possible. She was transferred to a Serb prison in Pozharevac and, in her first month of detention, was subjected to over 200 hours of interrogation in 18 separate sessions lasting typically from 7 A.M. to 5 P.M. On 9 December 1999, in a show trial, she was accused of ‘terrorist activities’ under Article 136 of the Yugoslav Penal Code. She spent a year and a half in Serb prisons before being released as a result of international pressure.
As a writer, Flora Brovina is the author of three volumes of lyric verse. The first collection, Verma emrin tim (Call me by my name), was published in Prishtina in 1973 when she was a mere twenty-four years old. It contains forty-two poems and gives proof of distinct lyric expression. Six years later, in 1979, the collection Bimë e zë (Plant and voice) followed which evinces a more mature style and a steadier hand. It is in this collection that some of the main themes of Brovina’s poetry crystallize. Conspicuous among them is the fate of women in society, and in particular the role of women as mothers, as life-givers and nurturers. It is here typically that births, umbilical cords, amniotic fluid and suckling breasts begin to make their appearance. But plants, too, grow and unfold their leaves in her poems. These are perhaps the most ubiquitous symbols of her verse production. Her third and last collection of original verse, entitled Mat e çmat (With the tape it measures), was published in Prishtina in 1995. It is the most compelling and impressive of her volumes. Mat e çmat appeared at a time when Kosova was obviously and perhaps inevitably gravitating towards war. Though this third collection cannot be interpreted as political verse to any great extent - too personal, maternal and feminist is the world of Flora Brovina -, there are many poems in the volume which reflect her preoccupation not only with the problems and aspirations of individuals, but also with the fate of her people, with freedom and self-determination. The very survival of the verdant plants budding in the poet’s hands had been called into question.
In 1999, Flora Brovina was recipient of the annual Tucholsky Award of the Swedish PEN Club, a prize which has been awarded to other writers of note such as Salman Rushdie, Adam Zagajevski, Nuruddin Farah, Taslima Nasrin, Shirali Nurmuadov and Vincent Magombe. She was also given the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award by the American PEN centre and the Human Rights Award of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin.
Despite this international recognition, it is curious to note that, as a poet, Flora Brovina has never been part of the literary establishment of Kosova, nor has her verse found its way into the mainstream of contemporary Albanian literature. A collection of her verse has appeared in English in Flora Brovina, Call me by my Name, Poetry from Kosova in a bilingual Albanian-English Edition, translated by Robert Elsie, New York: Gjonlekaj 2001.