The schatzi stereotype does not represent the diversity of Kosovo’s diaspora.
Schatzis wear striking clothes, have their hair full of gel and wear expensive watches. Schatzis have difficulty speaking Albanian and mix it with foreign languages. They drive expensive cars with foreign license plates and work for 10 months in foreign countries in order to have a lavish lifestyle during holidays in Kosovo.
They are rich, they uphold traditional Albanian values, and they are patriots. They work in the construction sector in the west, and they pay for everyone’s drinks when they go out in Kosovo. They constantly compare Kosovo to the West, describing how much better it is abroad.
This is only one description of the immigrant stereotype that exists in the discourse of Kosovar society. According to Dafina Paca, this stereotype functions as a construct, to ‘other’ the Kosovar diaspora.
However, this stereotype, despite being a wrong, mocking and extremely simplified depiction of the diaspora, was used throughout local elections in Kosovo by public figures who were unhappy with the way the diaspora voted, since they mainly supported the opposition in Kosovo.
Editor-in-chief of online portal Metro, Valon Syla, mocked the diaspora’s level of education and justified this in a debate on his Facebook profile by saying that he was referring to members of the diaspora who receive social benefits, and spend all day on social media following Kosovo’s reality.
This is despite the fact that procedures for obtaining residence permits for Balkan nationals in foreign countries are often strictly connected to their economic integration. Thus, for example, compared to the German population, Balkan nationals (including Kosovars) are less likely to apply for and receive social benefits than Germans.
So the idea that Albanians live on social benefits is empirically false, however, these stereotypes show that when people talk about the diaspora, their arguments are based on anachronistic prejudices rather than facts.
So why is it wrong to use the schatzi label?
Before categorizing the diaspora, we must keep in mind that it is comprised of different elements of Kosovar society. The diaspora includes families that live in different parts of Europe and the rest of the world, as well as families that have generations that were born and raised abroad. We are talking about a variety of origins, destination countries and generations, one that is evolving and difficult to grasp and generalize through one term, let alone a mocking term like schatzi.
In an earlier piece, I wrote about the reasons why the Kosovar diaspora might be more conservative than the Kosovar society within the borders of the youngest state in Europe. For this piece, I was criticized for generalizing the diaspora and pushing forward the idea that the diaspora is backward, perpetuating an already existing stereotype in the Kosovar society.
The objective of that piece was not to generalize the diaspora as conservative, but to explain phenomena which lead to a deeper level of conservatism among immigrants. However, we must keep in mind that this kind of conservatism depends on education levels, size of families, knowledge of foreign languages and integration of immigrants in their countries of residence.
However, if we use this more traditional and conservative stereotype for the diaspora, then we ignore the fact that women in the diaspora have higher employment levels and are more economically independent. They also are employed in a variety of professions such as services, arts, and male-dominated professions like football, bus-driving etc.
If we mock the diaspora’s folklorism and music taste, then we ignore the fact that Dua Lipa, Rita Ora, GASHI, and Action Bronson, are also part of the diaspora. If we say that they are uneducated, we ignore the fact that a part of the diaspora study in elite European and American universities.
The diaspora is comprised of people who work in construction, gastronomy and the service industry, but also people who run successful businesses, who are artists, or who work in important institutions or universities.
Some diaspora members see Kosovo as a country which offers easy opportunities for investment, others, especially young people who were born abroad, use education, experience and language skills to transmit know-how from the West to Kosovo, for opening businesses, for innovation, and for culture. The national football team is comprised almost completely of diaspora players.
Despite complicated registration procedures for diaspora voting, a four-fold increase was noted in voting levels among the foreign born population. In local elections, members of the diaspora ran for mayor. In central elections, people who were raised abroad ran for deputy. If the government were dedicated to reversing the brain drain, more diaspora members would also be involved in key Kosovo institutions.
Kosovo is lucky to have this diaspora, which is connected to its country of origin and keeps engaging with it. Otherization and mocking language used by certain public figures will not change the relationship between the diaspora and Kosovo. But their relationship with Kosovo should not be characterized as one in which they see Kosovo only as a holiday destination or a point for meeting relatives, it also has a economic, cultural and political dimension.
In a country in which the diaspora is historically engaged with its country of origin and contributes to it in many dimensions, terms like schatzi and stereotypes related to it are simply unnecessary and far from what the diaspora really is and the importance that it has for the country’s future.
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.