During the Kosovo war of 1999, as one among hundreds of thousands of Albanians, I, too, became a refugee. For the four months of the NATO bombing, I settled in Bulgaria with my oldest sister, who was finishing her university studies at the American University in Bulgaria. Despite the difficulty of leaving home, one of my most indelible memories of the time remains a student’s commencement speech.
She stated that AUBG students, comprised predominantly of youth from the Balkans, had lost their sense of “home.” They had somehow lost their pasts, because they were no longer the ones who were writing it; there was a general feeling of loss, as their definitions of what was and wasn’t “home” had changed. They would no longer be accepted in the countries they once knew as home, because their identities had been compromised. In the West, they would never fit in — they were still too “different.” Their accents would be valuable commodities. They would be the native scholars from that liminal space that showed where Europe ended, or perhaps began. Or at least they would hope so.
To me, it was refreshing to adopt the idea of a fragmented self and identity. Being marginal, fitting nowhere and everywhere at the same time was somehow empowering, but also alienating.
As we prepared the Migration issue, I found that these sentiments of alienation and empowerment ran through the various stories in the magazine, as well. What we encountered was that, while migration is universal and embodies and evokes experiences and memories for individuals and people everywhere, it is just as often divisive, as the meanings we ascribe to it are innately political.
So as we examine the political, economic and social implications of the various forms of migration, we look at how clashes between ideological discourses and political systems produce repercussions that all too often threaten human rights and freedoms, but also tend to produce ambiguity over what constitutes “rightful migration.” They also determine boundaries of rights. Because, whether speaking to the contentious politics of migration policies, exploring causes and motives to the different forms of migration, or unfolding the personal reflections on identity, the struggles that emanate from migration are ultimately of an intimate, personal nature. And our understanding and experiences can equally influence and shape the type of stories we come to find, listen, tell or even live.
That is why we were determined from the onset that personal and human-driven struggles and experiences would be at the core of this issue. A great selection of stories in this issue speaks to how we come to define and understand a sense of self, place and home, within such constellations, as well as challenge them.
Being from Kosovo offers us great insight into how migration plays out, unfolds and gets packed and unpacked over and over again. During the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, Kosovars experienced large waves of migration. During the socialist Yugoslavia era, Kosovar Albanians migrated as “workers temporarily employed abroad;” with the rise of nationalist rhetoric and the oppressive regime of the time, many sought political asylum or family reunions with those already living abroad; and the third wave ultimately included hundreds and thousands of refugees fleeing the 1999 war (see our cover story, “A second home” by Enver Robelli, page 27).
On one hand, we document accounts of these waves of migration through the personal chronicles of some of our Kosovar Albanian writers, and explore how their stories produce affects of home and identity (see “The Next Generation” by Hana Marku, page 20, and “The Walls That Can’t Be Torn Down” by Artrit Bytyci, page 40). On the other hand, our recent experience also compels us to identify similar movements and struggles for rights that continue to prevail elsewhere, as well as the persistence of regimes wishing to eliminate people based on particular group belonging (see our collection of stories speaking to Syrian refugees in Bulgaria and Turkey, and asylum seekers in Serbia, starting at page 48).
As we were preparing this issue, we found ourselves coming back to discussions of rights, freedoms and opportunities within our own state and society. This is primarily because, six years into independence, it has become clear that freedoms and rights are not guaranteed. So while once Kosovo faced waves of migration predominantly due to infringements on the safety of the national group, the struggles it faces today are both of a different and similar nature. Kosovo’s youth is seeking a way out. The political and economic system fails to offer and guarantee them their social and economic security, and public debate is suffocated by moral and political majorities of self-proclaimed power.
That is why we found it important to include a section examining and critiquing the quality of Kosovo’s higher education, which not only is producing a generation that sees itself lacking as prospects, but also feels unequipped to take part in Kosovo’s development.
These young people are largely perceived as a threat to the “European family” that Kosovo aspires to join (see “Too Poor To Travel Freely,” page 16). And while we do not argue that visas should be awarded blindly, we do advocate for the need to recognize and acknowledge that the process is as political as any other. Kosovo has been turned into a ghetto, and freedom of movement has been structured in a manner that keeps some people in (often against their will) and others out. The case of Leonarda Dibrani is a case in point (see “The Mistaken Homeland,” page 22).
So this issue on migration ties together discussions of political liberties, economic opportunity, human rights and questions of identity. While we tend to think of migration as an exception to a human condition characterized by rootedness and home, the permanence of human movement appears as a much more convincing universal. In the end, perhaps, it is not transience that requires controlling, but rather the often forceful means of migration and expulsion that compel it.