Perspectives | Culture

Have language politics in Kosovo failed?

By - 24.04.2019

Where we stand between norms and reality.

Intellect and language are the most meaningful advantages of the human race. Language is the most perfect agent of communication and understanding. Intercultural communication depends on practical and formal opportunities for people to express their opinions, feelings, desires, outlooks and aspirations.

Without language, spiritual life and our thought process would be rendered practically meaningless. Language, and later the written word, was created and further developed by unbroken cultural communication.

In the daily processes of globalization, language acts as a promoter of humanity’s intercultural and transcultural advancement wherever the freedom of expression and writing is practically and formally respected. Borders between nations and countries are gradually becoming more and more blurred, or being erased altogether.

Instead of understanding, when it comes to Serbian-Albanian relations, promoters of the national-cultural conflict between Serbs and Albanians highlight cultural differences.

Following freedom of speech, freedom of movement is one of the most essential rights afforded to man. Because of that, the necessity of studying a foreign language is increasingly more important, because language influences intellectual development, the exchange of ideas and experiencesit facilitates the transfer of old ideas and creates new ones.

The use of language has both a national and ideological function in communication. The learning, knowledge and use of a second and/or third language develops one’s personality to the extent that it opens up new dimensions in life, fosters the acquisition of new ways of viewing the world and, in general, helps with freeing the individual from old prejudices.

Unfortunately, instead of understanding, when it comes to Serbian-Albanian relations, promoters of the national-cultural conflict between Serbs and Albanians highlight cultural differences beginning with language, but also differences in tradition, upbringing and religion as the source(s) of their mutual animosity. In this context, Serbian-Albanian relations, instead of following the inevitable trend of globalization, find themselves mired in the past. Why?

Is it because we still don’t know each other, or perhaps it is because we know each other all too well? Is it due to the fact that language here plays more of an ideological/nationalistic function rather than serving to facilitate communication?

Is it because of a feeling that the Serbian language is more important than the Albanian one, or vice-versa? Is it because of the fact that prejudices underscore real and objective processes? Or is it due to that fact that there is a lack of political will to fully implement the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo, the Law on the Use of Languages and Anti-Discrimination Law?

Answers to these questions may vary, but it is necessary to focus on the legal framework. Article 5 of the Kosovo Constitution states that Albanian and Serbian are the official state languages. The Turkish, Bosnian and Roma languages enjoy official status at the municipal level, or can be used officially at any level in accordance with the law.

Albanians and Serbs still tend to view and experience one another as nations belonging to completely different cultures and civilizations.

By passing the Law on the Use of Languages, the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo obligated institutions to protect the equal status of Albanian and Serbian. The Anti-Discrimination Law supplements the Law on the Use of Languages; also built into Kosovo’s legal framework are international instruments for the protection of national minorities and regional or minority languages, including the European Commission’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

That being said, various reports and empirical research point to the fact that municipal institutions and employees have yet to ensure the respect of language rights in the issuing of personal documents and in the provision of services to the public as mandated by law. Furthermore, central and local institutions have not achieved any noticeable improvements in this area in the past several years.

Experts in this field say that this has occurred primarily due to difficulties in the hiring of state employees able to communicate in both official languages, a lack of language training, as well as the very low levels of equal employment of both communities in public administration.

Because of inherited practices and stereotypes, Albanians and Serbs still tend to view and experience one another as nations belonging to completely different cultures and civilizations. Far too many fallacious ideological and nationalistic calculations have been made in the present-day Albanian-Serb relationship.

Despite all of their differences, Albanians and Serbs have the common goal of joining the European family.

Both see themselves as victims, and they have a common tendency to transfer responsibility for conflicts and failures onto the other. In a sense, this pattern of thinking excuses the guilty and discourages people who see their future within the framework of normal interpersonal relations. As a result of this, and despite the fact that we have been sharing the same territory for centuries, there is still much more that divides than unites us.

The consequences of this way of thinking are still felt. As long as we continue to make excuses for omissions in the official use of the Serbian language instead of finding the means, resources and professional opinion for the respect of the incontrovertible linguistic rights, this pattern of a scarcity of cultural values will continue to reproduce itself in a similar manner.

This pattern persists until the emergence of resilient political will for the creation of an acceptable national-cultural framework in tune with the spirit of the times in which we live.

Despite all of their differences, Albanians and Serbs have the common goal of joining the European family. It is therefore high time for us to free ourselves of ingrained stereotypes. Serbs and Albanians can improve interethnic relations first and foremost by observing one another’s cultural specificities — starting with language.

This article was originally published by NGO Aktiv and has been republished here with permission.

Feature: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0

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