Those in Kosovo and the diaspora appear to be drifting ever-further apart.
As far back I can remember, it has always been one thumb up or the victory sign. And I remember very well that all children were obliged to show the one that their family would appreciate.
As far back I can remember, from when I was a child in preschool until I graduated from university, there were only two names that penetrated every discussion about my homeland: Rugova and Thaci. “The first died and the second still resists doing so,” I said to my father, who is a passionate PDK supporter. The fact is, I don’t care about either. “Death obviously seems to be the only way to get someone to resign in Kosovar politics.”
I grew up in Germany and Kosovo became this far away idealized mother country that we belonged to more so than to the society in which we actually lived, despite the growing awareness that we would never go back. My parents missed it, so I assumed I should miss it, too. And when I finally came back to Kosovo for the first time in 2000, I genuinely liked it: the landscape, my family, the people — not the rubbish, though, or the power cuts.
We were supposed to be naive and feel guilty for having had the opportunity to grow up in a first world country. Yeah, as if this sense of guilt hasn’t been our life since forever.
However, in recent years, Albanian societies spread all over the world have changed and distanced themselves from one another through the use of four little, seemingly innocent words: ‘ne ketu, ata atje’ (‘we here, them there’) — used by everyone, here and there. These unspectacular words, that every Albanian around the globe knows only too well, contain the subtle shift of world views and values toward a passive-aggressive attitude against their own people, resulting from an unsolved identity crisis on every side.
What has that looked like in everyday life? Suddenly my friends and I became Schatzis regardless of where we were from. Posters swinging in the dusty summer wind were welcoming us — të dashurë migrantët (dear migrants), while vendors would bill us more like foreign tourists. Our cousins would play us around because, as the emigrant kids, we were supposed to be naive and feel guilty for having had the opportunity to grow up in a first world country. Yeah, as if this sense of guilt hasn’t been our life since forever in the diaspora.
But this denunciation worked both ways. Those who had seen the institutional democracy of Germany, Switzerland and so on, their legal systems, their thriving economies, those who had spent enough time working to maintain four families in Kosovo on top of their own for two decades after the war now, began to believe that maybe their relatives back home didn’t want to change or take things into their own hands: ‘But who could blame them,’ the emigrants would secretly think about their relatives. ‘They know nothing about the world out there, they are excluded, backward peasants.’ Ne ketu, ata atje.
I got a personal insight into how this arrogance of the emigrants played out toward local people in Kosovo, as I personally got into a fight with an emigrant father, who was on vacation in Kosovo, while at the Luna Park in Prishtina last summer. The grown man yelled at me and threatened to hit me, in front of his children and his wife, who joined his aggressive shouts.
What had I done to provoke him? I had asked his son if he would free the toy motorcycle for my little sister, after I realized that he didn’t want to ride it anymore. And the little kid accepted. I didn’t know that his father had had him sit there reserving the bicycle for another child.
I hadn’t backed down, but I also didn’t speak a single word in German because me being a local or not was not the problem in this moment.
He was furious, and he scared me — I was expecting him to hurt me. No one said anything as they watched on anxiously, while some young men positioned themselves between me and the man, just in case. He screamed tirades at me about how uncultivated and uneducated Kosovars are, how they don’t understand anything about respect, while throwing in dirty words in some broken German, that I would never use myself.
“Why didn’t you reply in German?” my mother asked me afterward.
“To demonstrate what?” I replied. “I didn’t want to sympathize with this degenerated pig. I didn’t want to show someone that we’re the ‘same,’ just so that he would respect me. I want to be respected despite the differences. If someone can’t do that, he lacks not only intellect, but character, too.”
I hadn’t backed down, but I also didn’t speak a single word in German because me being a local or not was not the problem in this moment. Whether I was one of ‘ne ketu’ or ‘ata atje’ should have been an irrelevance.
I have become frequently aware of this kind of mean-spirited belittlement of the people in Kosovo, or respectively, of the people in the diaspora, ever since this incident. Subtle remarks about how those in Kosovo don’t know how to create a real state, or how emigrants don’t know about unemployment and have a lack of perspective, living their lives in the riches of the Western world.
What do these aversive attitudes arise from?
“Albanians are confused,” I said to my father back in 2015, when I was insulting his beloved party that he actually has no real affiliation to. He is with his party out of habit, or tradition, or laziness — call it what you want. “I’m not an expert in politics. But my common sense tells me this: Why would I vote for a party that has been in such high positions since forever and has not changed a thing? Twenty years are not a short period and laying asphalt on rural roads doesn’t count anymore. Kosovo has moved past these issues, but the top politicians in each and every party still bring them up because they impress the simple men.”
My father doesn’t protest; he even seems a little upset. “But for us it’s a little better to vote for them,” he says wearily.
“You mean just because you’re from the same region as the politician you vote for, he will spare your pocket from stealing?”
My father was quiet. Initially, before this discussion started, we had been talking about the protests in Prishtina that were ongoing that year. Some of his friends had gathered at our place and together with my father had been philosophizing about how embarrassing the violence was, how they should contain themselves and be thankful. My father is not much of a speaker, so he would either nod in approval or just listen.
When the visitors left, I joined him. “I think violence is disgusting. But I’m also persuaded that, when violence occurs, society should put in an effort to understand how it reached that point. How long has this country been free for? Fifteen years? And have there been any major protests? Kosovo wasn’t exactly flourishing after the war, they had every reason to protest at least once a month.”
For every disillusioned emigrant out there who gave up on returning home to his or her motherland, there is a local who curses the unfortunate prospects of making this place worth staying in.
But our people ‘back home’ were held down by the idea that Kosovars had to be thankful for being saved by NATO, thankful for being supported by the United States, thankful for not being neglected by Germany, thankful for being independent — while everything went constantly down the pipe.
“Vandalism is a crime. But people have the right to be unsatisfied,” I kept on speaking. Kosovars have the right to criticize their government. They are not obliged to settle for the minor successes of the past two decades, to suffer in silence or to be thankful for nothing.
Just as the man in the Luna Park dumped his frustration on me, there could have been a local Kosovar in the same need to project his anger on the know-it-all emigrants. For every disillusioned emigrant out there who gave up on returning home to his or her motherland, there is a local who curses the unfortunate prospects of making this place worth staying in. During the protests of 2015 I see an outbreak of the imposed identity as passive receivers of mercy by the world.
In an attempt to save one’s dignity, while unwillingly accepting stagnation, there had to be the ‘others,’ ata atje, to serve as the even more incapable, more undeserving. While they constantly claim to be one and the same, Kosovars, local and emigrant, chose to look even closer at the differences between each other.
When Kosovars look back on their history, they claim to have been either underdog heroes or fearless victims of the powerful. We always used to identify with single charismatic personalities, who we trusted to lead us into a glorious future. We depended on someone to direct us.
But times of peace are not as simple. When there is no more war, things don’t go our way naturally. Peace is an active process that relies on each and everyone. When there is peace, it is the society that leads the individual by means of rights and values.
But it can not work when no one sees themselves as part of this society, because its people have evolved beyond the state’s imposed identity as the passive receiver of help from international unions that Kosovo is not even a part of at this point in time.
The fact that Kosovars in Kosovo and emigrants have taken different paths in the past is undeniable, and we have undeniably experienced different shifts and crises of thoughts and identity over time. The main problem, though, that leads to conflicts and tense relationships between in- and outlanders, seems to lie in the conviction that each side believes that it alone carries the burden of change, that it has tried and failed because of the lack of support from the other side.
Kosovars identify with international movements and trends and values of freedom and innovation as people all over the world do. But it is the state of Kosovo and its political class that has not followed up. Citizens do not see themselves represented, therefore they don’t identify with state issues (corruption, the social system, etc.) either.
Nevertheless, this conflict precisely shows me, when it comes to aiming for a better future, Kosovars in Kosovo and Kosovar emigrants share the same concerns and idea for this country. However, we fail to see that we are on the same side.
And even though this will not magically solve every problem, I wish for my people to replace their resentment of any kind with empowerment and solidarity with each other.
I want us to be a movement again. This time, a movement for progress based on our own very uniqueness as Kosovars — ne ketu me ata atje (us here with them there).
Feature image: Drenizë Rama.