Category Archives: Opinions

Diaspora Flet Conference

Diaspora: Partners Towards Better Futures

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”
― Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

 

I start with this quote as it resonates well with what it feels like being someone that left Kosovo 26 years ago. Upon reflection on the years behind me, I have experienced a lot of change and gone through a number of identity transformational eras. You learn to live with the process of being in between, either straddling between two cultures or lifting yourself up from between two stools.

So, this journey has taken me to the doors of Germin. They found me on Google and their offer to be part of ‘something bigger’ grabbed my attention. They speak my ‘language’ and they listen very carefully to my critical remarks. Strangely, they don’t want money out of me or a ‘freebie’ service. They want to give voice to all diaspora members, and it’s not all about politics or investments but more about us, the ‘inbetweeners’, who juggle their identity between the concepts ‘foreignness’ and being of ‘jasht-ness’.

What do I mean?

‘Foreignness’ is the struggle to be accepted in the lands that continuously reject you, whether through immigration policies or socio-economic exclusion. It is about moving forward, working hard and creating ‘owned’ opportunities, while developing a resilience that comes from the burden of ‘foreignness’. Besides the goal to survive and support families back home, our children need to grow, to succeed and return to their homeland and to make it better for all! Dreams are handed over to our children, along with the burden of being already-born-and-torn between the ‘foreignness’ and ‘jasht-ness’.

‘Jashtness’ is about me, the activist, the changemaker and dream chaser – I go back and I push hard for positive change, regardless of the ongoing discriminatory comments (‘shatzis’ or ‘darlingat’) or sometimes consuming a very expensive ‘fli’ because of my ‘richness’. I give back, despite being frustrated by the investments and freebies I’m expected to give, blackmailed by the guilt of having left my country behind. It is about me, the mother of my immigrant children, who are sometimes laughed at because of their immigrant traceable accents. It is about my kids, the less-famous immigrant children, with their diplomas and dreams to make their homelands better, for themselves and their parents.

So, Germin becomes the essential middle-ground, the enabler, the negotiator, the voice of all. Germin understand the traceable-accents of the inbetweeners and provide us with a voice through ‘Diaspora Flet’. This is the very first organisation that allows me to shine my own beacon, for my own dreams. It removes my ‘jashtness’ and my ‘foreignness’ and bring me into the state of being ‘Kosovare’ – the state I long to be.

More importantly, it protects my children, it welcomes them and offers them inclusiveness. It offers them opportunities to shine their own beacons and to create their own dreams through the ‘Diaspora School’.

Germin is a community run by the power of the ‘in-between’ forces, tackling barriers and creating opportunities for connections, for integration of diaspora journeys and for joining dreams of greater value creation.

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Indira Kartallozi is the director at Kaleidoscope Futures and founder of Migrant Entrepreneurs International. Indira’s expertise ranges from sustainability, social enterprise, human rights and leadership. Indira’s work in sustainability has taken her to various countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Previously, she was President of the judging panel for the Social Enterprise Reporting Awards (The SERAs), an initiative of CSR Nigeria. Indira is also engaged in various positions supporting the work of ‘Impacto’, a Malaysian social enterprise, Women for Peace and Participation (WPP), a non-profit organization promoting social and political inclusion of women, GERMIN and ‘Mentoring Our Future’. 

Swiss misconceptions over Albanians: “Wait…what, you are Albanian?”

Swiss newspaper “Tages Anzeiger” interviewed three ethnic Albanian students, to prove how inaccurate are misconceptions over ethnic Albanians in Switzerland. Denise Marquard interviewed Burim Lusha, Vjosa Ismaili and Arbnora Aliu who study at the University of Zurich and the University of Applied Sciences in Zurich.

Does Switzerland make you feel more Albanian or Swiss?

Lusha: I cannot fully answer this question. I am lucky to have been raised in both countries.

 

There are ongoing discussions if the football players for the Swiss national team are “decent Swiss”.

Lusha: People, in a wider sense, think that Albanians are skilled only in sports. But they don’t consider that there are many students and PhD candidates at Swiss Universities. Since there is no existing codex that defines the values that make a person a “decent Swiss”, this statement seems pointless to me.

 

Albanians are only football players, bodyguards or people who practice martial art. Is that true?

Ismaili: Unfortunately that’s how the majority of people perceive us. Since high school, I was continuously bullied by being asked: wait what, you are Albanian? There is this idea: if you are Albanian, you are not able to study.

Aliu: I deal with this sort of situation even today at my University. Since I do not give much credit to these comments, I ironically answer back: I was forced to get married, so I study in secret. Then no one dares do discuss it further. The truth is that both my parents studied in ex-Yugoslavia, therefore it is understandable to study in my family.

 

What’s the deal with Balkan machos? Do they exist or not?

Ismaili: I do not read daily news, because they do not reflect the reality.

Aliu: That what is written about Balkan machos, is still unknown for me, my relatives and my friends. We cannot allow our nation to be humiliated like this.

 

If a teenager swears in his/her school in Prishtina, what would happen?

 Aliu: This would not end well. This is not how Albanians behave. This derives from gangsters and rap culture that we find on youtube, instagram and twitter.

Lusha: When I read what a school mayor had said, that albanian kids are told that their mother is of no value, I questioned his seriousness. In Albanian culture women, and especially mothers, are given a big respect.

 

There is the irresponsible driver from the Balkans, and then the Balkan macho. Is there a stereotype for people from Balkans?

Aliu: It disgusts me when I see this generalization. Even the “yugo” notion is used for humiliating Balkan people.

 

But Croatians, Serbs and Albanians altogether have conflicts between each other, right?

Ismaili: Firstly, we honor each other as human beings. Ethnicity comes second.

Aliu: We are all united by one fact, that we all are immigrants in Switzerland.

 

Is there gender equality between Albanians?

Ismaili: My dad does the housework, so gender inequality is not an issue in my family.

Aliu: In my family, we are four women. Trust me, it’s not easy for my dad.

Lusha: I love cooking.

 

Albanians are conservatory rural people and they suppress women’s rights, isn’t that so?

 Aliu: Take a ride to Skopje, Prishtina or Tirana. It’s ridiculous to say that Albanian women are oppressed. On the contrary, they are open and secure about themselves.

 

So they do not wear burka or anything similar to it?

The three of them: In Albanian territory, we do not know anyone who wears burka.

 

What about equal rights?

Lusha: Speaking for myself, I have never experienced discrimination.

Aliu: Back in high school, I had a teacher who barely gave me a B. When I asked her what was the reason about it, she answered: do your parents read the Neue Zurcher Zeitung? This was absurd. Later on I had another teacher, and I had excellent grades.

Ismaili: I was one of the few immigrants who succeeded to get into high school, and I think that if we had more support, many of other immigrants could have been attending it.

Aliu: In my primary school, 80% of the kids in my class were immigrants. I was the only one who could get into high school. Every year, only two people can get through high school without attending extra courses. That is why today I teach extra courses to the kids from my neighborhood, so they can be better prepared.

 

How important is islam for you?

Aliu: In my family, religion is a very important part of everyday life. We practice islam in our manner.

Ismaili: Religion is something personal.

Lusha: As for me, religion is very important, not because of the tradition, but because of obedience. Based on Albanian history, I would say that Albania is less religious than Kosovo or Macedonia. There is a fact that there are no religious conflicts in Albanian society, since the religious diversity is present and embraced.

 

Would you marry a Swiss?

Aliu: My life partner is Albanian, I met him during my holidays. My dad always said to me that it is up to me to decide with who I want to spend my life with. But he clearly said that if I fall in love with a Swiss, I would have to deal with the education and religious issues myself.

Lusha: For me, nationality is not important at all.

 

How do you picture your future? Would you still live in Switzerland?

Ismaili: I don’t know. It is a great priority that we have experienced the lives in both countries.

Lusha: I will surely stay in Switzerland. We can learn so much from Italians. Today, they are integrated. I hope that Albanians will someday be part of Swiss Academia. There are many talents in different Swiss Universities.

Aliu: I cannot say If I will be staying here or not. What I can say about the future is that there will be many opportunities for the next generations. Then, they will not be talking over us, but about us.

* Arbnora Aliu (24) studies pedagogy, Vjosa Ismaili (23) economy, Burim Lusha (25) economy and engineering.

 

Kosovo and Argentina: So Far and Yet So Close

In reality, there are many things that people from Argentina and Kosovo have in common. We are both family-oriented societies. We enjoy spending time with friends over long coffee breaks. We have vibrant cultural backgrounds and immense passion for football and politics. We have both suffered from political instability, lack of trust in our governments, and we went through many fights to gain our independence.

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By Laura Agosta

I first set foot in the Republic of Kosovo on a hot July morning in 2012. Since my initial interest in the region, I have been amazed how little we know about the Balkans in Argentina (which is strange when considering Argentina’s southern and eastern European immigrant influence). I conducted an informal survey among my college graduate friends and family members and realized they associated Kosovo mainly with refugees, war, political problems, and international crime. However, not many of them could locate the country on a map, let alone the language and religious beliefs of Kosovo citizens.

People in Argentina tend to believe there are no possible connections between the two countries. From my personal experience and life in the United States, I often found myself having dinner with Kosovars (primarily Albanians) in a scene that, despite the language and lack of asado and fernet on the table, could have been a part of my long nights of discussions with my friends in Buenos Aires. Listening to them talk about politics and football felt like home. How could these two cultures with no apparent ties have so much in common and yet we do not know about it?

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Let me start from the beginning: Argentina does not recognize Kosovo. This is certainly not a big news, since only 101 out of 191 United Nations member states recognize it so far. Argentina claims that Kosovo’s “unilateral” independence goes against international law. Many people here state that the political reason behind this goes back to Argentina’s claim on the Malvinas Islands (or Falklands). Though they are currently a British territory, we claim them as ours. Moreover, Argentina has strong diplomatic ties with Serbia, inherited from former Yugoslavia, and a large amount of Serbian immigrants within our borders.

However, Argentina’s position during the war in Kosovo was not as distant. Our military force was involved in the peace-building process and the KFOR since 1999. Private aid was also important. In 2000, Amalia Fortabat, one of the most prominent businesswomen and philanthropists in Argentina, donated half a million USD to the United Nations World Food Programme for Kosovo. Why would she send that much aid to a country so distant and with no connections at all? She read a newspaper article about the story of Hyre Jasharaj, then a teenager of war. The power of stories creates connections.

In reality, there are many things that people from Argentina and Kosovo have in common. We are both family-oriented societies. We enjoy spending time with friends over long coffee breaks. We have vibrant cultural backgrounds and immense passion for football and politics. We have both suffered from political instability, lack of trust in our governments, and we went through many fights to gain our independence.

This starting point of shared passions and pains makes me think about what our two countries can learn from one another. There are two valuable ones that stand out in my mind. First, I was amazed at Kosovars’ resilience. They have this ability to convert suffering into opportunities and refuse to stand still in a contextual lack of opportunities. Kosovars in-country are building institutions and Kosovars abroad are helping the country and their families in ways that demonstrate how strong national ties can bring hope for the future generations. Kosovars do not seem to expect the government to solve all their problems. The strong sense of community is paired with a sense of individual responsibility, building a society where trust is the common currency and help is often near. Argentinian society could benefit from this approach, encompassing civic cohesion beyond political parties and government.

Argentina, on the other hand, is home to one of the most studied peaceful processes of reconciliation after the last military regime of 1976-1983. This dark period for our political and civil liberties led to thousands of people killed and thousands more disappeared, as well as abuses from the government and rebel forces that opposed it. We teetered over laws and regulations once the country regained its democratic system. Of course, this process had its flaws, but overall justice was achieved in many cases. Today, many of those wounds have healed. Now that the reconciliation process is beginning, Kosovo could benefit from examining the Argentinian model.

Two years ago, I began to research the image Kosovo has in Argentina. I studied the official position of Argentina on the Kosovo issue, and interviewed ambassadors, public officials, and people in academia. The European immigrant influence our country has gained in the last century has created a tie between our two countries, and it is time to truly recognize this.

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LauraAgostaLaura Agosta is a development practitioner, raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Laura holds a BA in Political Sciences from the Universidad Catolica Argentina, and a Master of Public Administration from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University  in New York City.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Kosovo Diaspora’s editorial policy or the organizations she is affiliated with.