Monthly Archives: July 2012

Financial Times Article: “One of the worlds’ top judo stars fights to represent Kosovo in Olympics”

By Luke Browne, freelance writer

It’s a weary Sunday afternoon in Peja, a town tucked into the entrance of the Rugova canyon, near Kosovo’s stunning western frontier. Raindrops tap on the roof of the creaking sports hall as Majlinda Kelmendi, world judo star, national hero and local girl, tries desperately to evade the press pack within. Kosovar journalists are hungry for an interview with the 21-year-old, who has just seen off challengers from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro at a spring meet for Balkan judoka.

“I can hold on for a few more days,” she says. “Next week I’m going to Slovenia, and I have to stay focused on my training. I’m so happy I won’t have journalists asking me questions. If I have press and cameras every day … it gets confusing.”

Kelmendi will have to get used to the attention. Last October, she bagged gold medals at World Cups in Italy and Belarus, and at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. She is currently ranked sixth in the world in the under-52kg division by the International Judo Federation (IJF), which means she is guaranteed a place at the London 2012 Olympics. But that’s not why journalists are clamouring to meet her. Athletes from Kosovo cannot represent their country at the Olympic Games, and next week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will decide which flag Kelmendi will be competing under this summer.

“I’ve worked so hard for this, I’ve dreamed of representing my country at the Olympics, and I really don’t want someone to tell me it’s not possible to fight for Kosovo in London,” she says. “I don’t understand why everything has to be about politics.”

Since declaring independence from Serbia in February 2008, Kosovo has busied itself with state-building at home and gaining acceptance abroad. It has its own government, police force and central bank, and its two million citizens can carry a Kosovar passport, hum along to the lyric-less national anthem, “Europe”, and salute a star-speckled, blue and yellow national flag. Kosovo is recognised by 90 countries, and is a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But Serbian lobbying has kept Kosovo locked out of the IOC and most international sports federations, according to sports minister Memli Krasniqi, preventing the tiny Balkan nation’s best athletes from competing outside the country unless they represent another state.

Kelmendi’s second – Albanian – passport enabled her to compete in Italy and Belarus last autumn, and it was the Albanian anthem that played when she became European Junior Champion in 2009 and 2010. The IJF’s sympathetic president, Marius Vizer, has also permitted her to represent the federation as an independent athlete, including at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Paris, where she took gold. With Serbia determined to stymie its former southern province’s aspirations for nationhood (and countries such as Russia, China and Spain keen to restrict Kosovo, due to their own bubbling secessionist movements at home), the IOC is unlikely to allow Kelmendi to represent Kosovo in London. A compromise, enabling her to compete independently under the Olympic flag – as athletes from the former Yugoslavia did in Barcelona in 1992 – is being mooted.

Kelmendi says that twice-daily three-hour training sessions in the mountains help keep her focused on the competition itself, and less on the unique pressure she is under. Her coach, Driton Kuka, is “putting her in quarantine” and banning all press from mid-May onwards. But as the only athlete travelling from Kosovo to the Olympics (with all-too-rare government sponsorship, after Azerbaijan tried to poach her) she’s worried that her compatriots have lost sight of the challenges awaiting her at the games.

“I’m happy and scared at the same time,” she says. “It’s a historic moment for us, and I’m not afraid of the opponents, but I’m the only athlete from Kosovo going to London, and people here look at me like I’m a hero. They want success from me, and I don’t want to disappoint them, but it’s the Olympics – anything can happen.”

Kelmendi started practising judo at Peja’s Ippon Judo Club in 1999, when she was eight, a few months after most of her home town was burned out during the war with Serbia. Kuka, whose own career was cut short at 19 by the Yugoslav wars, built the club on his own land, and after a handful of training sessions dispatched Kelmendi to a competition in Sarajevo, where she came third by default after only two other fighters showed up. A silver medal at the European Children’s Championship in Turkey two years later sealed the matter.

“I started to really like judo because I made new friends, I saw new cities, and I realised that this was a way for me to really be somebody,” Kelmendi explains. “At the beginning, my parents didn’t believe that I could do this through sport, but when they saw that I was working hard, and that I was good at judo, they were very happy, and very proud.”

Her family home is a stone’s throw from Kuka’s dojo; college studies in banking and finance have effectively been jettisoned until after the Olympics; and while her face stares down at traffic from a billboard in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, she stays in most evenings.

“I’m not the kind of girl who likes parties, I only have three or four friends, and I don’t even have time for them right now. Training takes up a lot of my day, it’s tiring, and afterwards I need to be at home with my family to rest,” she says, evincing little or no regret. Perhaps that’s because she’s had a taste of what it might be like to win gold for Kosovo at an international competition, with the world watching. Immediately after her semi-final win as an IJF athlete at the World Junior Championships in 2009, the federation’s president took Kelmendi aside and promised her that if she became world champion, Kosovo’s national anthem would be played. When she mounted the podium to receive her gold medal, the opening bars of “Europe” rang out for the first time at an international sports event.

“It was a really special moment, not just for me, but for all people in Kosovo,” Kelmendi says. “And whatever happens [at the IOC meeting next week], I’m so, so proud that I’m going to be fighting for my people at the Olympics.”


Source: Luke Browne. “The Olympics Interview: Majlinda Kelmendi.” Financial Times. May 19, 2012.

Study: Beyond Remittances, Public Diplomacy and Kosovo’s Diaspora

Study: Beyond Remittances, Public Diplomacy and Kosovo’s Diaspora

Authors: Behar Xharra and Martin Weahlisch
Foreign Policy Club

As a small and post-conflict country, Kosovo has narrowed capacities to reach out to the world. Restricted linkages to the outside make it difficult to influence the opinion and decision-making of other countries and their publics. Lacking diplomatic recognitions, suffering from a negative image, and still being in the process of developing its economy, Kosovo’s chances to win support and strengthen its international ties are limited. However, Kosovo’s foreign Public Diplomacy could benefit greatly from an untapped resource, which has not been fully utilized as a foreign policy tool yet: its diaspora.

The aim of this study is to highlight the role of Kosovo’s diaspora as a resource for the country’s Public Diplomacy.m The overview provided in this study gives insights into the challenges, status quo and options to engage Kosovo’s diaspora for enhancing the country’s image, which could ultimately reinforce the countries diplomatic and economic development.

This study argues that the role of Kosovo’s diaspora is in a critical moment of being primarily perceived as a provider of remittances and investments in Kosovo towards being acknowledged as a catalyst for international linkages and entry points for business abroad.

The study consists of three parts: the first chapter focuses on the status quo, looking at challenges, strengths, chances, and the changing role of Kosovo’s diaspora. The second part touches on positive examples and success stories of Kosovo’s diaspora abroad. Finally, the third part gives an overview about comparative examples, which includes the case studies of Israel, Armenia, Serbia, and Rwanda, offering intriguing lessons learnt and practical solutions. The conclusion part provides a reflection about entry points for future activities and next steps of strategizing a diaspora involvement within the country’s foreign policy.

Download the study here.

Seven Books for Diaspora Children published by Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of Kosovo has published seven educational text books for diaspora children. The aim is to provide access all Kosovar children across the world to online educational content and become familiar with the Kosovo identity, culture, language and history.


Source: Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Government of Kosovo

Interactive Online Abetare for Diaspora Children published by Ministry of Diaspora

The Ministry of Diaspora, Government of Kosovo has published and Interactive Online Abetare for diaspora children. This is another goal of trying to bring access for children abroad  to learn the Albanian language, and further strengthen the Kosovar culture and identity.


Source: Ministry of Diaspora, Government of Kosovo

Learn Albanian: Gjuha Ime Portal unveiled by the Ministry of Diaspora

The Ministry of Diaspora, Government of Kosovo has unveiled the Gjuha Ime Portal, dedicated to Albanian children and pupils who live abroad. The portal is a part of the objective for increased education and awareness of all generations with the Albanian language, the origin of Albanians, the culture, personal and collective identity. Gjuha Ime Portal also aims at supporting Kosovars abroad to integrate better in the societies they live. (Click on the picture to go to the protal).

Gjuha Ime Portal offers the opportunity to all Albanian children across the world to learn their language of origin. This portal is both for Albanian children and pupils of other origin and descent who wish to learn Albanian.  Besides language lessons, the portal also offers an online Abetare,  and other information on the Albanian identity, culture and history. The portal offers the other means of entertainment through games and quizzes, which are especially built to increase children’s knowledge about the country of origin as well other materials dealing with Kosovo.


Source: Gjuha Ime Portal:

UNDP and IOM Launch a New Project on Diaspora Engagement for Development

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Organization for Migration (IOM), in close cooperation with the Ministry of Diaspora announced the beginning of Diaspora Engagement for Economic Development (DEED) project on at the Auditorium of Central Bank of Kosovo. As migration continues to play an important role in Kosovo’s development prospects, the need to explore the potential of engaging the Kosovo diaspora as full development actors remains high. This endeavor will enable Kosovars at home and abroad to create a better future for themselves and their families.

The DEED project will contribute towards increasing access and literacy of remittance-recipients and senders to financial services in order to promote accumulation of local savings and investment; increasing the level of investment and savings by Kosovar migrants and diaspora; and supporting evidence-based policies by Kosovo authorities related to migration and development. The project has been made possible with the generous funding of the Government of Finland and will be implemented jointly by UNDP and IOM.

The event was hosted by UN Decevlopemnt Coordiantor and UNDP Kosovo Resident Representative Osnat Lubrani, joined by Jorge Baca, Head of IOM Mission in Kosovo, her Excellency Anne Meskanen, Charge d’affaires of Finish Embassy in Pristina, Minister for Diaspora in Kosovo Government Ibrahim Makolli and Gazmend Luboteni, Chariman of the Central Bank of Kosovo Board. On the same occasion Kosovo Remittance Study 2012 was presented. “The results from the remittance study suggest that there was a 14% decline in remittance inflows to Kosovo in 2011 compared to 2010 – which is a significant decline and comes at a time when there are ongoing financial problems in the eurozone. Unsurprisingly, 25% of households in Kosovo depend on remittances for their livelihoods. However, this figure is even higher among households living in rural areas and those headed by women. Remittances continue to be a vital livelihood strategy: they represent the second largest source of income for many households”, said Osnat Lubrani at the event, refering on Remitannce Study 2012.


Study: UNDP Kosovo Remittances Study 2012

According to the newly published Kosovo Remittance Study 2012 conducted by UNDP Kosovo, 25 % of the households in Kosovo receive remittances. The Kosovar Diaspora is a tremendous resource for the country. However, the remittances from the Diaspora could play even a stronger role for the development of the country. Each year, hundreds of millions of Euros are being sent to Kosovo. The remittances are mostly used for basic consumption such as food, clothing and housing and only a small part is actually being invested in business activities that strengthen the local economy. An important part of the remittances are channeled to Kosovo through informal channels.

Download the publication in English:

Download the publication in Albanian:

Download the publication in Serbian:

Article: “Refugee Woman of the Year: Fatbardhe Hetemaj from Kosovo”

23-year-old Fatbardhe Hetemaj was named 2009 Refugee Woman of the Year by the Finnish Refugee Council. Hetemaj was recognized for her efforts to counteract racism in Finland. In 1992, she fled together with her family from Kosovo and the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The Finnish Refugee Council was impressed by the way she has proved refugees capable of taking up leading positions in business and society today, not letting prejudices stand in their way.

”Attitudes can change on the individual level and in society through education – as well as through opening our hearts and minds,” said Hetemaj after the nomination. Hetemaj herself has fought prejudices by showing her own example in everyday situations, from school to workplace. According to Hetemaj, refugees in Finland have to be more active when searching for employment or education, as they face racism despite having integrated into Finnish society.

The Hetemaj family is a good example of the positive effects of sports and education in helping refugees integrate into a new culture: Fatbardhe Hetemaj’s two brothers play soccer in the Finnish national team, and Hetemaj herself has a university degree and currently works for a multinational company.

The Refugee Woman of the Year nomination fuelled up yet again the public debate about refugees and immigrants in Finland. The current economic downturn has given room for more critical voices towards immigration into Finland, and very often refugees are grouped together with other groups of people entering the country. The nomination of Hetemaj was criticized on the online discussion forum of Helsingin Sanomat, a national newspaper.

The main concern of the debaters is why the Finnish tax payers’ money should be used for citizens of other countries when, according to one writer, “there are more than enough mouths to be fed in Finland”. Others, however, point out that the percentage of refugees among all the people benefiting from the Finnish social support system is in reality very small. The media is also criticized for its way of reporting about refugees: the major media only publishes stories that are deemed “refugee friendly”, and the stories are perceived to be far from the reality that Finnish people experience in their everyday lives when encountering refugees. On the other hand, many welcomed Hetemaj’s nomination as a positive sign: since the globalised world gives us no choice but to face different cultures and people and learn to live side by side, it is encouraging to hear success stories, like the one of the Hetemaj family.


Source: “Refugee Woman of the Year: Fatbardhe Hetemaj from Kosovo.” The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). March 11, 2009.

Study: Engaging Diasporas as Development Partners for Home and Destination Countries (2006)

This 2006 IOM publication explores different challenges posed to home and host country governments engaging with their diasporas for development purposes. How to define diasporas? How to gather data on diasporas? How to incorporate diaspora contributions into development strategies? How to identify most relevant partners within the diasporas? What incentives are conducive to diaspora contributions? What resources are available within diasporas and how can their impact on development be maximized? What is the role for policy? These are some of the questions raised in this publication.


Table of Contents :

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Defining and Gathering Data on Diasporas
  • Incorporating Diaspora Contributions into Development Strategies
  • Partnering with Relevant Diasporas
  • Defining Home Country Programmes and Incentives Conducive to Diaspora Engagement for Development
  • Identifying Diaspora Resources for Development
  • Conclusions and Recommendations
  • Annex
  • Reference


Read the study here.

Study: “Public Diplomacy of Kosovo – Status Quo, Challenges, and Options”

As Europe’s youngest country with controversial beginnings still fresh in everyone’s minds, Kosovo faces unique challenges in influencing more governments and people to recognize their statehood today.
This study outlines the current problems with Kosovo’s image and what can be done through public diplomacy. The study suggests various initiatives involving, not just the Kosovar government, but also the people, private corporations and diasporas.
“Public diplomacy is a continual process and should be treated as such. Kosovo cannot afford to end its efforts with the “Kosovo — The Young Europeans” campaign. As a small country, it needs constant, innovative and inclusive efforts to reach out to different audiences around the world.”
Read: Martin Waehlisch and Behar Xharra, Public Diplomacy of Kosovo: Status Quo, Challenges, and Options, Friedrich Ebert Foundation Pristina Office, Sept. 2010, available at