Monthly Archives: August 2021

OH, THOSE SUMMERS IN KOSOVO

REFLECTIONS FROM THE DIASPORA ON SUMMER VISITS BACK HOME.

Every summer we left at different times. Sometimes at dawn, sometimes in the evening just after dinner, sometimes at midnight. No matter what time it was, the only thing that really mattered was the direction: Kosovo.

Every year we were enraptured by this magic that made us forget the length of the journey, one that sometimes took up to 36 hours. Endless waiting at the borders, nights spent trying to sleep in the car, everyone sitting in their own seat. One summer, having grown, my legs needed more space, so I slept on the ground in a parking space next to the car. I did it with pleasure. We did everything with pleasure because the only thing that mattered to us was to get to Kosovo as fast as possible.

I grew up near Milan, in Italy, and just getting to Trieste at the border with Slovenia would have been enough of a journey. 500 kilometers is a long way. But that was only the beginning.

Once we entered Slovenia everything tasted different. The language changed, the signs on the road were different and my mind was filled with anticipation. Then came Croatia and that endless coastal stretch before leaving the highway and entering Montenegro. 

Driving through the mountains of Montenegro we tried to eat up as many kilometers as possible. These mountains were the point when happiness began to take a concrete shape, even if there was still a long way to go. And so, as we toured those mountains, I began to imagine what that summer in Kosovo would bring. 

The football matches with my cousins and my friends, the evenings playing hide and seek, all the delicacies I would eat every time I visited a relative. I would lean my head against the window, smile and ask mum and dad to confirm that we weren’t far away. 

“Almost there, almost there,” they would say. 

After Montenegro, a slice of Albania, with just enough time to enjoy our language, and then finally Kosovo, where we immediately went off to visit uncles and cousins. Their happiness to see us and ours at finding them. My joy at people pronouncing my name correctly and the excitement about the next month of fun.

ONLY DURING THAT MONTH, ONCE A YEAR, DID I SEE MY PARENTS HAPPY.

And so began the most wonderful time of the year, the one we had been anticipating for 11 months. Sometimes I think that the life of an immigrant is just that, survival in the country where she/he has decided to go, just waiting for the moment of the year to go back home. Especially if she/he is as lucky as we were, being able to afford going home to Kosovo every summer. And after all, it was not so far away. 

Only during that month, once a year, did I see my parents happy. I have never seen them smiling like that, except in Kosovo. I never saw them so relaxed, so full of life. I saw them living and breathing properly during those summers. But they could do it only one month out of 12, and believe me, that’s not enough for a person. 

As a child I didn’t understand, but as I grow older, I am starting to get what it meant to live as they lived, and how fundamental those summers were for my parents. How crucial for their health it was to go back and see their parents, siblings, relatives and friends. To touch, smell and breathe what used to be their life.

But those summers were also important for me. They meant freedom, running in the country fields, climbing trees, playing football until dark, being with my cousins, hugging my grandparents and having someone of my own to share my life with, even if only for one month a year. 

Growing up abroad, you’re rarely lucky enough to have a few relatives by your side. You see your friends going to their aunts, uncles and grandparents, celebrating birthdays and holidays with houses full of relatives, and you know that you will have to wait until summer to enjoy just a small part of it. 

But most of all, now I can say how crucial those summers were in shaping my identity, and in helping me understand parts of myself and who I am. This is especially true after having decided not to go back for several years, a decision that I do not regret at all. I might be wrong, but to understand what something means to you, you have to deprive yourself of it and see if you can live without it. It may sound incoherent and weird, but the less I went back, the more I felt I belonged there. 

The real sign of what those summers meant to us are all the tears we cried. We cried when we arrived, our happiness was enormous and our bodies could not contain it. And then we cried even more when it was time to say goodbye. I was always the first one to start, both as a child and a teenager, and then everyone followed behind me. 

The sadness I felt was too strong. I didn’t want to leave, for any reason in the world. I didn’t want to go back to Italy, I wanted to stay and play with my cousins and be around people who pronounced my name correctly. 

Every summer I would tell mum that I wasn’t going to go back to Italy, I would ask my aunts if they were okay with having an extra child. Every summer I tried to come up with a plan to hide somewhere. One summer I thought of disappearing into the fields, I thought that they would never find me, that they would get tired of looking for me and go back to Italy. 

I was so sad in the days before returning to Italy that I could hardly wake up in the morning. I started crying days before the return and tried to hide away, like I’m doing now; I’ve been crying since I started writing this piece and luckily there’s no one at home to see me.

I miss those sensations, those smells and that magic that took shape in those summers. I didn’t grow up waiting for Santa Claus, as my Italian friends did; instead of Santa Claus I had that highly anticipated journey home each summer.

IN 28 YEARS OF LIFE, NOTHING HAS MADE ME AS HAPPY AS THOSE YEARLY SUMMER RETURNS TO KOSOVO.

I have a feeling that the concept of happiness for a person changes as they grow. You focus much more on yourself and personal goals become your highest aspiration. You become happy when you get a good grade at university, or get a job, or date someone you like. Yet I have the distinct feeling that the happiness I felt during those summers in Kosovo will forever be the highest point. 

I miss feeling that explosion of joy in my heart, I miss living through that 11 months of anticipation, knowing that happiness would arrive in August. I don’t think happiness as an adult can be compared to what we experienced as children. No matter how lucky one may be to have the opportunity to achieve remarkable personal goals, to have a person to love and enjoy good health, nothing compares to the joy one experiences as a child. 

In 28 years of life, nothing has made me as happy as those yearly summer returns to Kosovo. Even though I’ve been lucky to have a wonderful life so far, in the end I think it’s okay for this to be the case, because Kosovo is where I was born and people say that the attraction of your homeland is the strongest thing you will ever experience.

I would just like to go back for a couple of days and relive those moments, when my life, looking back at it now, was so simple. I was constantly waiting for that journey, because Kosovo represented my idea of happiness and I didn’t need anything else. 

At the same time I’m so proud and happy to be able to write about those moments, about the fact that the happiest moments of my life were related to my roots and the place where I was born. Is there anything better? I don’t think so.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.

This article was first published at Kosovo 2.0 

Bridging markets – ITP Prizren hosts the closing of the Kosovo Diaspora Business Convention

Events such as the Diaspora Business Convention continue to be one of the main facilitators supporting the diaspora by taking an active role as a development agent in their country of origin. The well-connected stakeholders in these events focus on finding how diaspora engagement could assist Kosovo’s economy through skills development and transfer, the establishment of trade networks, and investment. These networking events are crucial as they bring together government representatives, stakeholders responsible for diaspora engagement and numerous businesses from Kosovo and the diaspora.

Diaspora businesses have consistently expressed interest to invest in Kosovo; however, some factors prevent these investors from investing, ranging from infrastructure issues to bureaucratic obstacles. For this reason, the two-day Kosovo Diaspora Business Convention was a strategic occasion for Innovation and Training Park (ITP) Prizren to explain to the diaspora what ITP has to offer for the businesses, including its high-quality infrastructure, various networking and cooperation business services, and a Centre for Digital Excellence.

Over 170 businesses from the diaspora and 100 businesses from Kosovo were part of the convention organized by the European Branches of the Albanian Diaspora Business Network and USAID Kosovo Compete Activity, in partnership with GERMIN and associations of three sectors such as the Association of Wood Processors (SHPDK), Food Processing Sector Associations (PEPEKO and ORGANIKA), and ICT associations (STIKK – Kosovo ICT Association and Innovation Centre Kosovo. During this two-day event, businesses had the opportunity to network, attend B2B meetings and listen to thematic presentations and discuss Commercial Diplomacy. In addition, diaspora entrepreneurs visited various businesses of Kosovo and discussed future cooperation.

The convention ended with a visit to the Innovation and Training Park (ITP) in Prizren, where business and investors from the diaspora had the opportunity to better understand the possible business prospects offered by the ITP park. During the ITP Prizren visit, more than 60 participants from diaspora businesses were present from three sectors: wood processing, food processing, and ICT. It was of high importance to present the vision of ITP to these businesses, given that they operate in the key sectors in which the park will offer. The tour through the space of ITP park consisting of more than 40 hectares and 52 office buildings allowed the ITP management to introduce business and investment opportunities which in return would offer a “win-win” approach for ,both, Kosovo and the diaspora.

After visiting the ITP facilities, the participants took part in a very successful and lively reception that discussed further the collaboration/investing opportunities at ITP and lasted till very late in the evening.

Mr Wolfgang Leidig, Managing Director of ITP Prizren, welcomed the guests and expressed his deep gratitude for the diaspora’s readiness to invest in Kosovo and become part of ITP Prizren. The German management of ITP offers a sound and safe investment opportunity in an attractive business environment. For more information see www.itp.prizren.com

Considering that diaspora businesses play an important role in facilitating trade and investments between the countries where they live and Kosovo; ITP is creating a compelling case of support to attract diaspora investment and knowledge transfer to match Kosovo’s development needs. The park is a secure and stable investment environment for businesses and start-ups. In particular, the ITP aims to be a changing and boosting element in ICT, agro-food and creative industries by creating a favourable environment. Consequently, ITP Prizren can help bridge markets and circulate knowledge and information on technology and business practices between Kosovo and Kosovo diaspora.

In addition, Mr Ylli Blakaj – President of the Albanian Business Network in Austria and Europe, and Mr Skender Rama, Chief of Party, at USAID Kosovo Compete Activity pointed out that these events help create new leads, transform existing ones and build strong relationships between Kosovo and the diaspora.

These meetings and discussions highlighted specific examples of engagement, focusing on the institutional structures and networks required to establish a stable investment in Kosovo and ensure successful diaspora relations. In addition, this two-day event emphasized the importance of business and investment-friendly conditions for the diaspora to engage in business relations with their country of origin. Some of the conditions and tools enacted by governments and business parks can be infrastructure, business initiatives and tax incentives. To conclude, the event and the visit of ITP Prizren resulted in shared good practices and identifying potential areas for collaboration.

Innovation and Training Park Prizren meets the Diaspora in Düsseldorf

Integrating into the wider European economy is a key goal for Kosovo. With more than 500,000 1 people with roots in Kosovo in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the diaspora can play a major role here as it connects economic power hubs in Europe with its homeland. To tap this huge potential for Foreign Direct Investments, transfer of knowledge and know-how, the team of the Innovation and Training Park Prizren (ITP) and the NGO Germin launched a roadshow to the DACH Countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) aimed at presenting the vision and potential of ITP Prizren as well as business and investment opportunities in the park. The first edition of the roadshow took place in Düsseldorf and welcomed 27 stakeholders from numerous businesses owned by the Kosovo diaspora in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

The Innovation and Training Park (ITP) Prizren adds to Kosovo’s favourable business environment. It strives to be a focal point in the Balkan region for innovation, business as well as skills development, and a source of innovative and successful ideas. The German managed park offers a secure and stable investment environment for businesses, start-ups and training providers. It is currently developing into a changing and boosting element for ICT, agro-food and creative industries by creating and managing a friendly business environment. As the ITP Prizren proactively seeks Foreign Direct Investments as a nucleus for further economic growth and economic integration in Kosovo it has started a line of activities for this matter with a prime focus on diaspora entrepreneurs wishing to invest and become engaged in Kosovo.

As the Managing Director of ITP Prizren Mr. Wolfgang Leidig, pointed out in Düsseldorf, the strategically located park offers not just excellent German-build infrastructure, 52 buildings on around 40 hectares of land with plenty of vacant plots available for new structures, including fibre optic internet and clear ownership structures but also a chance to untap Kosovo’s favourable environment for business opportunities. Perks, among others, are a low corporate tax rate of just 10%, a pro-business stance and a young educated workforce. Likewise, the park will facilitate linkages and synergies between companies and education and training providers to offer investors the labour forces needed. The ITP’s development is financially supported by the German government. This shows the commitment and trust of Germany into the Innovation- and Training and furthermore helps to strengthen the ties between Prizren, Kosovo, Germany and the Albanian diaspora in Central Europe.

The resident Consul General of the Consulate of Kosovo in, Mr Kashtanajeva who co-hosted the meeting, welcomed the Roadshow of ITP hoping that such meetings will continue to happen, and help promote great initiatives similar to ITP Prizren. On this occasion Mrs Sihana Bejtullahu, Co-executive Director of Germin, stressed that diaspora plays a critical role in integrating Kosovo into the global economy. Also, participants present shared the excitement for the new era coming into the business environment of Kosovo. Mr. Bekim Bytytqi from the “Union Business Albanisch/Deutscher Unternehmen” said that the union of businesses in Germany has supported and will continue to support the ITP Prizren. The union members have already shown deep interest to invest in Kosovo and are looking forward to finding a way to become part of such a great initiative.

After the presentation of the ITP management, a Q&A was opened for stakeholders to understand the park better and clarify any thoughts after presenting the ITP Prizren concept. This was followed by a networking session that was a great opportunity to exchange with ITP representatives and get the detailed information regarding the park’s investment possibilities.

The end of the first informative meeting regarding the ITP Prizren was followed by a field visit to Kelmendi GmbH, a Kosovar family-owned business based in Germany with several branches across Europe. This tour was fruitful for both the ITP representatives and the Kelmendi company since it opened the door to discussing the possibility of collaboration/investments.

More segments of the roadshow will take the ITP management and Germin to successful diaspora entrepreneurs in a variety of cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The interest in the ITP’s potential shown during the first event bodes well for the future!

For more information on the ITP please visit www.itp-prizren.com.