“FOL” movement awarded Shpresa Loshaj with the prize for Civic Courage for 2020, reports Kallxo.com.
Shpresa Loshaj is a returned diaspora expert from Canada to Kosovo to establish the organization “Pishtarët”(Torches), which deals with environmental protection. Shpresa has been a role-model with her civic activity in advocating for the protection of the Deçani River (Lumbardhi).
Mexhide Demolli-Nimani, director of the FOL Movement, during the award ceremony said that “Shpresa has proven that a good job can be done if you have the courage and are not afraid of the authorities who try to silence you, but in the same time she has set an example for everyone that there must be determination for things to go to the end.” Today, Shpresa filed three lawsuits against the Energy Regulatory Office and the Ministry of Environment for giving the Kelkos (the private company building hydropower plants) permits to work.
Leonora Kryeziu, chairwoman of the Advisory Board of the FOL Movement added “What Shpresa has done has passed all the initiatives that have been taken so far, and has awakened the awareness of everyone for the protection of the environment.”
Throughout this year, Shpresa Loshaj has been committed to protecting the Deçan River through an intensive social media campaign, as well as by writing numerous letters to Kosovo politicians, embassies, and foreign organizations dealing with the environmental issue. She has been advocating in the media in defense of the Deçani River. Shpresa has raised the issue of the destruction of the River of Deçan in the Municipal Assembly of Deçan, in the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, and her work has gonne far so that the issue has been raised in the parliament of Carinthia, Austria, where the Kelkos Company comes from.
Loshaj, through the activity with the organization “Pishtarët”, has raised awarness to the general public in Kosovo and abroad about the environmental damages done by the private investors. She has shown a civic courage by bringing into attention a very important issue to the eyes of all.
In an interview for “Prishtina Insight” on October 2020, Shpresa states “Pishtaret has often been told that we shouldn’t even bother to try and bring law and order to the Decan gorge. People even said that they felt sorry that we were trying so hard, because things don’t work according to the law in Kosovo and we should understand that.”
She continues “There are a number of problems in Kosovo, some of which may seem daunting and impossible to change, but KelKos’ endless violations of the law and their influence over Kosovo’s institutions once seemed limitless. Today, we believe that the balance is shifting towards the people.”
Shpresa Loshaj is a co-founder of environmental organization “Pishtaret” based in Decan, a policy Advisor to the Canadian government and a member of the Germin organisation’s Diaspora Network.
Qamlije Lokaj was born and raised in Kosovo, in the town of Malisheva, where she lived until 2007, and then migrated with her family to Germany, where she attended High School studies and University studies. Her Bachelor studies at the University of Regensburg were devoted to South East Europe (mainly in the field of history, culture and language) in combination with Political Science. Following the Bachelor studies, she attended a Masterprogram, i.e. the interdisciplinary Elite Graduate Program for East European Studies (Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich and the Univerisity of Regensburg), whose focus was on regional competence for central Eastern, South Eastern and Eastern Europe.Currently, Mrs. Lokaj works at the German Federal Office for Migration and Asylum in Nürnberg and her spare time she devotes to human rights issues and the Albanian diaspora. Also during her studies she was actively engaged in Albanian and other intercultural associations.In this interview she outlines the findings of her research on the factors that drive diaspora professionals to return to their country of origin, their potential and willingness to contribute to their homeland, and how well the diaspora’s human capacities match with the institutional needs in the homeland.
KD: Can you inform us about your research findings?
Qamlije Lokaj: My research is mainly devoted to the topic of Kosovar migration. I will try to summarize it as briefly as possible, because the thesis is around 80 pages. The title of the thesis is “Against the flow? Why do Kosovar migrants return to Kosovo voluntarily? “What are the Push and Pull factors that play a role in taking this decision?” That is, “Against the flow” because while most of those living in Kosovo, and according to the statistics, especially young people, want to emigrate from Kosovo, while at the same time there is a certain number of Kosovar emigrants who actually want to return voluntarily to Kosovo. The thesis is of an anthropological nature, because it is mainly based on people who migrate, their perspectives and motives in the micro perspective. The focus of the analysis has been confined to the last fifty years, because the analysed group of emigrants that have decided to return to Kosovo have emigrated from Kosovo during these last fifty years. The purpose of this thesis has been the findings and analysis of the motives for the return of various generations of Kosovar migrants back home. The starting point of the hypothesis was that “The return of Kosovar migrants is not a rational decision, but rather a complex and emotional process, which is influenced, among other things, by family, social networks and strong ties with the homeland”. I have conducted a total of 24 semi-structured biographical interviews with emigrants returning to Kosovo from different countries, e.g. from Germany, Sweden, Italy, Austria, USA etc. As any other student naturally I have used also secondary literature, external surveys, theories on migration and return of migrants, etc. In order to better understand the reasons for return, in the first part of the thesis I have tried to deal more with the reason and period of time of migration. Taking this into consideration, Kosovar migrants who have migrated in the last 50 years can be divided into three groups (which of course do have subgroups). I started with the“Gastarbeiter”, i.e. those Kosovars who migrated as seasonal workers in the ’60s and’ 70s, which were followed by their families and now there are third generations, almost also the fourth. Most of these “Gastarbeiter” are retired now, have returned to Kosovo or even have passed away. The second group consists of those who have migrated as refugees and as politically persecuted during the ‘80s-‘90s. Some have returned willingly or unwillingly after the war, while others have made family reunification. The third group, of those who have migrated after 2000 until today, i.e. in peacetime, are people who have migrated for reasons of employment, education, a better life, or a better perspective for them and their families. In the three aforementioned groups, we have also the phenomenon of family reunification or transnational marriage, i.e. those who live in Kosovo and form relationships or marry someone outside of Kosovo.
The second part of the thesis, which was the main point of my analysis, was focused on the ones who voluntary returned to Kosovo, key factors for return, their experience from the place of migration, the role of family, other social ties and other factors during this return process. In sum, as to the results from the interviews, all the interviewees are academics or well-qualified workforce. Most of the interviewees had at least a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, some of them even have a doctorate in countries where they have lived and they speak different foreign languages, while after returning to Kosovo they worked in state institutions or international organizations and some of them have even opened their own Start Up companies. None of the interviewees was employed in the private sector, which is more or less self-evident given the salaries and conditions of this sector. For all migrants who have lived abroad, it is worthwhile to mention that they have gained new knowledge, learned new languages, known new cultures, (which is positive for their engagement in Kosovo) and in these particular cases it has served them even after their return. Some of these interviewees have projects or are engaged not only in Kosovo but also in the countries where they have lived, i.e. this is the phenomenon of transnationalization as we call it. They are active in both countries. During their living in the west, they have gathered not only experience but also established contacts, which they still keep. Almost everyone has kept their western country citizenship where they lived, because they saw it as an opportunity for movement, for work reasons or even for tourist reasons, but also as a kind of back up plan in case their return fails, because the return process and reintegration in Kosovo is not that easy. I have seen this in some people who have returned to Kosovo but due to various problems have re-emigrated, left Kosovo again, and in some cases have tried to return more than twice, and this is known as the rotation phenomenon. These people complained that they encountered problems with corruption, nepotism and two of them were even threatened with death, because they tried to change mis-created structures, so they decided to leave Kosovo again, although they would have wanted to stay and engage for a longer period in Kosovo. The rest, who lives in Kosovo do not want to leave Kosovo but complains that Kosovo does not offer much for their children’s education and that the health sector is not as good, and if they would leave Kosovo again they would only do it for the sake of their children.
KD: Which are the main factors pushing professionals from the diaspora to return to their country of origin to give their contribution?
Qamlije Lokaj: The most important factors, during the planning of emigration but also of their return, have been the family and the social networks. All decisions are directly or indirectly related to the family, because family is the one which provides them with moral and financial support. The family plays a key role, often being the main reason for emigration because often this path is the only opportunity to provide a better life for the family. In other cases, some family members are already in the diaspora and “attract” other members. Family influence also exists during the returning process. In most of the cases, a phenomenon we all know to well, their families have constantly talked about the country, even if the children were born abroad, or were young when they emigrated. Usually Albanian families listen to news or other programs in Albanian at home, go to concerts and other Albanian activities, maintain strong ties with the family, relatives and friends, visit Kosovo regularly, and these factors play a relevant role. This means that those who return are directly or indirectly influenced by the family and, then, when one of the members returns to Kosovo the others are also influenced, returning together or later, as the first returned member creates the conditions for the return of others. The second much-mentioned factor has been the connection to the homeland and the longing for it. This was especially seen among those who emigrated during the war because they did not have the opportunity to come to Kosovo often. For these people, longing was a very important factor. The third factor has been the desire to engage in the development of the country, and here I have seen two main phases. The first phase immediately after the war, 1999-2000 and the second phase directly after the declaration of Kosovo’s independence in 2008.
The fourth factor in the return process has been negative experiences in the country of residence, eg discrimination, feelings that they do not belong to that country, etc. The fifth factor, but which has been only in a few rare cases, has been marriage with partners living in Kosovo. In my case, I only had women interviewed and, thus, unfortunately we can not make a deeper comparison in this regard. Respondents who returned to Kosovo for the sake of love, decided to return to a partner living in Kosovo because he was probably financially stable, which facilitated the return, or because both wanted to live in Kosovo. Hence, these are the five main factors, which according to my results influence the decision and realization of voluntary return to Kosovo. Often times, 2-3 factors can affect simultaneously. Most of returnees emphasized that after returning they had a feeling of relief, a spiritual fulfillment, the feeling of being at home, which is usually associated with positive feelings, while when they left Kosovo they had more negative feelings.
It should be added that in the group of those who emigrated after the war, their willingness and readiness to return are not as present as in with the other groups. This is due to the fact that, they are extremely disappointed with the Kosovo political reality and do not see perspective in Kosovo. Another reason may be the fact that the group decides to emigrate not because it is politically persecuted or its life is endangered but because these people are forced to emigrate because they see no other perspective, regardless of their professional background. This is the bitter reality of Kosovo and the Balkans in general and I do not want to dwell too much on the issue of politics, because our reality is known and constantly discussed.
KD: Which is the potential of the diaspora to contribute to the development of the country of origin beyond remittances, through their professional fields?
Qamlije Lokaj: I believe that there is a potential, especially among the younger generations, who are engaged in various fields. Only in the department where I work, there are two Albanians, and everywhere I go I see Albanians in different fields, starting in the field of IT, politics, medicine and in almost all other fields there are Albanians from Kosovo, Albania and other albanian territories, who are willing to engage directly or indirectly in their home countries. I believe that we are no longer at the time when our parents and grandparents dropped out of school and came to work, simply to provide a living for themselves and other family members, who were left in Kosovo. Our post-war generation, the second generation of those who came pre-war, and those who migrated for education are present in all possible fields. We have many Albanians in the best universities in the world. In Regensburg and Munich, where I studied, I met dozens of exemplary Albanian students. For example, we have the association of Albanian students in Regensburg, where over the years some 30-50 Albanians have been willing to come from time to time and engage in various activities. The number of Albanians in the university has been even greater, but also in other universities in which I have contacts I see that Albanians are already achieving more and more, because the generation of those who came before the war or during the war as children have reached university age or have just finished their studies and are already active in various fields, and I believe this is a potential that should be used.
KD: How can the human capacities of the diaspora match the institutional needs and market demands in Kosovo and Albania?
Qamlie Lokaj: As mentioned above, the Albanian diaspora is very complex. Post-war generations in particular are educated in the best education systems in different parts of the world. Albanian youth is active in various fields and professions. We have Albanians who are active in policy-making in the most important western countries, in medicine, law or even lecturing for the most prestigious universities, have successful businesses and compete with world famous companies. In all German state institutions, in many governmental and non-governmental organizations, with which I have had the opportunity to cooperate, I have met professionally well-trained Albanians. This is a great potential for Kosovo. Even in the sectors of gastronomy, construction and many other fields which are related to vocational education, which in Kosovo is not sufficiently developed and urgently needs improvement, we have experts who are ready to engage, be it for a temporary period or longer.
In Kosovo we have many girls and boys who, despite the opportunities and not very favorable conditions in Kosovo, can undoubtedly be compared to young people in Western countries. We all know that the level of education in Kosovo, for various reasons, is not good. We know that Kosovo, as a country, is isolated and that many things do not work properly. It is not the idea that experts from the diaspora will engage and save the country. Only by combining the knowledge and experiences of the diaspora and those living in Kosovo and knowing the Kosovar reality well, a productive result can be achieved. Because you can be an excellent expert in a certain field in the country where you live but this does not mean that you can use this expertise directly in Kosovo. It must be adapted to the needs but also the mentality. Some of those who return or engage in Kosovo or Albania sometimes seem to me to forget this fact and try to apply methods which may be very well suited to western countries but which you cannot apply directly to our countries and where we can not expect similar or immediate results because the basic conditions are not the same.
KD: How willing are professionals from the diaspora to offer their assistance to the country of origin, and how willing are institutions in the countries of origin to offer opportunities and to cooperate? What can be the obstacles in this regard?
Qamlie Lokaj: The result of interviews and analysis of what are called secondary sources, other surveys, etc. indicate that there is a willingness to engage in the home country. The majority, i.e, I am always talking about my perspective, my analysis and my personal experiences, the readiness of the diaspora for engagement is very high. But the opportunities for engagement are few. Most of the respondents also mentioned the “Brain Gain” campaign, which was initiated by the Ministry of Education but there were cases who said that they applied there but never received a response. During the research I was in Kosovo for 2-3 weeks and I visited the Ministry of Education, but no one could tell me anything about this campaign. Everyone sent me from office to office excusing that that they were not part of the ministry at the time and that maybe someone else might know something more. Some respondents told me about their internships done in Kosovo. There are also those who engage in the return or temporary engagement program in Kosovo. But often there are no proper programs, other than those of the German GIZ, which are still in development. The problem that is often mentioned is that local institutions unfortunately often have no idea how to use diaspora expertise in the right place. Kosovar institutions must be taught to see the diaspora not only as financial potential, but to know how to use it as a good opportunity to achieve something for the development of the country. Awareness is often lacking in the sense that the person who will be engaged can really contribute something from their experience. Often, it happened to me twice, young people from the diaspora come to Kosovo or Albania, spend a month in internship, more or less as a kind of vacation and not as a job. In this case, neither we nor the institutions benefit much, and neither know how to get more out of that internship or that commitment. Maybe more needs to be done there. Which is the best method, I do not know. I believe that in that direction the institutions should have a higher awareness, and a more intensive communication should be developed between the institutions and the diaspora. And here I must add that your programs like Germin are the best example in this regard. You have paved the way for better communication between the diaspora and home countries and made clear the potential of the diaspora beyond remittances and its willingness to engage.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty and instability in its management in terms of health, even in the most powerful states, all this due to its extremely rapid and widespread. This rate of spread of infection has taken many developed countries unprepared by not having sufficient capacity in hospitals to treat all infected patients. Given the situation created, we considered it very important to conduct an interview with Mrs. Marsela Ceno who leads the Association of Albanian Doctors in Germany, in order to provide lessons and information on how Germany as a developed country has managed the situation with Covid-19, as well as what we (Kosovo and Albania) should do as countries developing, that we have limited capacity compared to a developed country such as Germany.
KD: Could you tell us about the situation in Germany regarding the Covid-19?
Dr. Marsela Ceno:Well, the situation here in Germany can be said to be under control, of course, the number of those affected is increasing, especially those who return from vacation, but here the health system has shown stability, even in the pursuit of people who are confirmed as affected or in finding persons who have been in contact with the latter. Tracing is a very important process in Germany as well as mass testing, so a map is created of people who are affected, and those who have had contact, then self-isolation is required for 14 days until the onset of symptoms. You should also know that the health system has very large capacities, so even if a significant number of patients go to the family doctor or are in serious health condition and need intensive therapy, the capacities in Germany are very large, so at the moment the situation is under control and the trust that the Germans have in the health system of their state made them experience the situation without the panic that characterized it at the beginning of this pandemic.
KD:As you may know, in Kosovo and Albania, in recent days and weeks there has been an increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19. What do you think are the main reasons for such a thing?
Dr. Marsela Ceno: I think the reasons are several. The pandemic in Europe has reached Italy probably since December, while it became official in March. Even the Balkan countries, here referring to Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania suffered a very heavy lockdown and very large restrictive measures, and this was different from the reality we experienced in Germany. It is true that in Germany most of the public services, schools and kindergartens were closed, but life in a way “continued normally”, so there was no curfew. The person who went to work if he was not obliged to do home office, leaving the house was not forbidden, going to the markets also, so there was no closure of life, complete isolation of life and this made the wave of spread of the disease to be not in the highest numbers, but to be continuous, while in our countries both in Albania and in Kosovo perhaps the lockdown caused the postponement of the spread of the disease in the population. Then with regret, I want to point out a phenomenon, which I have actually followed through the constant contact I have with my family in Tirana, but also through my short visit I had in Albania a month ago, and the awareness of the general population, at least until recent weeks has been very small. There have been people who questioned the existence of this virus, and by not really appreciating the importance of the situation they also showed negligence, either in respecting the distance or also wearing the mask, so it is unfortunate, in a way irresponsible or the easy taking of the situation by a large number of the population, caused that by not observing the necessary measures, the spread of the virus increases in the months or year we are observing. Then we must take into account the regulation of movement between countries, so we who came from Germany to Albania, and also the possibility of movement from the Balkans to European countries, certainly increases the risk of spreading the virus. I say the reasons are multifactorial and I believe the time has come for us to reflect on each of these reasons together so that the pandemic passes as easily as possible.
KD: It has been emphasized many times that citizens are neglecting the danger of the virus, maybe this fact needs research…
Dr. Marsela Ceno: I think those coercive measures are in fact against the instinct of every human being because the main principle of every human being is to be free, free in living daily life. So indeed the figures of the countries we had at the border like Italy with a very large number of deaths per day made it a little easier psychologically for people to accept the lockdown when in fact the figures of the persons affected or those who had lost their lives were not dramatic so it was a precaution which people because of the danger they thought might come easily accepted, but seeing that the level of those affected fortunately remained very low, then people believed that all this great measure of restraint, prevention was probably not necessary, so for this reason, some thought it was just a game or it was a lie or it was a conspiracy theory, so they thought it would not find them which the danger had passed. If now they think it is just a fabricated situation, a situation created for certain purposes, of course, the vigilance decreases, they do not start taking care of themselves, they see no reason why to wear the mask, to maintain physical distance. But I have an appeal for all those who doubt the existence of this virus, to see the persons who are hospitalized. Even young ages who may not have concomitant diseases fail to win the battle against this virus, so it is fortunate for the part of the population who are not to see these sights. People should be aware of respecting the minimum distance of 1.5m to each other, to keep the mask especially in environments where physical distance can not be preserved, large gatherings should also be given up whether on holidays, engagements or even at funerals. We are in a pandemic situation and solidarity between us is the only way to emerge victorious in this situation.
KD: How do you assess the work of state institutions in Kosovo and Albania in pandemic management?
Dr. Marsela Ceno: I do not have very accurate first-hand information to say or I am not in a position to judge the work of institutions. I think that both health systems in Albania and Kosovo have done their best, but now it is felt that the situation is slowly getting out of control.
KD:How do you see the contribution of the diaspora in combating the COVID-19 virus pandemic? Is there room to do more? If so, how can such a thing be done?
Dr. Marsela Ceno: I have mentioned in other interviews also that every evil has a good, and the good of the pandemic caused by Covid-19 was the emergence, the advertising of the Albanian diaspora as an extremely powerful instrument, with dignity and personality. I am referring here to the contribution given by a very large number of Albanian doctors working in Germany, who within the initiative of the association since mid-March 2020, so we just realized that the pandemic or virus had arrived and in Germany, and many Albanians, whether from Albania, Kosovo, or Northern Macedonia, remained confined to Germany, and perhaps lacked a family doctor or, due to a lack of knowledge of the language were unable to find out how they should act like. We set up our own support groups for each German Bundestag, made our telephone numbers and e-mail addresses available, and tried to give as little support as possible to all Albanian citizens who needed our advice. In fact, this is a part of the great contribution of all other Albanian doctors everywhere in the world. You may have followed on almost all TV channels or also in the print and radio media, there have been interviews from all Albanian doctors everywhere who have faced this virus in their countries where they live, and tried to share with their countries of origin a way of strategy in the first place how diseases could be identified, secondly what are the preventive measures, to give an appeal to the Ministry of Health in the way of testing patients and providing therapies, what are the alternatives, what has resulted in effective therapy, ie has been a mobilization or is still ongoing extraordinary life of the diaspora, at least in the prism of Albanian doctors who are in the diaspora, and also we have noticed or heard that in recent months the economic aid that has come from Albanians living in the diaspora to their families has been higher than ever. Then we have the philanthropist, for example, the director of the international firm Ecolog, who has donated free tests for COVID, whether in Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, as well as in Albania, so it is a mobilization and an extraordinary commitment. So I can not say at the moment what there is room for improvement, I have the impression that each of us who is in exile either individually or even organized, we have managed to give the maximum of what we have had the opportunity.
KD:It has often been pointed out by infectologists that in case of an increase in the number of infected, there may be a shortage of anesthesiologists. In this aspect, how much could the diaspora or the doctors there have contributed?
Dr. Marsela Ceno: Yes, this is a very fair remark because all those patients whose condition worsens and need treatment with intensive therapy, ie integrated, to give them enough and necessary oxygen, which they can no longer realize lungs affected by Covid-19, they all end up in intensive therapy and anesthetists are the ones who mainly give the first treatment. What has been done in Germany and so far has been very successful, has been the mobilization of other medical forces which means all doctors regardless of their field of action, so it does not matter if they are internists or surgeons, you should to be trained so that at the moment the situation becomes such, that anesthetists are no longer enough to provide assistance to these patients, to have the opportunity for doctors of other profiles to come to the service of treating these patients. Many universities in Germany have also invited students who are engaged in the treatment of these patients, certainly not in making the main treatment but in providing assistance, such as assistance to the anesthetist. There have also been people of different profiles who have given their free contribution through hospitals, whether for moving beds from one ward to another. Before turning our eyes to diaspora doctors, it is important for me that the medical and non-medical staff present in our countries be trained in such a way that if the situation reaches such a level that the situation gets out of control, then other staff be prepared to provide first aid. Perhaps what can be thought and that would be very good, is that some of the doctors who are in the diaspora come and give their contribution in Kosovo or Albania, but we hope that this point does not reach, and also probably would be a very good alternative for the respective countries then come in contact with countries such as Germany that have very large capacities in intensive care, that cases in which are difficult that can not be treated to the end in Kosovo or Albania then to be sent by special transport and treated in Germany. Germany provided such assistance to France, it also received some of the patients who were in very bad condition from Italy, but these are agreements that must be concluded at the state level between these two countries.
KD: What would you suggest to prevent the spread of the virus in Kosovo and Albania, based on the experience of the country where you live?
Dr. Marsela Ceno: Then I refer to the experience as well as reality or actuality in Germany. Starting from the individual behavior of each of us, i.e. maintaining social distance and also wearing a mask in all those environments where maintaining distance is not possible, i.e. in the supermarket, post office, or restaurants which are not well ventilated. I must also emphasize that wearing a mask is something that has two medals of its own, i.e. if textile masks are used they should be washed occasionally if disposable ones are used they should not be worn for days, but even after 4 hours of use should be changed, because in recent days there are announcements which talk about the complications caused by wearing the disposable mask for a long time. They make up a very favorable terrain through the moisture and warmth that comes from our breath and the placement of fungi for causing inflammatory lung diseases, which lungs are just as at risk as pneumonia caused by Covid-19, so I take the chance in this interview to emphasize this appeal, i.e. textile masks should be washed regularly and those that are disposable should not be used for days, weeks or even months, but should be changed after 4 full hours of use. I also want to appeal to all people, to give up the holiday, the big family gatherings, no matter how great the reason to be happy or even sad. We are in a time of pandemics and therefore we must show solidarity, not only to protect ourselves but also to protect others, especially the ages who are most at risk of this virus are people over the age of 55 or 60, people who are polymorbid, ie suffering from diseases such as diabetes or hypertension, or persons who have other systemic diseases of the immune system. I also want to urge people who feel they may have signs of COVID, cough, or fever to isolate themselves for 14 days and see a doctor only if their condition worsens.
Fascination and respect – portraits of the Famous by Gazmend Freitag
What motivates an artist to draw the portraits of historical and contemporary figures? Fascination and respect, is the opinion of the painter Gazmend Freitag, whose portfolio celebrates the successful, courageous, kind, creative and beautiful people of the world. A special place in the heart and the ever expanding collection of the artist is reserved for those poets, fighters and philosophers, whose life and work is crucial to the identity and history of the Albanian people.
In a corner building in East Village, New York City, the entire uppermost floor has been turned into a photography studio. It is the studio of the renowned Albanian-American photographer, Mr. Fadil Berisha. Surrounded by windows and an abundance of natural light, there’s a certain positive energy that you feel the moment you step foot inside. The walls are covered in giant photographs of Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, Emina Cunmulaj, etc., and countless awards, autographed photos, and souvenirs from people that have worked with Fadil over the years.
When I arrived at Fadil’s studio on a sunny Saturday afternoon, he was adding some final touches to one of his recent photoshoots. Once he finished editing, he suggested going to a pizza place around the corner where we could talk more about his life, and I gladly obliged. Over delicious Italian food, Fadil began his engaging storytelling about his early life and career.
Born in Kosovo to Albanian parents, Fadil Berisha moved to New York City with his family at the age of nine. His upbringing was similar to that of any average immigrant family. Every major decision, he recalls, revolved around personal finances. So, when he chose to major in men’s fashion design, his family was not particularly thrilled. He graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, but the degree did very little to quench his thirst for art. Put simply, Fadil didn’t feel like he was in the right career path, yet.
Driven by the desire to be exposed to different forms of art, Fadil, along with his friend, Donna DeMari, a photographer he had met in New York, traveled to Italy. Fadil would spend hours styling and observing her photoshoots, secretly wishing he was the one taking the photos, until one day he finally asked her if he could borrow her camera for a session, and she agreed. “I set up the camera and the moment I heard the click, I found my power. The next day, I packed my bags and moved back to America,” says Fadil with enthusiasm and sheer joy in his face.
“As a kid, I loved faces, all faces, and I was genuinely curious about them.”
—Fadil tells me.
Being the first person in the family to pursue art, he struggled to convince his family members that it was the right thing to do. Fadil is kind, polite, and understanding when he talks about them. It’s almost a non-verbal acknowledgment of their struggles. Most beginnings are often hard and his was no different. He soon found himself at a dead end. Evicted from his apartment shortly after becoming a father, he was forced to return home to his parents where he drowned himself in work. At one point, Fadil was working three jobs that brought some financial stability and very little joy. He could have chosen to lead a more comfortable life, but that was not in his plans. Within six months, Fadil got himself a big studio and has not looked back ever since. “The best advice I ever got was that you can never run away from yourself.” And for Fadil, not attempting to run away from his true self did pay off.
Today, we all know Fadil Berisha as the Albanian-American photographer whose work has graced the pages of some the most prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Nylon, etc. He’s photographed the likes of Roger Federer, Kendall Jenner, Placido Domingo, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Sharon Stone, Nick Jonas, Zendaya, Michael Bublé, Kris Jenner, etc. for clients including Rolex, Estée Lauder, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Lexus, Peugeot, Bulgari, Miss Universe, Sherri Hill. His work has been featured on the major networks, such as MTV, NBC, CBS, CNN, E!, etc.
Among the sea of celebrities whose beauty Fadil has greatly captured, there are many Albanian stars. Bebe Rexha, Era Istrefi, Inva Mula, Xherdan Shaqiri, Robin Krasniqi, and Heidi Lushtaku, Ermonela Jaho, Eliza Dushku, Saimir Pirgu, Blerim Destani, Rame Lahaj, and Nik Xhelilaj are just some of them.
When you hear Fadil’s stories, you wouldn’t know that there was ever a time when Albanians were not part of his life, but such was the reality. At the beginning of his career, Fadil tried to distance himself from his fellow Albanians, in fear of being ridiculed for his career choices. However, that was a short-lived attempt. With a noticeable change in his tone, he recalls the day a couple of young students, refugees from Kosovo, showed up to his studio, unannounced. He refers to that day as the day that changed his life completely.
It was around 1997, Fadil does not remember the exact year, and the early signs of war in Kosovo had already started to show. These kids had heard about him and were seeking his help in raising awareness for the dire situation back home. They even brought along photos documenting the massacres that were happening back in Kosovo. Given that his work revolved solely around fashion and beauty, Fadil couldn’t fathom how he could possibly help them. “That night, I went home and told my Mom what had happened. We had a long chat where she shared emotional stories about her upbringing and she spoke to me about the importance of helping these kids out,” recalls Fadil. The next day, he got back to his studio and picked up the phone. “You have ruined my life,” Fadil told them. “I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, I had nightmares. I know I have to help you, but I don’t know how,” he continued. Despite the hopelessness, he vowed to help in any way he could.
Around that time, along with Avni Mustafaj, Tracey Aron, Gary Kokalari, and Donika Bardha, Fadil co-founded the Kosovo Relief Fund, an organization that aimed to help families who had lost loved ones in the war. He recalls nightly meetings; frequent post- Broadway show visits from the famous Hollywood star, Vanessa Redgrave, who had expressed desire to help; and the way Albanians had come together for a greater cause. In his voice, I almost sense a little bit of nostalgia as he recounts countless interesting stories.
Fadil goes on to explain how, together with other volunteers, he had planned to use the photos he had received and created an awareness campaign. They solicited help from Stan Dragoti, the Hollywood film director of Albanian origin. Having previously been deemed too graphic, they worked their magic and turned the massacre photos into a campaign. However, despite raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, they couldn’t quite cover the fees to run the campaign on a major newspaper. However, one of those days, a peaceful protest was organized in front of the White House in an attempt to draw attention to the Kosovo cause. It wasn’t much different from other protests, or so they thought. Nevertheless, the following day, Fadil woke up to see the photo on the New York Times. A man was holding the sign they had created and a reporter happened to take a photo of it. The photo ended up in the print version of the newspaper. Fadil believes it was the sign and the push they needed to continue the fight for a free Kosovo.
“I haven’t thought about this story in such a long time, I just got goosebumps talking about it,” said Fadil as we got up to leave the restaurant.
Back in his studio, I asked Fadil if he has any pictures or videos from the events he used to organize in his studio. They must be somewhere, he tells me, but who knows where they ended up when he moved studios. “I like to recall these moments without dwelling too much in the past. I don’t like focusing on the past because you can get stuck. Remember the past and look to the future,” he says to me.
His phone rings. A famous Albanian couple, friends of his, were stopping by. The number of Albanian artists, sportsmen, political figures, and ordinary people that come to his studio, even just for a chat, is astonishing. I have heard people refer to his studio as the unofficial Albanian Embassy. “It became a duty to me,” says Fadil about his willingness to help others. “I asked myself, ‘Why don’t I help my people?’ To give is gratifying!” Whereas, for Albanians, he has one important advice: “Albanians are great to other people, but not always kind to one another. We need to change that.”
Fadil Berisha has been the official photographer for Miss Universe since 2002. With his help and guidance, both Albania and Kosovo became successful Miss Universe participants. Then he points at the picture of Marigona Dragusha, the 2nd Runner Up in Miss Universe 2009. With a big smile on his face, he explains how everyone loved her, the same way they loved Zana Krasniqi the year before. “When Gona walked out on that stage, tears starting flooding. I was so happy but also so scared of her. People loved her and they compared her to Audry Hepburn. But I was afraid of a possible backlash from other countries who may have thought that I favored her. So, I had to keep a distance.”
Fadil began working with talent in Kosovo as soon as the war ended. He took it upon himself to showcase the Albanian beauty to the world. “I always asked myself, ‘How can I get a girl that will never otherwise get a chance?’” says Fadil. And those photos around his studio are proof that he gave the opportunity to those who indeed would not have another opportunity.
So, what draws Fadil to people? “Smile, eyes, a good heart, and soul,” the answer rolls off his tongue.
Fadil talks about his career and his beliefs with a passion you don’t often encounter. He believes that arts and sports are of crucial importance as they have the power to change people’s hearts and minds. He leads me around the studio as he points at different photographs hung on his walls, telling a story about each of them. When I asked him if he could single out a person who has made a significant impact in his life, he grabbed a framed picture of him with a gentleman and says, “Without a doubt, this guy. He’s the former owner of Rolex. In 2005, he gave me a lifetime contract and was a close friend till the day he died. That opened so many doors for me.”
From sitting at his desk to running to get a bowl of seeds from the kitchen for the birds on the fire escape, Fadil Berisha never stops moving and never stops talking.
A couple of hours had passed and I did not once sense any regrets in his voice, which got me curious. So, I decided to ask him: Does Fadil Berisha have any regrets? He is human, after all. “Not taking pictures of Mother Teresa. I will always regret that” he says pensively. “You know, she was in New York City in 1997 with Princess Diana, and I could have taken pictures of her then, but my plan was to go to India and capture her and the environment in which she worked, so I put it off. She died before I got the chance to do it and it will always be something that I wish I had done,” says Fadil. I could easily sense the disappointment and sadness in his voice as he finished saying those words. It almost made me regret asking the question in the first place.
In recent years, Fadil Berisha has been doing a lot of self-reflection. Nowadays, he enjoys a day off, long walks, and meaningful chats over coffee with friends and family. Whether it’s about his siblings, his mother’s flowers, or his grandson, there’s an overwhelming sense of adoration in the way in which he talks about his family. Spiritually, he does believe in higher powers, in God. But there is one thing he has no doubt about: “We are all energy. Our souls never die, only our bodies do,” he tells me. The energy of New York City is what he claims has kept him there for so long. The crystals scattered around his studio are a testament to this.
And although there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged by people, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to let that happen anytime soon. “Whenever I’m ready to give up, whenever people disappoint me, there’s always someone that comes along that shows genuine appreciation and makes everything worth it.”
The doorbell rings. His guests are here and he greets them with the same smile and hugs that he greets everyone, ready to dive into another deep but lively conversation.
Los Angeles, February 4, 2019 – International model, actress, media personality and filmmaker Hana Noka will unveil the story of Queen Teuta of Illyria with the launch of the historical fictional novel “Besa Po,” inspired by the true story of love, loss, betrayal, victory and defeat. Queen Teutawas not only a famous Warrior Queen that lived almost two hundred years before Cleopatra, but her love for King Agron was one of the most legendary love stories in history. She was one of the first women to rise to power in the male dominated kingdom and society.
“I feel honored to be the first person to bring the true story of such a powerful woman to English language audiences,” comments Noka. “As an admirer of strong women in history, I was drawn to the stories of the ancient Illyrian women. I felt compelled to tell the story of the great leader Queen Teuta who ruled Illyria, which encompassed the modern day nations of the Balkans from 231 BC to 227 BC. It is my hope that the story of Queen Teuta will inspire women around the world just as it has inspired me. I eventually look forward to adapting the story of Queen Teuta to the big screen.
The Kosovan-Albanian beauty premiered her short film, titled “HANA” at the 9th annual La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival in July 2018. The film received three nominations, including Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Music. Directed by Luey Nohut, “HANA” was inspired by a simple quote from former longtime creative director Alber Elbaz of fashion house Lanvin, “Style is something reflected from our soul to the outside world – an emotion.” Along with her husband Shkumbin, Noka served as executive producer on the film.
Noka stars in the soon to be released film “The General,” starring Goran Višnjić and Armand Assante, and will begin shooting on “Criminal Act” by MPH Films in London this spring. She is represented by MMG and AC Talent and is a brand ambassador for Heinemann Duty Free in Europe.
Hana started her career in modeling and acting at a young age. Despite her busy life as a child model and actress, Hana always took her education seriously. She graduated from Griffith College Dublin, in Ireland with an honors BA in Journalism and Visual Media. Born in Istanbul, Turkey as the only child to Albanian parents, Noka grew up in various countries before settling in Los Angeles.
“Besa Po” is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Germin is hosting its first international conference, Diaspora Flet, in Kosovo. The four-day event will bring together lawmakers, government officials and a diverse group of Diaspora members — professionals, scholars, community leaders, business representatives, and other interest groups – to address the advancement of the role of Diaspora in the economic, social, and political developments of their country of origin.
Register for the Conference HERE | Download the Program HERE | Check the website HERE
After her family escaped the simmering turmoil in Kosovo to England, Gentiana started to pursue her passion for hair-styling at an early age. Working as a hairdressing assistant at the age of 16, she slowly worked her way and built the confidence to open her own salon. She now owns and runs Rush Cambridge, the Cambridge branch of the famous British brand Rush Hair. Gentiana manages a team of nine employees and works as a stylist for six days a week.
Gentiana explains how she had initially contacted Rush Hair to open a salon in Cambridge and presented her ideas to senior management. The process happened swiftly as Rush Hair helped her to open a new location for the hairstyling brand. She believes that the right attitude is crucial to achieving one’s goals.
Gentiana hopes to open another salon in the near future. She says that Kosovars living abroad can help improve Kosovo’s image by excelling in their professions and jobs.
Edmond studied Electrical Engineering at the Delft University of Technology and completed his graduate studies at the Electromagnetics Research Group in 2010. His research was focused on efficient methods for solving electromagnetic inversion problems and inspired him to continue pursuing his academic aspirations.
In line with this, he became a PhD student at the Radiotherapy Department of the Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam in November 2010. The project Improved Regional Hyperthermia Delivery by Using MRI Data for Treatment Planning was funded by the Dutch Cancer Society and Edmond received several awards at various international MRI and hyperthermia conferences for his research results. He obtained a PhD degree in Medicine at the University of Amsterdam in 2016.
Even though he focused his energy on advancing his career, Edmond Balidemaj always found time for his commitment to Kosovo’s improvement. In 2008, he participated in Kosovo project of Wellant College in Dordrecht during which he visited Kosovo and helped renovate a school in Drenas municipality together with 20 other Dutch students. Moreover, Edmond provided a course on the Albanian language and a workshop on the Albanian culture to the Dutch students who visited Kosovo with him. In the period of 2005-2009, Edmond and his three friends (Varoll, Verart and Vatan) organized a variety of events which brought students of Albanian descent living in the Netherlands together. Among other things, they organized entertainment activities such as bowling and barbecues and also participated in events organized by other organizations (e.g. Pax Christi, embassies, etc,) regarding Kosovo issues.
On a simple dark stage underneath a single spotlight, the Albanian music artist known as Stanaj stands tall and confident ready to perform for his fans at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. He grabs the microphone and immediately the room becomes electrified by his powerful and smooth voice and his infectious presence.Stanaj, 22, has been performing for large audiences like this for quite some time now. Yet, he evokes such a level of pure joy and excitement when he sings that it feels like this could be his first big performance. It is with love, gratitude, and a huge smile adorning his face that Stanaj gives life to his beautiful songs and sends everyone home with a piece of his heart and a little bit of his charm. There is something truly admirable about the genuineness with which he performs.
Stanaj, born in New York to Albanian immigrant parents, has taken the music industry by storm and is quickly rising as a pop-star sensation. Within five months he successfully released two EPs, “The Preview” in 2016 and “From A Distance” in 2017. Aside from being featured on Spotify’s “Pop Rising” and Tidal Rising, he is selling out shows in every city alongside singer Jojo.
The world was officially introduced to Stanaj in October of 2016 through his first official television debut on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. By his own admission, that debut to him was a dream come true. But, to many people, Stanaj was already someone to watch out for due to his large social media following. After performing in bars and small gigs, Stanaj began to steadily gain popularity on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. In a matter of a couple of years, he managed to go from a social media sensation to a respected recording artist. Stanaj has come a long way but he still thinks there is a lot of work ahead of him. “I am nowhere near where I want to be. However, I’ve been lucky enough to be recognized by so many people as a true artist,” he adds.
When he’s not on the road, Stanaj splits his time between New York and LA writing –he has written with some of the best writers and producers–and recording songs. But that burden is made easier by the tremendous support and the constant presence of his family—“my champions”, as he refers to them— to whom he dedicates his entire success to. In fact, his manager Mark is his brother. But the sacrifices his family has made along the way are finally paying off. Being a first-generation American and seeing the struggles that his parents have had to overcome inspires Stanaj to pursue his dreams and stay humble. His parents are Albanian from Malesia, Montenegro. “Having older siblings and parents who are so deeply involved in the Albanian culture helps me stay true to who I am, and my roots,” he says.
Growing up, Stanaj sang mostly Albanian songs, which he admits he still loves dearly. He often shares videos and images of his younger self joyfully performing in small Albanian weddings and gatherings. From a young age, his family has shared his passion for music. He says he developed a desire for singing from playing instruments with his brothers. “I am not sure that I would have had the same success without having my family guiding and supporting me every step of the way.”
When it comes to the styles of his music, Stanaj does not think he sounds like anyone in particular, but people have compared him to a mix between Sam Smith, Justin Timberlake, and Alicia Keys. Yet, he is unique in his own way. You have never heard anyone quite like him. You can listen to a song and immediately know it is his. This is a sign of a true artist and he plans to keep it that way. In a world full of mass-produced music, Stanaj thinks that being unique will prevail. As far as we are concerned, Stanaj’s dream built on hard work, determination, and team effort has already prevailed.