Diaspora members, unlike foreign tourists, visit the homeland mainly driven by motives such as emotional or family ties, preservation of heritage and language, family reunification, re-connection with their roots, culture, and knowledge of the local context, etc. A desire to relive or repeat past experiences associated with moments of joy, pleasure, nostalgia, as well as the re-construction of events of dark or painful past greatly shape the experiences at the homeland.
Numerous and frequent visits of the Albanian diaspora to the homeland, especially during holiday seasons, have taken on the dimension of what is called “diaspora tourism”. These visits have a potential to influence tourism development and its related sectors in the homeland. In order to capitalize on diaspora tourism, it is necessary to take into account some factors from the homeland perspective:
Understanding the motives of diaspora visits. First of all, it is very important to understand the motives that push diaspora members to visit the homeland so often. This is because their experience and impressions are shaped by the motives of the visits. Consequently, entities that provide services or products should keep in mind that if someone has come with the main purpose of reminiscing with relatives and homeland, he / she has less time to spend on other activities. Therefore, touristic offers must be tailored to demand – specific and clearly defined in time and space.
Local and authentic oriented tourism. Diaspora tourism by nature creates or already has strong links with the local economy, to which the diaspora contributes greatly. Diaspora tourists are mainly looking for local and authentic experiences and products. Therefore, for them the quality is more important than the quantity of things. This is very important for the local economy, as the cultivation and promotion of products has a multifaceted effect in many other sectors such as: cultural and historical heritage, handicrafts, agriculture, livestock, etc. Moreover, it should be noted that the local economy can build a comparative advantage in tourism by cultivating and offering local products and authentic experiences rather than imported ones.
Direct support to the local economy. Diaspora tourism is characterized by not very exclusive or expensive trips. Visiting local and often unknown shops, eating in traditional local restaurants with local owners, sleeping in small, less popular places, etc, is what makes in general diaspora tourism in the homeland. According to global data, the diaspora tourist spends on average less than a regular foreign tourist. Not because of financial impossibility but because of knowledge and desire for local experiences. Diaspora tourists also buy or order directly to local suppliers rather than through intermediary operators, thus directly supporting small local economic operators.
Putting in the map “unknown” places. By visiting places that ordinary tourists do not visit as much as e.g. rural destinations on the occasion of family visits, local cultural or sports events, natural attractions with poor transport infrastructure, diaspora tourists put new places/locations on the tourist maps of the homeland countries. This affects the geographical distribution of tourist destinations and increases the quantity of the offer for foreign tourists over time, while boosting local and a balanced regional development within the country.
More than seasonal tourism. While most tourism is seasonal, diaspora tourism may last longer. A large part of the diaspora members visit the homeland outside of the holiday season as well, because of the family visits as well as lower travel costs. This is an element that can lead to the extension of the holiday season, thus affecting the sustainability of tourism and revenues coming from it.
Given the driving factors for diaspora tourism, even if supply does not change, the number of visits is unlikely to fall, at least from the first generation of immigrants. The motives shape the experiences (even if negative) of this group as well as their assessment for services they get during the homecomings. “Diaspora tourists” are likely to disregard the quality of services in the country when making the decision to revisit the homeland. Consequently, it is assumed that there is a lack of demand for increased service quality.
However, the changing dynamics and demographics/generations of the diaspora will change over time the push factors for homeland visits. This may affect the number and intensity of diaspora visits to the homeland depending on the offer and quality of services we provide. New generations in the diaspora have less emotional ties to the country of origin, hence fewer motivating factors to visit it.
Therefore, from the perspective of tourism development, it is necessary to discuss the offer of Kosovo as a major tourist destination for the diaspora. There is potential to turn diaspora homecomings into catalysts for tourism development, but there is also a risk that this potential will be lost if we do not properly understand current demand and trends.
This opinion was motivated by the organization of the first edition of the festival “Go-to Sharr Fest”, where, among other things, was the discussion of ‘tourism and diaspora’ topic.
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.
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.
Prishtina Gastronomy Festival aims to promote Albanian gastronomy by promoting Albanian cuisine and cultural traditions, that will inspire movement and action. At the very heart of this festival there is an issue and a message at hand ‘Our grandparents showed their love for us and the rest of our families through the dishes they were serving on the table. Let’s spread this love around the world!
The event will take place on 21st and 22nd of July 2019 in Prishtina at “Zahir Pajaziti” Square. During two days there will be symposiums, workshops, restaurant corner, trade fair with food and drink products from local vendors, organic section where organic product will be presented, games and music.
The festival will be an annual meeting for companies, chefs, restaurant owners, bartenders, historians, anthropologists, and our grandparents themselves.
“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.
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’.
Opportunities and Challenges for the Global Albanian Diaspora Developing a Roadmap and Action Plan for Engagement
Following up on the Albanian Diaspora Summit in November 2016, Germin would like to create a Working Group of Albanians from all over the world to develop an Action Plan for Engaging the Global Albanian Diaspora.
The objective is to promote closer and more formal links among Albanians around the world. The Diaspora Summit was a good first step in this direction, but successful and sustainable follow-up requires that we now collectively develop a well-coordinated approach.
If you are interested to join this effort please sign up under the themes you are interested to work at this link.
Born in Bulqize, Albania, Mira Kaloshi is a young Albanian singer who moved to Belgium together with her family at the age of five. She learned of her ability to sing at a young age and often performed at school and local events. At the age of 14 she started writing her own music and at the age of 16 she decided to learn to play the guitar. These activities provided her with the opportunity to network with a number of people in the music business who helped her become a better singer songwriter. “Those couple of chords that I learned on the guitar helped me to write the music I have today,” stated Mira. After many recorded demos, Nightgames was officially released on her birthday, the 25th of October, 2016. Nightgames was, produced, recorded, and filmed in Antwerp.
Mira’s music is inspired by her life experiences as well as a diverse set of music genres. Her music is not limited to any particular genre but is a is a mix of styles such as indie pop, alternative RnB’ and acoustic pop. Another single released, titled Far Away, is written by her and music producer, Wekho. Right now, she is working with different people, trying to put together an EP that will define her style. She anticipates that her EP will be out soon as she has finished working on it. She envisions an EP that is both artistic as well as visually appealing, having a movie feel to it. She notes, “like making people feel like they are watching a movie-trailer instead of just a video clip. That’s what I intended to do with Nightgames in the first place.”
But beside the musical career she is committed and engaged in the diaspora community. She has been a part of the student committee Vlera, that was created by Albanian-Kosovar students in Belgium a couple of years ago. Vlera is an organization that aims to help Albanian speaking students, such as helping them find internships, or by organizing events to communicate with each other. Currently, Mira is also focused on finishing her studies in Communication. She believes that Albania and Kosovo have some of the most talented people in the world. She considers the art scene in the region to be very vivid, changing and evolving everyday. She hopes that in the near future more art schools will open and more events or festivals will be organized in order to provide a space for many talented artists.
Even though Mira speaks Albanian very well, her songs are in English. She is often faced with the challenge of explaining why she chooses to sing in English. Having grown up in Belgium, she learned English from a very young age and listened to English artists. Therefore, English has become her her native language. She notes, “As much as I love listening to Albanian music, it’s hard for me to make it, because mentally I’m somewhere in the middle between Albania and Belgium right now.” Despite being in English, however, her single Nightgames was released by Albanian radio stations, and TV-stations. Another challenge for Mira is making connections in a country that isn’t her homeland. The specific art scene set in Belgium makes it a difficult place for Mira to develop her career as she envisions it. As a foreigner she finds it hard to be appreciated and recognized for her work.
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.
In January 2015, Diamant Salihu returned to Ukraine for the third time in a period of two years. Diamant, a journalist, returned to Ukraine to cover the developing conflict in Ukraine from a bomb shelter. Prior to this, in 2014, a few months prior to his third visit, Diamant was covering the unrest between activists and police forces, along with his photographer friends, Christoffer Hjalmarsson. During their visit, Christoffer was shot with a rubber bullet. These are just glimpses into the Diamant’s life.
With photographer Christoffer Hjalmarsson in Kiev on January 2014, the beginning of the revolution.
At the age of seven, Diamant left Gjakova with his family to find a safe haven in Sweden. His happiest childhood memories consist of him playing football with his friends from school and slowly immersing into a culture and a community that had quickly accepted him as one of their own. Today, he is a successful reporter and columnist for Expressen, a TV and newspaper that has about 2.2 million daily viewers and readers. He covers breaking news stories from Sweden and abroad. Given his success, the question that one might ask is how did Diamant get to where he is now?
His story is rather unconventional. Upon noticing Diamant’s talent, a high school teacher encouraged him to write. At the age of 16, he started working as a youth reporter at a local newspaper. “And that’s where I found my passion: journalism.”— says Diamant. He then joined the military as a journalist at Varnpliktsnytt—a military newspaper that proved to be Diamant’s strongest pillar in his career in journalism. Diamant has covered a broad array of stories, from terror attacks in Brussels and Paris to the journey of refugees in Europe. Additionally, he has been a correspondent for Expressen in New York and London. These days, his focus has been on migration in Sweden. He sees his work, as a way to give a voice to people that otherwise would not be heard. And for that he is very proud.
Diamant’s work leads us to believe that the legacy he is creating and the stories he is covering are deeply rooted in his own story and inspired by his own lessons and experiences. Despite leaving Kosovo at an early age, Diamant has strong ties to Kosovo, through his extended family that live there. He understands that his background is important as it gives him a unique perspective and helps him come up with different ideas related to work. To Diamant, freedom of speech and information is essential. He empathizes with his counterparts in Kosova who are less fortunate and lack similar opportunities and freedoms.
Diamant Salihu has earned his respect and he is an inspiration to younger generations. He has a simple message for Kosovars living abroad who want to establish a good image for the country: “Be a good person and a great example in your new country. You don’t need to be a successful athlete to do this. You don’t have to be a professor either. What everyone can do is to be a good ambassador by working hard, becoming successful at your profession, be a good neighbor or a friend, a good citizen that helps your new city and country to prosper.”
The Kosovo Assembly again this year will be the host of diaspora members. The opening reception will take place on Thursday, July 21st from 11AM.
This year, the event “Diaspora in Parliament” will take place on July 21-22, and is organized under the auspices of the President of the Assembly of Kosovo, Kadri Veseli and the Forum on Parliamentary Transparency.
Diaspora members who wish to visit the Assembly and meet with parliamentarians, are welcome and invited to join this event. For more information visit www.kuvendikosoves.org