Kosovo: A Troubling History Gives Way to Independence and a New Identity
Talking to the World Project
My earliest knowledge of Kosovo goes back to the Kosovo Conflict of 1998–1999, when nightly television reports showed NATO forces bombing the region in order to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbs. A tragic history that was poignantly told in the short film, Shok. Last month, I wrote two posts on this Oscar-nominated film, which chronicles the friendship of two Albanian boys during the outbreak of the Kosovo Conflict. (“Shok” means friends in Albanian).
Today, Kosovo is still striving to shed its tragic history. According to Mike, a retired architect from the Chicago suburbs and a Peace Corps Worker currently serving in Kosovo, the past eight years of Kosovo independence has begun to heal the wounds and give the people hope for a brighter future. People like Ergin, an English language teacher who works with Mike in Prizren, Kosovo.
Thanks, Mike, for sharing the photos on this blog and for putting me in touch with Ergin.
Ergin is the voluntary head of KETNET (Kosova English Teachers’ Network) for the Prizren region. Since 2008, he has also given his time to his community by volunteering at the American Corner Prizren and the Prizren Library while working on his BA studies.
From 2002–2007, Ergin worked in prison service, acquiring knowledge for his MA thesis topic: “Educational System in the Kosovo Prisons”. In 2012, Ergin graduated from the University of Prishtina (Kosovo’s capital) in English language and literature. Recently, he got his MA degree in English language and linguistics from the State University of Tetovo in Macedonia.
My Conversation with Ergin Please look out a window in your home and tell me what you see.
I see Pashtrik mountain, which divides Kosovo & Albania. It is covered in snow. The sun is shining over our historical city from a blue sky.
What is your favorite thing to do in Kosovo?
I also like traveling, going to the gym (I lost 20kg within a year), movies/TV shows (most of us have learned our amateur or street English language knowledge and skills through Hollywood movies with subtitles in our local languages) and going out with friends to drink Macchiato downtown.
What lasting impact did the Kosovo War have on you/your country?
Trauma among people and lack of economic development is still seen since the war. Personally, the war period was when I had to enroll in university (1998) but I couldn’t do it then. Even after the war, due to economic conditions, I postponed it until 2008.
Our country’s economy is still weak but it survives somehow from over 100,000 people who live and work abroad, especially in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy and send money to their family and relatives in Kosovo.
What is a common myth or misconception about Kosovo that you would like to set straight?
Few countries in the EU and the world think we were the perpetrators during the Kosovo war but everyone should know that we were victims. That is why the USA, EU, NATO, Turkey and their allies, supported us before, during, and after the war. They need to analyze which country took part in every war in former Yugoslavian republics since the beginning of the 90s and thus don’t judge us.
Which languages do you speak?
Albanian, Turkish, Bosnian (Serbo-Croatian) and English.
What is the ethnic makeup of Kosovo’s population?
Albanian (over 90%), Serbians, Bosnians, Turks, RAE community(Roma, Ashkali & Egyptians), Gorans, Montenegrians, etc.
What do you love the most about your country?
That it is multi-ethnic and religious. Its natural blessings and its historical and religious monuments. Also the optimism of the hard-working people, the freedom (after the war), and the food.
What about its natural beauty?
Kosovo is surrounded by marvelous nature. There are the Mirusha Waterfalls, Sharr Mountains, Gadime Cave, big and small rivers, Cursed Mountains (Pearl of Balkan), Brezovica Ski Center, Gjeravica Peak 2656 masl, small lakes in mountains, and Brod valley.
In terms of architecture, Kosovo has beautiful mosques & churches (Orthodox & Catholic), castles, Turkish baths, stone bridges, etc.
If I came to your home for dinner, what traditional dish would you serve me?
My mom would prepare local pie from cabbage, spinach, cheese, etc., beans with cow meat or Flija for you with pickles, and yogurt. Also, Turkish tea and coffee after getting up from ‘Sofra’ (lower wooden table) with warm and family hospitality.
How did you celebrate Kosovo’s eighth year of independence in February?
Unfortunately, we couldn’t celebrate it properly due to some protests of opposition in our capital Prishtina. But in general, people went out with their families and friends and enjoyed the special day of our new lives. Many of them visited other countries, like Albania. I went to Macedonia to meet my mentor professor for my MA thesis.
What is the weather like in Kosovo?
It’s cold here before spring. But, because of the climate changes, we had spring time in winter season. We have all four seasons in Kosovo.
What does your country do well? What do you wish it did better?
Our country is good with minority and human rights. Also, there are plenty of investments in road infrastructure and all levels of education. The unemployment rate is decreasing.
I wish nepotism and corruption would go down. I also wish our politicians, with the help of our international friends, would work on fulfilling EU reintegration criteria (especially these months we were hoping to get Visa Liberalization from EU family and go out from isolation, but nothing happened, yet.).
What brings you joy? What frightens you?
My late success in education, family, friends, and students (teaching) bring happiness to myself.
It’s already been 17 years since the war ended and not a lot has changed in economical and EU integration aspects. Hopefully, these issues will be dealt with full professionalism and sustainable steps and we will start to live better lives with opportunities to have freedom of movement outside of Kosovo.
What is your opinion of the United States? Chicago?
USA always supported Kosovo before, during, and after war periods. We consider our country to be 51st state of USA. Americans are loved and respected in here.
I heard about Chicago from movies, Bulls and that many Albanians living in there. You are lucky to live in this country of freedom with a good economy, education, and also with the passport that you can travel to almost everywhere on the planet Earth.
Who or what inspires you?
My family, nature, and the philosophy of Rumi.
Also this JFK quote: ‘’Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’’
Originally published at http://www.chicagonow.com.