Prishtina
Kosovar Identity

This is what I love about Prishtina: early morning, blue sky, black coffee, a colorful caf� and one by one, most of the people I was looking for drift in by themselves. Nowhere else is it so easy to be a cultural explorer.

I am sitting in Caf� Toto, red leather couches and pictures of jazz heroes on the wall. Espresso and rakija are on the table. Last night, I read a large part of 'Who is Kosovar?', the book in which Migjen Kelmendi, editor of independent weekly Java, collected the main contributions to the ongoing debate about Kosovar identity. It's a crucial debate in a society that is not rich in public exchange of opinions on grand topics like the future of the country, the place of religion and the memory of occupation and war.

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Migjen is 46, a stout man with a mischieveous smile and a way of talking that switches smoothly between seductive and confrontational. He is also a writer of light prose on heavy subjects, a former singer with legendary Prishtina punk band The Traces and the former head of state television. Coming from anyone else, I would regard a book about Kosovar identity as a hopelessly nationalistic endeavor. The irony of Kosova today is that this debate is exactly about the opposite: it is the true nationalists, both Serb and Albanian, who regard any talk of Kosovar identity as nonsense. There are two people, they maintain, and the country should be split between them. One part returns to Serbia and the other merges into a greater Albania - including the predominantly Albanian regions in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. This dream of all Albanians united in one motherland remains strong especially outside of Albania itself. But even a great writer like Ismael Kadare, probably the most influential Albanian voice in the world, recently repeated that 'the mission of Albanians anywhere on this planet is one and unchangeable: the defense of interests of their country which is called Albania and of the people that are called Albanians. This is the one and only program of every civilized nation. This is not ethno-egoism. When a people fulfill this mission in a natural and democratic way, firstly toward themselves, they are fulfilling it to all humanity. This is the core of the European idea, the Europe of nations.' And why does he believe Albanians belong to Europe? 'Because, as all of Europe, we are white.' Migjen and many contributors to the book belong to an enlightened minority. Kosova is Kosova, they say: a country in itself, with its own borderlines, government and culture, and an identity which is not based on ethnic categories. Appearing at the start of the highly awaited negotiations about the future of Kosova this is a courageous book. What will the future be after it became a UN protectorate following the war of 1999: will it return under Serbian rule, will it become part of a greater Albania - or will it be a country in its own right? In the following days, I will interview a number of the people who wrote for the book.
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This morning, time is mainly dedicated to a hilarious review of a recent cultural spectacle that illustrates the whole debate: the Goran Bregovic concert in Tirana. Bregovic is a legendary musician, the former frontman of Sarajevo-based Bjelo Dugme, a band responsible for many anthems of Yugoslav subculture in the eighties, who went on to produce an unequaled mix of traditional and contemporary musical styles of the Balkan region. As all great figures here, he is a living paradox. Back in Yugoslavia, he included songs in Albanian in his repertoire, to emphasize that Kosovars too were part of his audience. During the Milosevic era, he provided the soundtrack of Kusturica's 'Underground', the movie that couldn't have been made without the financial and logistical support of the Serbian regime. It featured a song called 'Kalashnikov', punctured by repeated cries of 'Fire!' and 'Attack!' No matter how ironical he might have been when using these phrases, even to his biggest fans in Kosova the song sounded eerie when Serbian death squads roamed their country. And playing it now to a wild crowd in Tirana, after having been offered the key to the city by the beloved mayor Edi Rama - what should music lovers in Prishtina make of that? The owner of popular TV 21 - which offers a daily weather report for the greater Albanian region, including Kosova and Macedonia - , Florin Kelmendi (no family of Migjen), went on air to express his dismay. He felt betrayed by his Albanian brothers. The Albanian dream was shattered by this friend of Serbia! Maybe, he mused, we should after all start taking this guy Migjen Kelmendi and his talks of a separate Kosovar identity more seriously? The man who started this debate smiles a benign smile and takes another sip of his early morning rakija.



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