A letter to Albanians who don’t want to meddle in global affairs

Although a small nation, the Albanians have left their mark in world history. In light of the cynicism of the Trump era, we need to acknowledge that we too have a stake in this world.

Under different circumstances, it could have been us. Under past circumstances, it was us. Sleeping on the ground in Bllace, stripped of addresses, passports, bank accounts, photo albums, toys, professions, diplomas, childhoods – no safety, no moorings, just fear. And death.

We were not saved because we suffered beautifully. We were not saved because the scale of our pain was so great. We were saved because of an unrepeatable stroke of luck, in which political concerns favored an intervention and just enough Western voters felt pity for Kosovar refugees.

We were not saved because we are special. We are one of the hundreds and thousands of powerless, small peoples in the world that get trampled upon by bigger aggressors, and one of the few to be saved from annihilation by greater powers. We did not suffer any greater or fight any more ferociously than Syrians, Kurds, or Bosnians.

The world’s intervention in Kosovo could just as easily not have happened. What would have happened to us then?

We should never forget the total vulnerability of being unwanted, expelled, put on trains, sent to camps. That reality should make us compassionate. We can’t see the Syrian refugee and not imagine the Kosovar one as well. There is little difference between the two, except one was allowed to live and the other may not.

The experience of being a Kosovar Albanian should give us a clear understanding of tyranny and injustice. And yet, we bow down to the same United States that calls little warlords across the world “partners” and “friends,” including our own. We declare love for American values but are nowhere to be found when Americans protest in our streets for women’s rights – fights so hard won and on the brink of being undermined in the United States. We appeal to Western civilization and its values, but its vanguards in Brussels do everything apart from build a wall to keep us out.

We belong to this world. We no more deserve our government in Kosovo than we deserve a world order that calls for the servility and subjugation of the non-Western parts of this world.

Some Albanians have resigned themselves to cynicism, servility or victimhood. The cynical Albanian says there’s no point in political action because our politicians are corrupt, the West is corrupt, and only the morally compromised get to make the rules. The servile Albanian will sacrifice his house, his country and his principles to anyone with a big enough stick. The victimized Albanian insists he has no agency and no control over political decisions, and remains powerless.

These paths require an obsession with obeying the whims of the West (which increasingly appears to want nothing to do with us) or a closed-minded urge to only deal with “our” problems – a point of view which demands that we stop caring about the world beyond our borders.  

We’re a small nation, and most of the time the impact of our words and action may be nothing apart from symbolic. But there have been moments in our history when we have directly affected the lives of others through our action or inaction. When Jews were being sent to death camps across Europe, Albanians in Albania sheltered them, while in Kosovo we were complicit in their deaths. People like Emrush Myftari left the small town of Peja to fight in the Spanish Civil War as a volunteer, alongside George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway. Nexhmie Zaimi, an Albanian American journalist, was among the first reporters to cover the plight of Palestinians in the 1950s. Pashko Vasa fought in an Italian uprising against Austrian rule in 1849, a power that must have seemed as undefeatable as the United States appears to us now. Margarita Tutulani was a fierce anti-fascist who resisted the Italian occupation of Albania, and paid the price for it with her torture and execution.

There can surely be no doubt that these people were dedicated Albanian patriots. Responding to violence inflicted upon immigrants, refugees, women, Muslims and other needless sufferers doesn’t mean we’ve stopped caring about our problems at home. It means we recognize our similar histories of resistance and our shared humanity with other marginalized peoples. More than anything else, our responses or indifference towards these global struggles reveal who we are, as a people and a nation.

03 February 2017 - 15:44

Hana Marku

03/02/2017 - 15:44

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosova. For 8 years, PI has been reporting on current affairs, published exclusive investigations and longform features & essays about Kosovo and the region.