Culture, Heritage and Diversity

Text in Albanian
Text in Serbian

Framing ‘The others’ (The common difference)

Cultural diversity and cultural heritage are captivating issues, and most communities in Kosovo1 find themselves in the middle of this debate and sometimes very easily. The Joint Project “EU/CoE Support to the Promotion of Cultural Diversity in Kosovo”(PCDK) has been organising regular dialogue sessions with local artists, academics, professional and intellectuals who are interested in exchanging views with fellow colleagues, to discuss and analyse the commonalities and differences that shape themselves and the others in today’s Kosovo. These sessions intend to bring various viewpoints to the surface and create a platform where the general public is inspired to carry on a public debate on these issues.

In Kosovo, the idea of diversity has suffered and been degenerated over the past decade, since it was first brought to public attention as a condition for peaceful coexistence and reconciliation. While this concept was essential for post-conflict Kosovo, it felt fabricated and imposed by outsiders, causing implicit and internalised resistance, and digressing from the real meaning of the concept. Meanings which were lost in translation did not allow time for the general public to analyse and understand the term in Kosovo’s local languages.

In Albanian, the term ‘diversity’ is perceived as ‘difference’. It is perceived as variety of cultural representations identifying one’s collective/historical memory. However, today many persons from Kosovo, from children to the elderly, are trying to grasp pieces of the puzzle. Public discourse and reflection is still greatly needed. Nevertheless, the presence of diversity, on many occasions has been interpreted as a political imposition and such representation in Kosovo has created a number of prejudices and stereotypes.

Indeed, what is diversity in Kosovo? What is its connection with cultural heritage? What are the stereotypes of persons from Kosovo? What kind of stereotypes do people in Kosovo have about others? This was the topic of the first session of these dialogue series, which focused on stereotypes held by people regarding diversity, and the role of diversity in identification of one’s sense of belonging in Kosovo. Local heritage experts, artists, sociologists and other competent profiles from Kosovo, were invited to discuss and share their views on the issue from their standpoint.

Which difference?

In the local context, diversity in perceived as difference, and the linguistic origin of the terminology is also questioned. It is considered a foreign idea which imports something unknown to the people of Kosovo.

However, unconditionally, speaking about diversity, one speaks and thinks about variety. There is an opinion saying that within Kosovo communities diversity is perceived as a representative of ethnicities and not cultures, while external views see the territory as a diversity of community cultures.

Kosovo has historically been the victim of stereotypes, and these stereotypes have been politically framed – from various circles of interest. Often these views lead to ethnic divisions, perpetuating already rising radical nationalist movements. Manipulation of diversity in the 90s lead cultural heritage being in the middle of ethnic divisions, which brought to destruction of monuments and had a negative impact on the psychology of persons in Kosovo.

One of the most serious gaps referring to the diversity issue in Kosovo remains framing this terminology within the political framework, and consequently mainstream culture neglecting the promotion of this terminology within Kosovo communities, as it is perceived to be highlighting ethnic differences.

In the Kosovo context, diversity as a term is not completely understood, leaving considerable space for misconceptions. The causes of these misconceptions are multifaceted, as lack of ability to explain what diversity really means universally, and what it represents using ordinary terminology and examples in the context of Kosovo with its recent history. There is also a lack of interest in recognising other cultures through awareness activities, such as sending Kosovo Albanian pupils to see icons in the Serbian Orthodox churches. This stands in contrast to older generations, who state that they clearly remember when, for example, they visited Peje/Pec Patriarchate every weekend and felt the object as their cultural element, while many others had a chance to be brought up in a mixed neighborhood and learned a second language.

Nevertheless, there is significant work to be done regarding issues on diversity within Kosovo communities. One important aspect of this work is to challenge the reduction of the concept only to ethnicity. Urban – rural divisions are very much noticeable and felt by the majority of people in Kosovo, and the rich diversity of rural communities seem to be undermined in the name of modernity. These divisions and differences are more noticeable as demographic structure changes, migration to urban areas increases at a very rapid pace, and generation gaps and memories influence cultural perceptions and differences in Kosovan society. In the light of all these rapid changes and looking for improvement, what is the self image of Kosovo and what image would Kosovans like to pass through to future generations?

On Young Europeans

In 2009, an internationally renowned company was commissioned to produce a visual campaign for Kosovo’s representation in the world. Its aim was to showcase Kosovo’s capacity for Western potential investments, as well as to improve the territory’s image for countries that did not recognise its independence.

The campaign, “Young Europeans”, evoked mixed feelings among Kosovo populations. Some see the campaign as beautifully packaged ‘lemonade’ which does not correspond with Kosovan reality, but at the same time, there is a positive reflection of the diverse portrayal of young people. According to some opinions, this visual product also contains an ironic message, because diversity in Kosovo on various levels was neglected. Some lament that the designers did not find anything more valuable for this important presentation.

On the other hand, it is perceived that the campaign breaks the stereotype of Kosovo as an unstable region with an ongoing ethnic conflict. The dilemma is that through this campaign, there is an attempt to establish an image about Kosovo which in reality has failed to hold true.

There is a danger of Kosovo becoming mono-cultural, while aiming at a multicultural society, if the process is not internalised and owned by the people, with a clear understanding of universal values that are common to humanity. For Kosovo, using the previous analogy, the issue comes down to being aware of being the “nicely packed ready lemonade” or going through the organic process of making “ajvar”, which is local, familiar and traditional. To those who know ajvar, or pay attention, there are many varieties to be tasted.

1 All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.