Here’s an interesting article that I somehow missed when it came out a few months back. It’s a dialogue between Serbian writer Vladimir ArsenijeviÄ‡ (who we’ve met before) and Kosovar Albanian journalist Migjen Kelmendi.
If you’re interested in Kosovo, read the whole thing: it’s all good. But this is the bit that jumped out at me:
ArsenijeviÄ‡: [I] really donâ€™t known anyone in Serbia who is keen to maintain regular contacts with artists in Kosovo, or who thinks that it should be done. Books by Kosovo Albanians are not being published, so we have no idea what is happening there. Each act that assumes some good intention towards Kosovo Albanians has to be explained at great length. It is not that the police ask you to come down to the station for a chat, no, that does not happen; but you have to justify yourself in the most normal, everyday conversations. The problem lies in the fact that, when it comes to the Albanians, we are filled with anger, rage and a feeling of being losers; that we act like some injured partner or spouse who has been denied something that he believes naturally to be his own. If you say: â€˜There is a great writer in Kosovo, who has written a novelâ€™, they will talk not about the novel, but about the authorâ€™s nationality.
Karabeg: Mr Kelmendi, do Albanian artists from Kosovo want to work with Serbia, to have their books translated there, to exhibit their paintings, to have a theatre perform there, or do they want artists from Serbia to come to Kosovo, to Prishtina?
Kelmendi: No. They are definitely no longer interested in Belgrade and Serbia. They are fully oriented towards Tirana and Albania. It is there that they wish their works to appear. I would say that the Kosovo Albanians have turned their backs on Serbia for good. There is not the smallest wish to know what is going on there. It seems at times that Belgrade for them is a faraway city, that Serbia is a faraway land. They do not translate books by Albanian authors. Apart from occasional individual contacts, communication has practically ended.
ArsenijeviÄ‡: Belgrade was not very open towards Kosovo Albanians, and now we see this being repaid by turning their backs on Serbia.
This is, unfortunately, true. Kosovo is a young society — the average Kosovar Albanian is about 25 — which means that most Kosovars have no adult memory of peaceful, friendly interaction with Serbs. The Serbs north of the Mitrovica have as little contact with Albanians as possible; the Serb communities left in the rest of Kosovo are small and insular.
This is not to say that there’s no contact at all. There’s a surprising amount of trade across the border; Kosovo is heavily dependent upon Serbia for imports. UNMIK required that all public signs and notices be in Serbian as well as Albanian, and the post-independence government has continued doing this (so far). And most of Kosovo can still pick up Serbian TV. So even young Kosovars often have a smattering of Serbian, and much of the business community deals with Serbs on a regular basis. And there’s still some interest in the common Yugoslav heritage; Kosovo TV still occasionally plays old movies, and there’s a fair amount of Yugonostalgia.
That said, there’s no sense of connection. Nobody’s much interested in Serbian culture. Young Kosovars do not go to Belgrade or Nish to study. Serbian politics is interesting only insofar as it might affect Kosovo. Friendships across the divide are rare. For most Kosovars, Belgrade might as well be 4,000 kilometers away instead of 400.
It’s even worse going the other way. Kosovars at least have some awareness of Serbia and the Serbs. Serbian attitudes towards Kosovo are dominated by ignorance. Outside of Kosovo itself, very few Serbs under 30 have ever met an actual Albanian. Very few Serbs of any age, outside of Kosovo, could give an accurate description of life in the province today. Talk to a Serb in Belgrade about Kosovo and you’ll almost certainly get a string of stereotypes: gangsters, drug dealers, American colony, terrorists. Not one Serb in a hundred speaks a word of Albanian. And there’s zero interest in Albanian culture. In fact, many Serbs would be nonplussed at the very idea of “Albanian culture”. Shiptars, the most primitive and violent people in Europe, produce a book worth reading, a photograph or painting worth looking at, or music worth listening to? What a bizarre idea. Say “culture of Kosovo” to a Serb and the answer will be, basically, “our monasteries“.
And it’s all getting worse, not better. Young Serbs have even less connection to Kosovo than their elders; it’s a nationalist ideal for them, not a real place. Young Kosovar Albanians find it harder to ignore Serbia, but have little interest in going there or learning much about it. At this point, the two neighboring peoples are moving further and further apart.
It’s not necessary for two countries to read each others’ books or watch each others’ movies’. And a shared culture doesn’t make for peace and harmony, either: up until the 1980s, Yugoslavs were speaking the same language, reading the same books and watching the same shows on TV. It didn’t help.
That said, it’s very striking how thoroughly the two sides have turned their backs on each other.