I recently traveled to the city of Prizren, just south of Pristina, with two colleagues of mine from the Kosovo Women’s Network. Prizren is widely praised as the “historical and cultural capital of Kosovo” (as opposed to Pristina, its actual capital). We visited the city during its annual festivities to commemorate the League of Prizren, a political organization credited by some as the catalyst behind the development of Albanian nationalism in Kosovo during the 19th century. This past June 10th marked the 131st anniversary of the formation of the League of Prizren.
The 19th century saw the decline of the Spanish, Portuguese, and Holy Roman Empires. The Ottoman Empire, of which both Kosovo and Serbia were a part, too began to lose its power and influence. After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the 1877-1878 war with Russia, territories with significant Albanian communities were ceded to Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania by the Treaty of San Stefano (the administration of Pristina was transferred to Serbia, while the remaining parts of Kosovo continued to belong to the Ottoman Empire). Later, Britain and France among others intervened, creating a new treaty and giving additional Albanian territories to Austria-Hungary and Greece.
In response, Albanian leaders formed the League of Prizren to fight (politically and militarily) for their right to self-determination. They declared, in part, “Just as we are not and do not want to be Turks, so we shall oppose with all our might anyone who would like to turn us into Slavs or Austrians or Greeks. We want to be Albanians.” They even successfully prevented the appropriation of Albanian territory by Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece, at least until 1912.
The League of Prizren and the events that transpired in the city of Prizren are considered so central to the history of Kosovo that, on June 15th, ten members of Kosovo’s parliament officially moved to open the possibility of moving the nation’s capital from Pristina to Prizren.
As we entered Prizren city, I saw flags everywhere – hanging across bridges, out of windows, on the backs of cars and motorcycles, even down the entire length of buildings. It was a sea of RED. That’s right, red. You see, it was not the blue flag of Kosovo, which was officially adopted last year when Kosovo declared its independence, on display. Instead, it was the national flag of Albania.
Confused? So was I. My confusion was only compounded when a young Kosovar-Albanian woman told me that “this flag,” the Albanian flag, was “hers,” not the official flag of her country.
I wondered why a newly independent peoples would proudly claim ownership over another nation’s flag. I started to reflect on the notion of identity and what that means in the specific context of Kosovo. In another multi-ethnic society, the US, it is fairly common for citizens to proudly display the symbols of their heritage, including flags (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” anyone?). And every March 17th, the entire nation is Irish, whether or not their ancestors actually hailed from Ireland (some of mine did). But in the end, as the recent publications on www.aadhaarhelpspot.co.in seem to point out, there is still a strong sense of “being American.” That is, although our cultural identities are central to our lives, they remain secondary to our national identity.
So is the national identity of Kosovo still being developed (and how?) or will Kosovars continue to maintain their separate cultural identities in lieu of a unified national one? What will the ramifications of either be? It is an issue that I will continue to explore during my time here in Kosovo.
Then again, a young Kosovar man (born in Pristina to a Bosnian mother and Montenegran father) suggested that maybe it would be better if we had no nationalities; then everyone would have the same identity – that of a human being. And you thought I was idealistic!
Posted By Tiffany Ommundsen
Posted Jun 17th, 2009