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Kosovo: The Swiss Front

Paul Hockenos - Homeland calling
Paul Hockenos - Homeland calling

As in all wars there are several fronts. An important one during the Balkan was that of the diaspora. Paul Hockenos, who has worked with ESI, has written an eye-opening study on the relationship between Serbs, Croats and Kosovo Albanians and their diasporas and the role played by these diasporas during the wars. Often he found that the mindsets of those abroad tended to be far more conservative and nationalistic than that of the people who remained at home. In this section Hockenos discusses Kosovo Albanian exiles and mentions Xhavit Haliti, today an important figure in politics in Pristina. He was one of the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which fought the Serbs in 1998 and 1999.

Like other political exiles, the mind-set of these men remained stuck in the stifling confines of the events that produced and defined their expulsion from the homeland. Inevitably their curricula vitae included persecution, prison sentences, and often torture. Even well into the 1990s many of them clung to some form of crass ultra-nationalism rather than explore the democratic political culture in which they had lived for ten or twenty years. Their covert ways and underground mentality remained ingrained in their modus operandi for years to come. Why, one wonders, did they so stubbornly resists the influences of the West? Haliti, for example, despite his more than ten years in Switzerland, never learned to speak German, Italian, or French. The Popular Movement leaders lived between the milieus of the proletariat gastarbeiter, a criminal underground, and the world of the Balkan secret services. Most eked out livings from unskilled labor. The West was a platform for their struggle, nothing more.

The Popular Movement was a small political group, which was the driving force behind the founding of the KLA. The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was then the main political force within Kosovo, led by Ibrahim Rugova. Bujar Bukoshi was Rugova's premier in exile, living in Switzerland.

Kosovo would later pay for its diaspora leaders' uninspired political imaginations. One deficiency shared by all the Kosovar exiles, including Bukoshi and the diaspora LDK, was an unwillingness to think much beyond the short-term goal of independence. The LDK's liberal shortcomings would leave it nearly as ill-prepared as its rivals in the post-Popular Movement parties to lead Kosovo toward a democratic future, when the time came. A symptom of the thinness of exile discourses, neither faction had formulated a thoughtful vision of what Kosovo would look like after its liberation. For example, no mention was made of the future status of ethnic minorities, such as Serbs or gypsies, in an independent Kosovo. Serbs were only spoken of in connection with Serbia proper and the instruments of repression, never as neighbors, potential political allies, or future equal citizens in an Albanian-led Kosovo. Diasporas rarely become constructive forums for dialogue and forward thinking, and certainly not on issues addressing the homeland's ethnic others. The Kosovo Albanian diaspora proved to be no exception.

Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism and the Balkans Wars. Paul Hockenos. 2003.
[pp. 200-1 / Cornell University Press]

April 2007
Tim Judah

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  2. Istanbul: Swimming across the Bosphorus
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