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Lubishte. Photo: ESI

Lubishte village is tucked away at the foot of the Karadag Mountains in Kosovo's southeast. For centuries Lubishte's economy was dominated by sheep farming and subsistence agriculture. Villagers would spend several months a year up on the pastures of the Karadag Mountains. There was no electricity until the 1970s. In 1976 an asphalt road connected Lubishte to the outside world for the first time. To this day, most houses rely on private wells for running water.

Most of Lubishte's 227 families live off subsistence agriculture. With the average farm size at around 1 hectare, farming barely provides enough to feed a family. For decades Lubishte had to export its labour force to make ends meet. The first migrants left the village in the early 70s. During the 90s, 242 villagers left Lubishte to escape economic hardship and political repression. Today, one quarter of Lubishte's 2,134, inhabitants – 572 people – live abroad, mostly in Switzerland. The money they send back to their families provides for 60 percent of the monthly cash income in the village: more money is earned abroad than in Lubishte itself.

Without migration there would hardly be any cars, tractors or new houses in the village today. At least 118 of Lubishte's houses and 91 of its 97 tractors were paid for with money earned abroad. Of 147 households who own a car, 137 bought it with transfers from abroad.

While migration introduced Lubishte to satellite dishes and modernity, the income also helped to preserve traditional family structures. The average household in Lubishte has 9.5 members. Most decisions are still taken by the male head of the household, who also controls the family budget. Only two women in Lubishte have regular jobs outside their homes. This is not likely to change soon: few girls are given the chance to continue higher education.

In Lubishte, as elsewhere in rural Kosovo, migration provides an important economic safety net, but it cannot substitute for sustainable growth. Only 16 percent of the working-age population in the village have any kind of paid employment or regular cash income from work. Forty-five percent of the village population is younger than 16. For this generation, the doors to Europe are largely closed. Since 1999, the only legitimate migration route still available is family reunification. Only those who already have close family in the diaspora are able to leave. Unless the European Union rethinks its immigration policy, the future for villages like Lubishte looks bleak.

May 2008

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