Kosovar identity, Kosovar nationalism?

Looking at the history of the Balkan peoples living within the structures of the Ottoman Empire, it becomes apparent that some groups have had more favorable conditions for the development of national identity than others. Following Anthony D. Smith’s theory of ethno-symbolist nationalism we can construct a checklist of criteria for successful nation formation. These include a clearly defined area referred to as homeland, significant autonomy and  hostile surrounding polities, common places of memory and shrines, common myths, memories and history, language (both spoken and literary), as well as customs and traditions. The most successful national movements in south-east Europe (i.e. the ones who were first to attain autonomy and independence still in the 19th century) were the ones that had both strong unifying factors and could be easily distinguished (and distinguish themselves) from surrounding peoples. Those were primarily the Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians. Other, smaller and weaker ethnic groups were subject to assimilation and repression, the land they claimed the right for was fought over and divided for years and their identity denied both by the newly emancipated states and/or the Great Powers of Western Europe.

In the course of my studies, one of my areas of interest has been north Albanian clans, their characteristic features, the circumstances of emergence of the clan system and its later history. A large part of the population of Kosova (especially in Dukagjini, i.e. Metohija) consists of descendants of these clans, which continue to influence the way of thinking in Kosova today. Studying clan mentality will therefore be helpful in my doctoral research project.

The purpose of this project is to examine the national identity of Kosovars (i.e. inhabitants of the newly independent Republic of Kosova), as well as to deconstruct and analyze Kosovar nationalism, especially as a phenomenon descending from Albanian nationalism, which is a unique case. I want to trace differences between the notion of being Albanian and being Kosovar, while keeping in mind the long, common history of these two territories and characteristics shared between the two communities (especially Kosovars and Gheg Albanians).
My hypothesis is that the emergence of Kosovar national identity arises from the fact that the Albanian population has constituted a vast majority in the Kosova region (unlike the Albanians in Macedonia) and a consequence of a series of political decisions (e.g. the arbitrary design of Albania’s borders in 1912, denying Kosova the status of a republic in communist Yugoslavia, the choice of tactic by Milošević in the 1980s and his decision to play the Albanian card). The division between Albanian Albanians and Kosovars would be non-existent had these decisions been different (although an alternative outcome might have been the division of Albania between the Gheg and Tosk population).
The analysis of Kosovarness and the meaning of “Kosovar” should be divided into several elements: the image that emerges from public appearances of state officials, the image transmitted by the media (especially newspapers and television) and the meaning attached to the term by Kosovars themselves, i.e. inhabitants of Kosova, both in cities, towns and villages. The analysis from the three points of view will enable me to identify differences in the official and popular idea of what it means to be a Kosovar – the disparities result from different objectives that this term is being used for – whether for shaping foreign public opinion (state officials), Kosovar public opinion (state officials and media) or the self-perception of people.

I want to trace the use of “Kosovar” as a noun in Albanian language media (newspapers and television) in Kosova to study the development of its meaning. While media reflect public opinion, they also have the power to shape it. Reading of newspapers in small towns and villages is limited, but TV is omnipresent and watching it fills up a significant part of the day for most families.

State representatives also reflect in their speeches both the current and expected state, and the use of language indicates the political line of the government and its aspirations. It is interesting to see what kind of identity is preferred and therefore enhanced in public appearances and what components receive special attention. I would hypothesize that currently the most frequently repeated argument is that of the Europeanness of Kosova which should convince the public opinion in and outside of the country of the right of Kosovar people for self-determination in their independent state.

The efforts of both media and state officials in creating “the Kosovar citizen” is being filtered through individual people’s minds, opinions and experience as well as their living condition and their micro-universe of the neighborhood, village, town or city. Their world view and their self-view is additionally influenced by Western media (widely available through satellite and cable TV), relatives living and working abroad and the international, civil and military administration, especially visible in Prishtina.

I am curious to find out what elements constitute the Kosovar identity and what are the differences between regional, social and ethnic/language groups. The main question that emerges here concerns the readiness or willingness to include Serbian inhabitants of Kosova in the Kosovar idea, both by Albanian- and Serbian speaking individuals. Another issue to investigate is the role of religion, and whether it is considered part of national identity or not. At this stage in my research I can find evidence for both possibilities.

In course of my research I plan to consult a wide variety of sources in three main subject areas: theory of nationalism and concepts specific to post-imperial nationalisms and the South-East European region, historical and cultural developments of Western Balkans with focus on the Albanian-speaking area and the successive Yugoslav states, case studies of “late nationalisms” (including Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia). My study will be completed with an analysis of newspapers, TV programs, speeches of state officials and interviews with individuals in Kosova.

There is vast theoretical literature on nationalism in general, and on specificities of different epochs and regions. There has been thorough research, both by Western and Albanian scholars, on the nature on Albanian nationalism, as well as detailed studies on national identity of neighboring “small nations”, as defined by Miroslav Hroch. They will be useful to provide perspective and comparison and will highlight the unique situation of the Kosovar state and nation.

As yet Kosovar nationalism has not been studied other than in the context of the latest war of 1999. I am confident that the current proposed project will be a valuable contribution to fill this gap.
I plan to divide my project into three phases, during which I will use different research methods.

Preparatory study (first year, at Durham University) will be devoted to background reading of literature in the three main subject groups mentioned above. This will allow me to deepen my knowledge of theories of nationalism so that I have knowledge of patterns and the elements which I may encounter in Kosovo during fieldwork. This will make it easier to see and understand processes as a whole and identify reasons and results of what is happening. Cultural and historical knowledge is essential to avoid mistakes in interpreting particular behaviours and to understand the meaning of symbols. Case studies of Balkan nationalisms (especially Albanian) will help me identify distinguishing features of the Kosovar case and similarities to other nations. Simultaneously I will keep track of what is going on in the cultural and political life in Kosovo and the wider region.

Fieldwork (second year, in Kosovo): I would like to spend most of the time in one place so that I have the time to build deeper relationship with the local community, making short trips to different towns and villages in Kosovo to build a bigger picture. My initial plan is to spend most of my time in Gjakovë, a town in western Kosovo. This has several advantages. Gjakovë is not among the tourist centres of Kosovo (like Prizren, Pejë or Prishtina), yet it is the 4th biggest town in the country and a administrative centre. This means that while it is not so much influenced by foreign visitors and international missions, it is representative of urban life and lifestyle. Moreover, Gjakovë has a significant (as for Kosovo) catholic community which allows an observation of interreligious relations among Albanians. One of the disadvantages however is that it is relatively far away from any Serb enclaves and has almost no Serbian inhabitants. Another is that Gjakovë historically had a strong relationship to northern Albania with many families having relatives there, so there is a threat of “Albanian bias”, which has to be taken into account during fieldwork.

In the field I will use questionnaires, conduct interviews and observe how people behave during for example state holidays and how they react to speeches of politicians on TV. I would like to talk both to “normal people”, as well as local leaders in various fields (local government, NGO, religious, youth workers etc.). The second type of activity will be the analysis of media content with respect to the meaning of “Kosovar”, “nation” etc. to see how this reflects the government policy and how (whether) it is aimed at creating an image of Kosovo both in the country and internationally.

During the third year I will be preparing the end result, i.e. the doctoral thesis.
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