Yesterday was a national holiday here in Albania – Mother Teresa day. Even though she was born and raised in Macedonia, the Albanians claim her as their own because she was ethnically Albanian. In a region of such small countries with a great overlap of culture yet extreme ethnic diversity, this cross-border “claiming” happens fairly often in the Balkans. Lately a few examples of this have sprung up around the visual symbol of the Albanian flag during the recent turmoil in neighboring Kosovo.
For some state-department mandated reason, PCVs in Albania are generally not allowed to travel to neighboring Kosovo while we are here (with the exception of those volunteers who live on or really close to the border). Even with the political unrest there, I’m not quite sure why this policy remains, as I have heard that it is actually better/cleaner/safer there than here in Albania. AND it is the only other country in the world where I could use my Albanian language skills, as most of the country is ethnically Albanian. Plus, Kosovars (and I have met many since I live in the northern part of Albania) LOVE Americans.
Recently Hillary Clinton visited Serbia to speak about the merits of putting aside ethnic and political disputes and actually recognize their neighbor Kosovo as a country. While she was in the country, Serbian nationals burned an Albanian flag at a football match against Italy to protest the very existence of Kosovo – the flag being “borrowed” for it’s symbolic representation of the largely Albanian Kosovo. Then, when Hillary was in Prishtina, the US Embassy strongly suggested that the numerous Albanian flags around town in the Kosovar capital be taken down for her visit. This I find a little funny and ironic, but mainly for the fact that it upset the people in my office here. Even though it may be full of Albanians, Kosovo isn’t Albania, just like Albania isn’t Kosovo (though it seemed like the Serbian hooligans at the football match got that a bit confused).
I wrote most of this post before the recent collapse of the Kosovar government that occurred on Monday. This event, and Kosovo’s short and turbulent history, are things I don’t really understand completely. However, I find it interesting the way the very symbol of Albania as a country (their flag) is being thrown around as an international symbol of something different entirely (Albanian ethicity). This all just shows how easy it is to confuse such symbols and how suddenly something that wasn’t politically charged before can become that way. And, just like burning a Koran in a public way doesn’t affect only you, you can never tell who will be upset by what you are doing when you mess with such a symbol.