Some reflections on nationalism

I have been getting so much wonderful feedback over the past few days since I created an Instagram for this blog. As always, in these conversations I discovered something that maybe I need to address or clarify. Something important. Nationalism. I talk about nationalism a lot – but I have not yet defined it. Woops. If you do not know me well, it might be easy to misinterpret my stance based on a quick overview of the topics that I write about. I think it is especially important to sort of “have this conversation” because the next few posts I have planned deal with nationalism, and I do not want them to be misinterpreted.

What is nationalism? A basic definition, straight out of the internet defines nationalism as the “identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations” (Dictionary. com). Being nationalistic is not the same as being patriotic. The key difference here is the last half of the definition: “the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” Loving your country does not have to come at the expense of the rights and interests of another. Loving your country does not mean you ignore its patriarchal tendencies, its dark history, its corrupt government. Being critical of your country does not make you any less Albanian, Canadian, American, Serbian etc.  

I write in defense of Albania and Kosova. So I guess I can see how someone who does not know much about the Balkans, who does a quick read of my posts, who does not really know me personally, or who may simply be looking to discredit me, confuse my perspective as a nationalistic one. So let me set the record straight now. I am not an Albanian nationalist. I condemn nationalism on all sides, including the Albanian one. In fact, something that I actively try to combat is nationalism amongst my fellow Albanians, especially among young individuals in the diaspora.

I said a lot in that lost paragraph, and I think it’s important to unpack and address the multiple arguments.

“I write in defense of Albania and Kosova.”

I do this for a number of reasons. The main one being it is a side that is not equally represented in the global discourse. Be it in regards to the prehistory of the area, its more recent history in the wake of nationalism and nation building in the Balkans and in regards to what is happening in these countries to this day. I found that many news articles and the materials that are readily available on the internet, were very biased, written through nationalistic lenses or supportive of nationalistic narratives (knowingly or not). Just look at the news titles, the words people use and the maps they show. None of these are neutral. Even a phrase as simple as “the Kosovo problem” is interesting to unpack. Why is Kosovo the problem? I’ll leave you to ponder that.

The second reason is a personal one, I care that this side of the narrative is represented fairly and equally because I am Albanian and I care about the rights of the Albanian people. But to be fair, I have and always will stand up for the rights of the side that I think is being oppressed. I have not only spoken out about Kosove. If you have read any of my previous posts or listened to my Instagram rants, you will know I have also talked about Palestine, BLM, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.

“I can see how someone who does not know much about the Balkans, who does a quick read of my posts, who does not really know me personally, or who may simply be looking to discredit me, confuse my perspective as a nationalistic one”

Being Albanian and speaking about Albania and especially Kosova, I can see how someone who wants to twist the narrative, can. If I am an Albanian from Albania, what do I care about the Albanians in Kosove? A lot, they are Albanian, but more importantly, they are people. Peoples whose rights matter. Additionally, I work in Kosove. Studying its prehistory. If I care so much about the people who lived in the in the area in the past, how can I not care about the people that live there today? That would just be unethical.

When I speak up in support of Kosove, it is not because I support some Albanian claim to area. If Kosove and Albania were going to be united, it should have happened in 1912. But seeing as European leaders saw fit to ignore the Albanian claims to autonomy, here we are, with two majority Albanian nations in the 21st C. I do not think that Albania and Kosove should be united. Kosove must remain independent. Fully independent and recognized, not a “contested” province of Serbia, not a part of Albania. Anything else could be potentially catastrophic.

When I talk about the Kosova War or the Cham Massacre, it is not to villainize Serbia or Greece. I love both of these countries; I have friends and colleagues from both countries. I am only trying to explain the geopolitical history of the area and the consequences of unbridled nationalism. As an archaeologist, context is something that is very important to me. We cannot understand what is going on today in the Balkans, or even the Yugoslav, Bosnian and Kosovar wars if we do not have an understanding of the historical context. A historical context that many people do not know, maybe because they have no idea where the Balkans are, or worse, because it is something that is denied. This sort of denial of history is dangerous and will forever be the greatest obstacle we will face in the blanks in regards to moving forward. If we are going to move forwards in the Balkans, the first step is acceptance of the atrocities that we have committed against each other in the past in the name of the nation.

“I condemn all acts of nationalism, on all sides”

I am not blind to the fact that we have a problem with nationalism amongst Albanians as well. Oh, the arguments I have gotten in with friends, family, strangers… Something that I actually try to challenge is nationalism in the diaspora. I am not the first to have an issue with this type of nationalism. Many people my age were either born in the diaspora, or left when they were very young. They have an idealized version of what Albania is in their minds. For many, Albania is this exciting place they go to for summer vacation. Where they have fun for two months. Where they have semi-celebrity status in the village “se jan nga jasht” [they are from outside]. But what many, [myself included once upon a time], is that Albania is not some static fossil that has remained unchanged since we left. Time did not stop when we left. Albania has changed and will continue to change. This is why I try to keep tabs on what is going on, I watch the news, talk to my friends and family about what is going on, follow Albanian activists and NGO’s. Our love for our country should go beyond our summer vacations. I think we should be thinking of ways that we can give back to our country, in a way that is not nationalistic, colonial or rooted in saviorism. I know it seems strange to use the term colonial in this context, but chances are, if you can identify a problem from overseas, there are activists in Albania already working to try to address it on the ground. They don’t need us to come in and save them. Find ways to uplift and support people working on the causes that matter to you. Fighting with internet trolls on the internet and saying hateful and racist things is not going to get anyone anywhere. To my young Albanians in the diaspora, take the time to educate yourself, on our history, on Balkan history, on nationalism and racism. Do not  fight fire with fire, fight ignorance with knowledge.

I hope that by “having this conversation” I can sort of clarify anything that was maybe a little murky. Especially since the next few posts I have planned will continue to deal with nationalism. I want to end with what I hope these posts accomplish. Primarily, I hope that they raise awareness about what is going on the Balkans. Second, I hope that they facilitate discussion. As always, these are my thoughts and you do not have to agree with me. But if you don’t, I hope that you will do your own research and find productive ways to engage in this discourse. I acknowledge that I do not know everything, I am not perfect, I may say things that are wrong, I may leave things out. I may have typos. No, in fact, I can guarantee I will have typos. Spelling is not my thing. I am human. I know I have my biases; I try to account for them.  But I am willing to learn and change my opinion if I am wrong about something. There is no shame in that. And third, I hope these posts foster an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. Above all, I want peace and stability in the Balkans. This will not happen until we as a people come together, acknowledge our past, and look towards a future that is founded in acceptance, tolerance and respect. Our traditions, music, food and history are so closely intertwined; we are so much more simailar than we are different.  And more importantly, regardless of our nationality, religion and political views, we are all human.

Peace, love, and burek.

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