Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Nov 3 15:33:01 UTC 2008


Between us, Michaela and I speak English, German, French, and enough
Spanish to get by in a pinch. What we don't know – and which would
obviously come in very much handy here – is either Albanian or
Serbian. Because of this, we hired a translator. Fluent in Albanian,
Serbian, English, and German, Kesi worked as a professional translator
in Germany for many years before moving to Kosovo to start a business
as an environmental engineer. He's quick enough to do simultaneous
translations, which really helps keep the flow of an interview going.
He is culturally sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of both Serbian and
Albanian culture. He is fun to be around, which is a big bonus since
we are all spending so much time together. As the person we had
planned on working with turned out to have taken another job when we
arrived, we are especially lucky to have found Kesi through the friend
of a friend.

In the United States, the idea that language is political is usually
framed in terms of "freedom of speech" or of a powerful person
strategically using euphemisms or vagueness to conceal or prevent
thought or action. Both of these issues were relevant in Yugoslavian
Kosovo too: conditions were hardly conducive to people expressing
themselves freely or hearing their realities reflected in the words of
those who governed them. But there was also another dimension to the
politics of language, which was that although Albanians made up almost
70% of the population, the language of public life was Serbian.

This meant that while Albanians were free to speak their own language
at home, outside the home - at school, at work, and for any business
related to the State - they were forced to use Serbian. This had been
the case since the Yugoslav state was formed in 1918. Although Tito
eased this a bit by stopping the "Serbian-izing" of Albanian names and
allowing some Albanian-speaking schools to be established, Serbian
nationalism rose again after his death and saw many of those changes
reversed. The Albanian-language university in Pristina was closed in
1991. Government funding was withdrawn from the few existing
Albanian-language schools. Street signs were renamed in Serbian and
written in Cyrillic script. No state-owned television or radio was
allowed to broadcast in Albanian. In the U.S. it is easy to forget
this language aspect of human rights, because English is a world
language and it would be almost impossible to take away our right to
use it when we please. In Kosovo the effect of this policy was to
reinforce a structure where Albanians and Albanian culture were
continually suppressed – something which greatly contributed to ethnic
tensions and resentment.

Since the end of the war, Albanians have regained the public use of
their language, and Albanian now stands with Serbian and Turkish as
the country's official languages. Additionally, Kosovo recognizes
Gorani, Romani, and Bosnian. Sadly, the legacy of the language
policies of the Serbian nationalists who long controlled the region is
still divisive: although many Albanians learned both Albanian and
Serbian in order to get by, few Serbs of the same age group speak
Albanian - which helps make it difficult for Serb communities to
become a part of the new Kosovo. And unfortunately, fewer and fewer
young people of either ethnicity are fluent in both languages. Young
people of both groups are usually working very hard on their English
or German, as most of the few well-paying jobs are with
internationals, and knowing these languages can be a ticket to
opportunity. As Kesi pointed out one day, it will soon be easiest for
people to speak to each other in English, which isn't even one of the
country's official languages.

Posted by RAISIN BOMBER FILMS at 12:00 PM


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