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feature 28 Nov 17

Kosovars Remain Faithful to Old Albanian Flag

On the eve of tenth anniversary of Kosovo’s independence, while most of its ethnic Albanian citizens respect their new flag, feelings for the Albanian national one remain far stronger.

Die Morina
Albanian flags in Kosovo capital, Pristina | Photo: BIRN

Kosovo Albanians still have much stronger feelings for the old Albanian red-and-black flag than they do for the one country adopted when it declared its independence in 2008.

The official flag is blue with a yellow map of Kosovo in the middle and six white stars representing the communities living in it.

But the deeper feelings for the old flag come often to the fore, especially during national holidays such as November 28, Albania’s Independence Day and "national flag day", which Kosovars also celebrate by hanging the Albanian flag in squares, shops and bars.

Albanian flags in "Mother Theresa" square in Kosovo capital, Pristina | Photo: BIRN

“Emotionally, the red-and-black flag is another story, we grew up with love for this flag, but we should respect Kosovo’s flag as well,” Shyhrete Beqiri, 38 from Pristina, told BIRN.

“In terms of the national aspect, there is a big difference between the Albanian and Kosovo flags. The red-and-black flag is our flag, everywhere where Albanians live. For the Kosovo flag, I can only have some respect,” another Pristina resident, Fetah Krasniqi, 48, told BIRN.

Xhafer Bardheci, 63, commenting on the six white stars in the Kosovo flag that represent all the main communities in Kosovo, said it was a hard message to follow.

“We are not that good as a country in following the message that this flag has - cooperation among all communities. We are not working on that direction,” Bardheci said. “I have only a very weak sympathy for Kosovo flag,” he admitted.

A Gjilan/Gnjilane resident, Albion Basha, aged 18, said he thought the flag Kosovo was purely political.

“I think that the red-and-black flag belongs to all Albanians, while the blue one belongs only to Hashim Thaci [Kosovo’s President]. The flag in our hearts is the national one,” Basha said.

Civil society activist Rron Gjinovci said it was a pity that it was still an issue, whether to identify with the Kosovo or Albanian flag, as one person can easily have two or more  identities.

“The origin of this misconception derives from mixing the concept of ethnicity and nationality. One can be Albanian by ethnicity and a Kosovar by nationality. These two identities are not mutually exclusive,” Gjinovci told BIRN.

Explaining that living under an oppressive regime when “at least since 1989, Kosovar’s identity was denied in different forms by repressive institutions of [Slobodan] Milosevic’s Serbia”, Gjinovci added: “The more one identity is denied or oppressed, the more it comes into being agressively.

Aesthetically, according to Gjinovci, “the Kosovo flag is a disaster and a product of a non- democratic process of adopting it” – but that does not mean Kosovo citizens should not be proud of it, at specific events.

“This is the flag that made Kosovars proud when Majlinda Kelmendi won the first gold medal in the Olympic Games and when she was declared a World Judo Champion in Russia in 2014”, Gjinovci said, recalling the athlete's triumphs.

“It may need a bit more time and a change of generations for both [flags] to find their places in peoples’ minds and hearts,” Gjinovci noted.

Kosovo was freed from Serbian rule in 1999 after an armed conflict between the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA and Serbian forces, following a NATO air campaign against Serbia.

The KLA fought under the Albanian flag – but this did not find favour with Kosovo's international sponsors who wanted something less ethnically exclusive. As a result, since Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008, it has been represented by its new blue, yellow and white flag.

Albanian flag hanging at the entrance of a bar in Kosovo, Pristina | Photo: BIRN
Albanian flag hanging at the entrance of a restaurant in Pristina, Kosovo | Photo: BIRN

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