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feature 24 Jan 12

Islam in Kosovo Proves no Bar to Alcohol

Kosovars are overwhelmingly Muslim - but research by Balkan Insight reveals that a stiff drink remains a part of many people’s lives.

Jeton Musliu

The average citizen of Kosovo drinks 13 litres of beer, one litre of wine and 150ml of brandy, known as rakia, each year, according to analysis of official customs figures.

While this remains well below Russian – and Western European – standards, it is significantly more than is drunk in most countries in the Muslim world, where consumption is negligible, according to international statistics. 

In Kosovo, a state with 1.7 million citizens, 13 million litres of beer, 1.6 million litres of wine and 200,000 litres of brandy are consumed a year. As much of this comes from abroad, import duty on alcohol brings in more than 2.6 million euro each year.  

Muslim – but fond of a drink:

Sefedin Krasniqi, a clerk in a private company in Prishtina, says the best day of the week is Friday afternoon, usually the time when devout Muslims gather for prayer outside and inside the mosques.

Krasniqi, 32, who says he is a Muslim, says he likes to go over the weekend to nightclubs, drink and have fun.

“The last time we were out we were five friends and drinking beer, and I think we had seven beers each,” Krasniqi told Prishtina Insight.“I’m a Muslim, but like many others I don’t practice my religion strictly,” Sefedin said.

Professor Dr Xhabir Hamiti, a lecturer at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Prishtina, said the Koran is quite clear that alcohol is forbidden, adding that there are many practical reasons for this.

“The downside of using alcohol every day can be seen surfacing in societies in people’s daily lives,” Hamiti maintained. He said it was scientifically beyond doubt that alcohol damages vital parts of the nervous system, and in terms of society, it destabilizes peace and family harmony.

“You can add to this the daily losses of hundreds and thousands of people in the world in traffic accidents that are the result of people being under the influence of alcohol,” said Hamiti.

Kosovo Police confirms that alcohol is to blame for many fatal traffic accidents each year. Baki Kelani, Kosovo police spokesman, said that from January to November 2011, the police recorded 15,625 accidents of various kinds. “As a result of these accidents 133 people died, and many of the cases involved alcohol,” Kelani said.

Alcohol flows in and out:

Based on data of Kosovo Customs, most beer, rakia and wine produced in Kosovo comes from three major companies.

Birra Peja in Peja produces by far the largest quantity of beer, while Stone Castle and Haxhijaha in Rahovec produce the largest quantity of wine and brandy.While more beer is imported from abroad than is produced locally, the opposite is true of wine and brandy.

Local brandy | Photo: Korab Basha

Kosovo Customs reveal that 2.8 million litres of beer are produced in the country while another 13 million litres are imported. Of the home produced beer, 1 million litres are exported.

Some 3.6 million litres of wine are made in Kosovo, on the other hand, which is more than double the amount that is imported. Just 600,000 litres of domestic wine remain in the country, however.

The rest in exported, mostly to lucrative Western European markets. In the case of rakia, Kosovo produces 350,000 litres, while it imports another 200,000 litres. But of the homegrown produce, just 85,000 litres remain in the country.

Taking beer, wine and rakia together, the total consumption in Kosovo is just under 15 million litres.But this figure does not take into account the large amount of moonshine brewed and distilled across the country and which is not declared to the authorities.

Question of faiths: 

While everyone accepts that Kosovo is a mainly Muslim country, exact statistics concerning the current percentages of the main faith communities have yet to be published.

The Statistical Agency of Kosovo, ESK, has not yet made public details of the census carried out in April of 2011, which also included a declaration on religious belief. Isa Krasniqi, director of ESK, said that the full data of the census, including the declarations on religious belief, would be made public in September 2012. 

“Until then we can’t give any information, as it is very confidential. Currently we are at the stage of processing the data,” said Krasniqi. Most people, however, assume that the figure for Muslims remains about 90 per cent, which has been the usual estimate of a number of surveys.

Sabri Bajgora, head Imam of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, said he believes the figure may be even higher.“Based on the number of members of the Islamic Community Councils at local level, we can say with confidence that 93 to 94 percent of the population belong to the Islamic faith,” Bajgora said.

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