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feature 13 Jul 17

Kosovo Awaits Summer’s Return of Cash-Rich Diaspora

Each summer, the Kosovo diaspora continue the tradition of returning home to marry, visit relatives – and hopefully spend a lot of money.

Die Morina
"You are part of homeland" written in a banner at "Diaspora Days"- traditional fair in the center of Pristina, Kosovo. Photo: BIRN

With summer being the favourite season for weddings, many Kosovo Albanians living abroad plan their summer holidays around their relatives’ weddings, or around their own plans to marry someone.

“Families in the diaspora, or the parents, usually want their daughters and sons to marry someone from Kosovo because they consider this the best way to preserve Albanian traditions,” said Medina Baliu.

Now 23 and living in Switzerland, she married an Albanian born in Switzerland while she was still living in Kosovo.

Paige Baralija, who left Kosovo when she was only eight and now lives in Austria, adds that “most members of the Kosovo diaspora still uphold this archaic view, which implies that you can only truly be happy if you are married to someone of your own nationality."

“So, most people feel obliged to get married in Kosovo in summer, so that they can have an extravagant wedding there, where they can invite all the relatives. They want to appeal to traditional values,” she said.

Returning home is not all about attending weddings however.

According to a government minister, Kosovo earns around 1.5 billion euros per a year from members of the diaspora returning home - and sending cash home to relatives.

“In summer and winter, they spend around 650 million to 700 million euros in Kosovo. They also send [home] the same amount during the year. That makes up an income of around 1.5 billion euros per a year,” Valon Murati, Kosovo’s Minister for the Diaspora, told BIRN.

His ministry has been trying to register Kosovo Albanians living abroad in order to gather data on them and tap their potential.

“We have registered around 350,000 of them, which is not the total number but the number of those we could find physical evidence of, when they came back to Kosovo. This registration will continue online in the coming years,” Murati explained.

The minister said that they were also working on making it possible for the diaspora to directly elect representatives to Kosovo’s parliament.

“Our aim is to have some representatives of the diaspora in parliament … partly to eliminate the dissatisfaction these people feel time after time, over things like troubles with the voting system,” said Murati.

“This is not easy, however, as it would require a change to the constitution, but it would be the best option,” he added.

Even among those Kosovo Albanians who have become heavily assimilated in other cultures, the tradition of coming back "home" to visit relatives remains important.

“We come back to Kosovo twice a year because we have family here and Kosovo is our homeland,” Baliu, living in Switzerland, told BIRN.

Paige Baralija agrees. “Visiting the country I was born in gives me the chance to reconnect with the people and the culture. This way I can still feel Albanian, even though I have got used to Austrian culture,” she said.

Kosovo Albanians who live abroad also keep sending money for their families, Baralija says, because most of the folk back home “cannot live on what little they earn.”

“We also send money for our family during the year because we used to live in Kosovo and are well aware of the economic challenges in the country,” Medina Baliu added.

However, Adriatik Dushi, a 34-year-old now living in England, says that as the economic situation slowly improves in Kosovo, the trend of sending money home to families is fading away somewhat.

“Sometimes we still send money, but not as often as we used to do, because living conditions in Kosovo are getting better,” he said.

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