Belul Beqaj

Intellect and language are the most meaningful advantages of the human race.  Language is the most perfect agent of communication and indeed understanding.   Inter-cultural communication depends on practical and formal opportunities for people to express their opinions, feelings, desires, outlooks and aspirations.  Spiritual life and the thought process would, without language, be rendered meaningless.  Language, and later the written word, was created and further developed by unbroken cultural communication.  In the processes of daily globalization, languages acts as a promoter of humanity’s inter-cultural and trans-cultural advancement wherever the freedom of expression and writing is practically and formally respected.  Borders between nations and countries are gradually becoming more and more blurred, or being erased altogether.  Following freedom of speech, freedom of movement follows as one of the most essential rights afforded to man.  Because of that, the necessity of studying a foreign language ever more important, because language influences intellectual development and the exchange of ideas and experiences: It facilitates the transfer of old ideas and creates new ones.

The use of language has both a national and ideological function in communication.  The learning, knowledge and use a second and/or third language develops one’s personality to the extent that it opens up new dimensions in life, and fosters the acquisition of new ways of viewing the world and, in general, frees the individual from old prejudices.  Unfortunately, when it comes to Serbian-Albanian relations, it can have the exact opposite effect and actually create prejudice.   Instead of understanding, promoters of the national-cultural conflict between Serbs and Albanians highlight cultural differences, starting from language but also stress differences in tradition, upbringing and religion as the source(s) of their mutual animosity.  In this context, Serbian-Albanian relations, instead of following the inevitable trend of globalization, find themselves mired in the past. Why?

Is it because we still don’t know each other or perhaps is it because we know each other all too well?  Is it due to the fact that language here plays a more of an ideological/nationalistic function than serves to facilitate communication? Is it because of a feeling that the Serbian language is more important than the Albanian one or vice-versa? Is it because of the fact that prejudices underscore real and objective processes? Or is it due to that fact that there is a lack of political will to fully implement the Kosovo Constitution and Law on the Use of Languages?

Answers to these questions can vary, but it is necessary to focus on the legal framework. Article 5 of the Constitution of Kosovo states that Albanian and Serbian are the official state languages.  The Turkish, Bosniak and the Roma languages enjoy official status at the municipal level or can be used officially at any level in accordance with the law.  By passing the Law on the Use of Languages, the Kosovo Assembly obligated institutions to protect the equal status of Albanian and Serbia.  The Anti-Discrimination Law supplements the Law on the Use of Languages and also built into Kosovo’s legal framework are international instruments for the protection of national minorities and regional or minority languages, including the European Commission’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.   That having been said, various reports and empirical research point to the fact that municipal institutions and employees have yet to ensure the respect of language rights in the issuing of personal documents and the provision of services to the public as described by relevant legislation. Furthermore, central and local institutions have achieved any noticeable improvements in this area in the past several years.  Experts in this field say that this has occurred, first and foremost, due to difficulties in the hiring of state employees who are communicative in both official languages, a lack of language training, as well to the very low level of equal employment of both communities in public administration.

Because of inherited practices and stereotypes, Albanians and Serbs still tend to view and experience one another as nations that belong to completely different cultures and civilizations.  There have been far too many fallacies and ideological and nationalistic calculations made in the present-day Albanian-Serb relationship.  Both see themselves as victims, and they have a tendency to transfer responsibility for conflicts and failures to the other.  In a sense, this pattern of thinking excuses the guilty and discourages people who see their future within the framework of normal inter-personal relations.  As a result of this, and despite the fact that we have been sharing the same territory for centuries, there is still much more that divides than that unites us.

The consequences of this way of thinking have not altogether faded away.  As long as we continue to make excuses for omissions in the official use of the Serbian language instead of finding the means, resources and professional opinion for the respect of the incontrovertible linguistic rights, this pattern of a scarcity of cultural values will continue to reproduce itself in a similar manner.  This pattern persist until the emergence of resilient political will for the creation of an acceptable national-cultural framework in tune with the spirit of the times in which we live.  Despite all of their differences, Albanians and Serbs have a common goal to join the European family.  It is therefore high time for us to free ourselves of ingrained stereotypes.  Serbs and Albanians can improve inter-ethnic relations first and foremost by observing one another’s cultural specificities – starting with language.

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