Saturday, November 26, 2005


If Kosovo Albanians get their own state, it will need its own flag. The problem is, many Albanians don't want one

By: Jeta Xharra and Zana Limani in Pristina

Less than a month away from the start of negotiations on Kosovo's final status, its majority Albanians have yet to agree on a flag or coat of arms for the state they hope will emerge from these crucial talks.

So far Kosovo Albanians have flown the flag and symbols of neighbouring Albania, which became independent in 1912.

Now seeking independence from Serbia and a state of their own, they are reluctant to jettison the emblems they are familiar with.

An attempt by Kosovo's President, Ibrahim Rugova, to introduce a new Kosovo flag a few years back was unsuccessful and it was never made official.

This issue of identity and symbols was the subject of much discussion after it was raised on November 9 in a televised debate organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Kosovo. Over 120 public letters and numerous news reports followed the show, which was broadcast on Radio Television Kosova, RTK.

Migjen Kelmendi, editor of the weekly Java magazine, says people shy away from accepting a specifically Kosovar identity, fearing it might be used to keep Kosovo inside Serbia.

"As an Albanian, I want my flag to be red and black. I don't want to change my identity," said Rexhep Selimi, a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, which fought the Serbian army in the 1990s.

Selimi reflects most people's sentiments when he says the flag of the future state of Kosovo should look just like the one they fought under in the Nineties.

That was the black two-headed eagle on a red background - the national symbol of all Albanians in the Balkans for at least a century.

Genc Prelvukaj, a pop musician in Kosovo, says all Albanians cherish the old flag as a symbol of unity.

His last number-one hit, "Proud to be an Albanian", underscores how conscious young Kosovars remain of their Albanian identity.

"Red and black here and red and black there [in Albania]," Prelvukaj said during BIRN's televised debate. "I don't want to be called a Kosovar, I'm an Albanian."

Emrush Xhemajli, head of the nationalist National Movement of Kosovo, LPK, agreed. Any move to foist a specifically Kosovar identity on Kosovo Albanians will fail, he predicted.

"There were many attempts during Tito's rule to create a Kosovar identity separate from the Albanian one but they were all unsuccessful," Xhemajli said. "They will be this time, also."

Xhemajli and Prelvukaj represent mainstream opinion in Kosovo. But some intellectuals - and a few politicians - take a different line.

They feel that a separate Kosovo state must develop its own separate identity, which means new flags and symbols, too.

Nexhmedin Spahiu, author of a recent book, "Towards a Kosovar Identity", says Kosovo Albanians are edging towards a new identity, though they haven't realised it.

"Our identity is Albanian but in the process of creating our state we have to create a Kosovar nation," he said.

"This Kosovar nation does not exist yet but we are heading towards it, as you can't create a state without creating a nation," he added.

Linda Gusia, a sociology professor at Pristina University, feels the process may have gone even further than Spahiu realises.

Whereas Spahiu says a new identity should exist, she says a Kosovar identity exists already - forged by the different historic experiences of Albanians in Albania and Albanians in Kosovo over past decades.

"The fact that many people in Kosovo feel and perceive themselves as Kosovars indicates that this identity exists," Gusia said. "It is an emotion and a reality."

Nazim Rashidi, a BBC correspondent in Albania, also believes Albanians and Kosovars are now essentially separate peoples.

"Kosovars differ from the rest of Albanians as they have lived a different reality from ours," he said. "That's why they already have a different identity. The Kosovar identity already exists."

There is some support on the street for this idea, even if it is a minority stand point.

Krenar Gashi, a sociology student in his twenties, said he was happy with the notion that a Kosovar identity was still in the process of evolution.

"We are ethnically Albanian and are still part of the Albanian nation but soon we will have to start changing that," he said.

Kujtim Salihu, a 29-year-old from Pristina, is also not fussed about the symbols of statehood - having lived already in two different states.

"Today I am an Albanian citizen of Kosovo but before I was an Albanian citizen of Yugoslavia and in the future I will be an Albanian citizen of Albania," Salihu said.

"It could be just like with the Germans in Switzerland," said Betim Hashani, aged 20, taking a different tack. "They identify as Germans but they have their own flag."

Kosovo's politicians are slowly travelling in the same direction, albeit for pragmatic reasons.

Less interested in the question of Albanian identity, they admit it will be difficult for two states to share flags and symbols without creating confusion.

Eqrem Kryeziu, of the Kosovo Democratic League, LDK, said a Kosovo state will need its own emblems, though he is hardly enthusiastic about it.

"Kosovo Albanians are emotionally attached to the national Albanian flag," said Kryeziu. "But we will have to have a separate state flag, although we don't have to love it".

While local politicians, intellectuals and members of the public leisurely ponder the various options, some international observers feel the debate has started too late.

If Kosovars do not get a move on and agree on their emblems, then the international community will do it for them, they say.

Alex Anderson, head of the International Crisis Group in Kosovo, says Kosovo Albanians are under an illusion if they think they can simply transfer their own ethnic symbols onto a state that is supposed to be multi-ethnic and represent a variety of communities.

"Many Kosovo Albanians have not woken up to that yet," he said. "Kosovo's debate on its symbols is starting very late," he added.

Anderson says the need to find a new, completely different, flag, will come as a shock to many people, though it may have long-term benefits.

"The need for a new and different flag may have positive side-effects, as the imagery will compel people to see that an ethnic Albanian identity and a future Kosovo state identity are two different things," he said.

Jeta Xharra is BIRN Kosovo director and Balkan Insight editor in Kosovo. Zana Limani is BIRN Kosovo project coordinator and a regular contributor to Balkan Insight.


juvegirl said...

Why not choose some variation on the original flag like the Acadiens have with the French flag? I'm Acadien, and we use the same flag as France with the addition of a star. The red and black two headed eagle of Albania is a great flag, but really, Kosovo WILL have to have their own flag, maybe add a border or symbol in the centre or something?

Besnik Vasolli said...

I agree with Alex Andersen, it is true that we need our own flag and it has to be a Kosovar Flag covering all Kosovars. Therefore we must act now, no time to spend on statistics or god nows what. A flag is a symbol and its a practical symbol to be identified by others therefore lets be practical and get over with it. Powerty and Unemployment are bigger problems that need to invest more time and energy, therefore lets concentrate our positive energy in resolving those problems that are crucial for the future of our children.

Prince of Albania said...

Besnik, you are dead wrong!
A flag is never a practical symbol. For the Albanians especially, it is a core symbol of our identity and culture and even has spiritual connections due to the fact that we are multi religious and secular.
Since the Albanians do not have one single faith to profess to like the Greeks, Serbs and Macedonians do, being Albanian has become the single binding thread amongst our different factions. Hence the saying "Forget these mosques and churches for the faith of the Albanians is Albanianism"
At the center of this inter Albanian cultural and national identity is our National Flag. Since our history has been less than practical our flag can in no way be a practical symbol.
That we have huge problems with poverty and unemployment is true but these are two separate issues that can have a two track solution.
We should not sacrifice the symbols that 15,000 Albanians died for in 1998 and 1999 alone, because a European diplomat has ideas about creating a false identity for our people. We are Albanians.
As far as a Kosovar identity such a thing I think does not exist in the sense of national sentiment. If you ask any Kosovar Albanian what their national identity or ethniticity is they will tell you they are Albanian not Kosovar.
Furthermore there is no such thing as a Kosovar language so there is no such thing as the Kosovar People.
JuveGirl had a brilliant suggestion that I think should be the direction we should move on. We should continue using the Black Double Headed Eagle with a Red background but maybe we could vary the layout a little, like move the Eagle closer to the Flag Pole and make it a little bigger, kind of what we had under Yugoslavia but without the communist star.
Anyways, I’m sure there are many options but one thing is for sure, whatever the end result it should be very close, if not the same, to the flag we use today and to the Flag that we celebrate Flag Day for.
Urime 28 Nentorin Besnik, edhe prej tash ke kujdes e mos ja kthe shpinen Flamurit sepse ti nuk je Kosovar, ti je Shqiptar.

Sincerely, Prince of Albania.

armera said...

Prince of Albania,

I agree with you. One simple solution would be to add stripes, maybe the star of Gjergj Kastrioti.

I personaly like the idea of adding Gjergj Kastrioti's Helmet on top of the Eagle.

Visit Prishtina said...

Kam frike qe komuniteti nderkombetar do te vendos per flamurin shtetror te Kosoves. Jam i bindur qe termi pavaresi e kushtezuar nenkupton edhe ate qe ne kosovaret, apo parlamenti/qeveria nuk do te mund t'i zgjedhim simbolet tona shtetrore, por ato do te imponohen.

Sidoqofte, mua personalisht me pelqen "shqiponja e Rugoves" te cilen e perdor ne "Vula e Presidentit te Kosoves", dmth tekstin Dardania dhe yllin e Davidit, por ngjyra e kalter eshte katastrofale!

Nese prapavija mbetet teresisht e kuqe si flamuri kombetar, atehere une kisha thene PO.

oskar said...

If Kosovo is to gain independence and have a place for a large Serb minority, the flag will have to be inclusive. Hence, it can't be an expression or symbol of only the ethnic albanian nation.

The flag issue is a perfect example of the kind of compromises the Kosovo albanians will have to learn to make if they want an independent state based on the current borders.

As long as that is the case, Kosovo albaninans will have to accept that they are living in a multiethnic state which has to respect the sensitivities of its minorities. If they're not ready to accept that, then they should opt for a smaller, but ethnically homogenous slice, of Kosovo.

PejaCity said...

Prince of Albania you are right like always, i say we should only put a fine print

- D A R D A N I A -

Thats it, no more changes or they can make a flag but we would still use the Albanian flag that represant us no matter what, and if they wanna have a blue-yellow-red flag and put it on UN ass we dont care mutch... because it would only last one year and we would change the flag next year by making a new vote...

They tried, EU and US to change Iraq´s flag to represent the minority? what happend to that? exacly NADA!!

oskar said...


It's exactly the kind of uncompromising attitude you showing that will have to stop if Kosovo is to be a multiethnic state with far reaching minority rights, which is the condition for independence within the present borders.

It's not just the flag. Kosovo will have to have two official languages. Schools as well as higher education will have to be offered in both albanian and serbian. The national anthem will have to be acceptable to all and have both an albanian and a serbian version. Even the official version of the country's history would have to take into account the sensitivities of all groups.

I think the example of the Swedish speaking minority in Finland is a pretty good example. They account for about 4% of the population, but Swedish is an official language alongside Finnish, schoolchildren have to learn both languages, there are Swedish language public universities, there are rules regarding bilingual street signs and public notices, etc.

Swedish-Finnish relations have never sunk as low as Albanian-Serb ones, but I still think it points the way towards a workable relationship.

After all, at the Battle of Kosovo Polje serb and albanian nobles/chieftains fought side by side against the Ottomans (who, it is fair to say, had their own serb and albanian chieftains with them). Maybe that could point the way forward for an independent and multiethnic Kosovo.

TonyDaMan said...

I happen to agree with Besnik that we need a brand new design for the flag, and that we need to do it fast without wasting so much time and energy on it. The two headed eagle is outdated, so overused; and the colours - oh.. my... God! I don't have any idea out of my sleeve but I am sure someone could come up with good proposals and the parliament can decide. Besides from being so 'out' there are also practical reasons why we cannot use Albania's flag - we simply need one that would distingush Kosovo from Albania. That is practical. On the political level, is there a 'better' way to prove to all the sceptics that we were kidding when we said that Kosovo would be a citizen's state?! I could go on for hours but I choose not to!

illyrianboy said...

Se pari, ky artikull shume po fokusohet ne ceshtje te identitetit qe eshte dicka tjeter prej ceshtjes se flamurit edhe pse nderlidhen. Permbajtja nuk perputhet shume me ate cka paralajmeron titulli. Ndoshta kjo vjen nga tradita e autoreve per perpjekje te shkrimit te artikujve pompoz.

E dyta, mu ma merr mendja se ka me ndodh si ne Bosnje ku komuniteti nderkombtar i ka detury me adoptu flamurin qe e kan. Per mos me ndodh kjo shqiptaret duhet me dal me do propozime. Problemi ketu nuk eshte se a dojm me pas flamurin e njejt me Shqipri a jo, por perfaqesimi i pakicave.

Shqiponja e zeze ne prapavije te bardh eshte ni opcion jo fort i keq.


Prince of Albania said...

Oskar, Macedonia has a 35% Albanian minority but nowhere on the Macedonian Flag are any Albanian Symbols included.
Serbia has sizable Albanian, Bosniac and Hungarian minorities but again these communities have no symbolic inclusion on the flag.
That is also the case with Montenegro, Croatia, Greece, Turkey and then of course the rest of the world like France, Spain, Great Britain etc.
Why should Kosovo be held to such a high standard of multiethnicity when the rest of the world is not?
If these Western countries want to impose such a solution for our state emblems and our flag then they should practice what they preach and implement this for their countries as well, don't you think?

PS: Whoever tonydaman is if you are Albanian you are a moron!!!

Chris Blaku said...

The creation of a separate Kosovar identity is akin to national perjury, and is an idea encouraged by the GrecoSerbian states to break down the intense Albanian unity that has presisted despite their greatest efforts to the contrary. There is no international precedent for the supposed illegal idea of two nations using the same flag; Moreover, the fact that the Europeans and politicians are attempting to impose this idea among the people is in itself, undemocratic. The Albanians, on either side of the border, share a common language, tradition, and origin, and contrary to the comments made by bigots, a few decades of experiences have done little to break their unity.

There is no need for another identity, symbol or flag for the Kosovar state. Independence is merely a pit stop to the inevitable, as taboo as it may be to say, the return to Albania's ethnic borders. You cannot reverse the inevitable, and there is nothing immoral about attempting to undo an illegitimate international decision. The strongest of SerboGreek propaganda could not divide the Albanians for a century, despite Albania's isolation and Kosova's persecution, the people have remained united in the face of intense opposition. Their newfound freedom is unlikely to alter this stance, but rather, encourage it.

It is the duty of every Albanian to discourage the idea of a new flag identity for Kosova, and to work and look forward to the day that Albania realizes its historical right, to inhabit its rightful borders. You cannot argue with reality, and it is this reality that has got Greece's attention.

menna said...

Even Azem Vllazi, under preassure, in 80-90ies decided to change the Kosovar Albanian flag by just ading a big yelow communist star on the right corner, in his attempt to satisfy the Serbs. But the rest of the flag remained the same - the Albanian Flag. This flag was the legal flag of Kosova even during times of Communist Serb and Yugoslavian occupation 1945 -1998.

Kosovars don't need to make any new compromise that other states will not even consider to make. Macedonia didn't change its flag for 30% Albanians and Kosova has a right to have a flag which will be chosen by the majority of Kosovar people. Serbs, even with Milosevic numbers in 1991, were never more than 8% of Kosovar population. Even if they were 30%, people of Kosova will decide based on their will and not on some special treatment of any nation within Kosova. Serbs can change the flag of Serbia if they want to prove something. Internationals can help them if they need help in this endeavor. We don't need to prove anything to the so called International Community, the European part of which is which is usually and traditionally Serb oriented and which has initially caused these problems by pro Serb policy from 19 century till today. We know a bit of history taught in London and Berlin. If it was for the Europe Kosovar Albanians would be totally exterminated and they would not move a finger even in 20th century. If it were for Europeans, Albanians would not even have this tinny Albania proclaimed in 1912. American President W.Wilson changed European planes that they had with their Serb and Greek partners to occupy whole territories of Albanians and create another Kurdish model in the middle of Europe.

Anyway, my position is that the Independent Kosovar State will be a Modern Democracy with its identity not imposed by anyone else but its people. Any other solution would make 3 Million Turks in Germany think about a new Turkish-German flag. Kosova is not Bosnia. Your flag designs don't work here!

God bless the Republic of Kosova and the Kosovar people!

Anonymous said...

what about this kosovo flag

alba said...

I just heard about the great news for Kosovo. I am really happy for you guys. We were actually discussing the issue of the flag with some friends of mine, Albanian and from Kosovo, just a few days ago. The Albanian flag, as in the one that is..ALBANIAN, cannot represent two different nations. it just does not happen. I personally think that Kosova should choose a flag that represents their life, their suffering, their history...not ours (ours being Albanian). IF they claim to be Albanian, and have our blood and all, then why separate in the first place?! Why not be the same country again? The red and black signify the pain and blood of the Albanian men and women who died in OUR wars. The ones against Italy and so forth. Kosovars left us, for reasons i am not sure of, and now demand to be the same as does not make sense. I think if this flag debate continues, because Kosovars demand to have a very very similar, if not the same, flag, the first thing the country will do after gaining independence is pick a war...WITH ITS MOTHER COUNTRY!!! That would be horrible, although noone would let them do that, it looks like it is going to happen if the situation is not resolved.

**Everyone needs to remember their place.***

India Pharmacy said...

you are are right ! our country needs a new flag soon!