Ever since I've gotten to know the young nation of Kosovo, the way Western Europe reports on the Balkans annoys me.
Newspapers only report on Kosovo if a violent conflict or other serious troubles occur, and tend to leave out much of the context of these events. I don‘t know if news editors in Austria don‘t care if their readers get the message right or if my country has a contemptuous attitude towards the Balkans in general. The image of Kosovo in Austria is restricted to some pictures of incredibly poor children standing in the mud while a huge thundercloud is hanging above their heads. Although about 500 Austrian soldiers are serving in KFOR, the message about the good side of Kosovo is never delivered to Austria. Maybe this is why our NGOs behave like a bull in a china shop whenever they come to Kosovo.
To be fair, there are many hard-working and empathetic Austrians who really want to do something good in Kosovo, but unfortunately my country sends a lot of idiots as well.
I was in Prishtina to do some research on Kosovo's cultural scene when I was told the following story:
An Austrian NGO related to the EU-politician Hannes Swoboda wanted to show a special photo exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Kosovo this spring. When the director of the gallery declined this offer representatives of the NGO went straight to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports to ask for their support. I was told the ministry put a lot of pressure on the gallery to host the exhibition because “it‘s so good for Kosovo”. Minister Memli Krasniqi says he can‘t remember anything like that happening. I called this NGO to verify the story. It wasn't easy to find anyone who knew anything, but in the end a woman told me: “You know how people down there are. They don‘t know anything about culture. We are really trying hard to help them understand the real quality of culture. But it's not easy to work with them.“ I was speechless. I know how Austrians think about Kosovo, but I didn‘t expect anybody to say something that brazen to a journalist she has never met.
When I returned home to Vienna I was still angry and very embarrassed. I contacted a friend of mine who's been working on different cultural projects in the Balkans. I told him about the NGO and how outraged I felt about the attitude of these people. He listened closely. Then he said I should calm down because:
a) That‘s the way it is with “countries like Kosovo”, and
b) Vienna is a center of culture in Europe and “they should be happy to have us down there.”
I still don't understand why not a single friend of mine understood why I was angry.
I always thought it was quite self-evident that culture is something you can't create from outside. It needs to have a natural process of growth regarding all the local peculiarity. Culture is an important part of ethnic identity and has to be authentic in every respect otherwise it's just worthless.
So what I want to say is this: Dear Austrian NGOs, dear news editors, dear politicians of my homecountry: Kosovo has enough problems without you treating it like your little ant farm in a glass! There is nothing wrong with helping a country in its development, but Kosovo is an independent state and not a toy car. We recognized its independence in 2008 so we should treat this nation with respect. Be sensitive and patient and who knows, maybe then you will find out it's easier to work with people you are friends with than with people you offend with your patronizing stupidity.
The article was originally written in English.
Illustration: Andy Council
The views, opinions and comments published on this BLOG are not necessarily those of the Kosovo 2.0 editorial staff. Also, the website reserves the right to delete, reject, or otherwise remove any views, opinions and comments posted on the blog stories. All comments that incite and encourage hate speech or discrimination will be moderated.