I am Dutch. I am Finnish. I am Italian. I am Canadian.
Some people introduce themselves like this with ease. Many of us grew up in the place we were born and only left to go for university. But just as many of us were born in one place but lived in multiple others and speak a foreign language better than our mother or father tongue. We hesitate, err, and select the first or the easiest country that comes to mind. Yet when you really ask us, the countries we call home are countries we can speak the language of, to countries we know from our parents’ and grandparents’ stories, to countries that may be foreign lands but where we know where to find the best ice cream and how to best avoid the tourists.
The former group being granted with the gift of being able to call one stable country their home and the latter group not having loyalty to just one place, both lose the understanding of what it means to build something entirely new.
This is what being Newborn means. It’s a mission, a dream, an ambition to create this imaginary entity we call states with strangers you’ve never met. Imagine having to trust, work with, and dream for a better future with strangers who may have murdered your father or burnt your house or raped your sister, but maybe also sheltered, hid, and fed you during the war. War brings out the best and the worst of people, but it’s how we stand up afterwards is how we will be remembered.
And Kosovo is now little by little trying to stand up on its own, without the international community metaphorically spoon-feeding it milk formula. The citizens of Kosovo have to ask themselves these difficult questions that we take for granted and think of as self-evident, like what should the flag be? How should language be taught at schools? What should our country calling code be? All these ultimately arrive to the same question: what is this crazy thing we call a state? Is it the people or the geography? Is it the culture or the language? At what point does being Kosovar become more important to being Albanian or Serb or Egyptian or Turkish?
Or a question for us: what makes us Dutch but not English or Greek?
All this decision-making is messy and rewardless, but through the group project my group did Voices of Kosovo, I got to meet these abstract strangers that are consciously and surely accepting to do this dirty work at raising a newborn state. Plenty have the opportunity to leave to live a better life elsewhere and plenty do leave, but then there are those that put their foot down and face the situation their parents have left behind with pride. There was the taxi driver my father’s age that came back after 20 years living in Germany because it was time to put in some effort for his country’s future. There’s Lendi, who had the chance to leave for Germany, but decided to remain in Kosovo to advocate for LGBT rights in a society where most high school students don’t even know that the LGBT community exists, much less understands what LGBT means. Then there’s Lai Shala, who dreams of learning everything he can in Oslo so that he can bring the knowledge back home and help in building a future.
This type of loyalty astounded me the most during my time in Kosovo and helped me understand a little bit more of what it means to be from somewhere.
So, what are these crazy entities we call states?
Perhaps dreams that have become tangible.