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Kosovar American Culture

By. Chelsea Thomas

Flaka Ismaili is one of the most educated and well informed young adults that I know.
Being raised in Kosovo for most of her life and living the war that ravaged her country, Flaka
dedicated her time going to school in the United States. As a dear friend and previous roommate,
Flaka was kind enough to let me interview her about her life in Kosovo, her experiences during
the war, and how the government has changed to fit its new freedom.
Flaka described her move to the US and both personal and circumstantial. Her family
valued education and always sought the opportunity to learn English; however Kosovo didnt
offer very many instances for betterment. Flaka mentioned how staying in Kosovo would have
left her feeling unfulfilled so moving abroad was her only option. She had family members that
moved to the United States and England, and the war left her home country impoverished with
limited opportunities for work and school. With a little luck, Flakas mom won the lottery and
gave Flaka the final push to get her Green Card for the United States.
Flaka made the move from Kosovo to Utah so that she could attend college at BYU and
be close to her brother who already lived there. Coming from a mostly Muslim country, Flaka
had never come into contact with the Mormon religion before. She told herself that she was
going to participate and experience as much of the culture as she could, other religions included.
Flaka said her transition into the United States culture was helped by her excessive consumption
of American TV like Friends. Although Flaka came from a different culture, she said that she
never felt culture shock because of her willingness to try and understand the majority of the
population and their everyday activities.

Cultural Background
Kosovo is obscure in recognition. When the question arises where Kosovo is located, not
many people would be able to answer. Nestled in South East Europe, Kosovo is cradled between
Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro; but previously used to be part of Serbia. The
history of Kosovo is riddled with conflict. Never really being able to be their own country,
Kosovo was a territory that was passed around as land was conquered by the Ottoman Empire
(Kosovo). Eventually Kosovo was settled with Serbia, but cultural problems arose from the
cocktail of ethnicities living in the territory and a ten year conflict preceded a yearlong war
between the Albanians and Serbians in 1998.
Kosovo is a small country with a big emphasis on family and the community. Traditional
family roles were very prominent in the community before the Western influence took hold after
the Kosovo War. Because there were so many different ethnicities in Kosovo, prominently
Albanian and Serbian, blood feuds were common among the different clans and families
(Kosovo). After the war, the more rural parts of the country tried to hold on to the old ways but
the younger generations didnt have to willingness to comply (Kosovo). Because of their tight
knit community, Flaka mentioned how her mother would always make extra food during meal
time because you could always expect a visitor to stop by any moment.
Kosovo is still trying to catch up in modernization. Theres easy access to the Internet and
most of the community has transitioned to cell phones, but jobs are scarce and education is
lacking in what it can offer the youth. Technology isnt as up to date as most of the modern world
and the rural communities make up most of the population. Gender roles were more part of the
traditional culture but with the influence of Western countries men and women have had the

opportunity to branch out. Traditionally women were generally homemakers and vastly
uneducated compared to their male counterparts (Murphy). Women still have the obligation to
take care of their parents as they grow old and all the children are expected to give money to
their parents once they have left the household and gotten jobs according to Flaka.
Kosovo was introduced to Islam when the Ottoman Turks took over the territory in the
14th century. Most of the population consider themselves Sunni Islamic, but dont necessarily
practice the religion itself; most Islamic holidays are noticed and pork isnt consumed. Flaka
mentioned that women do deal with criticism from the Islamic practices. When the time comes
for Flaka to get married, shes not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man, but her brothers had the
luxury to pick women who were not part of the religion.
Kosovo has as violent past of being conquered and passed around by different countries.
The then state battled ethnic conflict between the Albanians and the Serbians and war finally
broke out in 1998. Without international interference to stop the tension, the Kosovo Liberation
Army emerged, being made up of mostly Albanian radicals who tried to wrestle control of
Kosovo out of the hands of Serbia (Kosovo Conflict). Serbian troops tried to control the riots and
KLA by driving out as many Albanians as they could and using brutal force against the people.
The United Nations demanded that the Serbians stop their attack on Kosovo, but the lack of
compliance resulted in NATO using air strikes against the Serbian army (Kosovo conflict). In
June 1999, the war ended with Serbia leaving Kosovo, and independence being declared by the
now free Kosovo; however even 16 years later, Serbia still refuses to see Kosovo as an
independent country.

The new government was set up as a parliamentary representative democratic republic

with a voted in prime minister and president as the head of the country (Pula). There is an
Assembly of Kosovo that acts as a parliament to the country. Its made up of 120 representative
seats that are distributed based on population representation, but some of the seats are saved for
different ethnic groups still located in Kosovo like the Serbians or the Turks.
The economy has improved over time, but it is still suffering. Kosovo has been one of the
poorest countries in the Balkans and continues to be dependent on international aid and money
being sent in from Kosovars working in different countries. The unemployment rate is high and
has resulted in black market dealings to be quite heavy in the country. About 40% of the country
is unemployed and the countrys agriculture is mostly made up of family plots. The main source
of money for Kosovo was based in its rich supply of metals and minerals but the lack of
upgraded technology and interested investors left the market obsolete. It doesnt help that
Kosovo has troubles with maintaining electricity through parts of the country especially in rural
The government has changed through the periods of Kosovo being an acquired state to an
individual country. The biggest change is that they fought for the right to govern themselves and
not be discriminated against because of ethnicity. The form of government seems like it was
influenced by Western countries, but theres no telling where it actually came from. Flaka
remarked that the government has come a long way but still has improvements to be made if they
want to be welcomed into the European Union.

Traditional Kosovar music is as folksy as it comes. Its comprised of a mixture of sounds

that could probably be resulted from the melting pot of people that live in the country. There are
string instruments such as fiddles and guitars, but there are also accordions and brass
instruments; its comparable to Scandinavian folk songs (Murphy). Even though the folk songs
are a part of their heritage, they arent listened to anywhere besides weddings. Another form of
music in Kosovo is known as Kitsch and from Flakas description, its a mix of a several tunes
and has very little value. Its a genre that thrives in the Balkans but doesnt seem to be widely
accepted according to Flaka. Upon further inspection, Kitsch sounds like jazz elevator music
mashed together with different forms of techno.
Most of music listened to in Kosovo is Westernized. The vast majority of the population
is made up of younger adults who are obsessed with the American or English way of life.
American and English music and TV is abundant there and the younger generations are always
keeping track of new music or whats popular around the world. The cultural Kosovar music is
just something used in special occasions.
The piece of music chosen to represent the culture came as a suggestion from Flaka. The
song Shine Ya Light by Rita Ora is about rising out of the aftermath of the Kosovo War and
becoming a better country. Ora is a Kosovar whose family fled the country during the war and
settled in England. Ora was a discovered artist by Jay Z but has since gone forward with her
music career by becoming an award winning artist and worldwide pop star. Although the song is
in English and doesnt sound any different from American pop music, Flaka felt like the song
was an accurate portrayal of what Kosovo is and what it wants to be.

In hindsight, Kosovo is still a budding country. They fought for freedom against racial
prejudices and built a government that is still trying to get control of the reigns. Their strength to
fight for their country is admirable. Having such a wide variety of ethnicities to add to the culture
scheme makes for an abundantly rich cultivation. They may idolize Western culture, but as they
grow and learn to stand on their own, maybe Kosovo will understand that their heritage is
something worth paying more attention to.

"Kosovo". Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online.
Encyclopdia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 01 Nov. 2015
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Landay, Jonathan S. "From war to words as Kosovo talks open." Christian Science Monitor n.d.:
1. Literary Reference Center. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
Murphy, Lis. "Bridging Divides." Strad 125.1492 (2014): 54-57. Hobbies & Crafts Reference
Center. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
Pula, Besnik. "The Emergence Of The Kosovo "Parallel State," 1988-1992." Nationalities Papers
32.4 (2004): 797-826. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.