‘Independent’ Kosovo depends on breadwinners abroad

Kosovo is marking a year since its declaration of independence from Serbia. But the mood there appears mixed as it struggles with the highest unemployment in Europe and the deepening financial crisis.

February 2008 was a happy month for Albanians in Kosovo. They celebrated their independence, a new government, a new constitution and recognition by some of the world community, but a year on and there’s nothing new to celebrate.

The European Union has taken over from the United Nations, but no one is happy. This, however, is not the main problem. Seventy per cent of young people there are unemployed.

Albanian businessman Defrim Boja is pessimistic about the efficiency of the government:

“The budget for the Kosovo government for next year is not enough. It’s not enough for the government to do anything about the current world financial crisis. The only way we can take care of ourselves is if foreign countries protect their companies here in Kosovo. But our government can’t do anything to help,” he says.

The world economic crisis is not the only problem for the people of Kosovo. For people who have nothing, there’s simply nothing more to lose. This is why three children of Albanians Xhafer and Dinore Malaj have gone abroad to live.

The Malaj family tell of how the majority of Kosovars survive. The young and strong do everything they can to find their way into the European Union. They work abroad and then send money back home to parents, wives and children. So, when the economic crisis hit Europe, many Kosovar families started receiving less through Western Union.

“My son hasn’t worked recently because of the financial crisis. We’re learning to live with less. I buy less to eat, less to wear; we spend less on fun,” says Dinore.

In previous years Kosovo was part of a different economic system called Yugoslavia. Most of the people lived under communism, with their jobs protected by the government.

But today, after being liberated by the West, they face a capitalist system where the strong survive and the weak struggle. Unfortunately for Kosovars, it’s a system in which they haven’t yet learnt how to operate.

Defrim Boja is convinced the financial crisis will have a big effect on families with breadwinners abroad. “We will see less and less investment from Kosovars living outside the country,” he believes.

However, it’s not only Kosovars. European governments now have to deal with economic problems inside their own countries, making it less and less easy for them to open their pockets for their poor Albanian neighbours on their Eastern border.