My Belgrade experience starts with the first trip I took as an Albanian in the Balkans. Due to several historical reasons and transitional traits of the Albanian society, my generation has always been oriented towards the Western Europe. I have never considered choosing a Balkan capital to pursue my studies and when I even had the time to go somewhere for a short trip, I would immediately use the chance to visit any EU city.
Things changed when I visited Belgrade in 2012 during an International Project. The trip itself was an adventure, travelling by Balkan buses on curvy roads, since I could not enter Serbia through Kosovo with my passport. Despite this, I remember the feeling I had in the first moment the bus entered the city, when it was almost dawn. I still call it love at first sight.
In my experience, many cities have proved to have their own spirit and Belgrade is definitely the city that puts you out there to find yourself. It offers various options to you, so you can choose whatever you like. It was because of these reasons and because it offers all the services that a proper capital should offer, that I decided to enroll my Masters in Political Science, South East European Studies at FPN, a joint project with Karl Franzens University of Graz.
During my stay in Belgrade, I have never experienced any intentional provocation regarding my nationality, except for mutual nationalistic jokes between my friends, which were mainly focused on ironically presenting national policies and leadership attitudes of both of our countries. However, I have encountered some prejudices, which I wasn’t aware of before. Firstly, Albanians are not Muslims and that is not a valid axiom.
Albanian society is a multi-religious one and even among Muslims, one can distinguish the practitioners and the so-called Muslims by tradition. Thus, seeing an uncovered Albanian drinking beer at splavs of Savamala is nothing exceptional. Secondly, no, I do not own a bakery. This is a common joke that I encountered even during my second year in Zagreb, but it took me some time to understand the point. This is mainly caused by Albanians of Kosovo and the Yugoslavian times.
This brings me to the third point, Albanians of Albania and those of Kosovo have some different traits in attitudes and it is understandable if you have in mind the historical developments that both countries went through. Nevertheless, this is not an excuse for one of the most irritating claims that the Albanians of Albania are different from those of Kosovo.
Thank you, Belgrade
These claims only hide the real issues and by hiding the truth and avoiding to take responsibility over the past, we only prolong the matter of repeating it. But, besides all of this, Belgrade experience has given me one of the best years of my life and it has also helped me discover myself, grow professionally and understand what I want to dedicate my professional life to. I will forever be grateful to Belgrade and one thing you should definitely keep in mind is that it is a dangerously charming city. Once you go there, you will always want to return.
Erasmus+ Coordinator, European University of Tirana