August 25, 2017 | Friday

To Europe through Culture

French journalist, Thomas Hahn, in one of his articles a few years back, put forward a not overly optimistic view of Kosovo as seen from the outside. “Watching from Paris,” he says, “even Iran seems more credible. There are exhibitions and film screenings in festivals. Iranian artists, who once fled into exile from the Shah, are a permanent fixture of the art scene. In Western Europe, anyone who so wishes can create a view of Tehran. The same goes for Seoul or Johannesburg. Eventually, even for Belgrade. What about Pristina? So close, yet so far, so mysterious.”

Creating an alternate image of Kosovo, in spite of the one currently prevailing in the world, which is shrouded with mystery and fear, as a place of war and social turbulence, should be the principal goal of the state of Kosovo. And this is where, inescapably, culture should be called upon to help. Above all, culture. The fact that Kosovo can now play friendly soccer matches with Haiti is a sporting, and even a political achievement, however, I fear, not much more than just that. Kosovo may have some powerhouse boxers, fast runners, muscular weightlifters or nimble soccer players, and this can provide us with some political or even financial benefits. Nevertheless, this success cannot change the image of Kosovo that prevails in the world.    

Then, how can culture possibly do so?

For example, Chinese athletes win many gold medals at the Olympic Games, even hold records in table tennis and cycling, or something, but these achievements do not tell us about the Chinese society and what is the way of living in China today. Chinese art, literature, theater or film can provide us with information on issues such as what it’s like living in China, how much freedom is there, how the country is governed, what social values prevail, etc.

Referring to another more complex context, however well-suited to this argument, Amin Maalouf, a French-Lebanese author, says that we need to get to know others by way of insight, up-close…rather intimately. According to him, this feat can only be achieved through their culture. Indeed, Kosovo needs to foster a relationship of deep cultural recognition with the world, but first and foremost, with Europe. To know ‘others’, but also enable others to get to know it ‘up-close…intimately’.

For this process to happen, Kosovo must invest in culture; principally, in the culture that is being created now, on the move, by artists. By incentivizing cultural production, veritably, Kosovo stands to benefit in two directions: first, culture shall aid the Kosovar society become developed, emancipated and sophisticated, and upon these grounds carve out its new identity; second, culture builds that important link of communication and recognition between people, between cultures, and between civilizations. In addition to literature as noted by Maalouf, I would venture to say that theater plays a crucial role in this process, as theater puts a splendid touch on the impulse of time, shapes the dreams of a society, projects and puts the past to trial.

Kosovo’s European aspirations should not be reduced to technical political levels only (border dispute resolutions, free elections…). They must, above all, be directed towards cultural values. Europe should recognize us through art and culture. We should get to know Europe through art and culture.