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Jeta Loshaj analyzes Kosovo Albania aspirations for unification

Student Success May 31, 2023
Jeta Loshaj
Jeta Loshaj

Indiana University is well known for its Russian and East European Studies program, which is what drew Jeta Loshaj to Indiana from her home country of Kosovo.

The program is offered by the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute in the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.

“I always planned to return to Kosovo to contribute in a field that hasn’t been very well explored,” said Loshaj, whose goal is to someday represent her country diplomatically.

Her aptitude for learning foreign languages — she learned English and German at a young age in addition to her native Albanian — gave her a strong foundation toward her goal. In fact, one of her earliest memories speaking English in Kosovo was introducing herself to someone she recognized as a diplomatic visitor.

“I remember this day I was on the way to school with my cousins. We had a conversation with this person in English — we had just learned the introductory words — ‘Hi, my name is Jeta. What is your name? How are you?’ I was so excited to speak it,” she said.

As an undergraduate student at the American University of Kosovo (RIT Kosovo/A.U.K.), Loshaj studied public policy, management, and international relations. Her education and language skills led her to multiple internships, including in the Office of the Prime Minister through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and at the German Parliament in Berlin as an International Parliamentary Scholar.

Jeta Loshaj speaking at a conference on education in the Western Balkans she co-organized with alumni of the German Parliament International Jeta Loshaj speaking at a conference on education in the Western Balkans she co-organized with alumni of the German Parliament International Parliamentary Scholarship.It was in Prishtina, Kosovo that Loshaj met two doctoral students from Indiana University.

“It was my friends Brittany and Kimberly who recommended the Russian and East European Studies MA program to me,” she said. “Russia is an important actor in politics and has influence in the Western Balkans, so I was interested in learning the language, culture, and politics of Russia.”

Upon researching the program, she discovered that in addition to learning Russian language and culture, she could also study East European politics with a focus on the Balkans.

This specialization allowed Loshaj to write her master’s thesis on a topic deeply meaningful to her home country: The prospect of unification between Albania and Kosovo.

“In 1913 when Albania gained independence from the former Ottoman Empire after the First Balkan War, the Great Powers left Kosovo out of Albania’s borders. Both states have majority Albanian populations and share the same language, religion, and culture, so this has remained in the minds of Albanians in Kosovo and Albania as a historical injustice,” noted Loshaj. “This topic periodically appears in domestic and regional political discourse.”

Loshaj examined the issue by focusing on socio-political aspects and regional-international implications of unification. Her methodologies included an examination of public opinion polls from the past three decades and interviews with 12 sources, including a former president and a former prime minister of Kosovo, historians, politicians, former diplomats, and political analysts from Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, and the U.S.

“The interviews were more like a conversation,” said Loshaj. “Some of them appreciated that I was talking about this topic. Some of them seemed like, ‘Why are you talking about this, because it is very risky, we need to move on from that.’ I think it was an interesting discussion with all of them.”

Loshaj examined unification from three intersecting angles: the popular vote, governmental perspectives, and regional/international implications.

She found that perspectives are nuanced, once examined closely. For example, polls showed that citizens of both Kosovo and Albania would favor membership in the European Union (E.U.) over unification.

Through a historical lens, Loshaj also found that Kosovo and Albania value independence or regional cooperation more than unification.

“Since the end of the Second World War until the 1990s, Albanians lived under a communist dictatorship and were completely isolated from the entire world. And Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia. This led to them developing individual state identities,” explained Loshaj. “Kosovo is now 15 years independent, and Albania is over 100 years independent. Kosovo is more focused on consolidating its statehood, as it has still not been recognized by five members of the E.U.”

From a governmental perspective, Loshaj says that politicians often use the concept of unification as a populist tool, although there is no actual roadmap toward it. Albania and Kosovo are not yet politically ready, she says, to tackle the controversial topics of defining borders or deciding on a new capital.

“How would they share powers? Would Kosovo be joined as an annexed part of Albania, or would they have some sort of a confederation?” Loshaj said there would be important considerations. “Even though Kosovo has always looked up to Albania as the ‘mother country,’ after being 15 years independent, we have won many Olympic medals, and produced globally-recognized cultural figures. We cannot just be incorporated as one additional territory.”

Loshaj also found that from an international perspective, there is a widely held concern — including from the U.S. and the E.U. — that any border changes in the Balkans would cause instability.

“My conclusion for unification is that the desire remains, but it is not proactive,” said Loshaj. “It is more of a romantic idea, existing as a topic in political rhetoric, literature, folk music, think tanks, and academia.”

Jeta Loshaj with her family and Sarah Phillips, director of the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute. Jeta Loshaj with her family and Sarah Phillips, director of the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute.

Loshaj graduated with her MA in Russian and East European Studies in May 2023 and will return to Kosovo, where she will start a new position at a German political foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Kosovo Office, as a consultant in gender justice and international security.

“I feel like I owe it to my country to go back to Kosovo, because as I wrote in my statement of purpose to IU, Kosovo doesn’t have a lot of people who study the Russian language, and Russia and Eastern Europe,” she said.

She will also pursue getting her thesis published and will continue her research.

“I am interested in exploring how Russia’s war on Ukraine has impacted the situation in the Western Balkans where some tensions remain,” she said. In a related article — her first publication — Loshaj draws parallels between Russia and Ukraine to Serbia and Kosovo.

As evidenced by her scholarship, Loshaj’s long-term career goal is in diplomacy and academia.

“Assuming that Kosovo and Russia or Kosovo and Ukraine establish diplomatic relations, I would like to represent my country as someone as having background in this field, having studied at a prestigious university. Ideally, I would also like to teach,” she said.

Loshaj said her experience at IU was supportive and emphasized that she would like to stay connected.

“I would want more people from Kosovo to have the same opportunity as I did [at IU], so I will try to promote it as much as I can,” she said. “Maybe in the future I could come back and present something or people from IU could come to visit, which I would be more than happy to participate in co-organizing something,” she said.

Jeta Loshaj with alumni of the German Parliament International Parliamentary Scholarship, who co-organized a conference on education in the Jeta Loshaj with alumni of the German Parliament International Parliamentary Scholarship, who co-organized a conference on education in the Western Balkans, drawing participants from 13 European countries.As an example, Loshaj shared a previous collaboration she organized as an alumna of the German Parliament International Parliamentary Scholarship (IPS). Together with the other IPS alumni network members, Loshaj garnered financial support from the German Parliament and a political foundation to co-organize a conference on education in the Western Balkans, drawing participants from 13 European countries.

“If IU wanted to do something similar, I would be interested in co-organizing. I would just like to keep in touch,” she said, demonstrating her diplomatic skills already in use.

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