Monday, April 17, 2006

Albanians Finish Last in Race for Jobs

With almost no hope of paid employment, young Albanians are leaving Montenegro in droves.

By Marijana Camovic and Izedina Adzovic (Balkan Insight, 10 Apr 06)

Lindon, an ethnic Albanian teenager from Montenegro, is currently studying for an economics qualification in Shkoder, Albania.

It was not his first choice, he says, but it was the only realistic option available to him because he could not study in his mother tongue at home.

"It is difficult to follow lectures in a language which you know only superficially," he added, in reference to the national language of Montenegro, Serbian.

Several thousand ethnic Albanians live in villages in Montenegro close to the border with Albania, some of which have bilingual primary and secondary schools.

The Malesija region, which consists of lowland and hilly areas bordering the Lake Skadar national park, is home to some 15,000 Albanians. They account for 75 per cent of the region’s population, with Montenegrins and Muslims making up the rest.

Montenegro's ruling parties, which support independence from Serbia, make much of the concept of a state based on citizenship. They contrast this with ideologies founded on ethnic nationalism, which they say are a negative feature of Serbia and other states in the region.

Most Montenegrins agree, and see their republic as a successful multiethnic society whose Albanian members - who account for about seven per cent of the total population - lack for nothing.

Jelena Vuletic, a student at Podgorica University Law School, typifies this mainstream view. She says Albanians are no worse off than the rest and that Montenegro has no second-class citizens.

"They can insist on education in their mother tongue and end up ghettoised, or they can overcome this obstacle and join in with the others," she said.

Most Albanians say it is more complicated than that, however. They insist they are still subject to many forms of discrimination.

Even official statistics show that Albanians are vastly under-represented in the civil service, making up only 0.05 per cent of public servants. In the capital Podgorica, for example, there are no Albanians in the judiciary.

Ferhat Dinosa, a deputy in parliament for the Democratic Albanian Union, DUA, says Albanians also do badly in the jobs market, "Most are unemployed, which is why even those with diplomas are leaving and seeking jobs elsewhere.

"If Montenegro becomes independent, which we are looking forward to, I believe this might be better for young Albanians.”

Dinosa says the DUA is campaigning for proportional representation of Albanians in the civil service. He also says parliament is about to adopt a law on national minorities envisaging a special fund for them and other measures to do with representation.

The government has already taken some steps to help minorities in the field of education. Two years ago, it set up the first Albanian-language university department in Montenegro, which focuses on teacher training. About 40 future teachers now study there.

Dragan Kujovic, deputy speaker of parliament and an official of the ruling Democratic Socialist Party, DPS, says there is no outward discrimination against Albanians in Montenegro, though he admits they need help in the job market.

"I believe in the concept of a citizens' state," said Kujovic. "But we should do more to help employ Albanians as public servants, provided that they fulfil the professional criteria."

In the meantime, Albanians are resorting to emigration as the only solution to their dilemma.

Dzemal Nikaj, the director of Trojet, a non-governmental organisation that works with people from Malesija, says around 25,000 to 30,000 Albanians from the region now live abroad.

Most emigrated in the Nineties when it was almost impossible to find a job as the Balkan wars raged.

While the numbers leaving have since subsided, Nikaj says one reason for this is simply that it is now harder to cross borders.

"If the situation persists over the next 15 years, Albanians will become a minority in Malesija," he added.

According to the Montenegrin Employment Office, 18.6 per cent of the republic's population is jobless. But in Malesija the situation is far worse.

"If you are an Albanian, it is almost impossible to find a job," continued Nikaj. "There are figures to illustrate this, but we assume about 97 per cent of local young Albanians are unemployed."

Traditionally, people in Malesija were farmers. Only a small percentage of the land is now worked, however, as the sector fades in strength and importance.

Nikaj believes that as farming becomes less viable, the government needs to be more pro-active about alternatives. "The development projects which we have submitted to the state are not being granted favourable loans," he complained.

Nikaj also asserts that Albanians are not especially well served in parliament by the parties that officially represent their community. At the moment, there are two parties representing Albanians in the legislature, the Democratic Albanian Union and the Democratic Alliance in Montenegro.

The leader of the latter, Mehmed Bardhi, wants to see a new law that would define more clearly the status of ethnic minorities. He says the government also needs to demonstrate greater confidence in minorities.

"The government trusts no minority community, and especially not the Albanians," said Bardhi.

"Albanians have never done anything to the detriment of Montenegro but have always fought only for their rights.”

Bardhi maintains that even where ethnic Albanians constitute the majority, they do not get jobs, as the government acts on the premise that "the fewer Albanians are employed, the more the situation is under control".

Although many Albanians joined the police in 1999, Bardhi argues that the number of serving officers from the community is still far from representative.

"At least in the courts and police, where there is an Albanian minority, both languages should be used," he added.

Bardhi says young Albanians are forced to leave the country because they are sidelined and cannot break through into mainstream employment.

"All the senior public servants appointed by the state in the places where we live are non-Albanians, and they make all the decisions," he pointed out.

Montenegro's minister for ethnic and national minority rights, Gzim Hajdinaga, says the picture is less bleak than Bardhi claims.

He says the government is working on improving the representation of minorities at local and republican level.

"This percentage will increase, though it is true that today it is still a far cry from a realistic representation of minority groups, particularly Albanians," he said.

Hajdinaga adds that Albanians living abroad need to be encouraged to invest in Montenegro so as to create new jobs. "I believe the diaspora will start investing here, since there are more of us [Albanians] abroad than in Montenegro," he said.

However, Hajdinaga also argues that while the ethnic Albanian parties complain of discrimination, his ministry rarely receives official complaints on which it can act.

"There are almost no instances [of complaints], and they are too few in number to be able to draw any general conclusions from them," he said.

Not all Albanians in Montenegro belong to, or support, the ethnic Albanian parties. Some, like Nikola Gegaj, are members of the ruling DPS.

Gegaj believes there has been a positive change in the image of Albanians in Montenegro, so that society no longer sees them as a potential danger or problem.

"Young Albanians in Montenegro are perceived as citizens with equal rights who may well influence the image of Montenegro abroad," he said.

Gegaj also plays down the significance of language-related barriers to employment.

"Albanians are known as polyglots - they are simply accustomed to learning foreign languages," he said. "I don't think there are any Albanians in Malesija who cannot speak the official language of Montenegro."

One Albanian success story comes from Robert Camaj. An ethnic Albanian law school graduate, he now works for the Montenegrin Employment Office.

Camaj completed secondary school in Albanian but then enrolled in Podgorica University Law School, where classes were in the official language. When he enrolled, war was raging in Kosovo and signing up to study law was one way to ensure he would not be called up.

His knowledge of Serbian was not that good at the time, so initially the exams and the first two years of study were difficult.

But Camaj was not put off. "I wanted to prove that a faculty in which classes are in Serbian is not necessarily a serious impediment to young Albanians who are really keen on higher education," he said.

Camaj's advice to young Albanians is to study in their mother tongue if they so wish, but to be prepared to study in the national language if they have to.

"I am pleased with my job, and I'm satisfied with my status in the company and also with my senior colleagues' attitude towards me," he said.

However, Lindon does not share Camaj's optimism about a future life in Montenegro. When he completes his diploma in Albania, he plans to get a job in Western Europe or the United States, where most families in Malesija have some relatives.

"No, I don't see myself living here - not now, nor in ten years' time," he said.

Marijana Camovic is a journalist with the Podgorica daily Vijesti. Izedina Adzovic is a journalist for Radio Tuzi. Balkan Insight is BIRN's online publication.
This article was published with the support of the British embassy in Belgrade, as part of BIRN's Minority Media Training and Reporting Project.


Anonymous said...

Albanians in Montenegro WILL WAGE WAR!!!!!

You slavs played with us far too long .... Kosova won a part of the puzzle; now MALESIA will put another piece together. said...

LOL! Actually that's pretty funny, because what the Russian mob doesn't own there, American movie stars do. Won't be so easy this time to pull the wool over people's eyes or get away with it.