Kosovo and Switzerland, Switzerland and Kosovo

The two small European mountain countries have a deep political, economic, historical but above all human relationship, through numerous personal ties.

About 250,000 people belong to the Kosovar diaspora in Switzerland. This is significantly lower than Italians living in Switzerland, for example. And yet it’s a high number.

After all, Kosovo, the small mountainous country in southeastern Europe, has only 1.8 million inhabitants.

Since the 1960s, when Kosovo was still one of the poorest regions of communist Yugoslavia, Kosovo Albanians have come to Switzerland, the small Alpine country, as seasonal workers.

The Swiss work permits of this temporary statute did not aim to create permanent ties, and yet, contrary to the will of the authorities, they were developed.

As the Yugoslav authorities’ crackdown on the Kosovars since 1981 began, more and more political refugees from Kosovo were heading to Switzerland. Already in 1981 there was a demonstration in Zurich in favour of an independent Kosovo.

Newspapers of exile in Switzerland

When, since 1989, Serbian politics in Yugoslavia forced the Kosovar community to leave many jobs in addition to education, Switzerland became a place of exile, and many Kosovar newspapers were based here.

The Kosovo Albanian population already in Switzerland and numerous connections caused tens of thousands of Kosovars to flee to Switzerland during the 1998/99 war.

There were 43,000 asylum applications during the years of the Kosovo war: in relation to the small size of Switzerland, no other Western European country received so many people from Kosovo.

In order to be able to act more quickly in such a situation, the Swiss authorities introduced the status of protection S in response to the Balkan wars. It was first used more than 20 years later, when tens of thousands of Ukrainians applied for a regular residence permit in Switzerland in 2022.

In an interview with SWI swissinfo.ch, Swiss-Kosovar Arta Krasniqi, whose family had arrived in Switzerland four years earlier, recalls that more kosovars arrived every week at school.

With the increasing visibility of the Albanian community at the time, racist stereotypes also increased.

Many of the dissidents who fled to Switzerland before the war were pacifists. But the UK, the “Kosovo Liberation Army,” also cultivated its ties with the Swiss country.

The leader of the UK, Hashim Thai, who later became Kosovo’s first president, lived in Switzerland and was recognized here as a political refugee in 1995.

He is being tried by the Special Court for Kosovo in The Hague. He is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Kosovo as an independent state

To date, some 115 countries recognize Kosovo as an independent state. The Western recognition of Kosovo is repeatedly used by Russia as a justification for the annexation of Crimea and similar cases.

Swiss historian Oliver Jens Schmitt explains in an interview why this comparison is invalid: “Serbia has committed the most serious crimes against human rights, with Serbian actors systematically killing, using sexual violence against the population, destroying 40,000 houses and much of the cultural heritage. A government that acts like this against its own people loses the right to govern it.”

Relations with Serbia have again hit rock bottom since the attack by 30 armed men in the monastery village of Banjska on 24 September.

Peace research and Swisscoy mission

Swiss peace researcher Dana Landau explained to SWI swissinfo.ch the importance of the resumption of dialogue.

Peace-building on the ground is also the responsibility of KFOR. That includes the Swisscoy mission. As Switzerland’s largest military mission abroad, it still provokes heated debates in Switzerland today about the interpretation of neutrality.

Switzerland played an important role in Kosovo’s independence: in 2005, it was the first country to demand a debate on Kosovo’s independence at the UN.

In favour of an independent Kosovo also by the diaspora in Switzerland

The then Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, Micheline Calmy-Ky, is now an honorary citizen of Kosovo. In an interview with SWI swissinfo.ch, he explained that Switzerland also had its own interests in an independent Kosovo. A pro-independence argument for Calmy-King was the large Kosovar community in Switzerland.

In other words, the relationship was forged first through the population before this link between Kosovo and Switzerland materialized politically.

All of Wil’s Kosovo Albanians were there, Calmy-King remembers on the day of the declaration of independence, which happened to an Albanian religious office.

Kosovo has had a major development since independence in 2008: it is a very young society with very prepared people.

Swiss residents abroad and a Swiss callcenter in Kosovo

The country has also become an adoptive home for Swiss citizens with no Kosovar background, such as the graffiti Krissy Suire of western Switzerland, which has become a name in both countries under the pseudonym ‘Made By Stern’. She describes her emigration to Kosovo as a “second birth.”

The numerous personal connections – and the consequent widespread knowledge of German – have also led to an increase in economic contacts between the two countries. For example, Swiss telecommunications companies have opened call or call centers in Prístina.

SWI swissinfo.ch spoke to call centre agents who ask the Swiss about their positions on the mandatory AVS state pension system or biodiversity, and by the way know Switzerland is getting better, sometimes without ever having been in the Alpine country themselves.

Switzerland-Kosovo in sports and culture

The stars of the Swiss men’s soccer team Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka have their roots in Kosovo. Other athletes, such as Naim Fejzaj, an athlete of the traditional wrestling sport, also belong to the Kosovar diaspora in Switzerland.

Swiss-Kosovare filmmakers are part of a “new Kosovar wave” in the cinema.

In music, second-generation Kosovar Arber Rama, from the musical group EAZ, achieved a record for Switzerland: his song “Juicy” was the first Swiss-German title to climb positions on Germany’s hit lists in the last 50 years.

In 2023, 15 years after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, 25 years after the start of the war, the Swiss in Kosovo are an integral part of Swiss society.

They are part of the country that initiated the debate on the independence of their homeland. Today, Kosovo is the youngest state in Europe.

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