Kosovo declared its independence on February 17, 2008, and months later the country’s government launched ‘The Young Europeans’ campaign to change the perception of Kosovo as a war–torn country and to promote it as a newborn nation with the youngest population in Europe. The campaign was well received and, as it portrayed Kosovo as a beautiful place rich in heritage, young Kosovars shared it proudly on their social networks.
The branding campaign portrayed a positive image of the country, but in reality things were not going very well. Political turmoil and economic instability continued to be part of daily life. Chronic high unemployment, low living standards, and widespread distrust of public institutions have led to general discontent among the population. People have started losing faith in their country, and this can best be shown by the recent increase in the number of people fleeing Kosovo, both legally and illegally.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, about 650 people have fled Kosovo every month this year. In just the past few weeks several hundred people trying to leave the country illegally have been caught and turned back by the police; yet, many of them have publicly said that they will try to flee Kosovo again the first chance they get.
People fleeing the country is not a case of chasing after rainbows but rather running from the harsh reality they have to face in Kosovo. Bledar Hajrizi, a freshman at the University of Prishtina, is among the young people who share the belief that there is little or perhaps not any hope for a bright future in Kosovo. “I totally understand the people who are trying to find ways to leave the country, there are no job opportunities and there is little hope that things will change for the better”, said Bledar.
Arijanit Ibrahimi, an ambitious young man from Kosovo who has studied abroad, said that, “the fact that so many people are illegally fleeing Kosovo is an indicator that there is something wrong with the country”. He continued, “since there is no visa liberalization for Kosovars, the only way of leaving the country is through illegal means, and that not only affects the country’s image but it also puts in danger entire families and young people who are desperately searching for a better life.”
Although Arijanit studied abroad, he is very pessimistic when it comes to having a decent life in Kosovo. “I see no bright future here and I believe that it will take a very long time for things to change”, he said. According to Arijanit a key problem is the way people perceive their country, the mentality, the culture. He believes that there is a lack of active citizenship, thus it is easier just to leave the country than to face the reality and fight for your rights.
On the other hand, Drita Morina who is a student at the University of Prishtina, condemns illegal migration. “Illegal migration will only delay visa liberalization and it is such a bad image for our young country”, she said. Drita is in the process of finding a job abroad through legal procedures and plans to come back after spending some time elsewhere. “Life is becoming more and more expensive in Kosovo, yet, there are fewer job opportunities every day”, added Drita.
It is not surprising that economic reasons such as the lack of job opportunities and low living standards are the main factors behind emigration, but adding the issue of visa liberalization on top of this makes illegal emigration the only “exit door” towards hope.
Hope. “There is no more hope, that’s the saddest part”, is what a young Kosovar who wanted to remain anonymous said. A twenty-five year old guy who finished his studies two years ago and who has been continuously trying to find ways to go abroad legally talked about the notion of hopelessness. “First there was a war. Kosovo was liberated, and then it declared its independence in 2008. In February that year there was hope, faith and something to look forward to. Years passed, and nothing changed. On the contrary, things worsened. There are fewer jobs every year, prices are going up, and politicians are getting richer. Sadly, there is no more hope.”
When asked whether he is still trying to go abroad he said that at this point he is willing to do whatever it takes to leave the country. “I’ve applied to a few colleges, and I have looked for jobs and even internships. Once I’m there I won’t come back again”, he continued. Hopeless and frustrated, he made it clear that he has made up his mind to flee the country as soon as possible.
Fifteen years ago international media was showing the mass exodus that was happening in Kosovo. Today, the same is happening even though Kosovo is now free and independent. This time no one is forcing people to leave the country, but its young people are fleeing the country in droves in search of a better life.