Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Southeast European History

Claudia Lichnofsky

Appearance of new ethnic identifications – the example of Ashkali and Egyptians in Kosovo

Egyptians and Ashkali are nowadays –according to the constitution of the Republic of Kosovo – two different “communities” with certain minority rights. These rights include also a reserved seat in the parliament. Nevertheless, they are often confused and mixed with Roma or named with the abbreviation “RAE” (Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians). All three communities are Muslim and differ in their mother tongue: Ashkali and Egyptians usually speak Albanian while Roma usually refer to Romani as their native language; even though a lot of Roma do not speak Romani. Their second language is often Albanian in Western Kosovo and Serbian in Eastern Kosovo.

Few articles in history, anthropology and cultural studies deal with Egyptians in former Yugoslavia but nearly none with Ashkali. If they are mentioned at all, it happens rather in a common context with ‘Roma’ or they are called ‘Gypsies’ by several authors. Very rarely, and usually only in documents of the communities themselves, are they seen as three separate ethnic groups.

Since Ashkali and Egyptians refer to the same milieu, I am asking how, why and in which political and historical context do new ethnic identifications appear. Also the exclusion of Egyptians and Ashkali from the Albanian nation during and after the war will be considered in order to explain “antiziganist” (anti-gypsist) stereotypes. Especially the relation of “antiziganism” and nationalism is seen as a cause of the building of nations and ethnicities. Roma, Egyptians and Ashkali in former Yugoslavia do appear as new communities or nations in different decades: Roma in the 70s, Egyptians in the 90s and Ashkali in the 21st century. The motives and opportunities for constructing new ethnic identifications, their strategies for international recognition and narratives of origin, in contrast, are very similar and therefore worth comparing.

Important for my work is network theory, concepts of switching of identifications, the understanding of “we-groups” which are not seen as primordial and the research of violence. I analyze written and oral documents (newspapers and magazines, problem centered interviews, publications, websites and leaflets) of authors from these three communities. Additionally, Serbian and Albanian newspapers, statistics, human rights reports are used to complete the picture.