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Serbs & Albanians: Loving Your Enemies Part One

Gani Mehmetaj speaking at an event celebrating his work; photo by Emma Hearn

Author Gani Mehmetaj started writing at the age of 22 for a daily newspaper and has written ever since. 45 years and over 20 books later, Mehmetaj’s writing has won the Kadare literary award and gained fame across Albanian-speaking world.

His most recent novel, “Cuckoo Birds,” chronicles Serbian colonists who came to Kosova and discusses the relationship between Serbs and Albanians.

“It wasn’t difficult for me to explain or write from a Serbian perspective because I have been a part of the relationship [between Albanians and Serbs],” Mehmetaj said.

Mehmetaj grew up in a mixed society of multiple ethnicities and had Serbian friends as a child.

“Sometimes they were good relationships; sometimes they were a bit harder.”

Relations between Albanian Kosovars and Serbs have been complicated since 1912 when Serbia gained control of Kosova from the Ottoman Empire.

Rule of the nation shifted hands several times during the 20th century; however, a Serbian presence was continually felt as Serb colonists migrated to Kosova.

Oppression occurred against Albanians for many years, culminating in an ethnic cleansing led by Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbian army in 1999.

Memorial in Shtime for the deaths of 9 Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers killed during the Racak Massacre of 1999.

Though over 20 years have passed since the war, relations remain complicated.

At the political level, Serbia refuses to recognise Kosova as an independent country, though they declared independence in 2008.

Today many Albanians in Kosova rarely interact with Serbs; however, the pain and suffering inflicted by the Serbs during the war is never forgotten.

Serbian Orthodox Church in Prishtina built during the war. For some, it stands as a testament of history and victory, for others, a reminder of oppression and war.

“I have experienced the hate,” Mehmetaj said. “It bothers you; it eats you inside.”

Despite living through conflict and oppression, Mehmetaj still hopes Albanians will not live in this hate and pass it to another generation.

Mehmetaj has found peace – he does not hate the Serbs, but he does not love them.

“I have felt discrimination by the Serbs in the past, so I don’t want to discriminate against them,” Mehmetaj said. “I believe that we should give the Serbs their rights according to the United Nations.”

Through his writing, Mehmetaj challenges dislike on both sides and humanises the oppressor and the oppressed. Novels such as “Cuckoo Birds” encourage and advocate for tolerance and mutual respect by Serbs and Albanians.

As Christians, we believe that true healing comes through the power and love of Jesus Christ. Only He can mend broken relationships and give us the strength to love our enemies.

Are there people in your life you struggle to love? No matter what they did to you or how much they hurt you, Jesus can redeem any person, any relationship, and any nation. As Mehmetaj says, the absence of hate is a place to start, but Jesus calls us a step further--love.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Mathew 5:44

– Kaylie Moss, Ten2 2021 Participant & Storyteller

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