The Displaced Man of a Disputed Territory: Naser Miftari
“There was a lot going on," Dr. Naser Miftari recalled. In Kosovo, sporadic fighting between the Serbian army and Albanian insurgents escalated throughout 1998. Within a year, daily civilian massacres were mounting and, at the conflict’s breaking point, a full scale ethnic displacement of nearly one million Kosovo Albanians was underway.
When Miftari, a McClandlish Phillips Journalism Institute visiting scholar, said “there was a lot going on” in the late ‘90s in Kosovo-Albania, he downplayed the extent of disarray in his homeland.
“Almost two-thirds of the country’s population were expelled at gunpoint, including me and my family,” Miftari recollected.
Yugoslavia, the former Soviet satellite, was the battleground for the people of Kosovo and Albania. Their fight for independence was a “century of struggle” to Miftari, who grew up through the demise of Yugoslavia -- a nation ended by civil strife in 1992. Miftari’s childhood was one of martial law, with “tanks piled up in our neighborhood” and military police who the Yugoslavian government sent in and “were never completely ever removed.”
The region’s populace were never in favor of the Yugoslav regime, as “they were from the communist party and shared more the values of Yugoslavia than the values of the people,” Miftari added.
“Essentially, Kosovo-Albania fought for their right for self-determination [since 1912], to be on equal footing in Yugoslavia. But that did not happen,” Miftari said.
What did happen was a language and people divided by political treaties. Kosovo and Albania are “one nation geographically and and territorially but” were divided by negotiations between Western powers and the Ottoman Empire. One half, known today as Kosovo, was placed under Yugoslav rule and the other half, Albania, was left on its own.
“We speak the same languages, share the same values and same identity but it took the international community about 100 years to reverse that,” Miftari said.
Miftari studied to be a journalist after finishing high school at age 20 in 1993. He eventually earned an internship with Koha Ditore (English: Daily Times) where he first began as a reporter.
“But it turns out it is not very easy to do journalism when you’re facing your own people. How do you preserve independence, impartiality, when it’s your own people at stake?” Miftari asked. “Yet I went out and reported throughout the conflict.”
Confusion ruled the day when Serbian Police and the Yugoslav army marched Miftari and his family onto trains at gunpoint. The 100 kilometer cattle car journey lasted 10 hours, a time Miftari remembers distinctly.
“They traveled slowly on purpose. They waited for orders to come in: ‘Should we kill them -- what should we do?’ I think the only reason they didn’t kill us was because they were confused,” Miftari said.
On the brink of an ethnic cleansing movement, the Serbians moved the civilians into a no man’s land on the border of Macedonia, in a wide open field. Macedonia refused to accept the refugees.
“After a week in the field, the UN Refugee Agency intervened. We had almost nothing and tents were set up only after the UN intervention. Eventually we were taken into Macedonia proper, in an Albanian community,” Miftari noted.
He reconnected with Koha Ditore editors, discovering that, the very night of his displacement, Serbian paramilitary destroyed Koha Ditore’s offices. However, because all the staff were taken away by rail, the only person killed was the security guard.
“Eventually we left, with the hope that this would not last long,” Miftari added.
Since 2008 Kosovo has had independence but “many challenges linger because we are not universally recognized,” according to Miftari. Two countries on the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China, continue to oppose Kosovo’s independence. Despite these challenges, Kosovo’s first free election was in 2001 and Miftari believes they have "accomplished a lot in 15 years.”
Miftari completed a Master’s in Journalism at Temple University and a Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before coming to King’s. He submitted a proposal to the McClandlish Phillips Journalism Institute a few months ago, to study the rise of religious fundamentalism in Kosovo. Reviewed and accepted by a King’s faculty committee, Mifari will research from October through the end of November at minimum.
“The major influence might be at the policy level. I’m formulating policies that might help Kosovo, determining to what extent the role of media has in issues like this. I think there’s a lot that needs to be regulated from the side of the state on how media reports on religious matters,” Miftari said of his work.
With a wife and an eight-year-old in Canada, Miftari wants to someday return to Europe. He hopes to help the next generation of Kosovans cultivate the required societal gatekeepers for their culture to flourish.