Two major initiatives have been launched to help the Albanian-speaking community integrate in Switzerland and improve mutual understanding.
There are around 270,000 Albanian speakers currently living in Switzerland, of whom 100,000 are under 16. The diverse populations from Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, and Serbia and Montenegro form the second-largest foreign community after the Italians.
“Things are definitely happening at the moment,” said Bashkim Iseni, a 39-year-old political scientist from Lausanne University.
Iseni is head of the team of journalists behind www.albinfo.ch, a new information website in Albanian, French and German for the Albanian-speaking community in Switzerland that started in mid-October.
The project, financed by the Swiss government and conceived in partnership with the media group Edipresse, offers Swiss news, Balkans politics, features on the Albanian community in Switzerland and a wealth of practical information.
“It reflects the need for information and resources to help Albanian speakers integrate,” said Iseni, who was born in Macedonia to Kosovar parents, but grew up in Switzerland.
“No interface currently exists that can facilitate dialogue with and show off the extraordinary vitality of the diaspora, especially from an economic perspective.”
For Iseni there is a real need for a forum where thorny topics like inter-generational relations, religion, sexuality, violence, marriage and relations with the country of origin can be discussed.
But the priorities, he insisted, must be on improving unsatisfactory school results, as well as changing the generally negative perception of Albanian speakers among the Swiss population, as revealed in a recent study by the Federal Migration Office.
“People are always scared of strangers who are different,” explained Driton Kajtazi, a 40-year-old teacher from canton Vaud. “This is why we have to stress the need for better mutual understanding.”
“As a famous Albanian proverb states, ‘Deeper rivers have calmer waters’”.
Kajtazi is the director of the applied research institute ISEAL, the Swiss Institute of Albanian Studies, which was officially inaugurated last Friday in Lausanne in the presence of 100 dignitaries. These included the ambassadors of Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania, as well as representatives of the Federal Migration Office, and Lausanne and Vaud authorities.
ISEAL joins the Université Populaire Albanaise in Geneva and the Albanian Institute in St Gallen as a major centre for the promotion of Albanian culture in Switzerland.
Later in the article the president of the Albanian Association of Gruyère explains that Albanian children aren't learning Albanian. Learning the mother-tongue of your parents might be important for self-identity, but I'm not sure how it's related to either integration or improved mutual understanding. If 2nd generation Albanian immigrants have a problem with low grades at school, then maybe Albanian lessons shouldn't be a priority.