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May 2010

16 there to here


Brussels identities from A to Z

“Kosovo has only officially existed as a country since 2008, so many things are new to us, diplomacy included. I always jest that after Brussels, I’ll have graduated in that art, principally because this is a singular city, where on a small territory the whole world comes together. So being an ambassador here is a completely different experience from being an ambassador in a ‘regular’ capital,” says Ilir Dugolli, 34, Kosovar ambassador to Belgium, and one of the 30,000 Kosovars officially living in the country.


osovars came to Belgium in waves. There were those who came to find shelter in Belgium when Communist rule was imposed in the former Yugoslavia. They were followed by others in the 1970s and 80s, and later by refugees of the 98-99 war. But even now that there is a fairly large Kosovar community in Belgium, you still don’t see them. That is because Kosovars are not inclined to lock themselves up in their communities or to form ghettos. We learn the local language and customs, and integrate easily. I couldn’t even direct you to a Kosovar restaurant in Brussels. I know a few places run by Kosovars, but they serve all kinds of cuisines, not just Kosovar. And the owners of the famous Cobra Bar near the Bourse or of Le Volle Gas in Ixelles don’t come across as typically Kosovar either. I already knew Brussels before I came to live here, of course, but my visits to the city were always short business trips. You don’t get to know a city that way. Now that I live here, near Place Stéphanie, I sometimes go out at weekends to take pictures of the city and of areas outside the centre that I do not know well and where few tourists come, like Anderlecht or Etterbeek. Brussels is an incredibly underestimated city; it is so much more than just the capital of Europe and the impersonal administrative fortress that Europeans are presented with through the media. This is a tremendously lively, vibrant place with a top-notch cultural life. It is also an astoundingly cosmopolitan city. That there are so many peoples, cultures, languages, philosophies here

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 In praise of:  “I like to go to the homely and typically Brussels restaurant L’Inattendu (13 Rue de Wynants) in the shadow of the Palace of Justice. It serves good Belgian cuisine. That was, by the way, a revelation when I first came here: you can eat really well in Brussels. Another excellent restaurant, in the same street but Thai this time, is Les Larmes du Tigre (21 Rue de Wynants). There is also La Pagode d’Or (332 Chaussée de Boondael) or Italian restaurant Al Piccolo Mondo (19 Rue Jourdan)  I love to get lost in neighbourhoods I do not know already, but of course I know the tourist hotspots in Brussels too, if only because the guests I show around all want to go there. Manneken Pis is a remarkable symbol for a city: not pompous, fancy or glamorous – on the contrary... My tourist favourite is the Sablon – my guests always buy chocolates there, but I especially like it because of its small winding streets.  You wouldn’t say so at first sight, but Brussels is a remarkably green city, with large, well-kept parks. The Forêt de Soignes, for instance: ideal for a walk on a beautiful day.

is very enriching. Brussels is never boring – there is too much to discover. I do hope, however, that all communities in the future will belong to the city – if you lock yourself up in your ghetto, you’re not part of the city. There has to be exchange. Brussels has also been disfigured by some urban blunders – I heard that the place where the European Quarter now is used to be a lovely residential area that has been completely destroyed. I’d like to see some pictures of that. I really miss the sun of my hometown, Pristina – I was there just the other week; people are already sitting on terraces when Brussels is still cold and grey. But I’m not complaining. Pristina is of course much smaller than Brussels but it’s also an international city in its own right, thanks to the many international bodies that have been present in Kosovo for years. And also like Brussels, it’s a lively city, both day and night. But it’s much less citified than Brussels. When I arrived in Brussels, I had nothing and no one to fall back upon. Not even an office. I first had to build up an embassy, and a network. Now I have plenty of contact on a Belgian level, but also on an EU and Nato level and with other embassies in Brussels. I get a lot of officials from Pristina visiting and our embassy is becoming a good hub and meeting point. This way we are slowly but surely working towards normal relations with countries which as yet do not recognise Kosovo. Building diplomatic

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relations in Brussels is vital. For me, as a young ambassador, it’s extremely important not only to keep up bilateral relations between my own country and the host country, but also with diverse other institutions and embassies located here. You can do that in Brussels. Belgium recognised Kosovo the day after our declaration of independence on February 17, 2008, and in doing so showed solidarity with a newborn country. Not surprising, really: Belgium has always had a strong tradition of democracy, self-rule and freedom. And it’s not a matter in which only politicians are interested: Belgian citizens too have always supported the Kosovars, and are remarkably well informed about current events. I’ve met a lot of Belgians who have been involved in a Kosovo-related action group or committee.

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Ambassador of Kosovo Ilir Dugolli at Schuman metro, close to his office overlooking the Berlaymont. “In Brussels you see a lot of this kind of administrative architecture, but you can also see gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings or centuries-old urban architecture. This makes the city eclectic and interesting.”

Belgians are no navel-gazers; they are open to developments in the rest of the world, and that’s a good quality. I use every opportunity I can to get to know Belgium better, because this is a fascinating country, certainly for someone with a law degree, like me. In this complex country everything interlocks. When as an ambassador I have business with the federal level, I notice how ingeniously this is interwoven with other administrative levels, and how this doesn’t seem to hinder things, even though all those levels (federal, communities, regions) have to deliberate. It’s complex, but it works. Brussels and Belgium are interesting models for Europe.”  Image by Veerle Devos

Interview by Veerle Devos & Kristof Dams

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Brussels identities from A to Z: Kosovar  

“Kosovo has only officially existed as a country since 2008, so many things are new to us, diplomacy included. I always jest that after Brus...

Brussels identities from A to Z: Kosovar  

“Kosovo has only officially existed as a country since 2008, so many things are new to us, diplomacy included. I always jest that after Brus...