It’s been a tumultuous week for British-Kosovar pop star Dua Lipa. The 24-year-old found herself at the heart of a social media pile-on after posting the image of a map on Twitter — but why has it caused such uproar?
Lipa’s tweet urged people to sign a change.org petition that would call on tech giant Apple to display Kosovo as an independent country on its Apple Maps app. Created by a 20-year-old UK-based Albanian software developer about a week ago, the petition has so far been signed by almost 150,000 people.
The singer’s post, however, didn’t explicitly mention the petition. Instead, it showed a banner that merged a number of Albanian nationalist grievances into the Albanian flag. It showed a map of Balkan territories which Albanian nationalist claim have an Albanian majority — including areas outside of the Albanian state. It also included pictures of two “founding fathers” — one of whom was Kosovar — and the word “autochthonous”, implying that Albanians were the indigenous majority in those areas.
Lipa was criticised for hinting that one ethnic group could claim precedence in a very diverse region. “Dua Lipa probably doesn’t know, but this map represents the same kind of aggressive nationalism as any other,” tweeted noted Balkan commentator Florian Bieber, a professor at the University of Graz in Austria. He called the map “stupid nationalism.”
Many Kosovar-Albanians also thought that the tweet was over the top. Adriatik Gacaferri, a tour guide, wrote in an ironic Facebook post: “They petition to have Kosovo enter a map application as its own country. They follow up imagining Kosovo as part of a different country.”
Since declaring independence in February 2008, Kosovo has been locked in a battle of acceptance. Serbia vowed never to recognise Kosovo as autonomous after the country broke away from Belgrade, and that battle still continues on a global, diplomatic scale.
In 2008, about 100 countries backed by a number of influential western governments said that they would recognise the country as independent — but that movement has since somewhat abated. A handful of countries have rescinded recognition after lobbying by Serbia.
“It makes me sad and angry that my post has been wilfully misinterpreted by some groups and individuals who promote withnic separatism, something I completely reject.”
Today, that battle for recognition continues, waged in symbols. A telephone dialling code becomes a tortuous negotiating matter. The fact that you can enter Kosovo addresses automatically in the Google Contacts — Kosovo recently made it to the app’s country scroll-down list — is given serious weight, as is Kosovo’s exclusion from Google Maps.
The banner the Dua Lipa tweeted was first used in a 2014 UEFA football match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade, which barred Albanian fans from the stadium to avoid violent clashes with Serbian supporters. The banner was brought to the stadium via a drone, sparking mayhem which interrupted the game. The match never resumed, and UEFA sanctioned Serbia.
Lipa, meanwhile, has since reached out to her followers about the post.
“My previous post was never meant to incite any hate,” she said. “It makes me sad and angry that my post has been wilfully misinterpreted by some groups and individuals who promote withnic separatism, something I completely reject.
“Whenever I post about Kosovo, my feed goes crazy, even if it’s about something as joyful as food and music, and I am met with a fierce resistance to the idea of an authentic Kosovan culture. We all deserve to be proud of our ethnicity and where we’re from. I simply want my country to be represented on a map and to be able to speak with pride and joy about my Albanian roots and my mother country. I encourage everyone to embrace their heritage and to listen and learn from each other.”