By Lily Lynch and Linda Karadaku
Along with broad cultural differences, Serb and Albanian members of the diaspora community find themselves in generally different predicaments if an emergency strikes hundreds or thousands of kilometers from home.
The Serbian Ministry of the Diaspora estimates that up to 3.5 million Serbs live abroad — and the majority make significant contributions to the economy back home.
According to the latest statistics from the World Bank, Serbia is one of the top remittance-receiving countries in Europe. It is estimated that the diaspora transferred 4.5 billion euros to Serbia in 2010.
When authorities in the US took Vuk and Verica Nastic’s two young children following accusations of abuse in 2010, the couple appealed for help to the large community of Serbs living in the United States, as well as people back home in Serbia.
The Nastics’ nightmare began in California, when Vuk Nastic took his computer to a repair shop and a technician found pictures of the couple’s two young children in the bathtub. The shop’s owner notified the police, and Child Protective Services agency workers removed the children from their home. Charged with negligence and sexual abuse, the couple claimed that they were innocent of any wrongdoing and were victims of a cultural misunderstanding.
News of the family’s troubles soon spread throughout the Serbian diaspora community in the US, and eventually made its way back to Serbia, where supporters sprang into action. Serbs quickly set up a Facebook group called “Let’s help the Nastic family celebrate Christmas with their children.”
Three psychologists in Serbia, Zoran Milivojević, Žarko Korać and Žarko Trebješanin, wrote a letter to the California court describing the cultural differences between Serbia and the United States. Then-Serbian President Boris Tadic, a psychologist by profession, issued a similar statement supporting the family, and met with the US ambassador to Belgrade to discuss the case.
In the end, no charges were filed, and the Nastics were reunited with their children. They were separated for eight months.
In neighbouring Kosovo, the news site Telegrafi reports that remittances from the diaspora for 2010 totaled 511.6m euros, and 30% of direct foreign investments come from the diaspora. Yet the government approach towards the diaspora, both in Kosovo and Albania, has been more of a taking than giving or providing for it.
“What you call diaspora is called insistently and repeatedly served by the Mother Teresa Association of the Albanian community in Britain,” Esat Brace, association director told SETimes.
Some of its main activities are teaching Albanian to the children and consulting and supporting the Albanian-speaking community. “We have helped women that were abused in the family and worked against family violence. We helped persons who were in a serious condition of stress and depression from the war in Kosovo.”
“Unfortunately, we have to say that we have had no support of any kind [from either Kosovo or Albania] and even worse, no show of interest, at least officially,” Brace said, adding that they continue to appeal to both governments for support.
Anton Qerimi, a Kosovo Albanian living in Switzerland, says the diaspora there ask Swiss institutions for help rather than the Kosovo or Albania embassies. The Mother Teresa Association is active there too. The Albanian-speaking community relies on it to help those in need and as a communication tool, making it one of the most important links.
An offshoot of the Mother Teresa Association — Help for the Poor — based in Norway, chooses two or three families most in need and provides money from donors.
Another association called Friendship helps the estimated 5,000 Albanian-speaking emigrants in Rimini, Italy. It works to familiarise them with Italian laws, and offers practical assistance, such as finding a job or a house.
The situation is different in Serbia. In November 2009, parliament adopted a new law on the diaspora, stressing “the protection of members of the diaspora’s interests and legal rights abroad through consular and other services.”
The draft law was submitted to various diaspora organisations, including the Serbian Unity Congress, for comment prior to adoption.
In addition to the governmental institutions that provide services to Serbs in crisis abroad, the foreign affairs ministry says that roughly 1,500 Serbian diaspora organisations operate around the world. While many of these are primarily concerned with the promotion and protection of Serbian culture, many also provide support services, including assistance to refugees.