New ethnic identifications due to antiziganism – racism against so called ‘Gypsies’

, par Claudia Lichnofsky

New ethnic identifications are not created out of nowhere nor are they natural appearances of historic roots but usually follow a certain strategy which fulfills certain needs. One of the needs can be the avoidance of racist stereotypes. This is the case with Egyptians and Ashkali who try to escape antiziganist stereotypes through claiming other ethnicities than Roma.
After the war not only the Serbian population but also Roma and Albanian speaking communities were driven out of the country. Those regarded themselves as Albanian but were called ‘Magjup’ (Gypsies) by Albanians. The recognition of those who are called as such were done by the color of their skin which leads me to the assumption that the body is part of the negative attribution.

In the social media but also in self attribution, Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians are describes as black while Albanians are seen as white. This matches also to the pride of some Albanian nationalists of being categorized as ‘Aryan of honour’ by the German Nazist regime in Greater Albania between 1943 and 1944. The contemporary racism also uses European antiziganist stereotypes as the ‘Gypsies’ as beggar, thieves and illoyal people. The non-participation of Roma and Egyptians in the underground parallel system of Albanians were interpreted as collaboration instead of passivity. After the war in 1999, especially Roma and Egyptians are seen as traitors. The nationalist pogroms in 1999 and 2004, though, did not ask of political orientation of the inhabitants of Roma-settlements but persecuted them due to their physical appearance as ‘Gypsies’ and therefore traitors for whom is no place in Kosovo.

In order to escape the negative attribution and the violence after the end of the war in 1999, those who were pejoratively called ‘Magjup’ started to use ‘Ashkali’ as an ethnonym to promote a new ‘imagined community’. The term itself had been used before in the Eastern part of Kosovo. Whether it was the term for an ethnic community or a subgroup of the Albanian community is a subject of debate today. The phrase ‘Ashkali are the second hand of Albanians’, which is favored today, suggests a hierarchical relation between Albanians and Ashkali.