Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Albania’s Gora Minority Takes Bulgarian Route to EU

Members of a small community of obscure origin in northern Albania are applying in droves for Bulgarian passports, seeking a new life in the European Union.

Bashkim Shala

Kukes and Shishtavec
Members of Albania's Gorani community stand in front of the Bulgarian Embassy in Tirana | Photo by : Bashkim Shala

Every week in the northern Albania town of Kukes, a group of passengers climbs aboard a minivan, travel documents in their hands, before departing for an eight-hour trip to Sofia.

The passengers, all from the Gora region on the border between Kosovo and Albania, belong to the Gorani minority and hope to secure Bulgarian passports in the Bulgarian capital, which they then hope will allow them to live in the EU.

The owner of the minivan, a member of the same minority from the village of Zapod, sniffed a business opportunity as Gorani interest in Bulgarian citizenship grew. He decided to establish a regular link between Kukes and Sofia, charging 60 euros a trip.

“I leave in the evening and reach Sofia early in the morning,” the driver, T Bajraktari, said.

“My passengers then register in one of the neighborhoods of Sofia, which is a condition for obtaining citizenship, or they follow up the existing paper trail,” he added.

Bulgaria may have the lowest standard of living in the EU but becoming a Bulgarian citizen has become the great goal for many members of Gorani community in northeastern Albania.

The Gora region in Albania is made of nine villages whose inhabitants speak a Slavic tongue, similar to Macedonian and Bulgarian.

The Gorani are believed to have moved to the area between the 11th and 13th century. It is thought they were Bogomils, a neo-Gnostic Christian sect that emerged in the First Bulgarian Empire. The word “Bogomil” translates as those “dear to God.” They later converted to Islam but retained their Slavic speech.

The bilingual community has called the Gora region home for centuries. However, in the last two decades the community has been tempted by offers of citizenships from neighboring states.

In the early Nineties, Serbia tried to claim the Gorani as a Serbian minority, partly because they also live in Kosovo, which Serbia was then fighting to retain.

 Macedonia also offered the Gorani citizenship. The Bulgarians were next. But their offer triggered a much bigger migration.

No comments: