‘You eagles fly and stars shine’

It is a little over 17 years since NATO brought the war in Kosovo to an end. The conflict saw thousands dead and almost ninety per cent of Kosovan Albanians displaced – many never to be found. In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence and the British Labour government, following the leading role it had played in pushing for intervention, was among the first nations to recognise Kosovo as an independent state. In 2013, UN high representative Baroness Ashton, a Labour peer, led talks that concluded in a historic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia – a vital step towards the normalisation of relations between the two nations.

As it stands, 109 of 193 United Nation member states have recognised Kosovan independence. There is still a great deal of work to be done – both at home and abroad – and Kosovo has had no greater ally in this than the Labour party.

This week a twenty-five year old Kosovan Albanian woman named Majlinda Kelmendi became Kosovo’s first Olympic gold medallist. It was a historic moment for Kosovo – only recognised by the IOC two years prior due in large part to campaigning by Kelmendi, who had competed under the Albanian flag at London 2012. After Kelmendi’s victory she noted that, ‘People, especially kids in Kosovo, look to me as a hero … I just proved to them that even after the war, even after we survived a war, if they want something they can have it. If they want to be Olympic champions, they can be.’

In recent years, it has become vogue to talk down Britain’s leading role in the world. Yet the success of Kosovo post-intervention is a vindication of a continuation of that leading role. It is only because the then Labour government chose not to abrogate its international responsibilities in Kosovo, as the West had done in Rwanda and Bosnia to disastrous effects, that moments like Majlinda Kelmendi lifting a gold medal are possible. Internationalism – not isolationism – has been a pillar of the Labour movement for as long as it has existed. Socialists believe it is a moral duty to protect the weak wherever they may be and to enable young men and women, like Kelmendi, to see their talents fulfilled – their ‘eagles fly and stars shine’ as is promised in the Kosovan national anthem.

The last Labour government accomplished a great deal – the National Minimum Wage, peace in Northern Ireland, and Sure Start to name but a few of its achievements – yet its role in preventing the annihilation of Kosovan Albanians and its support of a Kosovo in its infancy are perhaps among its least cited. To Kosovans, be they in Kosovo, here in Britain or among the nation’s far-reaching diaspora, that support will never be forgotten. We too, in the Labour movement, would do well to never forget it also.

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Denis Hoti is a Labour activist. He tweets at @denishoti

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