Success story

Gani Jakupi

Descriptive Text

Over a period of time, I gave up all other activities and dedicated myself to journalism only in order to be the voice of Kosovo in France, and later in Spain.

1. In which year did you emigrate?

- It was not a literal exile. Sometime in the mid-70s, I found myself involved in a student exchange project with France. Although I was still a high school student, the French lecturer at the Faculty of Philology in Prishtina appreciated my knowledge of French. I went lazily, I didn't care... but I came back fascinated! Not only did the French not have the superiority complex I encountered in other parts of Yugoslavia, but they showed genuine curiosity about the identities and culture of others. From that moment on, I dreamed of returning to the West.

2. What do you remember most about your early life in the Western world?

- It was like starting both life and education from scratch. The class division in communist Kosovo was much sharper than in capitalist countries. Cultural dichotomy went hand in hand with social status. In the West you didn't need to be rich to enjoy life. The "bohemian" approach, unimaginable in Yugoslavia, became a reality there: I hitchhiked, slept in youth hostels or with people who hosted me, ate when the opportunity presented itself... Not that it was always easy and comfortable, but this was compensated by the accumulation of experiences. For several years in a row, I traveled alone, to return to Kosovo when I had no other way out. I've been publishing illustrations and comics since before I was a teenager, with time I managed to crack something abroad, and my demands were relatively modest. Then, for a Bob Dylan concert in Paris I gave almost all my summer savings, and at another moment Joan Baez suddenly held a free concert at night in the square of an Italian city (Florence or Bologna... I can't remember). I took pictures with borrowed cameras, played foreign guitars; it was a time when everything was shared with others, the hippy spirit still survived. In the end I settled in Paris, because I was interested in working in the field of comics.

with Gerry Allanguilan, Algeria

3. How did your integration go and what difficulties did you encounter?

- When François Mitterrand won his first term (1981), I took advantage of the political situation (the new administration wanted to appear as progressive as possible) to seek the legalization of my situation - which culminated in the acquisition of French citizenship two years later. Paradoxically, that's where the first problems started. As a bohemian, you sail on the waves of life, but everyday life makes you face the prejudices and the dark side of every society. With the experience as an Albanian in Yugoslavia, it was clear to me that either in language dominance (or culture in general), or in various professional skills, I had to reach a level so that no one could "take me by the foot". Not all relationships were conflicts: I was lucky enough to know great and generous artists who helped me a lot.

4. What ties do you have with your homeland and what importance does it have in your life?

- Initially, the connection with the homeland was mainly configured around the family. But the late 80s and early 90s reawakened the nation's sense of vital danger. Over a period of time, I gave up all other activities and dedicated myself to journalism only in order to be the voice of Kosovo in France, and later in Spain.

My professional background is fundamentally Francophone, where I spent the critical years of my formation as an artist. On the other hand, I've been living in Spain for three decades and I'm also immersed in Hispanic culture (including Latin America). Regardless of this, the essence of my being is the villager of Kosovo, the child who played in the streets of Pristina. Something that no other experience redeems.

Consequently, the importance of the homeland is not material for me, but spiritual.

After a conference in Havana

5. How many times a year do you visit Kosovo on average?

- In a normal situation, three or four times. I hope to do it more often once the pandemic is over.

6. How much has Kosovo changed according to your impression?

- In the media and social networks, I am noticing a lot of dissatisfaction with the evolution of the Kosovar mentality. It is a healthy reaction, because one should always be tempted towards improvement, but my age and life experience enable me to make pretty favorable comparisons. Not only has Kosovar society come a long way in a relatively short time, but it is also the fact that current Europe is experiencing a worrying regression.

Where Kosovo not only limps, but has proved disastrous, is politics. Today, the responsibility for a positive development is equally shared by the government and the opposition, because neither can produce positive results without the other.

7. What do you miss the most from Kosovo in exile?

- Kosovars in general, with their strengths and weaknesses. Kosovar youth, which fascinates me. He is one of the most dynamic I know. Her enthusiasm is in an absolutely contradictory relationship with the economic and political situation. She is "betrayed" by the West that she adores, but she still doesn't give up.

8. Do you think of returning one day to live in Kosovo?

- I don't make long-term plans because, even though I'm pretty stable now, I'm always ready for the next challenge. Havana, New York, Tokyo,... or Prishtina: no eventuality closed the door!

9. Describe your professional commitment to us in more detail?

- I have practiced many different professions, but where I have created prestige is the field of graphic novels. I am not among the untouchable stars who have a secure future, but I feel privileged because publishers want to have me in their catalog, the media follow my work and I have a fan base solid in the Francophone market, and I am preparing to approach the Anglo-Saxon one (markets such as the Spanish, Italian, etc., are only anecdotal, without serious commercial weight). Despite my age, I am still able to surprise and bring something unexpected.

In the musical spectrum, I hope to reconstitute my jazz line-up after the pandemic is over, for new recordings and concerts, but with only artistic ambitions. It is a very fragile profession.

10. In your opinion, what should Kosovo institutions do for emigrants?

- I am not the right person for such a question. What would eventually interest me is if I can do something for Kosovar institutions. Of course, I by no means wish to generalize my situation, I'm sure others can better define such needs.

Portrait by Hazir Reka