Six More Fax Machines for Kosovo



Excerpt from ‘Melbourne's place in the world: "Six more fax machines for Kosova"’ Imagining the City   (Penny Webb (ed.) Melbourne: Centre for Design), 1993

To be Albanian in Melbourne is to live a strange life. You seem to share a similar history with other ethnic minorities, such as the Irish, the Jews, the Lebanese. You come from a relatively small country whose entire population is roughly the equal of Melbourne's. You know that, like McDonalds restaurants, there are others of your kind spread out over most of the Western cities of the world. And like the Irish, the Jews, the Lebanese, your homeland has been the object of intense political struggle. A great deal of time is spent dwelling on the situation you left behind. But unlike their fellow ethnics, the Albanians have absolutely no identifiable trait in their host city -- no songs, jokes or belly-dancers to mark their difference. To Melbourne, the Albanians are more or less invisible.

The first Albanian migrants settled in Shepparton early this century. Since then, Melbourne has accommodated a wave of refugees from the southern region of Serbia, known as Kosovo, whose population is 90% ethnic Albanian. Despite being the majority, these people are harassed by the Serbian police and militia, and denied the opportunity of employment and education in their own language. They come to Melbourne reluctantly to find productive lives for themselves while finding ways of supporting their people back home.

In July 1990, Melbourne Albanians held a concert and rally in Epping. In what was seen as a Jewish tradition, they came as individuals to the front table with money in hand, and said their name into a microphone while making their donation to a common fund. At the end of the evening, $8,000 had been raised. In the shouts of joy greeting this news, the call came up `Six more fax machines for Kosovo' -- a significant step had been made. The Albanians see the fax as a necessary link between the lives of their families and friends back in Yugoslavia, and their current purposes in Melbourne. The Albanian community in Melbourne have set up an extensive network of information linking themselves with Yugoslavia, Albania, and USA. They believe that no matter how bad things might get in Kosovo, the sense that Melbourne is watching will make some difference, and give some hope.

This kind of life weaves together centre and periphery in a very interesting combination. For the Albanians, the situation in Kosovo needs the world's attention to reveal the oppression of the Albanian people and make the Serbian government more accountable for its actions. Just like Melburnians, the Albanians attribute great power to the world -- it is their main source of hope. But whereas Albanians look to the world for liberation, Melbourne searches for the grand prize.

The situation of Albanians in Melbourne represents an infolding of world distance. For Albanians, Melbourne is part of the world -- unlike their home, it is a free democratic country with international diplomatic ties. From Melbourne, they are therefore in a position to give courage to their people -- to show that the world is beginning to take notice of their situation. Establishing a fax network is a practical step in that direction. What the actions of the Albanians demonstrate is that the distance from the world felt by Melburnians is not an immutable condition of life -- it is a matter of perspective. Though the action might seem larger than life on centre stage, there is still room on the wings to have some influence on events.

In answer to the question `Where in the world is Melbourne?', two kinds of worlds have been uncovered: the world as a space for human action, and the world as an agent in its own right. For Melbourne, the world as space is a kind of theatre inaccessible from everyday life. And the world as agent is a divine power, present at international events, subject to moral judgment and dispensing great favours. It is not part of the argument of this essay that these worlds are unique to Melbourne -- they are likely to be shared among most provincial cities who see themselves on the `leeside of the action'. While this picture appears to make life in Melbourne sadly insignificant, it does open some unlikely possibilities -- it can be worked. The example of Albanians in Melbourne shows what might happen when a provincial city stops looking to the centres, and looks instead to its fellow outsiders around the world.