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Young Diplomat

You have recently co-authored a study on the public diplomacy of Kosovo. Can you tell us how that project came about and what you hope its influence will be?

It all started during a tea conversation with my German housemate, Martin Wählisch, while living in Prishtina, Kosovo. We were discussing how Kosovo is portrayed abroad: as war-torn, gray, fanatic, and a place with no future. These myths that were shared by many internationally do not reflect the reality; we decided to dismantle these myths by writing a short article, which was translated into seven languages.

We continued to explore the topic of image and branding of nations, but also to try to find out what we could do, in our capacity, to support the process of state-creation and prosperity of Kosovo. Public diplomacy was a common interest to both of us and a tool that we strongly believed could help Kosovo in promoting a more positive image for itself but also seeking further international recognitions for its independence.  

Public diplomacy is a tool to influence others; it is about creating relationships, trust, respect and credibility. It is about communicating with other states and their citizens. For Kosovo, since traditional diplomacy (country to country) is difficult to engage due to lack of internationally accepted statehood, public diplomacy can be its main instrument to reach out to the world. Public diplomacy is especially important since all spheres of life can engage in it: the private sector, the civil society, media, academia, and even individuals.

The reason why I embarked on this study is two fold: First, Kosovo has recently established itself as a sovereign state; it is three years old. Yet, for it to have a place in the international system, Kosovo needs to be recognized as so by each individual state. Public diplomacy is a great tool for Kosovo to reach out to the publics of other states, to make itself known, and seek a place in the international community. Second, Kosovo is in the process of shaping its institutions and vision for the future. Whatever it does today, will have a large impact on the future. In my capacity, I wanted to support the establishment of an institutional framework for successful public diplomacy.

Kosovo is a small country in size and not of strength or economic power; it can do little to influence the international community. Kosovo has emerged out of conflict and faces many challenges of state-building and economic development. Public diplomacy could be a great tool to create a more positive image of the country, generate attention and investments which could help lead to economic prosperity. As I am now focusing my studies in economic development, I am gearing towards a new approach to public diplomacy: economic diplomacy. In this context, our next project will be to explore how Kosovar Diaspora could be a great tool for public and economic diplomacy for the country.

What are your hopes for the newly elected government in Kosovo

I hope that the newly elected government will be able to bridge the energy, resources and knowledge with the private sector and civil society to pursue a common public diplomacy approach, which could enhance its image abroad and lead to greater opportunities for the country.

Even though the war ended many years ago, I know that many people still associate Kosovo with memories of that conflict. What else should we know about your country?

Kosovo is a vibrant and dynamic country with the youngest population in Europe (more than 60% of the population is under 25 years of age). It is a cheerful place with great enthusiasm and a sense of hope. Although it has emerged out of a recent war (just a decade ago), the people of Kosovo have transformed their lives; they seek better opportunities and future for themselves. Young people are resourceful and enthusiastic, eager to learn and explore.

How has your Earlham education prepared you for your graduate work at Columbia? Has your Earlham experience influenced your approach to international affairs?

I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study at Earlham and grow with a community that empowers each one of us to pursue our dreams and above all, be ourselves. Much of who I am today is what I absorbed during my time there. Earlham has given me strong foundations of academics, values and an approach to life, which have significantly helped me pursue my path in government work, private sector and recently in my graduate studies at one of the most prestigious and rigorous schools in the world. Earlham is a small school; it did feel so even while I was there. But I never felt that Earlham made me feel small. As a student I was constantly empowered to think globally - beyond myself, beyond Richmond, Indiana. Earlham's emphasis on education, communication, tolerance, and consensus are great virtues that if applied, can make each one of us better and gain greater understanding about one another. I see these traits as fundamental for countries as well. If countries engage closely with one another, the prospects for peace could be greater.

What are your plans after you finish your master's degree?

I intend pursue opportunities to further my knowledge and experience related to the challenges of development of small and post-conflict countries. I want to be able to gain greater understanding from the field in a regional and international context so I could return to Kosovo and seek to translate my studies and experience to the development of my country. 

What's your idea of a great day off?

I miss mountains and greenery. I would have loved to sit on a mountain top and reflect with dear friends.


Download the study (pdf)

Behar Xharra

Behar Xharra 2007, Graduate student at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs

Hometown: Gjakove, Kosovo

Major at Earlham: International Studies

Interests: Diplomacy, the future of Kosovo

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