Kosovo’s national anthem banned from the Olympics

If you were a new country in need of an anthem – one that would fill people’s hearts with pride as they fixed the millions of potholes in your roads – you could do worse than follow Kosovo’s example.

Mendi Menqjiqi’s ‘Hymn of Kosovo’ is beautiful, a tune that soars from its first note without a hint of the country’s war-filled past in it. There’s no sadness, no aggression.

Unfortunately, you won’t be hearing it anytime soon. The International Olympic Committee recently ruled that Kosovo’s best athlete, 21-year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi, cannot compete for Kosovo in the Olympics, or even as an independent. She’ll have to compete for Albania instead. She is likely to win gold in her weight class.

Kosovo is not recognized by the United Nations, despite having had its own borders, stamps and even beer for the last 10 years. The IOC will only let athletes compete for countries that are.

The situation’s ludicrous, but it’s unlikely to change. Serbia, which has claims on the country, is unlikely to ever recognise it. And nor will Pakistan, India, China or Russia, fearing it would set a precedent for minorities within their own borders.

I met Majlinda in her hometown of Peja a while ago, and she was desperate to compete for Kosovo, to give kids in the country hope and pride. She also wanted to do it for her coach, Driton Kuka, a man who fought – literally – for Kosovo’s independence during the 90s and then gave all his money to run her dōjō.

She said Kosovo’s anthem was too quiet, and that it desperately needed words, but she wanted to hear nothing else at the Games.

Thanks to the IOC, she’ll have to listen to Albania’s anthem instead. A sorry state of affairs all round.

(By the way,  the picture at the top of this post is stolen from this brilliant profile of Majlinda which recently appeared in the Financial Times. Have a read.)

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