Ms. Ulpiana Lama Chargée d’affaires to Thailand The Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo

by Kathleen Pokrud

Kosovo is the smallest country in the Balkans.  A landlocked country, Kosovo is bordered by Serbia to the North and East, North Macedonia to the South, Albania to the West, and Montenegro to the Northwest. Kosovo is the second -youngest country in the world, declaring its independence from Serbia on February 18th, 2008, and ruled by the International Court of Justice as a sovereign nation in 2010.  

The name Kosovo means “field of blackbirds.” It has among the youngest populations in Europe. More than 40% of the population is under 25. The majority of the population of nearly 1.9 million is Muslim, with Albanian and Serbian serving as the country’s official languages. One of the world’s famous Albanian was Mother Teresa, who lived a small village in Kosovo as a teenager. 

Expat Life sits downwas happy to interview Ms. Ulpiana Lama, Minister Counsellor and Chargée d’affaires of one-year-old Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo in Bangkok.

How long have you been the Ambassador to Thailand? 

I am the chargée ad interim of the mission since early July when the former Ambassador took the position of deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. This September we marked the first anniversary of the opening of the Kosovo Embassy in Bangkok, and I could no’t be happier: this is not only the first Embassy ever of Kosovo in Thailand, but also in South East Asia. 

Did you arrive in Thailand from home, or were you posted somewhere else before? 

I arrived in late February from Paris where I served as deputy chief of mission … straight into the lockdown.

Where are you born and brought up? 

I am a Kosovar Albanian born in Tirana, the capital of Albania, and raised in Albania and Kosovo. 90% of Kosovars are predominantly ethnic Albanians and 10% are ethnic Serbs and other community minorities. Nevertheless, on our flag each of these communities is equally granted one star, six in total. Diversity is our strength and lays in the foundation of our society. In 1999, half of Kosovo’s population was expelled, my father’s family made it to Albania as refugees. I served in the refugee camps for months. At that time, I was attached to the team of the second deputy minister of health of Albania, an ad -hoc post created to come to grips with the refugee crisis. At the end of the war, I moved to Kosovo permanently. 

At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat? 

It did not cross my mind at a young age. I studied medicine, sociology, political philosophy and international relations in Tirana, Paris and Washington DC, and shifted from media and spokesperson -ship to diplomacy only five and half years ago. 

Do you have other diplomats in your family? 

My father was an economist, my mother a designer by training who made family a priority rather than her career. As I mentioned, the Kosovo foreign service is brand new and I joined it in an opportune moment. For most of us, serving as diplomats is barely considered a job; it is an honour and a mission. I have an atypical career path for a diplomat. But such (atypical) is for many professionals in my country. The very fact of being an uprooted person, carrying the “refugee” tag at some point in our lives, has marked each one of us profoundly. Refugees rarely have a voice. Fortunately, some of us have, literally and metaphorically speaking. 

How do you look at Thailand today? Have you had any obstacles since you arrived?

It was more of a climate shock than a cultural challenge to me. I struggled a lot with the heat, and especially the humidity in the first 3 months. I am getting to know the diplomatic community here. I love everything about this country – the food, the nature, the hospitality, the customer service, and the problem -resolving approach. 

Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand? 

Several come to mind: mindfulness, love for the family and the land. Laid back vibe – the equivalent of sabai-sabai is kadal-kadal in Kosovo. Both are regional leaders in recognising LGBTQ rights. Both are oriented inward rather than outward, as neither country has had a colonizingcolonising past to feel apologetic about these days. 

Do you have children? What age and where do they go to school? 

We have no kids of our own, but rather members of the pack – rescued dogs and cats. I also have “spiritual daughters” another word invented in our circle of trust, to substitute the generic godmother/godchildren concept. 

How do you look upon our work here? What does an average day look like? 

I used to think that routine is boring. But we all have our routines and they keep us anchored. The Embassy also plays a regional role with side accreditations to Brunei, Malaysia, Maldives and Singapore. I am a night owl, which suits the time zone gap perfectly. My day ends late nightevening, usually with exchanges with my headquarters in Prishtina. 

As with every Ambassador, I assume you have some goals you really would like to reach/fulfil before you leave Thailand. What are they? 

Every envoy ‘s wish is to bring two countries closer. Understanding the culture and values of the host country is key to an efficient action. Understanding, communicating, strengthening of the relations, high -level visits, bilateral agreements, promotion of mutual trade, investment and tourism, cultural exchanges, are the core elements of my handbook. 

Have you been travelleding around in Thailand? 

I am often told that this is the best time to travel with no tourists and things are great value for money, but honestly I have little time, as I am clungstationed in theo office and to Bangkok as we have a small team. I hope to be able to travel soon, and learn some basics of Thai language in the meantime. 

Until now may I ask what is your favourite destination in Thailand? 

My perfect scenario is a calm place, near the sea or water, a clear sky to gaze at the stars, the sunrise, and the sunset. It could be anywhere and there are so many unspoiled gems in the Gulf of  across Thailand. 

When you have a day off, what do you do? Do you have any special hobbies? 

I like to swim, participate in yoga, pPilates, and Muay Thai. A consistent hobby of mine is cooking, and I love cooking for family and friends. During the lockdown I had plenty of time to experiment with various Thai recipes. I usually end up marrying them with something Balkanic. 

When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people? 

Kosovo is the youngest democracy and demography in Europe with 70% of the population just under 32 years old, and a large diaspora spread all over the world, mostly in Europe and the USA. This young dynamic population within the country, by definition and out of need, is anare avid users of social media. Over the past five years, Thailand became THEthe place to vacay for many Kosovo youths. Thailand is slowly but surely entering the map of tourist destinations for Kosovo people. The challenge is to put Kosovo on the map of Thais. 

Does your country and Thailand have any exchange programmes for students today?

We have exchanges but not established programmes. That is understandable, as the Embassy is in its first year of operation. The presence of the Embassy in Thailand will certainly be encouraging for KosovoKosovo’s students to make their decision and choose Thailand for their studies. I would like to see Thai students to visit and attend Kosovo’s universities as well. 

If you could choose your next destination, where would you like to go? 

Wherever duty calls! Exotic if possible, and by definition the “exotic” employs the distance (faraway country) and my curiosity to get to know it. I bet Kosovo could be “exotic” to many. 

Do you have a memory from Thailand that you’d like to share with us, an awkward situation, or a fun moment? 

I was in Paris; it was late 2018, a Saturday afternoon. One of my spiritual daughters (11 years old) lagged behind in geography (my cup of tea). As we started the edutainment session – this hybrid word for education and entertainment – with an interactive map, we would chose states on the map and discuss them. As we finished the session, I counted countries I had visited, none of them in Asia to my deceptionsadness. I knew at that moment that I would set out to visit as soon as I could; the chance presented itself exactly one year later. 

Do you regularly meet up with your community? 

When we arrived here, we had no elaborated data about such community. But now we have citizens approaching the Embassy. We encourage all those who we haven’t yet met and who are reading this interview to register, so we can be of assistance when needed.

What do you believe is your most important task as Ambassador?

I feel truly lucky that I am in a situation where everything is a new beginning. The intensification of political relations and trade exchanges, academic and student exchanges, increases of tourism on both sides, and public diplomacy. Given that Thai people know little about Kosovo, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the readers to five things to know about my country:

 Kosovo’s contemporary art scene – it is one of the most vibrant scenes in our part of the world. Several Kosovo artists are part of major global art events, from the Venice Biennale to Art Basel and other events. Check out names like Petrit Halilaj, Flaka Haliti, Jakup Ferri, Alban Muja, Astrit Ismaili in the galleries of New York, Paris and Berlin for the latest in Kosovo’s contemporary artistic expression. 

Kosovo film festivals – every summer in the picturesque city of Prizren, a documentary film festival takes place that gathers thousands of film lovers from around the world. The cinema stages are set in amazing places, from fourteenth century castles to the old Ottoman bridges. Prizren’s Dokufest is the best -kept secret in the world of documentary and short films. Other festivals worth checking are the PriFilmFest, the Anibar Festival of animated films and the novel BANFF – mountain film festival Kosovo. 

Kosovo Café and food culture – t Those visiting Kosovo will notice that locals are very proud of the way they prepare both macchiato and mojito. There are several expat groups on Facebook proclaiming Kosovo to be the country making the best macchiato in Europe (yes – better than even Italy!). Prishtina’s most known daughters are Dua Lipa, Rita Ora and Dafina Zeqiri. 

Technology and design – this is the new growth area for the tiny republic. Graphic designers and web developers are being chosen to deliver projects for major Western companies like Microsoft or Cisco. Kosovo artists have won prizes and major design competitions in Cannes, and lab geeks have competed and won NASA awards for the best space app. Kosovo fashion designers are also being noticed. 

 

Nature and heritage – Kosovo is not only hip and trendy. 

The country has seen competing empires come and go, from Illyrian Dardania to Roman Empire, Byzantines, Serbian and Bulgarian Empires, Ottoman rulers to former Yugoslavia. This is why the place is rich with both medieval Eastern Christian monuments, Islamic sites with Venetian beauty, modernist gems and local vernacular sites like village kullas. Intangible heritage is also worth mentioning from the initiation rituals of Sufi sects to wedding facial paintings of Goranis. Nature is also spectacular as Kosovo is both rich in high mountains – excellent for both skiing and hiking. Kosovo has been producing wine for at least 2000 years, so visit Rahovec for a great glass of red wine pPrimitivo or local fruit brandies. 

What else would you like the expat community to know about your efforts? 

I hear colleague diplomats mentioning their 334th anniversary or 150 plus+ anniversary of their Embassy’s establishment, I can’t help but haveam full of admiration, and also responsibility, given that my mission here is pioneering. The burden is massive too because we have no network built yet. I am not ashamed to seek out any friend’s help. I am thankful for any assistance provided in the shape of contacts or a common project.

What do you believe is your most important task as Ambassador?

I feel truly lucky that I am in a situation where everything is a new beginning. The intensification of political relations and trade exchanges, academic and student exchanges, increases of tourism on both sides, and public diplomacy. Given that Thai people know little about Kosovo, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the readers to five things to know about my country:

 Kosovo’s contemporary art scene – it is one of the most vibrant scenes in our part of the world. Several Kosovo artists are part of major global art events, from the Venice Biennale to Art Basel and other events. Check out names like Petrit Halilaj, Flaka Haliti, Jakup Ferri, Alban Muja, Astrit Ismaili in the galleries of New York, Paris and Berlin for the latest in Kosovo’s contemporary artistic expression. 

Kosovo film festivals – every summer in the picturesque city of Prizren, a documentary film festival takes place that gathers thousands of film lovers from around the world. The cinema stages are set in amazing places, from fourteenth century castles to the old Ottoman bridges. Prizren’s Dokufest is the best -kept secret in the world of documentary and short films. Other festivals worth checking are the PriFilmFest, the Anibar Festival of animated films and the novel BANFF – mountain film festival Kosovo. 

Kosovo Café and food culture – those visiting Kosovo will notice that locals are very proud of the way they prepare both macchiato and mojito. There are several expat groups on Facebook proclaiming Kosovo to be the country making the best macchiato in Europe (yes – better than even Italy!). Prishtina’s most known daughters are Dua Lipa, Rita Ora and Dafina Zeqiri. 

Technology and design – this is the new growth area for the tiny republic. Graphic designers and web developers are being chosen to deliver projects for major Western companies like Microsoft or Cisco. Kosovo artists have won prizes and major design competitions in Cannes, and lab geeks have competed and won NASA awards for the best space app. Kosovo fashion designers are also being noticed. 

 

Nature and heritage – Kosovo is not only hip and trendy. 

The country has seen competing empires come and go, from Illyrian Dardania to Roman Empire, Byzantines, Serbian and Bulgarian Empires, Ottoman rulers to former Yugoslavia. This is why the place is rich with both medieval Eastern Christian monuments, Islamic sites with Venetian beauty, modernist gems and local vernacular sites like village kullas. Intangible heritage is also worth mentioning from the initiation rituals of Sufi sects to wedding facial paintings of Goranis. Nature is also spectacular as Kosovo is both rich in high mountains – excellent for both skiing and hiking. Kosovo has been producing wine for at least 2000 years, so visit Rahovec for a great glass of red wine Primitivo or local fruit brandies. 

What else would you like the expat community to know about your efforts? 

I hear colleague diplomats mentioning their 334th anniversary or 150 plus+ anniversary of their Embassy’s establishment, I can’t help but haveam full of admiration, and also responsibility, given that my mission here is pioneering. The burden is massive too because we have no network built yet. I am not ashamed to seek out any friend’s help. I am thankful for any assistance provided in the shape of contacts or a common project.

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