Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bringing Serbs and Albanians together

(By Sophie Lagarrigue)

Wow, what a trip. Now that I am back in Amsterdam I realize how much my perception of reality can change in only ten days. We have heard so many different perspectives on the history of Kosovo, the relations between Serbs and Albanians, the presence of the international community in Kosovo and the influence of the Kosovar and Serb government, that I now have difficulties to know what the real truth is.  Most of the people we met seemed to be convinced of their own reality, but some stories that people told us completely contradicted stories we heard of others.  I definitely need some time to shape my own opinion about the most effective way of peacebuilding, but I already realized during the trip that for me, peacebuilding is all about bringing people together.

The first day we met a group of Albanian students from the University of Prishtina, and one of them, to my surprise, told us that he has a few Serbian friends. This made me realize that there must be something about friendship that is stronger than ethnic differences. The same day, we visited an LGBT organization called Qesh, and spoke with some of their inspiring people. One of the members of this organization told us that the Kosovar LGBT community includes Kosovar Serbs, Kosovar Albanians and other minorities. She continued that nobody within their community cares about ethnicity and nobody cares about religion. I was amazed by the fact that sexuality in this case creates a common identity amongst people from different ethnic groups that is stronger than their ethnic identities.

The days that followed, we visited several organisations such as the International Organization for Migration, Community Building Mitrovica and OSCE, which have both Kosovar Albanian and Kosovar Serb employees. According to the people we spoke with, there are no problems between these employees, and they work together just as other employees to achieve the goal of their organization. Thus, work can be a great place for Serbs and Albanians to cooperate, and it seems to me that having a common goal creates a bond between people that is stronger than the separation between their ethnic groups. However, I still do not understand why everyone’s common goal of ‘living a peaceful life’ is not strong enough to prevent wars, genocides and other horrible events from happening.

The last day of our trip we had a free afternoon, so I decided to walk around in town and enter several shops. In one of the shops, a sweet Albanian girl helped me with finding clothes. However, we had some difficulties with communicating since I do not speak Albanian. Her boss came to help, and it turned out that his English was perfect. He had worked as a translator for UNMIK and EULEX, and told me all about the pros and cons of the organizations. After a long conversation between the clothes racks he asked if I wanted to join for a coffee. We went to a café and continued our conversation there. When I asked him if he wanted to share some positive news about Kosovo, he replied that he was actually quite a pessimist, but that the situation is Kosovo definitely got a 100%, no, even 300% better than before. He also told me that the Albanians and Serbs are actually very good in cooperation, especially the mafia, since Kosovar Albanian mafia steal cars and deliver them to the mafia in Kosovar Serb enclaves. Since the Kosovar police are not welcomed in those places, the cars will never come back. Even though these illegal practices are wrong in every sense, it shows that Serbs and Albanians are not deemed to be separated, and that cooperation between the two ethnic groups is possible.

Based on the encounters we had during the past ten days, I can tell that my perception of reality is full of hope for a future in which Serbs and Albanians do not only live side by side, but also communicate, cooperate, and live peacefully together. However, I realize that this is my own view, and that there are people who believe in a completely different reality. For this hopeful future to happen, the big challenge is to convince those people that a peaceful future is possible only if everyone believes it is.

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