(By Ben Nolan)
Ever since starting peace lab I have believed in a future for Kosovo. ‘The young Europeans’ prize their growth, independence, and potential for becoming one of the new flourishing members of the European Union. On paper, their legal system is one of the most progressive in their region; providing a supportive legal framework for the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian minorities, the LGBT community, advocating for gender equality, and supporting women in development. In reality enforcement of the law remains problematic, however it seems that steps towards a greater Kosovo occur on a daily basis. For these reasons, amongst many others, I saw no reason to not believe in the potential for an independent Kosovo.
When traveling to Northern Kosovo however we were exposed to those who believe differently. In North Mitrovica one finds the Kosovar Serbians, who believe that Kosovo is part of greater Serbia and that it’s declaration of independence does not resemble their desire for the future of the region. When talking to a UNICEF representative in the region, one of Serbian descent, an undertone of dissatisfaction with the location of North Mitrovica became present. The Serbian part of the population is fearful of its safety due to their neighboring housing with Albanians. Disputes amongst the two populations are not of the past, and for many there seems to be an omnipresent sense of unease tormenting their day-to-day life. The students of the University of Prishtina based in Mitrovica embodied the prolonging of a historic conflict in a future generation. One of the students said that “Kosovo is our Jerusalem”, comparing the situation Kosovo and Serbia have to the Palestine-Israeli conflict. The resentment of the 1998-99 Kosovo War seems to live on in a society that has declared its peace, leaving its mixed population living side by side, but not together.
However, there are also those that hope for change. When visiting the International Business College Mitrovica (IBCM) we found a group of people representing a different view, one that more so represents the view of the Kosovar Albanians we had spoken to in the previous days. One of a unified Kosovo, where its people would live together more peacefully. IBCM promotes interethnic education, allowing for Serb and Albanian students to mingle in classes, projects, and school trips. Due to the current political situation there are still two campuses, one for each of the respective ethnic groups, however attempts are made to bring the students together peacefully to interact. IBCM is trying to close the gap between a divided society by investing in the future of Kosovo; its young, educated, and optimistic adults.
The trip to northern Mitrovica was intense in its wakeup call. We were confronted with people who felt that they were being marginalized by the Kosovar government. That they were being denied agency in the politics affecting their day to day life, in opportunity for growth and development; in ability to live a happy and safe life. We came in somewhat predisposed to believe that independence of Kosovo was what this country needed, however we saw now that perspectives matter. Understanding a situation as complex as Kosovo is difficult, and by hearing the stories of the students in Mitrovica I started to realize that a lot still needs to happen for Kosovo to develop in the flourishing nation I perceived it to be. This is not to say that this potential is not there, as was seen by the many visits we have – and are – making during this trip. The Kosovo government, combined with the efforts of many NGOs, is working very hard to establish this dream of a future. Yet the truth seems to be that these efforts are also very much needed.