Monday, June 15, 2015

Different realities

After being in Kosovo for a week, my own expectations of Kosovo have been exceeded, not only because of the Mediterranean atmosphere in the streets of Pristina but also because of the kindness of the Kosovar people. While I had the image in my mind of Kosovo as a typical post-communist, post-conflict area – barbed wire and grey buildings –, the capital indeed makes the impression of being the capital of the “youngest country in Europe”. Still, when you scrape off the first layer, you understand that the cafés are always filled with young people because of the mind-wobbling unemployment rate and the cheaply bought cigarettes are sold by young, mainly Roma, Ashkali or Egyptian, children.

As I complain about the biased Dutch history books not representing our colonial history properly and fully, the history of Kosovo is even more skewed towards whatever side is telling about it.  The Albanian Kosovar students mentioned “we need to use the history to build something good for the future”. Yet, their history seems to omit the fact that many Serbs were ethnically cleansed and attacked after the NATO bombings stopped and many Serbs returned to their homes. The Serbian students in Mitrovica, however, stressed their minority position and represented themselves as victims from the Kosovar government that illegitimately attempted to integrate them into Kosovo. Fortunately, many of the people we spoke to stressed the importance to move on and build a new, young Kosovar society in which there is place for everybody, even though the truths of both sides are clearly skewed.

            Listening to the more extreme opinions on the segregation in Mitrovica, anger and frustration levels increased in our group. While it is naturally difficult to hear young people of our age speaking so bitterly about their situation, I think their opinions are more ‘radical’ than many of the students living in Kosovo because their daily lives are more touched by the political situation. Life in Pristina can be fun, and politics can easily be forgotten over lots of cocktails and Albanian hip-hop (although this music can be quite nationalistic); contrarily, the students in Mitrovica are easily caught up in the militant-like stance that goes with living in a place of ‘resistance’ against the Kosovar state.   

In a context in which the conflict has left scars on the souls of both the Albanian and Serb Kosovars, there seems no room for consideration of those who do not belong to either of the both ethnicities, that is, the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian. We were thrown back into the harsh reality of marginalized communities when we visited the Ideas Partnership after a night out in Pristina. While just hours before we were dancing in a club in Fushe Kosova, the community of Ashkali living in that same small town seemed like another world. Although the work of the Ideas Partnership was inspiring and ticked all the boxes of a ‘good NGO’, the lives of the Ashkali are difficult in Kosovo. As I walked through the streets and saw children in dirty clothes running around, I found it difficult to process everything that I saw. A little bit later, while we were eating in a strange fairy-tale inspired restaurant, I thought about the meal I was enjoying that costs about the same price as the weekly spending on food of big Ashkali families. It is always strange to shortly visit impoverished areas and then go back to your own comfortable little world. Still, I think that it is of no use to feel guilty or sad about it, as such feelings in a way degrade those that are less fortunate than you. The Ashkali, or other marginalized or impoverished people for that matter, do not benefit from your sadness. Yet, they can eventually benefit from a world in which people are aware of and understand the different realities, and thereby extend the limits of their confined world. 

In a way, that's what our trip is all about. Being exposed to the different realities and trying to understand. Even though a 10-day trip is hardly enough to understand and process the different perspectives and realities of the diverse Kosovar people, thanks to the many people we have met and the many organizations we have visited, the different perspectives are slowly but surely coming together.

(by Rébecca Franco)

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