Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Reconciliation Through Business

(By Ivan Seifert)

The probably most powerful peace-building mechanism: peace and reconciliation through business and project collaboration.

My name is Ivan and I am about to return from my second field trip to Kosovo. In April 2014, we came here with a group of IR-students affiliated to Amsterdam University College. This field trip was privately organized by Anne de Graaf  and Monika Bartoszewicz. At that time I had little knowledge about Kosovo. After a marathon week of meetings, visits and appointments, I learned a lot. I learned about Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, the struggles of institution building, and the famous security council resolution 1244. But the more I learned, the more I was confused and overwhelmed by the variety of perspectives. I left the first field trip with a major questions: How do you create sustainable peace?

I knew that I wanted to go back at some point to find out more. When AUC announced that they would actually turn this field trip into a regular course called ‘Peace Lab’, I knew that I wanted to take it. In June 2015 this course became reality. Before we left to Kosovo we had a crash course in Balkan history for one week. This really helped to get a clear picture of the history, to understand the reasons for the tensions, and why the international community remains active even today, 16 years after the war.

When I came back to Kosovo for the second time, it felt like coming home to familiar place. Everything seemed the same. I am really happy that I could stay with Enver and his family and that amazing Bardha was our guide again.

Everyone who has experienced Anne de Graaf as a lecturer knows her stock teaching phrase: “It is all about perspectives”. Even her husband Erik, who joined us for this trip, knows it and joked that it was time for another perspective which he used as an excuse to go out clubbing with us instead of staying in. But it is true, it is all about perspectives and there is no better way of experiencing the validity of this phrase than being out there in the field. However, in order to realize that you need to develop your own perspective or be at least familiar with someone else’s perspective. After having been to Kosovo for the second time plus the crash course in Balkan history in the beginning of June, I have learned about many different perspectives and I feel like I have developed a personal perspective.

My perspective may answer my raised question which I couldn’t answer after the first trip to Kosovo: How do you create sustainable peace? Of course there is no single answer to this question. This question though is very important when it comes to the divided city Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo. Before leaving to Mitrovica, many people warned us we should be careful when going to north side of the city because they themselves would not feel safe there. Interestingly, when we went to north Mitrovica, we met many people who would not feel safe in south Mitrovica either. When we asked people whether they would go to the other side by themselves, many said no, no matter whether they were Serbian or Albanian. There were a couple of exceptions though and all exceptions which we encountered were related to businesses and projects. One person who worked as an energy drink promoter told me it was no problem for them as Albanians to go to the north part of Mitrovica for distributing drinks. Another example that illustrates the success of reconciliation through projects is the NGO called Community Building Mitrovica (CBM). They have been developing projects that aim to bring the Albanian and Serbian community closer. All projects are run together by Serbs and Albanians from both parts of the city and have proven to be very successful.

Peace-building and reconciliation through businesses and projects makes intuitively sense because people create a common goal, such as doing business or running a successful project. In IR-theory it is often said that a common enemy is the most powerful unifier between two parties. I think it is time to replace common enemies with common goals. 

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