Monday, June 15, 2015

The power of communication

(By Sophie Lagarrigue)

After more than a week of Kosovo, I am overwhelmed by the many different perspectives and contradicting opinions we have heard so far. We have spoken to Albanians, Serbs, minorities and internationals, and I have noted that many people refer to the importance of language and communication in the current situation of Kosovo. At the moment, the general picture of Kosovo shows a clear segregation between the majority of the Serbs and Albanians. I have heard many people say that it is not only the war that happened in recent history that is accountable for this segregation, but also the fact that both ethnic groups speak different languages, and therefore have difficulties to communicate.

In a discussion at the restaurant on Monday night, Erik argued that Serbs and Albanians need to speak a common language in order to share an identity. We discussed the importance of education in both Serbian and Albanian language for young children living in Kosovo, but also the rise of English as a universal language. However, for me, the question remains whether it is really necessary for people to speak the same language in order to share an identity. I still have hope that one day people do not care anymore about national identities, and all share the same ‘human identity’. Fortunately this hope has been confirmed several times during this trip. I have realized that in order to diminish the gaps between different national identities, people must start to communicate. One of the first encounters that increased my hope for a future with a shared identity between Serbs and Albanians was one with an Albanian student at the University of Prishtina. He told us in a group meeting that he has several Serbian fiends. When I spoke to him again at a party that the students organized for us later that week, he explained that there is a ‘new generation’ in Kosovo that does not believe there are differences between Serbs and Albanians, but rather believes that “humans are humans”. He told me that he communicates with his Serb friends in English. He also knew some quite some Serbian words, since he learned that in school when it was still mandatory.

On a side note, I was also amazed by the many languages that the Albanian students at that party spoke: English, German, Spanish, Italian, and of course their own language. One of the other students at that same party told me that Albanians are experts in learning languages since cartoons used to be broadcasted in different languages. After the war, cartoons started to be translated in Albanian, and unfortunately nowadays children do not get exposed to as many different languages anymore. When he told me this, I got some ideas for the future: maybe Albanian children could be triggered to learn the same languages if cartoons would be broadcasted in different languages again. I believe that this could create a sense of common identity amongst Kosovar children. However, children in Kosovo already get exposed to English a lot now, so this could also be used a way to increase communication between Serbs and Albanians. Another encounter that has increased my hope for a future with a shared identity between Serbs and Albanians was with an Albanian guy at a bar one night. He did not speak English, but we could communicate via Google Translate. If google translate works for me and that Albanian guy, then it could also be a tool to increase communication between Serbs and Albanians.

I sincerely hope that one day Serbs and Albanians will be able to communicate with each other, and hopefully this will eventually lead to a shared identity.

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