Friday, June 17, 2016


By Iris Loonen

Kosovo is a hotbed of world-changers. It is often said, and backed by social scientific research, that in places where conflict is widespread and adamant, innovation is too. When I lived in Turkey for five months, I learned that the conflict between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Worker's Party had sparked innovation in the field of plastic surgery. Many people in the southeast of Turkey are heavily injured by mines and roadside bombs, due to which sometimes entire limbs or parts of the face are lost. From economic theory we know that where there is demand, supply will follow. As such, Turkey soon became an international pioneer in plastic surgery. A funny result of this flourishing industry is that today one can spot Arab men with black headbands, who came to the country to get a hair-transplantation, on every corner of the streets in Istanbul.

In Kosovo too, conflict and its aftermath have sparked special kinds of innovation and societal change. In a country where peace, recognition, and human rights are needed so much, people choose to stand up to demand the basic necessities for a dignified life. During the ten days we spent in Kosovo, I met many of such heroes. Take Igballe Rogova, founder and executive director of the Kosovo Women's Network. She has devoted her life to building peace and empowering women in Kosovo. Through her work, she is able to fight a system in which the most important voices are disregarded; a system that tries to overcome injustices by creating new ones. Igballe taught me an important lesson. She said "the power of peace activists is that they just do. Because if you do not do it, how will you get any results?" Igballe is right. Nowadays, we think too much in terms of problems, and too little in terms of solutions. Let me rephrase that, we think to much about issues and we do too little to change the world. Through her stories, Igballe showed us the difference a single woman can make, and she inspired me to try and make the world a better place.

However, societal change does not only come through activism in Kosovo. It also comes through the everyday efforts of regular citizens Kosovo. Today I spoke to Blerina, who is working at the Kosovar Ministry of European Integration. She told me a story about a Dutch friend of hers, whom she invited to come and see Kosovo. When they arrived in his hostel and he started unpacking, she saw that he had brought loads of prepared food; as if food was something that Kosovo just did not have. Blerina told me that most people outside Kosovo see the country as just a post-conflict society; nothing more. She said that the international image of Kosovo is one of war, poverty, and lack of utilities. Of course, Kosovo still has its problems. For example, youth unemployment is sky-high, with over 50 percent of Kosovo's youth being without a job. However, there is so much more to Kosovo than just its problems. Kosovo produces great wine. The Rugova mountains are just as beautiful as the beloved Alps. The nightlife in Pristina is incredible, with cheap but tasty cocktails and rhythmic music until dawn. I notice I get carried away writing about what I love about Kosovo, but there was a point I wanted to make. As I said, only Kosovo's problems are presented to the outside world, which frustrates people like Blerina. However, Blerina does not wait for change to happen. Instead, she transforms her frustration into motivation to work for the Ministry of European Integration. Together with her colleagues, she actively works on visa liberalization for Kosovo, which would partly end isolation of this beautiful country. Blerina inspires me so much; she became the change she wanted to see in the world.

Kosovo is a hotbed of world-changers. People here respond to the challenges they face in most courageous, effective, and inspiring ways. If there is beauty in conflict and its aftermath, it is in the fact that it forces people to think about, long for, and fight for a better life. Such strength and restraint not only contributes to facing the challenges Kosovo currently experiences, but also inspired me, a young woman in a big world, to fight injustice in my own way.

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