Saturday, June 11, 2016

Kosovo, my love

By Lisa Maza-Angulo

It’s a delight to be back in Pristina again. My first trip was two years ago with AUC when Peace Lab had not been born yet, and we were trying everything out for the first time. My second visit was that summer, when I participated in the summer university of Pristina and experienced bits of what the life of Kosovar students in Pristina is like. This third trip is entirely different again, and I keep seeing new things.

We just watched the European Championship football match between Albania and Switzerland on the central square of Pristina. The square was packed with people dressed in red shirts with black Albanian eagles on it, some of them wearing the traditional Albanian hats, and all of them captivated by their team. It was a special feeling to be out there among all these Kosovars, cheering and gasping along as the game unfolded. It was an experience that brought to life so much of what we have been discussing and what I have been trying to understand since I visited Kosovo for the first time. How incredibly deeply entrenched Albanian nationality is in the identity of so many people here. It is one thing to discuss identity with people in conversations, meetings, or in class, and another to see it in what might be the truest indicator of how people identify: football. It was not their Albanian brothers playing. It was them.

After the match was over I walked over the square, looking at the disappointed faces around me. A journalist from the national TV station approached me and asked me how I felt about the match. I said: ‘I’m sad, because we lost’. Only seconds later did I realise I had said ‘we’. It’s because Pristina feels like home, our hosts feel like family, and the food is life. In our group I have said and heard it many times now: it feels like we have been here for a lifetime.

As Pristina is virtually completely Albanian, it was confronting to visit the city of Mitrovica for two days this week. The city is divided in a Serbian and an Albanian part, separated by a river and a partly blocked bridge. Hearing the perspectives of the Serbian students that we met was so interesting, because they seemed to constantly be on their defence. I guess it is understandable, because they are often met with criticism and they find themselves being a minority in a state they find illegitimate. And for me, I realised once again that I empathise more often with Kosovar Albanians, because many of them are my friends. For these reasons, it took a while before we settled on the same level. But then, when we talked one on one, they let their guards down and we connected. I found it an especially good experience to go out for drinks with some other Serbs living in Kosovo that evening, and spending some time bonding. No us versus them, just all of us having fun: Serb, Albanian and AUC.

I have seen and heard about more instances in which divides among people were overcome on an interpersonal level. These instances of everyday peace are what intrigue me and spark my curiosity. Some of these stories will appear in my project, and hopefully I can share them with people once we get back to Amsterdam. Because even though the past is never forgotten, progress is so clear. Maybe everyday peace will find its way into football now that Kosovo is finally going to get its national team. Albanian and Serbian Kosovars playing on the same side, who knows what that might bring?

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