After a week of meetings and conversations, I am trying to put everything we have learned into perspective. I feel like I am seeing a cycle, where politics are a barrier to progress, and where a lack of economic development results in frustration.
Unemployment is incredibly high in Kosovo. The official figure is 35% - add 10% for women, and then an additional 10% for unemployment among youth. Especially considering that Kosovo is a young country, where over half of the population is under 30, the impact of this is enormous. Moreover, even those who have a job generally earn low wages. A the same time, corruption is prevalent: there are the 'big fishes' with high political functions, living in pretty houses, wearing Rolex-watches and driving around in cars that their salaries would never be able to cover. It is easy to see why frustration is building up.
This frustration is what I think drives conflict. For example, there is the political party for self-determination, Vetëvendosje, that aims for unification of Kosovo and Albania in a 'Greater Albania' and is known for its radical way of making statements (such as releasing teargas in parliament). As this is the only party that is not perceived as corrupt, it has gained large support among Kosovar Albanians. Yet, the party strongly opposes the dialogue between the Kosovo and Serbian governments.
On the other side, there is the Serb community in the north. There, education and health are organized through ‘parallel structures’, which means that, in practice, they are organized and financially supported by the Serbian government. One of the requirements of the Brussels Agreement (for normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo) is the resolving of these parallel structures. However, even apart from the question whether Kosovo does or does not belong to Serbia, the Kosovar Serbs are afraid that the Kosovo government will never recognize the diplomas of their university in Mitrovica, would not properly protect their cultural heritage and could never ensure high quality health care and education.
Now you see people who have not crossed the bridge between the north and south of Mitrovica since 1999. You see that even organizations such as the Red Cross, that have neutrality and impartiality as core values, fail to cooperate across the river that divides the Serbian-majority municipalities in the north from the Albanian-majority South. You see that the freezing negotiations are inhibiting the process towards visa liberalization: now, people from Kosovo are the only people in the region that cannot travel easily to the Schengen-zone. Frustration, frozen negotiations, prevented progress. But if it's a cycle, how can you find a way out?
The thing I try to remember is that in such a complex cycle, existing of many different factors and problems, there are also many different opportunities to make a change, places where frustration may result in creativity and motivation. I think back to the chair of QESh, whose experiences with having no freedom became his motivation to come out and work towards improving the (legal) position of the LGBT-community in Kosovo. I think about the students and staff at the Faculty of Law at the University of Pristina, who are very disappointed by the state of rule of law in Kosovo, but are motivated to go and study abroad, then return to build better institutions. I think about the people I met today: the people working at Red Cross of Kosova, who never ever want to stop doing humanitarian work, years after they “caught the virus” as a volunteer. The projects of the International Organization for Migration, where programmes on learning English to improve your employment opportunities attract and bring together all ethnic groups. The Kosovo Women’s Network, where frustration about women not being included in the United Nations Mission in Kosovo motivated the women’s movement to organize and speak up even more, and where cooperation with Serbian women has been ongoing before and after the war.