Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bringing home lessons from Kosovo

By Klaudia Klonowska

Coming back from Kosovo hits you. All of a sudden there is no more sunshine. There is no schedule for important meetings. You have all the time for yourself. Your travel buddies are gone, so you feel a little bit lonely. Finally after two days of “coming back to reality”, we had a wonderful opportunity to get together on a boat.

For an outside observer we must have looked as any other Amsterdam boat: many happy students, food, some music, and beer. But it was a special moment today when I realised that we have all brought back home with us lessons learned in Kosovo. 

Peace Lab students with a Dutch flag and Amsterdam bridges in the background.

Starting with little things, as saying “falleminderit” (which means “thank you”), to major advances as signing Albanian songs. We put them up on the speakers and while passing by other Dutch party boats, we all moved to the rhythms of the Albanian pop stars.

To me, the trip to Kosovo was a revelation of how diverse Europe is. In conversations people often bring up, “Europe” or “the Western world” as an indication of development, peace, and prosperity. Though that holds true for most of Europe, there are still corners of our vast European house which we have not cleaned or chose to ignore. These are the parts of Europe, such as Kosovo, that are close to home, but fail to provide its citizens with the quality of lifestyle people enjoy in, for example, Amsterdam. One example is the LGBT rights; as we are aware by now, violation of rights of this group remain an obstacle to full integration. While at the same time Amsterdam is a hub of diversity - it was evident as we passed by a street of LGBT-friendly bars proudly featuring rainbow flags. Soon after, we were sailing past the Artis Zoo (lucky enough to see one zebra). Besides being a great place for kids to learn about animals and biology, Artis Zoo is also a popular tourist attraction. 

That made me think back to Pristina and I quickly realised that we have not gone to any museum, amusement, or a water park - most likely because the country has so many other social issues to figure out first before moving on to building tourist sights. Additionally, Amsterdam is such a welcoming city also due to its unique architecture. Anyone passing by canal houses or house boats will ask questions about its origins, just as we did today. Robert (as an official tour guide) told us stories about the Dutch past that made the boat tour very educational and enjoyable. The same cannot be said for Pristina’s architecture. The war that has torn apart the society in Kosovo back in 1998-1999 left a mark - also on architecture. A lot of buildings have been destroyed, the war caused economic stagnation, and isolation from the rest of the world. consequently leading to lack of resources. Stories behind buildings in Kosovo, such as an abandoned Orthodox Church or a newly built bridge, until today remind people (and visitors) of the war. This is a major difference in the way we perceive our surroundings.  

Of course, sitting on the boat and looking at the city around I made two promises to myself. One, I will continue to appreciate the opportunities of living in such a well-developed society. It cannot be taken for granted that there is peace and security in our corner of the world. Two, I will make a point to bring up Kosovo as an example of why the “Europe” argument doesn't work in terms of a well-developed and prosperous European standard. This way I hope to further spread awareness about Kosovo. Hopefully my stories will encourage people to travel and bring in external income to one of the European countries that is in need of an economic boost.     

Lastly but not least, we have brought back from Kosovo new friendships. This trip, though educational, was also a bonding experience for everyone involved. We began to take care of one another. Now we know who smiles widely when offered an extra piece of bread, who needs an extra boost of energy with vegan and fresh snacks, to whom not to put tomatoes in a salad, to whom to offer a beer, who prefers red over white wine, who gets cold easily… and the list could go on and on. 

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