By Johan Fredsted
The closing act of our travels is regrettably right around the corner. With half a day left in this incredible country full of contradictions and ‘unexpected gifts at unexpected times’ (Anne, 2017), I look back at the prior nine days and still cannot believe the chance I have been granted to be a part of this course. It has been one eye-opening experience, which has showed me the practicalities, successes, deceptions and overall complexities of what peacekeeping and peace-making entail.
Today, Wednesday 21 June, was a glorious day. Together we witnessed the breaking of two records: it was the warmest and the busiest day of the trip. Coincidentally and unfortunately this was also the day we had to suit up because of our visit to the Ministry of Foreign affairs. We had a total of three meetings: The first with CEL, the second with Vetevendosje, and the last with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the latter two have been analyzed and deconstructed in depth in Ilen’s genius post--see blog post of Thursday 22 June).
The first meeting of the day led us to a discrete building, five minutes away from the NEWBORN sign located in the city center. Up flour floors, in my black jeans and formal shoes, and my only wish was to jump in an ice bath. My wish was partly met and I was happy to find a functional AC. This was CEL’s office, an organization fighting for LGBTQI+ rights, being the most stigmatized but also bravest oppressed minority group both globally but also particular locally, here, in Kosovo. The NGO is only four years old and works in cooperation with the only other two NGOs fighting for the same cause. Together they collaborate in raising awareness about issues this community faces, educating the youth by providing basic information regarding labels and definitions of, for instance, sex and gender, changing the media discourse, and generally raising the voice of this oppressed community.
Prior to, and during the war there was little to no advocacy for LGBTQI+ rights. No groups or individuals spoke out in public for fear of their own lives, due to the patriarchal and traditional/archaic society. This also favors domestic issues to be dealt within the family, without the involvement of the state. Although these values are slowly changing, and the general population is becoming increasingly more progressive, especially in metropolitan areas like the capital Pristina, there remains a massive discrepancy between what is on paper and what is implemented. For example, the judicial system simply ‘does not know how to use anti-discriminatory laws’. Blert Morina, one of the four activists we were lucky enough to meet, mentioned that there would be no movement if it were not for the support of international organizations and states. Surprisingly this was acknowledged also by Albin Kurti, the front runner for the political movement/party ‘Vetevendosje!’.
The entire funding of the three NGOs is based on embassies and other int-organizations--which shows the lack of involvement by civil society. There is no governmental support or any private donors willing to help. To increase this feeling of isolation and even more accurately so, alienation, the group is not supported by other suppressed groups such as women. Women have for a long time, including during the war, actively sough to promote gender equality and have come a very long way (check out Pleun’s detailed post for more info). Surprisingly, this shared vulnerability between the two groups has not lead them to combine forces. According to Morina, it is a matter of prioritization. Civil society is less reluctant to support gender equality and women’s rights than LGBTQI+ rights. The frustration and loneliness felt by the lack of involvement of civil society is simply ungraspable.
This all brings me to the incredible amount of bravery, impossible to express in these few lines, that it must have taken on a daily basis for these individuals to stand up and fight. And this courage and persistence has led to several successful projects, including educating members of the police academy as well as high schoolers in regards to gender sensitivity, as well as simply being an active organization providing moral, emotional and physical support to other LGBTQI+ members.
In Anne’s infamous words: ‘time to switch gears’. Rewind ten hours: I’m lying in bed. The champions alarm song goes off: the classic Eye of the Tiger: perfect for some morning motivation. Rubbing my eyes I look at the time: 8 o’clock, so I put on my shorts, a dirty t-shirt and my jogging shoes and start running. Around 20 minutes later I feel relieved, awake and ready to take on this new day. It’s my stress relief, an emotional valve, in sorts, just a way of getting rid of negative emotions. But it is also a moment that allows me to think. During this run I thought about the fact that one specific area had not been covered. Despite all of these unbelievable meetings worthy of an ambassador's lifestyle, the subject of entertainment as a tool for peacebuilding did not often come up. In every interview I held I longed for a conversation regarding sports, music, film or dance as a way of highlighting similarities rather than focusing on differences. The few times this was brought up, it was a success story of people joining hands. Although this may sound naive, to the few people I talked with, the examples given were convincing enough for me to believe in the unexplored potential of art and entertainment.
Examples include the annual Docu-fest (an internationally renowned documentary festival in Kosovo) which brings people together; in Mitrovica, Serbian and Albanian children were mixed together in teams and, despite the language barrier, they managed to compete for their teams (the pandas and the polar bears) rather than their ethnicities or religions; and finally, in Mitrovica, I witnessed a Serbian woman joining in on an old traditional Albanian dance with a smile on her face.
This is exactly the beauty of sports, music, dance and sometimes film--it is universal, and does not require a specific language. Possibly a good research project for next year?