Saturday, June 17, 2017

Our Trip to Mitrovica - 

adding a new meaning to 'crossing the bridge'

By Layla Gegout

On Thursday 15th of June, we headed off to Mitrovica in our very own United Nations bus, which definitely made us feel extra special. Here is proof of our excitement - Pleun and Julia's faces say it all.

Our first stop was just outside Pristina at the Gazimestan - a monument commemorating the historical Battle of Kosovo in 1389 at the Field of Blackbirds. It was also the place where Milošević held a speech in 1989, a time when the Republic of Yugoslavia was extremely tense. As it is full of historical and symbolic significance to both Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs, this landmark has a gloomy and eerie atmosphere, but hearing our group climb the steps to the top of the tower, Anne noted that it seemed to be "haunted with AUC laughter".

Gazimestan Monument - Battle of Kosovo, 1389

The rest of the day was spent hopping from one organisation to the other, starting with a visit to the UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA, then we met students at the International Business College Mitrovica, and our last meeting was at the University Pristina Kosovska Mitrovica. Being in this divided city was a unique experience in the sense that we witnessed the tensions there are between different ethnic communities.

We also learnt to identify certain subtleties, such as the use of language: we quickly noticed that organisations and individuals always choose their words very carefully, especially when referring to Kosovo and Serbia as separate 'systems' rather than 'states', or when talking about a 'boundary' instead of a 'border' separating these two entities. This was an enriching insight into the weight that culture holds in language, clearly showing that language reflects its culture's ethnic, political and historical tensions. Indeed, not only is Mitrovica physically polarised by a river that separates the Serbian and the Albanian communities, there is also a very potent language barrier that prevents any proper communication from taking place between either side of the river. Many of the organisations we visited in the city were aimed at bridging this divide between the two communities, and there seems to have been a significant improvement in the cooperation between the communities, even though there is still a lot of work to be done.

On a lighter note, we spent the evening at a family restaurant by a picturesque lake in the mountains. Some of us went for a refreshing swim, while others took a boat ride across the 'boundary' and into Serbia, which was a relaxing end to a physically and mentally tiring - yet rewarding - day.

Alessia marvelling at the view from the boat

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