Friday, June 23, 2017

The Chicken or the Egg? In Perspective

By Julia Kemp

What does one do when one has to replace a passport which has been unfortunately located in a bag that was stolen in a state that has thus far not been recognised as such? That is the question I was forced to ask on Saturday night–17 June 2017–when my purse got stolen at Taverna Tirona, a local hipster restaurant in Kosovo’s capital Pristina.

Having spent the morning leading up to the theft at an awe-inspiring local initiative which aims to grant members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community in Fushë Kosovë the right to education, and in so doing, the prospect of a worthy standard of living, we reflected on the inspiring, yet confrontational experience of this initiative over lunch. In so doing, we found ourselves at a restaurant located in what appeared to be an imitation amusement park. Nevertheless, I felt nowhere near amused.

This followed from the fact that I had given a presentation about the afore-mentioned initiative, the Ideas Partnership, a week earlier in class. Having examined the organisation, its aim and methods, I was in awe. After all, by ensuring children of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community of that which the system failed to secure, the Ideas Partnership not only filled the gap between theory and practice, but it did so on the mandate of the people themselves. Bearing in mind that the majority of the Kosovar population considers Kosovo to be part of the territorial grounds shaped by Dardanians, Ottomans and Albanians, 92,93% of the population believes it to have been historically occupied and oppressively ruled by external forces. Because the struggle for independence of these forces resulted in the issuance of several mandates – none of which were approved by or consulted over with the Kosovar population as a whole – the Ideas Partnership did what the international community did not: recognize “we, the people” as those capable of exercising autonomy, power and self-determination.

Though the wide variety of meetings we had in Kosovo gave us an insight into the difficulties that would ensue from granting the state full autonomy, power and self-determination, that which remained crystal clear in every single one of these meetings was that theory has thus far not paralleled practice. Whilst Kosovo has one of the most advanced constitutions in the world, it was often repeated, this constitution has not necessarily been implemented and/or lived up to. It is precisely because of the ineffectiveness of the top-down approach alone, then, that grass-root initiatives like the Ideas Partnership are crucial. After all, by asking the people what they wanted and/or needed, the founder of the partnership, Elizabeth Gowing, made their wish her demand.

Knowing that I would be a witness to these wishes, the fulfillment of which were her demand, I expected to be amazed when seeing the Ideas Partnership in real life. To my naivety, however, this was not necessarily the case. Whilst I was impressed by the fact that Gowing enabled members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community to access the education the state failed to ensure them of, this education did not resolve their immediate poverty. Though Gowing certainly contributed to its alleviation, the children remained part of and obstructed by a system that was (partly) responsible for its persistency.

This, I discovered when my bag got stolen on that very Saturday. Though I did not see the person who stole my bag, accusations on the nature of the thief were predominantly directed towards members of the Roma community. If a Roma stole my bag, so I was told, identity theft would ensue. Though an average thief would merely want my money, it was suggested, a Roma would want everything: my passport telephone, money, cards, lipstick - hell, even my nail polish. Though one of the friends with whom I was having dinner informed me of a possible perpetrator she witnessed in the restaurant: a Roma woman, whose child's hands were stretched out for charity, I made a deliberate choice not to include this suspect when giving a statement at the police station.

When lifesaver Erik and I later discussed this, I thought of the chicken-and-egg dilemma. Are the Romas indeed more inclined to steal? And, if so, is their inclination to steal caused by the system’s prejudice towards them? Does this prejudice prevent them from getting jobs? Does this cause them to steal? To survive? To provide for the families the Ideas Partnership aims to aid? I did not know. What I did know, however, was that I was not going to re-enforce a set of beliefs upheld in a system that was (supposed to be) designed to support, protect, and include.

Exploring to what extent the Kosovar system did all of the above was one of the things we set out to examine by virtue of our field trip. While the wide variety of meetings with IOs, NGOs, governmental institutions and other initiatives certainly gave us an understanding of this system, none of these meetings was as insightful as my experience at the police station.

Situated in a building that almost gave an old prison-like feeling, with torn walls, narrows windows and broken carpentry, I gave an official statement of the afore-mentioned theft. The fact that it was not the police officer who recorded this statement, but a member of the UNDP, who had notified our (a-ma-zing) trip coordinator, Chiara, of the fact that my passport had been found and delivered at the police station that following day, affirmed that there was, in effect, a system in place. It may have been confusing and unclear at times which local, national or international organisation had which function within the system, but that clearly did not undermine the system in its entirety. Discovering that was, without a doubt, “een geluk bij een ongeluk”.

No comments:

Post a Comment