Monday, June 26, 2017

The Kosovo Experience - Learning how to Learn

By Nini Pieters

It has now been a few days since we have come back from our field trip to Kosovo – and I must admit that they were not particularly easy ones. All the information and experiences are slowly starting to sink in, and half of my mind is still with the people, organizations, discussions, tears and laughter from the past ten days. The day we came back, my friends asked firstly how the trip to Kosovo had been, and secondly what it was that we had done there. But the truth is that no answer would truly do justice to what I learned during Peace Lab, and to be frank, I don’t think a blog post can either.
During our last dinner in Pristina on Wednesday, one student said that she had learned how to really listen. I think this is one very adequate way to capture it, though I would add that I also learned how to learn. Of course, in some ways we have been ‘learning’ our whole lives - and academically speaking we have been learning a lot during our studies at the Amsterdam University College.

However, the term learning suddenly obtains an entirely new meaning when you put the theories you have been reading into practice, and when you see and experience the true meaning of peacekeeping, state building, and human rights. One of the most significant realizations I had is that even though many political and societal concepts sound good on paper, in practice there are so many more layers and individual factors at play. In some aspects, Kosovo seems to have followed the ideal ‘ peacekeeping - recipe’: take a NATO peacekeeping force (KFOR), add a broad United Nations peace support mission (UNMIK), mix it with European and EU organizations such as the OSCE and EULEX, and the base for a successful state is created. However, the reality is that a state consists of its people; and if these people find themselves in deep ethnic divides, if these people are unable to fulfill their economic needs, and if they do not possess the resources to appropriately govern a country, then the most benign international support is not sufficient. This is not to say that I am against the international post-conflict efforts in Kosovo, as many Kosovars themselves seem to acknowledge that without the presence of international organizations, things could be much worse. But what I want to emphasize hereby is that by merely studying theories, the way things look on paper, and the way they are supposed to be like, one does not truly learn – at least not in a holistic sense. One example is the Kosovan constitution, which is one of the most progressive and liberal ones in Europe, partly due to the international influence in Kosovo. However, unfortunately many of its provisions are either not specified in the legal framework of the country, or are simply not being implemented. In Western European countries like the Netherlands, we barely question such practical aspects of the legal framework, because we are so used to the fact that the legal and political sphere is functioning. But situations like the one in Kosovo prove that one should never stop questioning, being critical, and seeing things from different perspectives. During our time in Kosovo, every moment felt like a great learning experience; every organization questioned the previous one; and every day shed a new light to a different aspect of Kosovo. Ultimately, if I would have to answer in a sentence, this is precisely what I learned: to listen, to understand, to remain critical, and to keep learning with every second that passes by.

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