Saturday, July 15, 2017

Newborn generation

By Ellen Ackroyd

This time three weeks ago and I was running around my room, looking for clothes to stuff into my backpack and trying to locate my “oh-so-treasured” British passport. I was definitely nervous: about the people, about the country Kosovo, about the political situation and about finding vegan food other than cabbage salad (turns out that fear was truly justified).

And here I am, back in my Amsterdam dorm room, but my mind and heart are still in Kosovo. What to say about such a trip? The words are hard to find. Maybe I should start with that, with words, with language. Although many people talked about the difficulties that come with not speaking Albanian or Serbian, I found the interactions that I had very interesting. One would think that the absence of a common repertoire of words would create distance within a conversation, however, during my time in Kosovo, I was amazed by our capacity as human beings to find alternative methods of communication, whether they be through smiles, laughs or hand gestures.

These situations were quite rare, though as the majority of people we met spoke English, which enabled us to communicate on a deeper emotional level. During these discussions, many issues arose, such as unemployment, corruption, the need for justice, culture, politics and religion. There was such a range of topics that burst out of the mouths of people on the street, in restaurants, in organizations, that we had the privilege of listening to. That was another element that fascinated me: the way in which every conversation was electric and whenever you thought you had reached the depths of a person, another layer revealed itself and bubbled to the surface.

This type of energy was everywhere. I mentioned the people, but it also echoed throughout public spaces, shops, boulevards and ordinary daily life. But over the course of the trip, I was always curious about where the source of sound was coming from: whose voice was reverberating with such strength? I heard the loud and powerful voices of institutions such as EULEX and UNMIK, among others, and listened to people from universities and NGOs, but found that it was truly the youth of Kosovo that resonated the most with me. I think it was because their dreams of a prosperous academic career and their fears of isolation and entrapment were something that I couldn’t fully understand, but could relate to through my own experiences.

Whilst their activism and civic engagement were of great inspiration to me, there was no full recognition of it. And yes, some may say that in order for activism to function, a certain degree of anonymity is necessary. But I see an issue in the absence of a centralized space, whether it be symbolic or physical, that would facilitate discussions amongst youth. So, whilst I spent the first part of the trip thinking about the source of Kosovo’s energy, the second half was about how such vitality could be dug up from underground channels to resurface as a potential mechanism for dialogue amongst young people.

I may not have the answer yet, but I believe that the concept of civil society has great potential in answering this query. I heard many criticisms of this notion, but I believe that it could be used by Kosovar youth, not only as a structure for their engagement, but also as a way of establishing a form of membership that could be beneficial in unifying the country. The Newborn generation has only just started; expect much much more to come. Cheers to that!

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