Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Crossing the River

By Iman Azganovic

It is the third day of the trip. I barely began to grasp the issues of Prishtina and we are already thrown to the deep end and the segregated community of Mitrovica. Considering the big international presence in the city we had a chance to see some top-down peacebuilding.

As someone who always aspired to work in international institutions, I have to admit that during our visit they didn't live up to my expectations. We had an opportunity to visit UN agencies and OSCE in Mitrovica. The people from UNMIK, UNDP, and UNFPA were very nice and professional. However, I was quite surprised by how little they work with local NGOs. When we asked them about it, they said they had no reason to cooperate with them since they had their own budget and agendas. In my opinion, that hinders the creation of sustainable projects. On the other hand, I was happy to hear that they were at least working with the Orthodox Church on the issue of gender violence - the idea that was completely disregarded by the Women's Network the day before. But again when asked about doing the same project with mosques in Mitrovica, they weren't as enthusiastic. Generally, they didn't have a lot of, if any, success stories about reconciliation between the Serbian and Albanian community in Mitrovica. OSCE, on the other hand, had a lot of projects that attempt to provide space for dialogue among youth. Unfortunately, again a lot of them are unsuccessful. I was sad to hear that most projects that were supposed to include youth from both sides of the river were declined by Serbs. 

Our next stop was the International Business College Mitrovica – the only multiethnic university in Kosovo. The presentation was very promising and inspiring. We expected to have the first (and maybe only glimpse) of cooperation among the ethnicities. Yet, it seemed that the extent of that conversation was contained in the university. For the most part, I thought that the language barrier was the issue. I was very surprised to hear that that may not be the case. Both Kosovo Albanians and Serbs had long-lasting friendships with Bosniaks. With Serbs, they shared the language and with Albanians they communicate on English and have a lot of culture and religion in common. One Serb said that “whenever Albanians and Serbs have a dispute they both go cry about it on a Bosniak’s shoulder”. So I was sad to hear that the university didn’t have a bigger impact on a community. But as some students pointed out, at least they are talking and the general opinion of the “other” has improved. 

All of this is not to say that I had a disappointing day. On the contrary, I learned more than I ever expected. It reinforced that we can’t impose the projects on the people, especially not in sensitive situations like this and we need to be conscious of how painfully slow the process of reconciliation is. People need to be asked what they want and need. As the following days will show, the smaller projects, everyday bottom-up peacebuilding drops in a bucket just might ensure the bright future of Kosovo. 

The day finished on an incredible note. We visited the lake. There was a lot of swimming, great food, and even better company. I think we really disappointed the cook when barely anyone touched the mountain of pork he made but at least everyone was really happy with all the other food. Well, almost everyone. The highlight was when Erik decided to take matters into his own hands and heat up the vegetables on his own on the grill. I think it is safe to say we all feel quite at home here.

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