By Iman Azganovic
It’s been more than a week since we came back, and I still can’t make sense of everything this trip has made me feel. I imagined that since I come from the region this trip wouldn’t be as impactful, but it ended up the other way around. Both similarities and differences between Kosovo and Bosnia made me see some things in a different light and changed my perception of the region and interactions between different ethnicities. It has been an incredible learning experience and I was amazed by the range of institutions we had the opportunity to see.
At the very beginning, in Vienna, we talked to Wolfgang Petritsch, once High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Union’s Chief Negotiator at the Kosovo peace talks in Rambouillet and Paris. I came to the meeting quite prejudiced - in my eyes, in Bosnia he, as the most prominent international figure in the country at the time, has imposed laws that still hinder progress today. But after talking to him I realized some things that apply not only to my country but to international intervention in general - people from the outside often have visions and plans that are not necessarily compatible with the mentality on the ground. Thus, despite their best intentions things rarely work out the way they planned.
Later in the trip, this was again confirmed when we talked to international institutions. They themselves seemed very proud of things they were doing and the things they accomplished. Unfortunately, lots of locals didn’t perceive it that way. An example was given to us by the representative at the University of Mitrovica who sarcastically remarked how IOs take kids to the beach so they can “become friends” thus helping the peacebuilding process, instead of opening the factory and ensuring jobs that are necessary to both Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. Later on, I did a little digging and found that there is indeed a huge mining complex which is largely not used but has amazing potential. Unfortunately, despite having quite a bit of influence over it, IOs failed to help rebuild it to its former Yugoslav glory.
So in the end, IOs didn’t really live up to my expectations. On the other hand, meetings that I was least enthusiastic about ended up being the highlight of the trip - the NGOs. The first one we met was The New Social Initiative. They work in Serb communities on educating them and helping them integrate into new Kosovar institutions and thus helping end the big segregation between the communities. The Ideas Partnership works with the Roma, Akshkali, Egyptian community. We had an opportunity to talk to some of the kids and I was amazed by how well they spoke English for their age. It really showed that with just a little bit of effort these kids can have incredibly bright futures despite the prejudices surrounding their community. Lastly, Kosovo 2.0.. Independent media is one of the pillars of democracy and in my opinion, has always been lacking in Balkans, including Kosovo. However, this bright team of young people showed me once again that there is hope. They have a very inclusive team that reports on various topics, not just in Kosovo, but in the whole region. All these NGOs may not make a huge, instantly obvious impact, but in my opinion, the work they do, even if it is just a drop in the bucket at times, can make meaningful change in the long run.
Lastly, I learned so much just by talking to people on the streets, mostly students. For our project, we were comparing universities of Prishtina and Mitrovica with the IBCM. Our final product is a reflective booklet. While the institutions and their work didn’t really impress me, the students really did. Their enthusiasm and their faith that they can do better than their forefathers was really inspiring. There was no hate in their words, only hope and willingness to fight for a better tomorrow. Youth truly is the future.