By Frankie Fraser
It was our first day in Mitrovica, after spending a single day in Pristina, that I realised that no matter how much reading and studying one can do prior- it’s different once you are in the place. No matter how much I tried to push my preconceptions and biases aside, I was not expecting the vibrant and optimistic atmosphere I felt in Prishtina. I was expecting a state struggling to organize itself and for people to be discontented and angry. There certainly is anger present in Kosovo, much of it felt towards the political establishment and corruption which is rife across the state, however there is also large amounts of pride and a want for people to recognise that Kosovo has made huge strides through its post-conflict development. I think this trip confirmed to me the value in realising that initial assessments of situations should be reserved until you get into the area yourself. This is impractical of course in a literal sense, but it has given me a renewed appreciation of the limitations of theoretical research and book learning.
Those initial days back in Amsterdam following the time we spent in Kosovo, were strange. I felt in a weird sort of limbo, trying to process the amount of information which I'd received in a short time and trying to weave out an accurate picture of how I saw Kosovo’s current status. The opportunity to visit such a wide range of groups, all promoting various interests and aims, all providing a different perspective on Kosovo was one of the most stimulating of my academic career. The time they took to discuss and talk with us, has made a lasting impression, with it I hope the first step in a career in post-conflict settings. Being able to hear within one day, the EULEX representatives, then meet with the Youth Assembly, before a talk with Albin Kurti the head of the Albanian nationalist party Vetëvendosje is a unique academic experience and one I feel very thankful for.
It was not just the academics, politicians and members of an embryonic civil society which taught me about Kosovo. It was the conversations in the street, the taxi cab, the bar and the home which painted the picture of how I view Kosovo’s current situation. Towards the end of the trip, I was building up a real sense of opportunism, it seemed that the majority that we spoke to were positive on how Albanian and Serbian relations were developing. A long conversation, spanning 4 hours or so, with a group of young Albanians and the barman. It made my realise my naivety, that I could draw conclusions from a small sample set of people and the politicians, academics and NGO operators who were promoting the development of those relations. I don’t want to become overly pessimistic, because Kosovo in my experience was an opportunistic place. The people want to live fulfilled, happy lives, as we all do. They have long not been allowed to realise this ambition, but the people there, although realistic about the tough challenges which face Kosovo, namely corruption, instilled in me an optimism that the country will achieve what it wants. However, much of these aims are dependent on the one thing which money and resources cannot buy- time. The people of Kosovo want to be able to live flourishing lives now, yet much of that is dependent on tensions easing and political developments which only time could provide. A political analyst for the OSCE described to me how the situation is Mitrovica requires a massage, with the tensions slowly eased with time being essential. It’s sad that people cannot have this realised immediately, a situation which causes me a great deal of frustration.
As a student primarily focussing on political science, seeing a situation in Mitrovica and the northern Kosovo provinces was fascinating. Although within Kosovo territory, the north of Mitrovica and Kosovo’s northern provinces operate under Serbian institutions. They received a wage from Serbia, they watch Serbian T.V, all their facilities are paid for by Belgrade. Obviously, this situation greatly undermines Kosovo’s territorial integrity, but it is of little surprise that the individuals living in these areas affiliate far more with Serbia than they ever would Kosovo. I suppose I initially went to Kosovo thinking that the individuals who live within it would identify as Kosovar. This wasn’t the case, I failed to realise that Kosovo cannot be viewed through the prism of a traditional nation-state. Kosovo’s independence was not a nation rising up to claim statehood for themselves, but a region casting off the shackles of an oppressive regime. It seemed so obvious once I was there, yet I was oblivious to it before I arrived. That’s why Peace Lab is such a special course, it challenges all you know about a place and gives you the opportunity to work it out yourself.