Monday, July 16, 2018

Youth dialogue

By Sahar Afzal

This will be my final blog post about Kosovo. I will use this blog post to describe the final part of my project. Together with Iman, I made a personal reflexive booklet on our stay in Kosovo. In this blog, I will expand recommendations I had following my experiences in Kosovo. 

We researched dialogue opportunities between young Kosovar Albanians and Serbs living in Kosovo. We hardly came across any form of interaction, except for the International Bussiness College Mitrovica. At this college, Kosovar Albanians and Serbs study together. However, I was not too pleased with the atmosphere at the college concerning dialogue. Therefore, my first recommendation comes from IBCM.

Coming to the business college my expectations were high of real dialogue between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs. The way they portray themselves is as the only place where Kosovar Albanians and Serbs really meet. This university is meant to bring people closer together, however, the real level of engagement is quite low. To a certain extent, there is some interaction which means sitting in the same classroom but hardly talking to each other. They would not meet with one another because it would not be accepted, or they are too busy with their own friends. I wonder if the money spent on such a Business college could not be spent in a better way toward dialogue, since real dialogue is not really happening at the IBCM. This gave me food for thought and I came up with the following ideas. 

First of all, putting students together at the age of 18-19-20 does not really improve dialogue. Frankly speaking, it is too late. All students already grew up on their own side of the bridge, have their family and friends. They basically do not need to interact to have a social life. Moreover, they are still split by the bridge when they go home. Therefore, there is no real way of interacting even though they follow the same courses. I believe children from a young age should study together. 

Another problem occurs here and that is language. Today the younger generation of Kosovar Albanians and Serbs do not speak each other's language. So if children already go to the same school, they would be in separate classes. To make it practical, I think as a start, schools with both children that already exist throughout Kosovo should organize classes together. Classes like the English language, which both groups need to learn. Moreover, I think it would help if the children have physical education together. No language is needed to play sports together. Hopefully, starting by having two classes together that can unite them is a better way of starting a dialogue.

It would be lovely if children from a young age already started engaging. However, in Kosovo, there is an older generation of youth that goes to universities where dialogue is still needed. As seen with the business school, real engagement between the two groups is quite low. Moreover, the University of Prishtina in Prishtina and the University of Pristina based in Mitrovica both fail in having any level of interaction. Both universities refuse to start a dialogue and blame each other for not recognizing one another. They state that politics is in their way of starting a dialogue. Therefore, another level of dialogue is needed which I personally experienced when I was 17.

When I was 17, back in 2014 I went to Belgrade for a conference for the European Youth Parliament. Young people from all over Europe including Bosnians, Serbians, Kosovar Albanians, Kosovar Serbians, and Albanians came to Belgrade. All different groups of ethnic young people were divided over teams discussing a certain issue of the European Parliament. In my committee we were discussing an aid package for the Balkans, this really helped the level of dialogue between the youth from the Balkans. At one side a German guy and I would argue that it would be too expensive for our own budget and hard to sell to our people back home. Namely, that we could not spend money on the Balkans while we had an economic crisis. At the other side the youth from the Balkans, including Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs would side with each other arguing why the Balkans needed this aid package. This was the first time for me, meeting any people from the Balkans and speaking to Kosovar Albanians being scared in Belgrade. But they became friends with Serbs so easily that Serbs would protect them. For example, Serbs guided Kosovar Albanians back to their bus that would take them to Prishtina. It was also an opportunity for the Kosovar Albanians to see what the bombing of Belgrade did. I remember a Serbian girl missing a hand because of the bombing. This was the first time the Kosovar Albanians got to see the other side of the war. Because of this experience, I hoped universities in Kosovo would have the same experiences. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Since universities are not going to take the initiative, NGOs like the "New Social Initiative" should get the opportunity to expand their work. We visited the New Social Initiative during our trip in Mitrovica. They recruit young people from universities to participate in Model United Nations Meetings, which is similar to my European Youth Parliament experience. I believe bringing young people together, who are able to discuss politics while having fun is the best medicine to start a dialogue. One thing that is missing at the business school, is that the student council organizes activities but all of them won't include politics. IBCM explicitly stays away from politics. But without discussing politics there is always something in the way between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs like students told me at the University of Prishtina and IBCM. Being in a MUN or EYP simulation discussing politics creates an environment for both ethnic groups to be themselves and get to know one another.

I hope these recommendations one day will have an effect. I will send my recommendations back to the Universities and NGOs we visited in Kosovo. Also, please let me know if you, reading my blog have any suggestions!

Thank you for reading my blog post!

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