Thursday, July 27, 2023

The transformative power of third spaces: Building bridgesetween Pristina and Amsterdam

By Uma Claessens

As I write this, more than a week has passed since we returned to Amsterdam. It’s weird to think we’ve been back just as long as our trip in Kosovo lasted. In the classroom, we find ourselves caught in nostalgic moments, reminiscing about the experiences we had just one or two weeks ago. Since our return, we've been working on our projects and preparing presentations for the final classes. The memories of our time in Kosovo are still fresh in our minds, fuelling our motivation to finish the final assignment of this academic year.

Before arriving to Kosovo, my group hadn’t quite figured out what the topic of our final project would be. However, from the moment we set foot in Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo, we were captivated by its vibrant atmosphere and the contagious energy of its youth. The city buzzed with life, and everywhere we looked, there were young people immersed in conversation and laughter. We couldn't help but feel drawn to this dynamic environment.

As we interviewed people from diverse backgrounds, we discovered a beautiful common thread running through their stories. It didn't matter if they belonged to different communities or had varied backgrounds; there was a shared love for socializing and having fun. For Kosovo’s youth, this seemed to mainly take place in ‘third spaces’ (a real ‘humanities term’ according to Daan), as they provide a platform for self-expression, identity exploration, activism, or simply having fun in a place at home away from home. We quickly realized the significance these places hold in the lives of Kosovo’s youth, providing them with a sense of identity and belonging. 

This realization sparked our curiosity about what these places look like and why they are so crucial to the youth of Kosovo. We sought to discover the hidden gems of the city, the places where locals gathered – a side often overlooked by tourists. For this reason, we decided to devote our project to mapping the third spaces for youth in Pristina. We interviewed a dozen people, developed a website to display their stories, and created an immersive Google Earth map, allowing us to share the rich tapestry of third spaces in Pristina with a broader audience.

The most surprising and rewarding aspect of our project was the enthusiastic response we received from the people we interviewed. They all opened up their hearts and shared their perspectives, providing us with valuable insights into the city and its vibrant youth culture. I loved hearing each person I interviewed speak about the places that mattered to them. Talking to young people on the street and in bars, and conducting interviews with young, ‘ordinary’ people, rather than relying solely on the scheduled meetings with organizations, added an authentic touch to our project. It allowed us to capture the essence of Pristina through the eyes of its youth.

While doing our project, we stumbled upon an unexpected gift – a moment of connection that touched our hearts. For our very first interview, Sarah and I approached two women at a local bar. Despite the initial language barriers, one of the women enthusiastically shared her thoughts with us. Her genuine warmth and gratitude were evident as she wrote a heartfelt message in Sarah's journal, expressing appreciation for the conversation and wishing us luck with our project. This unexpected gesture affirmed the value of our interviews and symbolized the warmth and positivity we felt from the people we engaged with.

This project not only opened my eyes to the unique youth spaces in Pristina but also resonated deeply with my own experiences in Amsterdam. It highlights the universal need for spaces where young people can freely be themselves, forge connections, and spend quality time with friends without any obligations. Like the youth of Pristina, we all have our favourite bars, cinemas, concert venues, or sports centres that feel like a home away from home, a place where we can truly be ourselves, surrounded by like-minded people. 

In both Pristina and Amsterdam, young people yearn for spaces that go beyond the ordinary, places where they can truly be themselves and create lasting memories. It is within these spaces that we find solace, inspiration, and a true sense of community. The cool posters on the walls, the lively music, and the vibrant ambiance are but a backdrop to the true essence of these places—the feelings they evoke and the people with whom we share them.

As I worked on our project, I did so with a renewed appreciation for the transformative power of third spaces. They have the ability to bring people together, fostering personal growth and shaping unforgettable moments, ultimately paving the way towards a more peaceful world.

You can check out the website we created here: (password: PeaceLab)

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Why am I doing that?

By Lina Chambon

Today I am excited to tell you about one of those projects that gave me a new perspective on academic assignments and how fun they can be to do. During the last week of June, Morgan and I presented our cookbook to the class and they could read from our faces how proud we were of this final product. 


But let me bring you back to the very beginning. 

When I heard in class that we could come up with any project to convey our lived experience in Kosovo, I immediately thought about food. Back in May, AUC TEDX welcomed Giles Duley, a war photographer and writer who more recently, decided to become a chef. While traveling for work, Duley went to Afghanistan where he suffered injuries to his arm and leg, which had to be amputated. It was this talk by him that ended with a standing ovation and loud applause from the public. Heavily moving. 

He reminded all of us why food brings people together. Food is not only a fuel for our body, but more than that. For instance, food is what makes me less anxious, what makes a space feel more like home, it’s what I do to show affection to my loved ones. In this sense, food is definitely my love language. I love cooking and sharing a good meal with my friends, it often makes us laugh, dance, and sing. This is what Duley tried to say, food creates a bond around people that is vey special and unique.

For this reason, he chose to never take pictures of a family or ask questions about their stories, if he hadn't shared a meal with them beforehand.

For us too, it was challenging to ask people about their identity or personal experiences, therefore we decided to deepen our understanding and learn through the stories that people would tell us around food. 

Although we left Amsterdam with a completely different idea, the process of making this cookbook was very spontaneous. Before leaving for Kosovo, we thought about conducting semi-structured interviews with very specific questions concerning people’s favorite dishes, the memories tied to it and what this represented for them. But for most of our encounters and conversations, we often ended up asking spontaneous questions, bouncing on what people were sharing with us. 

I will tell you a little bit more about our interview with Marco. It taught us a lot. 

On the day we had dinner at the Ethno house, in Gracanica, a place with more meat imaginable heaped onto a single plate, we met Marco, who told us to come back the next morning, at the beginning of his working shift when he would be less busy.

So we came back the next day and had this long and interesting conversation. He started by telling us that meat was his favorite food, which made us think about how to include that in a cookbook… But slowly, with a lot of curiosity from us, he explained what kind of meat he prefers, how they smoke it, what cooking «under the bell» meant (explained in our cookbook), but above all, he was proud to say that the meat here was fresh! The freshness of food is an aspect that Marco, as well as many other people we encountered, mentioned. Philippe, an inspiring man who works for the UN, also said that many households in Kosovo have gardens and very often cook from the vegetables they grow. In the Ethno house, this restaurant where minorities work together, even if they don’t always speak the same language, all ingredients are fresh. Marco confirmed that all vegetables were either from their greenhouse or surrounding gardens, the cheese was purchased from the nearby Serbian Orthodox Church and the meat from the closest village. 

And just like it happened for a lot of people we interviewed or talked about food with, Marco ended up talking about his life story, his family, his home. He told us about his wife and children, and his love for his land, because this is what food makes us talk about. Food is tied to so many memories, connects you with people, and food brings a feeling of home. 


This feeling is the one Morgan and I also felt on the edge of every evening when to we brought together each day's ideas, inspiration and stories that we had gathered during the day for our cookbook.

This project have been enriching and eye opening for me. With just the will to understand, I learned so much about the people of Kosovo, as well as about myself, my own identity. This cookbook called on our creativity and allowed me to take a step back and ask myself: Why am I doing that? Although the answer to this question is reserved for my personal journal, this cookbook gave us the space to reflect on our experiences in Kosovo and think further ahead about our motivations and aspirations. 

Finally, it has really sparked something in me, a desire to create, understand differently and convey.


This is our story; in her blogpost, Morgan shared theirs.



Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Pressing for peace: Media, peacebuilding, and taking responsibility

By Fabian Kuzmic

Growing up during the nineties, we were always looking to how others would write about you. Because the way that the New York Times, or CNN or BBC or Euro News wrote about you during the nineties, ended up determining what would be the future of your country  whether there would be an intervention or whether there would not be an intervention.

With this powerful story, Besa Luci, the editor-in-chief of Kosovo 2.0, sets the tone for our podcast Pressing for Peace, our final project for Peace Lab. She reminisces about a time when she felt like the future of her country was in the hands of media platforms. This poignant memory delves into the far-reaching impact of media. It reveals the media's potential not only to ignite turning points in conflicts but also to contribute to peacebuilding, paving the way for lasting peace.


For our podcast, we explored the question: What is the role of media in the context of long-term peacebuilding?and had the privilege of meeting with inspiring journalists and experts from civil society organisations and activist groups. Among many other findings, we discovered the dangers and shortcomings of media which often neglect minority voices and sensationalise stories for the sake of profit.


For instance, the Roma communities form a minority group that is largely dismissed in the Kosovar media landscape. We interviewed a representative from the NGO Roma Versitas, whose stories about hate speech on social media shocked us. He expressed his grave concern about the levels of discrimination Roma communities face, especially online. Yet, his unwavering commitment to challenge these injustices stood as a testament to human resilience and deeply inspired us. That's why we exist. We are great, crazy defender fighters, human rights fighters, and we have to walk, he told us.


Elizabeth Gowing, the current Advisor on Community Affairs to the Prime Minister Albin Kurti, further emphasised that everyone is part of the media nowadays, especially because of social media. We all have to take responsibility for the impact of the stories we tell, she told us. With recognising this responsibility comes a great deal of possibility to contribute to positive transformations. We all are media creators now, and this gives us the power to use the media as a catalyst for progress and social change. Elizabeth pointed out:

You are contributing to people's perception of Kosovo, to people's perception of conflict, to people's perception of the international community, the role of civil society; you are shaping that narrative. Do it intentionally.

Witnessing the passion of our interviewees and their steadfast belief that change is possible was profoundly moving. They made it clear that everyone has a role to play and that the power to contribute to societal transformation lies within us. They reminded us that the time for action is always now, and the person to act is always oneself.


The journey also taught us about the dual role we possess - for society and for ourselves. We learned that we not only have the responsibility to recognise our role in the wider peacebuilding effort, but that we also have an important role to play for ourselves. Peacebuilding starts from within, and over and over again, activists underscored the importance of taking care of yourself first before you can fight for others.


These insights only scratch the surface of our exploration into Kosovos media landscape. If these narratives intrigued you, delve deeper into the conversations we had with these changemakers in our podcast episode. We invite you to listen, share the episode with your friends, and take our experts advice to heart. By engaging with their stories, you are part of this journey of transformation. You can find our podcast here. Will you join us in shaping the narrative around Kosovo for the better?


Monday, July 24, 2023

Between private and public – Understanding the effects of the past?

 Students attending home schools in Pristina. (Photo courtesy of Shyqeri Obertinca. Via 

By Mara Smelt


In the early nineties, when the Serb authorities prohibited Albanian education in official institutions, the Kosovar Albanian authorities created a parallel system in which Kosovar Albanians could still receive this education. Private spaces, such as homes, became the places where people gathered to be schooled about Albanian history and culture, all in the Albanian language. Many of the older Kosovar Albanians we talked to had received their education in these parallel systems, thus pointing to the impact this system has had on the structures of Kosovo’s contemporary society. Within academia, it has also been claimed that it was in these spaces that a strong Kosovar Albanian identity arose and took shape.

However, throughout conversations with Kosovars, it became clear that it is not just the kind of education that has left its mark on the contemporary society, but also the ways in which this education was shaped and provided. Kosovar architect, artist, and politician Eliza Hoxha said that, due to the parallel systems, the boundaries between private and public life in the country have largely disappeared. By opening up their homes as places for the community to be educated, people lost some of the luxury of privacy that exists in a home, subsequently affecting the ways in which the fabric of social life was being woven and identity being shaped. 

Hoxha’s observations about the interplay between the private and public life immediately sparked an interest and reminded me of one of my first courses at AUC, where we spent some time discussing the concepts of the public and the private. During my first year, these terms seemed like empty words from the Humanities, describing abstract concepts. I was never completely able to grasp their social relevance outside of the academic context I first encountered them in, and so, perhaps in their ambiguity the public and the private stuck with me. Now, almost three years later, I came across them again. Yet here, they suddenly seemed to carry a significance that I had failed to understand before. 

In the way Hoxha spoke to us, it became clear that, when the private becomes public – and vice versa – selfhood, identity, community shaping, and social life undergo substantial changes. In this context, the language of the private and the public and being able to differ between the two, provided a framework in which the effects of the parallel system could be further understood. 

What is more, Hoxha’s comment reminded me of an interview we conducted with Vesë, a 17-year-old high-school student from Pristina a few days earlier. For our final project for the Peace Lab course, my group and I explored the spaces outside of the house, workplace, or school that young people in Pristina spend their time at. Within academia, it is understood that such places – also known as third spaces – are pillars of community building and shaping. We interviewed Vesë to gain further insights into her experience of youth culture in Pristina.

Through conversations with Kosovars, it became clear to us that social life and interpersonal connection are highly valued by the young population in Kosovo. You can find this in Pristina’s many cafes, where people meet up for a coffee, sit at small tables, and socialize for hours, or in the few bustling streets with bars and terraces that are filled every night. It is here, in these third spaces, that people come together, connect, and spend time with each other. 

According to Vesë, a clear distinction can be found between home and spaces for socializing and community building. She discussed how people in the city tend to keep these activities separate from their domestic, private life. According to her, this is partially due to Kosovo’s history. As families were big and there was little privacy within domestic spheres, people started prioritizing their privacy and separating social interactions from time spent by oneself. 

When Hoxha spoke about the interplay between the private and the public during the parallel systems a few days after the interview with Vesë, it reminded me of this desire people have to socialize outside of the house. This also made me wonder about the connection between these concepts. To what extent has the historical context of the parallel system, where privacy was not always guaranteed, played a role in shaping the contemporary need for many individuals to preserve the sanctity of their domestic spheres and seek social interactions outside of their homes? To what extent has Kosovo’s history shaped the importance and need for third spaces that people still feel today? 

During the ten-day trip to Kosovo, I was surprised by the openness and sincerity of the Kosovars, and by the vibrancy of Pristina’s social life. Pondering about the origins of these habits and ways of life has been inevitable and it is tempting to attribute them to the country’s recent, turbulent past. That being said, these are questions that might not have any set answer. Perhaps it would not even be relevant to find a singular answer to them. Kosovo, although shaped by its recent history, is much more than this narrative alone. Instead of focusing on the past, it seems like it is time to also turn an eye to future.

And so, in our project we aimed to do so by focusing on the current youth in Kosovo. They have a heart for the country and are willing to work for what is to come. Hopefully, by focusing on youth voices and describing their views on what makes Kosovo and Pristina their home, we can illuminate not just how Kosovo has been shaped by the past, but also what it is bringing to the future. 



Sunday, July 23, 2023

The stories we tell

By Marianne Cederberg

I first came across the concept of Peace Journalism in Kosovo. I had studied peacebuilding before, but I had never heard about using journalism to build and protect peace. It was a journalist from the critical media platform Kosovo 2.0 who was the first person to use the term for describing her work. This was a turning point for my research during the trip and Peace Journalism soon became the focal point and guiding principle of my personal inquiries in Pristina.

The concept of Peace Journalism was first introduced by the Norwegian academic Johan Galtung in the 70s, presenting the link between media and peacebuilding to the field of peace studies. It is a method of journalistic reporting about conflict-torn or unstable areas. In contrast to its counterpart, War Journalism, Peace Journalism aims at mitigating social divisions and fostering stability and peace. 

Peace Journalism consists of four principles: unbiased reporting, shared vulnerability, human-centered approach, and proactivity. Such reporting covers both sides of the conflict, avoiding the often-used good-guy and bad-guy frames. It draws attention to those suffering from the conflict, highlighting the fact that victims are victims no matter whose side they are on. Peace journalism not only focuses on high-profile actors such as politicians and elites, but also lifts the voices of ordinary people and minorities. Lastly, peace journalism focuses on the actual solutions for accommodating peace.

While conducting research for our project--which focused on the role of media in peacebuilding--I was not just investigating media, but I had to take on the role of a journalist. There was this meta level to doing the project: we were collecting interviews on the topic of media to produce a piece of media. We were not just chatting about what should change in the media but we had to apply the advice we were receiving into our own work.

“We are all storytellers,” was the advice we got from Elizabeth Gowing, author and co-founder of The Ideas Partnership. In 2021 Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti appinted her to his cabinet as adviser on community affairs. “We have to be responsible for the stories we tell,” she said, because “the angles you take have repercussions bigger than you.”

This is something I have thought about a lot since--the power of storytelling--not only in the media but also “at the bar or around a dinner table,” as Elizabeth put it. The way we talk about a certain issue, a certain place, shapes the perceptions those listening to us have. The words we employ influence understanding and, in turn, shape reality. In this way, the stories we tell reverberate in others.

This principled level of ethical storytelling was something I tried to adopt into my ways of framing Kosovo. I did this not only in our final project that we did in the form of a podcast, but also in the ways I talked about the country to my friends after Peace Lab. I did not want to repeat the single story so many had of Kosovo, that of political struggles and violence. I did not want to reiterate those images of Kosovo. Instead, I wanted to tell about the people of Kosovo, its rich culture, and astonishing nature. I wanted to talk about the kindness of Kosovars, their determination, and their spirit--because this was what was missing in the media.

We need new stories of Kosovo. We need success stories, inspirational stories, and love stories. We need stories of the experiences of people, their struggles and aspirations. This is what is at the core for our podcast Pressing for Peace. You can find it here.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Part of my truth

By Morgan Mamet


Cooking a home, Lina's and my project, was created as a cookbook with a twist. As she described in her blog post, we went through a very interesting process that led to the final product, which I feel very lucky to write about today…

Their stories…

The cookbook is filled with colors, drawings, stories and mouth-watering recipes, all gathered to really convey the voices of the wonderful people we have had the privilege to meet. The colors, the blue and yellow (of course relating to the Kosovo flag), the drawings representing small symbols of the food in Kosovo and of course, the pictures are an attempt to capture the beauty of those moments. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, but we quickly realized that we needed more, so much more to really paint the message we wanted to convey in the cookbook.

Hoping that it would be accessible for all. Its organization might seem a bit nonexistent, with a story here and there, in between two recipes. In reality though, it was made to paint the conversations we had with people. Sometimes where we cited a few ingredients, this was followed by part of their reality, their truth and lives, then often followed by something along the lines of “oh! You should also add this ingredient. It would taste great!”. 

When we came back to Amsterdam, we sat in our 27 m2 rooms and we realized that we had collected many different stories and conversations. And the topic that came back the most relates to home.

The focus of the project was the similarities between the communities rather than the differences. A main similarity we have found is that home is common for everyone, no matter the community, the age or region of Kosovo. It is something that all can align under. Home is what connects it all. We decided to look at food, and the role it plays in making a place home, its power to connect individuals. It is not only a necessity, it is also something around which people sit down and put things aside, at least for a little while.

Food as a peace building tool can be observed through the lens of home, as food helps “cook a home”.


We have learnt many different lessons through the incredible experience in Kosovo and our project:


1.     The voices of the people

We arrived in Kosovo with a lot of historical knowledge, as well as learning about the country through media, which depicts a specific narrative of Kosovo. By talking with people (through organizations or random encounters) we realized the importance of giving space to their voices, listening to their narratives and the importance of those voices being conveyed and heard by many. Often it simply requires the desire to listen and people are happy to talk about their truth.


2.     Resilience and perseverance

We had the chance to meet people who have shown great resilience and perseverance in all situations. People who keep going no matter the challenges. People who fight for what they believe is right, for their values.

Perseverance is a subject that came back a lot during our trip, one of the women we met for our meeting with the Women’s Network said something that really struck me and demonstrated that veryperseverance: “We become the nightmare of our institutions”. 

Marco, a Kosovo Serb we were lucky to meet told us that his house burned down twice, but he never gave up and his house is now bigger and greater than ever.

The lesson learned thanks to the people we have met is something I would like to apply in my life. Something that is boosting me for my future endeavors.


3.     The importance of trust

Before going to Kosovo and starting the research for our project, I had never really done qualitative research. I have learned the importance of creating trust in order to collect precious and valuable information. During the research, we realized that it is important to give a bit of yourself, to share your truth, your reality, in order to hope to receive something in return. Sometimes, we gave and did not receive anything back. And that was ok. Silence is loud at times. We have been taught by our instructor to listen to what is not being told. So that loud silence meant something too.


The lesson learned about qualitative research can and will also be applied in my personal life – always be real, true to myself, peel away the masks and games. I also believe it is a beautiful thing to give to people without expecting something in return.


4.     Learning to truly listen

Throughout our research during our trip we discussed with individuals who had opinions very different from my own. Opinions that I did not necessarily agree with. To be truly present in the conversations and to cherish the precious information people were willing to share with us, I had to learn to listen. Without letting my biases and beliefs get in the way of the intimate, precious sharing of people's lives with us, with me. 

Individuals are entitled to have their own opinions, and that is ok. We were simply there to listen and take it all in.


I had one of those “you had to be there” conversations, and explained this important lesson I was taught during the trip with a friend. They told me, “you have to really be practical to be able to put your opinions aside to be present and to really listen.”. Then I realized that no, it is not about being practical, it is a very humbling experience to have someone tell you about things so intimate. So humbling that they took their time to talk to us, to me. It is not about being practical. I think it really is about respect and love. Human to human. With the great realization that no one owns the truth, and that it is ok to just listen to each other.


It is a lesson that I will keep applying to my personal life. My family would argue that I am very opinionated, and I am not the one to usually (excuse my language) shut up and listen.

I read one time that people “listen” to answer and reply but they do not listen to really understand, I think this was right in my case. But I am determined to do better. To really be present. To cherish the conversations. To cherish that people are sharing part of their truth with me.


5.     The passion

Lina and I agree that this project, all of its process from the idea, to the experiences during the trip as well as the creation of the final product has sparked something in us: passion.

We were both very invested in the entire process, welcoming all of its lessons.

The individuals we have met have inspired us so deeply that we promised ourselves to do more of those on our individual travels in the future.


We also realized the importance of such a project, that is not academic. We realized that it can really have a social impact, helping the voices be heard further and further. Maybe teaching others about another narrative of Kosovo.


All of this passion must be used: I am ready to start working on a project that has been living in my head (rent-free) for months now. I came back from Kosovo, recharged, inspired and if I must say it, ready to take on the world!


6.     The importance of home

By talking with the people of Kosovo, we realized that of course we all had different personal and historical backgrounds, but one thing we all had in common is HOME. We realized that home is not only under a roof. Home is the people, the sounds, the scents, the spices, the food. All of it is home. And for our interviewees, Kosovo is home.

It is something that everyone had in common, no matter their differences, the tensions, the communities. Home is one thing that brings people together.


I realized it is the same for my home. Mauritius. During my long travels back home (around 16h in general), I usually have two flights. During the second, my creole is back on my tongue. I look around constantly to see if I can find my people. As if my entire self, knows that I am going to be home soon. That my roots are calling me. As soon as I step out of the plane, I am home again. Back on my motherland.

Home is so much more than a roof.


We looked at food as a peace building tool through the lens of home. As food, no matter how ordinary it seems, is what you feed to your people, to your loved ones. It is what you were fed as a child. And often, I realized, someone’s favorite food is associated to a specific person, memory. Associated with love.

It is so deeply laced with love.

When we were in Kosovo, we saw this abandoned Serbian Orthodox Church a few times a day when going back and forth to the meeting point, NEWBORN. This beautiful building, a safe haven for the stray dogs who found comfort under its shade, on the comfy wild grass.

This place that I saw so many times a day. Its view comforted me. Strangely it gave me a sense of home, so far away from home.

So I keep going back to this picture. To its beauty. I am so scared of forgetting the amazing adventure we had the incredible chance to experience. Looking back at this picture, I realize that yes, I might forget some details, but I believe that all of it is tattooed in me. That the lessons I have been taught are mine forever and I will keep cherishing all. Of. it.


And it all ties together, sharing with you all part of my truth.


Bref, à bientôt.