Kosovo: mending grievances and bridging divides
Over the past two years, Xchange Perspectives (XCP) has been carrying out media for peace projects in different parts of the world. From Africa to Latin America and Europe, XCP has implemented projects and conducted trainings aiming at inducing unity in diversity in all its areas of action. Furthering its work in Europe, XCP currently explores ways to support the process of mending grievances and bridging divides in Kosovo.
An integrative youth centre in Kameniza.
MUNICH - The first step of XCP's work was to carry out an exploratory research in Kosovo. The youngest and smallest country in Ex-Yugoslavia lies in an area in the West Balkans where many boarders cross - geographically and ethnically.
The recent warlike conflicts in this land are usually argued to reach back to the time of the Serbian and Ottoman empires. The interests of foreign powers during the two world wars and the Cold War in addition to the current European integration policies have both exasperated the conflicts which have become a real threat to peace in the whole region.
Socially constructed ethnic categories play the most visible role in these conflicts. Kosovo's fourth anniversary of its declaration of independence has just passed, and the need to resolve the deeply rooted conflicts, which continue to threaten harmonious living in Kosovo, is becoming more outspoken.
Along the many issues and conflicts which keep Kosovo divided, the difficult integration and reintegration of returnees to Kosovo has been a source of intense debate. Although it has been at the front of media for sometime, it has now been relegated to the usual, and therefore receives less focus from the media from one hand, and from the involved actors who can better the integration process from another.
Germany is one of the European countries which has started the process of deportation to Kosovo. Deportations from Germany to Kosovo of individuals and families, which formerly held the status of ‘long-term tolerated individuals’ in Germany, has been nothing short of a nightmare.
First forced to flee their homeland because of extreme forms of violence, these individuals and families are now uprooted from an environment in which they have tried to integrate for years. Marginalised in Germany, they face now even grimmer prospects, returning to a land that most see no claiming to, no connections with and no future in.
The children and young adults within these families were born and raised in Germany, speak mainly German and identify themselves as Germans. To be suddenly forced to leave and live in a conflict torn and divided society with seemingly no future opportunities is a trauma that the crushing majority has to live with for years, before they can start to slowly open up to the new country they are deported to.
An NGO worker in Kosovo comments: "The buzz word in and about Kosovo is reintegration. What we have to keep in mind is that many of these returnees are not returning, they are coming to an unknown land for the first time, as they were born and raised elsewhere."
XCP member Felix Remter went to different places across Kosovo to take a closer look at the situation of children and teenagers in returnee families and the few organisations working with them. Since the war ended in 1999, every year families are deported to Kosovo, including an increasing number of families which are recognised as ethnic minorities such as Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians and Bosnians.
The returnee youths have to deal with the prejudices on the ground and face the mission to integrate into the ethnic categories attributed to them. These attributions are after all powerful forces within the dynamics of social exclusion affecting the whole society of Kosovo. A young sixteen year-old-returnee says: "It is very difficult for my family and me to move from one place to the other after being deported, because we are labeled as being Roma." When asked if she is Roma, she replies: "Of course not, I am German."
The efforts to build a stable multi-ethnical democracy in Kosovo can be successful if backed by tomorrow's adults, who succeed in building strong identities which have at their centre openness to the 'other' and the capacity to engage in peaceful exchanges on different levels of life.
For integration to be successful, the first step to be taken is interaction. The returnees, with all their diverse ethnic backgrounds and those who stayed in Kosovo must come together in an effort to understand one another, overcoming the stereotypes, the false assumptions and the violence accompanying social exclusion. Having a foreseeable future is key as well, and being engaged in common activities with common goals serves at strengthening positive bonds among all segments of society.
XCP can provide support to the youth involved and their communities to engage in open dialogues in a safe environment. Engaging in a process of learning and acquiring skills and working towards spreading their stories through different channels, will aim at providing the two key elements for the peaceful coexistence mentioned above: interaction and identification of common goals.
Working with the youth and supporting them to overcome ethnic divides would be a process based on the media for peace framework, using media as a means to build cultures of peace in Kosovo. To make integration work and to spread stories of its success in and beyond the borders of Kosovo is the path XCP hopes to take in the near future.