Challenges of Kosovo
The background of an ambitious reconciliation project.
I came to Kosovo to portray the Mitrovica Rock School which aims at contributing to reconciliation between the Kosovo-Serbian and Kosovo-Albanian population through music. To understand the necessity of an inter-ethnic rock school in Mitrovica we first need to have a closer look at the past of this region and its current situation.
After a political crisis in the 1980s, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia started to break up in the 1990s. After several wars one republic after another became independent. During the Kosovo war of 1998–1999 the Kosovo Liberation Army fought for the separation of Kosovo from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia. It was brought to an end through the controversial military involvement of NATO which forced the Serbian army to withdraw. Nevertheless, Serbia refused to accept the independence of Kosovo.
The war caused a high number of fatalities and refugees and left the population with trauma and deep feelings of hatred and mistrust towards the other ethnic group. The dividing line between different ethnic communities — which had lived mainly in peaceful relations before the war — became now insurmountable. The Serbian minority remaining on Kosovan territory started living in enclaves. There are few organized programmes which support people in overcoming their trauma and the description of the past and the roles of the two parties polarise and influence the thinking of the young generation and their negative perception of the other. There is no national cohesion or identity and the ethnicities have a strong orientation towards the neighbouring countries (Kosovo-Albanians to Albania and Kosovo-Serbs to Serbia).
On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo Assembly declared independence following two years of intense negotiations that failed to reach a final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on Kosovo’s future status. To this day Serbia and several other countries consider Kosovo as part of the Republic of Serbia.
The unresolved issue regarding the status of Kosovo and the regular tensions between the governments of Pristina and Belgrade block the development of the region on all levels.
The Kosovo-Serbian and Kosovo-Albanian population live under different administrative systems and are physically separated from each other.
The division is particularly strong in Mitrovica which is the main border between K-Serbs (North) and K-Albanians (South).The division of the town has complicated and politicized the provision of public services, and led to the creation of separate facilities for the north and south. Under the compromises reached during EU sponsored talks between Pristina and Belgrade, these “parallel structures” are now being dismantled, but the town and its social, health, educational and economic infrastructure remain divided and tensions between the communities are high.
The division of the country and particularly the city of Mitrovica make it one of the most difficult locations in Kosovo to carry out concrete development activities on either side of the river Ibar.
The division has a strong influence on the younger generation. There are no joint schools, bars, parks, sport areas, cultural institutions or other opportunities to meet, get to know each other and overcome the wounds of the past (which many of them haven’t lived themselves).
In addition to geographic separation they speak different languages, thus increasing the difficulties of bringing the different societies together. They neither have a common language nor learn the other language at school.
There is a lack of capacity, experience and previous active involvement of local authorities in development and reintegration projects and a lack of will. Projects addressing the integration of minorities are missing.
Kosovo is one of the poorest regions in Europe. Health, social and education services are interrupted or inefficient and there are high rates of unemployment and illiteracy.
In particular, the municipalities of Mitrovica face numerous challenges. Once a single-company area (Trepca mining), the city is now deindustrialized. The area has high levels of unemployment, pollution, underdevelopment and a small and inexperienced private sector.
Lack of educational opportunities
Kosovo is the European country with the youngest population and one of the highest birth rates. Due to its difficult situation the country has one of the highest youth unemployment rates and there are little opportunities to enter higher education. The division of the country also makes geographically close universities inaccessible: The students from the South of Mitrovica cannot go to the University in the North (a few hundred meters away); rather they go to Pristina (a 1 hour drive). The strict visa conditions limit the freedom of movement and accordingly, professional training, study or work opportunities abroad are difficult to obtain.
Lack of space for cultural expression
In spite of the culturally rich tradition of the region there are — especially in Mitrovica — very few spaces for cultural events and cultural expression. Once a famous town for rock music, this tradition has become barely visible. The main reason for the decline of the Yugo rock tradition was the rise of turbo-folk, a nationalist music genre that rose to popularity in the 1990s. A cultural war was waged running up to and alongside the actual war. After the war, one more reason for the decline in the musical landscape was that the bands — consisting of members from both communities — could no longer perform together. Today at public schools only classical music is taught, and there is no other rock school in the Balkans.
(The reportage about the rock school will follow)