Darko Dimitrijevic is the Editor-in-Chief of Radio Goraždevac. He is a longtime journalist, NGO and human rights activist. During his career, he was president of the Kosovo Media Association and subsequently chairman of the Community Advisory Council. He has won several prestigious journalism awards in Serbia. He lives and works in Goraždevac, in the Peć/Peja municipality.
That morning the Prokletije Mountains were illuminated by the first morning rays of the sun. I have worked on many programs and activities over the past two decades, but I was never as excited as I was that morning. I was drinking my first coffee of the day and thinking about what lay ahead, when my wife and daughters informed me that they were ready to go. Their excitement was palpable as it was the first time that I was going on an inter-ethnic excursion with my children. This time we’re going by bus and not by car. Our neighbors arrive with their kids. And they want to be part of this unusual excursion. We get on the bus in the center of Goraždevac, the passengers who had already arrived from the neighboring village stare at us with a curious look in their eyes. We greet each other with a nod and a smile.
After a short drive, we arrive in front of the City Museum in Peć/Peja, where we still hesitate to mingle, but nonetheless visit the museum as a joint group. Since the exhibits of the museum are mono-ethnic and reflect the heritage of just the majority community, there weren’t too many topics for discussion. In the Decani Monastery we are welcomed by a curator who tells the Albanian part of the group the history of the monastery, after which we head to Prizren. We’ve got all day ahead. Having visited religious and historical monuments, we sit down not far from the stone bridge to summarize impressions and get to know each other better. We sit together at lunch and discuss various topics. Teachers, mothers with children and young people who were part of this group find common ground.
After a dynamic day and new acquaintances, the bus heads towards Peć/Peja. The passengers are no longer so quiet. There are jokes and laughter in the front, while in the back youngsters chat about the latest hits from abroad.
Summarizing impressions, thoughts wander back to the post-war years. At a time when something like this was almost unimaginable without a long and difficult mediation.
Immediately after the war, Fabrizio, an Italian and his organization came to Goraždevac and began to work for reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians. In that period, only someone with extensive experience could do such a thing.
Often, at that time, we as 20-somethings, spent time with Fabrizio and his colleagues. We hung out late at night drinking and playing guitar, and throwing barbecue parties during the day. Our new Italian friends had the same group in the town. About ten of them were from the surrounding villages as well as from the town itself. At that time, only a select few were willing to meet someone belonging to another ethnic group. The overall environment itself, that could brand us as traitors, had an enormous influence on our willingness to mingle.
Fabrizio somehow managed to get us together. He made us able to listen to each other. To start from ourselves, to face ourselves and others. Every week for several years in a row, we organized focus groups to talk about the past and what we experienced as children during the war. Some of those “confessions” were not easy to listen to, but they brought us closer. We began to appreciate and respect each other.
We become friends that travel together and spend time together. Today, all the actors in this story are accomplished personalities, parents… Everyone has learned the most important lesson in life, to “value their own” and respect others.
Fabrizio left Kosovo long ago. A bus that drives a new group twenty years later is one of the few to accommodate such diverse passengers heading somewhere with a clear purpose.
I’m driving from Prizren and think to myself; will my children, when they grow up, have the opportunity to meet someone like Fabrizio, who will teach them to value their own and respect others and to become familiar with the environment they live in?
Optimism betrays me, I don’t think they will have such an opportunity because the circumstances in this regard are much worse than they were 18 years ago, where almost nothing is happening at the local level in this regard. It all comes down to the initiatives of central-level institutions and politicians who in this case have only the motive of scoring political points.
Some cities, such as Đakovica/Gjakova, are still out-of-bounds for Serbs, and villages like Mushtishte are no exception.
In addition to dialogue, reconciliation is now one of the most loaded words in Kosovo in the Western Balkans. Often, “reconciliation” is used as a political bargaining chip. Often, the ruling elite uses “reconciliation” as a means to manipulate. It is an encumbered word that can be susceptible to manipulation and should therefore at times be discussed quietly and out of the public eye. The concept of “dealing with the past” has been mentioned in the region over the past eight years, something that has emerged out of the context of reconciliation. The Office of the President of Kosovo has established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which, aside from its more obvious aims, has started working in three directions through the establishment of a number of working groups: “The Right to the Truth”, “The Right to Justice”, “The Right to Compensation” and “the Elimination and Prevention of Re-occurrence of Human Rights Violations.”
One wonders, after taking all of these facts into consideration and keeping track of developments in the area, is it enough? Are we ready to “pay” for the road to reconciliation? All processes must be built from the bottom-up, and reconciliation, which needs to start locally, is no exception to this. Despite significant investments into its construction, the path that we currently find ourselves on, which winds its way from central authorities in Pristina to local institutions, has almost certainly set us on collision course. Current political leaders use and abuse nationalism, patriotism, and chauvinism as a means of getting as many votes as possible, all of which runs counter to the spirit of reconciliation. The reconciliation is mentioned pro-forma, while the other side is discussed in the worst manner possible in closed political circles.
Therefore, working with ordinary people locally is the only safe and painless path to a successful reconciliation process. The is clearly demonstrated by the excursion that I recently went on with my children and memories from long ago. The foundations of such a process cannot be secure if they are built at the central level. Central institutions must be a mediator and promoter of the process between local communities. Focus groups should be organized at all levels of society such as with local leaders, war victims, farmers, educators and health care professionals.
In this process, it is necessary to build a foundation locally, among communities. The process must be comprehensive, with focus groups in which different members of society participate. The mediators must be people who have extensive experience and knowledge in this field. Without this model and the direction of the reconciliation process, for which there is currently no enthusiasm, we will remain slaves of superficial reconciliation and politics for a long time yet.
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