Saturday, July 15, 2017

Newborn generation

By Ellen Ackroyd

This time three weeks ago and I was running around my room, looking for clothes to stuff into my backpack and trying to locate my “oh-so-treasured” British passport. I was definitely nervous: about the people, about the country Kosovo, about the political situation and about finding vegan food other than cabbage salad (turns out that fear was truly justified).

And here I am, back in my Amsterdam dorm room, but my mind and heart are still in Kosovo. What to say about such a trip? The words are hard to find. Maybe I should start with that, with words, with language. Although many people talked about the difficulties that come with not speaking Albanian or Serbian, I found the interactions that I had very interesting. One would think that the absence of a common repertoire of words would create distance within a conversation, however, during my time in Kosovo, I was amazed by our capacity as human beings to find alternative methods of communication, whether they be through smiles, laughs or hand gestures.

These situations were quite rare, though as the majority of people we met spoke English, which enabled us to communicate on a deeper emotional level. During these discussions, many issues arose, such as unemployment, corruption, the need for justice, culture, politics and religion. There was such a range of topics that burst out of the mouths of people on the street, in restaurants, in organizations, that we had the privilege of listening to. That was another element that fascinated me: the way in which every conversation was electric and whenever you thought you had reached the depths of a person, another layer revealed itself and bubbled to the surface.

This type of energy was everywhere. I mentioned the people, but it also echoed throughout public spaces, shops, boulevards and ordinary daily life. But over the course of the trip, I was always curious about where the source of sound was coming from: whose voice was reverberating with such strength? I heard the loud and powerful voices of institutions such as EULEX and UNMIK, among others, and listened to people from universities and NGOs, but found that it was truly the youth of Kosovo that resonated the most with me. I think it was because their dreams of a prosperous academic career and their fears of isolation and entrapment were something that I couldn’t fully understand, but could relate to through my own experiences.

Whilst their activism and civic engagement were of great inspiration to me, there was no full recognition of it. And yes, some may say that in order for activism to function, a certain degree of anonymity is necessary. But I see an issue in the absence of a centralized space, whether it be symbolic or physical, that would facilitate discussions amongst youth. So, whilst I spent the first part of the trip thinking about the source of Kosovo’s energy, the second half was about how such vitality could be dug up from underground channels to resurface as a potential mechanism for dialogue amongst young people.

I may not have the answer yet, but I believe that the concept of civil society has great potential in answering this query. I heard many criticisms of this notion, but I believe that it could be used by Kosovar youth, not only as a structure for their engagement, but also as a way of establishing a form of membership that could be beneficial in unifying the country. The Newborn generation has only just started; expect much much more to come. Cheers to that!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Learning to Breathe and Why I Collect Stories

By Andy O. Daab

The day we came back I encountered a mountain of work. While my friends slowly finished their work and duties and entered the holidays, I to this day am still working on several personal and professional projects. Consequently, breathing has not yet been a luxury I got to enjoy. But I must say that I am extremely happy and grateful for drowning in work.

During our last class we recalled how people in Kosovo would often say, “We want to start living. This is no life here.” There was always that drive to do things now so that in the future something would begin. And it made us think how we interpret our lives. I often catch myself doing something so that in the future I can yield something different from it. But if we pause and think, we realise that what we do in the very present moment is living. Our lives do not start tomorrow, that piece of paper saying bachelor on it is not some magical ticket to suddenly start living. We live with every second that we breathe. And that is when I realised that drowning in work was not about me not breathing, it was quite the opposite. Being able to do all this work, having been granted the trust and confidence to be doing it, all of that was me breathing to the top of my lungs. Right now I am living. And I am enjoying it. In fact, I love it. So  even though I might be prioritising a lot right now and cannot give time to reflect on every single thing, I am actively leading my life. And maybe in the future I will find the time to reflect, but it will need to be a decision to make in the moment.

Talking about reflections though. I got to write up the story of the stories. The what? My project was focused on Serbian youth perspectives in Kosovo and it has been one of the most exciting experiences. To that end, I started having ‘sessions’ with young Serbs in Kosovo via email and skype. In the sessions I would let them tell me a story. Sometimes I would ask them if I could guide them by asking questions. It soon created its own dynamic and started to have a life of its own. Only now that I got to sit down back home in Amsterdam and read through it, was I able to see a wider picture. And that wider picture included more than I would have thought. Of course, there were so many new tremendous perspectives within this project, but something else I realised came to light in the reflection we had to submit.

What motivated you? Well, as you might have read in my first blog post there was a personal connection that led me to build a frame and an objective. But during my project I realised that the frame and objective can only get you so far. To truly open oneself to a story, sometimes one just has to let go and trust the process. So what motivated me, suddenly became the question of what motivated me to collect stories. To share stories.

Looking back I realised that being part of the LGBT community contributed to my constant ambition of sharing stories, of encouraging representation. Growing up in the 1990s there were not many out and proud people in the public space. There was no one like me on the tele, in the cinemas, or the books that I read. School did not teach us about the healthy and natural variations of sexual orientations. And for the longest time there was no Internet to share information. When I was born my civil rights just about extended to not being punished for loving the person I love. Only slowly did that extend to the right against discrimination, to equal access of partnership and the institution of marriage, the right to a family. From the early 2000s onwards, LGBT representation and appreciation slowly developed in the mainstream media. But until that point, I never once had heard a story of someone like me. I grew up thinking something was wrong with me. The subtle everyday homophobia all around did not help. I believed that I was not allowed to have a story, that my story was worthless, that I was not worth having one. Maybe if I had grown up knowing just one story like mine, I would not have been ashamed coming out to my parents. Maybe I could have been as proud of and loving to myself as they were in that moment.  Maybe I would not have felt guilt and shame for experiencing love growing up. Maybe I would not question the legitimacy of my relationship when in public. Just one story could have given me courage.

Nonetheless, I grew up to be a proud and strong gay man. I know how hard it is to think I might not have a story. And even though I never realised it before, I have internally vowed to myself that no one should ever feel as though they do not deserve a story. In the end I guess Kosovo taught me how to breathe, and where that strength to breathe comes from--two realisations that will accompany me for a long time to come, much like the beautiful memories of Kosovo.

Discovery, change, and growth.

By Giacomo Castorina Cali
Peace Lab has made the month of June a month of discovery, change, and growth in both a personal and an academic manner. Due to the fact that we were constantly busy and doing things - whether it was intense studying of Balkan history and peacebuilding in the first week, the meetings with organizations and all the other activities we were doing in Kosovo, or the very time-consuming editing and making of a documentary following the trip – this month has gone by so quickly I almost did not have the time to notice. At the same time however, due to the incredible amount of information we have learned and experiences we had to process, this month feels like it has been a year. Prior to Peace Lab I had never learnt so much and grown so much on both a personal and an academic level in just one month.
Having had a little more free time now to think over the things we learnt and the experiences we shared in Kosovo, I am slowly getting my head around it and how this trip has changed me. I still however have a hard time trying to explain and put into words all of my feelings, ideas, opinions, and experiences with regards to Kosovo, whenever friends and family ask me how the trip was. We learned and experienced so much that it just feels impossible to express everything you’d like to say and like to mention in a coherent and linear manner.
I know the rest of the class and I will remember this class and the trip to Kosovo for the rest of our lives for various reasons. It has challenged our ideas with regards to conflict resolution and peacebuilding by allowing us to experience how these processes work in reality on the ground, and it has increased our understanding of the issue. Talking to people in Kosovo also taught me a lot about cultural and religious identities and how conflict can influence and reinforce these identities. Some of the stories we heard were truly eye opening in this regard. All of these experiences from the trip also allowed me to grow on a personal level other than just on an academic level.
Another reason why I will never forget Kosovo was how warm and welcoming our hosts were. Thanks to Enver and Bardha we immediately felt at home in Prishtina. They were always willing to help us and together with their families, they put so much effort into making sure that we would have everything we need and that we would feel welcome. Enver’s home immediately felt like our own home thanks to the warm welcome we received and how nice he and his family were to us.
Overall I cannot put into words how thankful I am to Anne, Erik, Enver, Bardha, and the whole 2017 Peace Lab class for making this trip the unforgettable experience it was. This year was the first time for me that at the end of classes and the semester, I had a bittersweet feeling. While being happy that the semester was over, there was definitely some sense of sadness that the Peace Lab class had ended and that the group of people with which we had basically been living with for a month, was separating at least for the summer.

The power of the individual

By Pleun Andriessen
Where does one begin in a final blogpost after a ten-day trip to Kosovo? How does one discuss the relevant and most impressive moments when the whole month has been so inspiring and eye-opening? These questions popped up constantly during the last couple days while listening to the final presentations, creating our final exhibition, and dealing with everything regarding my graduation at AUC.
It is only now, after all of the above is finished that I have had three days to reflect on everything I have seen, heard, learnt, and felt during the last month. However, even now I am not sure what to talk about in this blogpost. Perhaps the most impressive moment, or what I learnt regarding peace building, or how I feel about Kosovo, its people, and this trip in general? Maybe a bit of everything.
Firstly, I just want to point out how great the people are that I shared this experience with. I feel like we all entered this course as individuals, with some friendships already established before, but we were mostly familiar faces to one and other. It was really interesting to be in a group that all have the same aspirations and interests, and have studied the same for quite a while. This definitely helped creating the group as we are today; the same individuals with new experiences shared as new friends. We all supported each other, we went through the tough and fun times together. I want to thank all of you guys, it would not have been the same without you!
There was also the unique experience of peacebuilding becoming something more tangible and alive to me, rather than a mechanism I studied. The complexity of this process becomes visible through all levels of society where quotas are not met, opportunities not realised and only a little critical thinking about any (democratic) system is in place. This all is because of the (superficial) hatred that is partly taken over by younger generations, a process that seems a logical consequence of the war, but is actually pretty terrifying when detected among people of my age. I remember interviewing Milan, a student of my age living in the northern part of Mitrovica. He was constantly ‘othering’ the Kosovar Albanians and accusing them of the crimes committed towards the Kosovar Serbs. There was not even a tiny bit of self-reflection that I could detect with regards to the role of the Kosovar Serbs in the conflicts.
The word peace, be it positive or negative, does not represent what the process actually entails. The word implies a state between two or multiple opposing parties after a time of conflict. I came to believe that such a state might not exist, or at least not in the positive sense of the word. Also while working on our final projects during the interviews, I realised that it is not much of a state but rather a process that exists out of; peacebuilding, state-building, reconciliation and ‘opportunity building’. With time being the biggest virtue and danger to this process, I can finally comprehend that peace is something fragile and uncertain. I have seen the uncertainty, the disbelief of Kosovo being at peace, and learnt about the violent ruptures of the fragile peace in Kosovo.
It is a matter of perspective when it comes to peace in Kosovo. I have come to understand why people do not consider Kosovo to be developing towards peace, however, I have also seen the opportunities and potential within the area. I have met so many beautiful individuals who are so passionate about the development of Kosovo that no one can deny the potential of fundamental changes which occur.
Our final project both embodied the complexity of the situation in Kosovo, but also highlighted the power of the individual. This is why I believe to have learnt that the importance of peacebuilding is its being implemented bottom up rather than top-down, a lesson that is often missed and considered less valuable, for which Kosovo is a great example.

Ten things I learned and miss from Kosovo

By Robbert Muller 
Ten days ago, we returned back home in Amsterdam from Pristina. Ten days is also the number of days we spend in Pristina, which seems strangely far away now, yet still so close by. In the past few days, life has returned to normal, but also not. On the one hand, I am doing things I also used to do before the trip to Kosovo, such as having nice dinners with my friends, working, and cycling all around Amsterdam. On the other hand, I have gained so much knowledge both in Kosovo and during the last week of the Peace Lab class, with a key word of this new knowledge being perspective. Therefore, I decided to include 10 things I learned or miss from Kosovo in this blog post:
1.     Sometimes a story can have multiple truths. Although as academics, we like to have certain hypotheses to be either accepted or rejected, it sometimes can happen that it is considered positive by a certain category of people and negative by another category of people. Then, within these categories, there are individuals whose perspective differs from the generalized subjective perspective, which one should be aware of all the time. 

2.     Although we mostly looked at the role of young people in peace-building, which makes a lot of sense since they embody the future, it is also important to look at the role of other age categories. In Kosovo for example, the Yugoslav Kosovar-Albanian and Kosovar-Serb generations have a wonderful potential in the peace-building process, since they actually speak each other’s language and have more knowledge about each other. Although they are also the ones who were alive during the war – and in many cases have historical grievances – there are also shared memories of good moments in the past. 

3.     Another group with a wonderful potential for peace-building are some of the members of the Roma community, since they actually speak both Serbian and Albanian. The problem is that, just like in every other country, this group is very much marginalized and discriminated against, and therefore cannot realize this potential. 

4.     The EU’s demands for visa liberalization might make sense from the EU’s perspective, but have such horrible consequences for the people of Kosovo – particularly the country’s young people. They all have hopes and wishes to travel, but they are unable to do so. If the EU wants Kosovo to become a fully integrated European country – in which people identify themselves with Europe- they should not bar these young people from entering their countries, since it results in frustration and anger, which can have counterproductive consequences in the future. 

5.     Talk with people about food! For our project, we researched the potential of food as a peace-building tool. Food is something we can all relate to, have opinions about, can share with others, can feel proud of, and can spark interest in other elements of a people’s culture. Look up the term gastrodiplomacy to see how some countries – both officially and unofficially-  use food to meet both foreign and domestic policy goals.

Connecting with people via food

6.     If you – just like me – really enjoy to do some people watching, go to Pristina’s main boulevard.

People watching at my favorite café in Pristina

7.     I am not sure if I will ever find as affordable and yummy coffee in any other place in the world again. Italy might be the country associated with yummy coffee, one of Kosovo’s many secrets is that the coffee there is just as good – if not better – for less than half of the price.

8.     If you ever decide to go out in Kosovo dress up!! Although it is okay to go out in shorts and a t-shirt in Amsterdam, you will most likely feel very underdressed. 

9.     If you do not have a nice shirt with you when you go out, just wear a t-shirt with the Kosovo flag. It will result in lots of free drinks and can be an important step to becoming a local celebrity.

10.  This course really was the most memorable course I took in my AUC career, and I truly hope to stay connected with many of the people I got to know so well during this trip. Thank you everyone!!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Contemplating the Uncontemplatable

By Julia Kemp
“How was Kosovo?”, people keep asking me. “Indescribable”, I kept answering. “Why?”, they kept asking. Why, indeed, I kept thinking. Unable to put all that I had experienced in Kosovo into words, I wondered what it was that made me unable to pinpoint all that I had seen, heard, and felt during our ten-day field-trip in Kosovo. As such, I rambled on about why we were there.  Bearing in mind that Kosovo is a newly born state in which positive peace has yet to be established, however, I wondered whether the peace in Kosovo was really that different from that upheld in other states.

Yes, Kosovo is a newly born state in which ethnic conflict is looming. Having been annexed, occupied and oppressed by Serbia for most of history, most Kosovar-Albanians continue to consider Kosovar-Serbs as their enemies. In the meantime, most Kosovar-Serbs continue to view Kosovar-Albanians as those who took their homes and ruined their country, unjustifiably. Bearing this in mind, the political turmoil in Kosovo is considered to be the result of ethnic tensions. Because of ethnic tensions, Kosovo appears to be subject to a form of negative peace. Though there is an absence of war, there is little to no willingness to reconcile the wide variety of ethnic groups. With more than 90% of the Kosovar population consisting of Kosovar-Albanians, Kosovar-Serbs are pushed to form enclaves throughout the Kosovar region. Partly because of these enclaves, Kosovar-Serbs and Kosovar-Albanians remain separated. How can they be united, I thought, when their name already presupposes a difference?  

Difference. It is needless to say that Europeans are different from Americans. Americans are different from Asians. Asians are different from Africans. Africans are different from Australians. Australians are different from Germans. Germans are different from the French. The French are different from the Indonesians. The Indonesians are different from the Chinese. The Yin-Chinese are different from the Uyghurs. The Uyghurs are different from the Turks. The Turks are different from the Albanians, and, in the same way, the Albanians are different from the Slavs.

Though all human in nature, they differ by virtue of nurture. The question remains whether the latter is contrary to nature itself. This is, to revisit psychoanalysis, because the “I” is constructed in the mirror stage. It is by seeing the reflection of a unified whole that represents oneself but is, in fact, not oneself, that distance from the self is born. As a mirror gives oneself the illusion that what one sees is him/her/it-self, identity is constructed on the basis of a form of alienation. In the same way, it is argued, identity is construed by virtue of that which it is alienated from. For this reason, one can argue, identity is formed on the basis of that which it is not: African, American, Asian, Australian, European, and so on and so forth.

If identity can only be formed on the basis of that which it is not, everything in this world is at once different and similar from and to something else. From this perspective, all humans are unique, yet identical in so being. Because all human beings are unique, yet identical in so being, the Other presupposes the One to the extent that the One presupposes the Other. Humans develop an identity that is based on not being what the Other is.

For the Other to be respected within society, it is often argued, the One must adopt an attitude of tolerance. Only this way, can stability be established and prosperity ensured. Nevertheless, I keep thinking, the whole notion of tolerance necessitates the dominant One to decide what ought to be tolerated. In this respect, the One merely condones the – what is often viewed as – ignorant, wrongful and less acceptable behaviour of the Other. Because this presupposes the existence of a dominant group of tolerators, who “know” where the line is to be drawn, it differs from acceptance. Though those who tolerate exclude the possibility of learning something positive, fruitful and/or positive from the Other, those who accept truly embrace this possibility.

Bearing this in mind, one might state that those who accept, live in positive peace. In contrast, those who tolerate create a sphere of negative peace. Seeing that most  – if not all – contemporary liberal democracies appear to embrace multiculturalism by virtue of tolerance, one can question whether the peace that enshrines Kosovo is different from the peace that is kept in, say, the Netherlands. The uproar against the newly-elected mayor of Arnhem – a Dutchman of Moroccan origin – seems to affirm that both Kosovo and the Netherlands have yet to advance (mutual) reconciliation and acceptance. It is only after reconciliation and acceptance is embraced, one might argue, that difference is overruled. It is only after difference is overruled, then, that long-lasting, utopian, and positive peace can be established.


“How was Kosovo”, you might now wonder. “Indescribable”, I would insist. “Why”, you might again ask. Well, for one thing, because it made me question all that I thought I knew.  All hail experiential learning.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Swan Song

By Alessia Ulfe

It has been a couple of days since the end of Peace Lab and almost ten days since we came back from Kosovo. The same amount of time we spent in Kosovo. Yet, this ten days in Amsterdam haven’t been as exciting or have had the same impact in my life as the days in Kosovo have.  Even though peace lab finished and I have had days to write this blog post, maybe subconsciously I knew that this blog post would mean the end and I just did not want the end to come. The end of Peace Lab also means space for reminiscing about the good times and thinking about how much this month has changed me.
Newborn Boulevard, Prishtina, 2017

After coming back from Kosovo and having time to process everything that happened, we had to present our projects. This made us relive the trip, by sharing anecdotes of how our work proceeded. Personally, my project taught me to, as Anne calls it, “trust the process”. Initially, Klaudia and I went into the trip with a set idea of what we were looking for and we had a plan. Yet, it only made me realise how naive we were. We had no idea of what we were going to encounter and had to go with the flow of things. Trusting the process is something that can be scary as you do not know what to expect. I like knowing what is coming next, yet this month has shown me that sometimes you cannot control everything around you. You cannot control the field and you may just need to take a leap of faith and trust that there is going to be an outcome. The outcome of my project- a policy brief for the Kosovar government regarding bilingualism in schools, makes me incredibly happy to have trusted the process. With Klaudia, we would have never arrived at that topic if we had not kept on interviewing people and going around asking why.
Anne and Erik, Gazivoda Lake, 2017

This month was full of surprises and something that has left an impression on my mind was how easily and willing people were to share their stories. We live in a rather individualistic society, where sometimes it is better to keep your life story, and what you have been through to yourself. Yet in Kosovo, everyone was willing to tell you their story, and you could see how just by lending a listening ear their pain was eased. This was the least effort we could give to our hosts, to just listen and try and understand. Understand where they are coming from to understand where they are going, their motivations and dreams. In a society where everyone is carrying pain, being able to be part of their relief system was truly special. Not only that, it brought everything that we learned in class much closer to home. The conflicts and statistics ceased to be part of the one week of Balkan history, it became real. Especially the statistics, they became someone’s uncle, cousin or sibling. The story-sharers are the ones that have changed me the most. It is their courage, honesty and drive that has (and probably will forever) leave a mark on me.
The view from the Kalaja, Prizren 2017

For this last blog post, the prompt was “What have you learned? or How have you changed” yet I do not think it is fair to ask us this. At least for me, it has been such a sublime experience that verbalizing it (even on paper) makes it lose its secretive touch. This has been between Kosovo and me, and what we have shared, how I have changed, and all of those other things will always remain in my heart.
Sanne at the Lake, Kosovo 2017