This week we had our first excursion of our program: to Kosovo! Kosovo is (depending on who you ask) either an autonomous province of Serbia or an independent country. It borders Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia and has a majority Albanian population. Professor Lončar and Aleks, our program coordinator, accompanied us to the capital of Kosovo, Prishtina. While in Kosovo, we attended lectures and visited museums and historical sites to understand both the conflict in Kosovo in 1998-1999 and the consequences of transitional justice in various communities.
A short story
The Kosovo War (1998-1999) is why NATO intervened by bombing Serbia in 1999. In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence, which was never recognized by Serbia. Some Serbian accounts call Kosovo the “Heart of Serbia” due to the Battle of Kosovo fought there in 1389, where Serbian troops fought off the invading Ottoman Empire. During the Kosovo war, thousands of Kosovo Albanians were killed, and one wonders whether or not what happened there constituted genocide. Of course, this is a very personal matter for both Kosovo Albanians and Serbs who remember the wars that took place a little over 20 years ago.
Part of what makes this program so complicated are the various narratives about wars and raw “truths” in different parts of the world. After visiting Kosovo, I realized the extent of the conflicting narratives and complications of the whole conflict. I don’t think I should express all of my opinions on this platform, but feel free to dive into the links for more information on the conflict.
Wednesday, October 5
On Wednesday, the group gathered outside the school at 8 a.m. to begin the approximately six-hour journey to Kosovo. It was a very smooth trip and we arrived just after 2pm at our hotel in Prishtina. We had a few hours to relax before heading to a lecture at the Faculty of Law at the University of Prishtina. Our conference was with Dr. Vjollca Krasniqi on Kosovo in the 14 years since it declared independence. After our lecture we went for a meal with Dr. Krasniqi, our local guide Besnik, Aleks and Dr. Lončar. Not only was the food surprising, but it was so nice to be around a table for a delicious meal. One of the things I miss most at home is our daily family dinners, and having a giant meal full of laughter and connection was really nice.
Thursday, October 6
On Thursday, we first went to a conference on human rights in Kosovo with Dr. Remzije Istrefi, who is also a judge at the Kosovo State Court. I have no idea how SIT manages to get all these amazing speakers, but they are all incredibly knowledgeable and generally have very interesting personal lives. After our conference, we visited the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Kosovo (YIHR), an NGO focused on youth activism and memory studies. I loved meeting YIHR – their accomplishments are impressive and their commitment to civic activism was inspiring. Activism can be incredibly exhausting – I feel that a lot at Oxy and here – thinking about all the challenges the world is facing and how little progress it seems to have made. I’m grateful to have taken classes at Oxy that talk about activism in a very pragmatic sense and emphasize the importance of self-care in a very exhausting field. The organization had an optimistic point of view, while recognizing the work that remains to be done, and I enjoyed meeting young activists from around the world 10,000 kilometers from my home!
In the afternoon, the group decided to go to the Manifesta Art Exhibition, who was in Pristina during our stay there! The art was very surreal and evocative and we spent over four hours there before returning to the hotel to rest before dinner.
The dinner was with students from the University of Pristina, whom we met in a restaurant and bar with Besnik and his partner. We had a good time talking, so much so that we decided to meet the next evening to go out dancing!
friday october 7
On Friday, we first visited a exposure at the Humanitarian Law Center on children killed during the war between 1998-2000. We talk so much about wars in this program that it becomes almost abstract; and then you see a five-year-old’s shorts kept by his mother and he comes back again to how real it all is. The exhibit was moving and emotionally disturbing – over 1,000 children died in Kosovo during the war, and some are still missing. The children today would only be 20 to 30 years old.
I have a lot of feelings about the exhibit and the atrocities of war, but words don’t really seem able to do them justice.
After the exhibition, the group went to lunch before going to find Saranda Bogjevci, a survivor of the wars and now a member of the Assembly of Kosovo. Her entire family, except herself and four cousins, was murdered in a town in northern Kosovo by Serb paramilitaries. Today, she advocates for human rights, gender equity and uses the arts as activism. It was amazing to be able to sit in a room with her and hear her story.
Again, I don’t quite have the words to express all the emotions I felt talking about these wars. Although I pass a bombed-out building every day on my way to and from school in Belgrade, meeting people who have lost their entire families was a completely different experience.
Finally, we walked around to discuss some monuments and their interaction with memory activism in Kosovo today. They commemorate women who were victims of mass rape, Kosovo’s declaration of independence, a man who led peaceful protests in the 1990s in Kosovo and even in the former Yugoslavia.
That night we went out with some students we had met at a jazz club, who were playing really funky covers of American songs, so it was a fun way to end the evening!
Saturday October 8
On Saturday we had our last talk, from a Serbian activist from a town in northern Kosovo who came to talk about the challenges of integrating Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. After our conference, we all took taxis to visit Grancanica Monastery in a Serbian suburb of Prishtina. Immediately upon entering the village we were greeted by Serbian flags waving and our guide told us that Serbs tend not to visit Pristina, even though it is only five kilometers from the city.
The interior of the church was beautiful (we weren’t allowed to take pictures) and it was one of those places that strikes you How old it is. This particular monastery was built in 1321.
After the monastery, we headed to a restaurant to have our last meal together before heading back to Belgrade. It was a delicious meal and we enjoyed it with lots of laughs and way too much food.
Then we went back to the hotel, said goodbye to Besnik and got in our van to go home. It was the first goodbye we had that we felt was a bit difficult – Besnik was such a good tour guide and I really appreciated being able to chat with him. After only four days, I felt like we were all becoming a little family. I feel lucky that our connection as a group is growing.
We arrived late on Saturday, so I went straight to bed. We don’t have class until Tuesday to recuperate, so I’m enjoying my free time doing remedial work (like writing blog posts) and other things I haven’t been using lately.