BPT summer reports, summer 2000

The following articles were written by BPT-Kosovo/a team members for the BPT Newsletters No. 19 and No. 20

Contents


Our Idea is Simple - the Situation is Complex

Our idea is simple. We want to create a youth centre, a neutral meeting space where we can have meaningful and fun activities together with Gorani and Albanians. We believe that this will lead to increased cooperation and decreased tension between these two groups living in Dragash / Dragas*.

Compared to the rest of Kosovo/a Dragash/s is a very multiethnic place.

Both Albanians and Gorani (Slavic Muslims who speak "Goranian,") live in Dragash/s town. In the surrounding villages the Albanians live in the region of Opoja, north of Dragsh town and the Gorani live in Gora, south of Dragash/s town. About one third of the municipal population is Goran.

A local friend of mine once said that, "Dragash is so far out there that it is behind the legs of god." It is located in the southern most tip of Kosovo/a. My first visit there was made when there was still a lot of snow and ice on the winding road that leads up from Prizren into the mountains around Dragash/s. One of the people that we first came to know is the principal of the secondary school. He spoke proudly about his school. When the Albanians regained control of the school facilities after the war and after ten years of running the parallel school system, he also opened the school to the Gorani. He talked about his "responsibility as an Albanian intellectual to create a Kosovoa for everybody, including the Gorani. Even if the new circumstances were difficult in the beginning, the Goran and Albanian teachers are now drinking coffee together." This is a nice first impression for a peaceworker who wants to support existing cooperation in a postwar Kosovo/a!

After living in Dragash/s for a several months, it has become obvious that behind the pretty picture of teachers having coffee together, there is a more complex and multi-faceted reality. The BPT-Kosovo/a Team has visited Goran villages where no one wants or dares to go to the secondary school, though it is the only one in the region. They are afraid to be hit or harassed, either on the street or in the school. From other Goran villages, students do come to school, but leave directly after classes, taking taxis back to their villages.

The school recently had its 30th anniversary and the team was officially invited to take part in the celebrations. There was an outdoor concert in the schoolyard and the principal had talked proudly about how this event was prepared by both Goran and Albanian students. I was standing there in the sun watching how the Albanians sang, recited poems and danced. Finally, a Goran song was also to be presented. The Albanian announcer could not pronounce it correctly in Goranian and the audience started to laugh. A Goran girl who I knew from visiting her village took the microphone and the audience started to heckle and boo. The principle got up and timidly asked the audience to be quiet. The audience continued to heckle, which made me feel very uncomfortable. The young girl saw that I was there and waved at me as she started to sing her song. Afterward the applause was weak. I looked for the other Goran students and saw them standing, watching from open windows behind the stage.

The red Albanian flag with the eagle blows in the wind and the nationalism is present even in Dragash/s. If I were Goran, that flag would scare me.

But if I were Albanian, that flag would represent my new freedom and opportunities, like the chance to go to a real school. It is hard to be part of an ethnic minority in Kosovo/a today, a Kosovo/a that becomes more and more nationalistic. But it has also been hard to be Albanian in the last 10 years of Serbian oppression and war. Nationalism is used as a bandage or plaster on wounds that no one seems to know how to heal.

The heart of BPT's project is to bring Albanians and Gorani together and create a youth centre that is community- owned. To do so, the team is creating a coordination group in which both communities will make decisions together about the centre's management. This is "grass-roots" peace work in a society where cooperation exists, but is limited and fragile.

Kajsa Svensson, BPT-Kosovo/a Team
Dragash is the Albanian spelling and Dragas is the Serbian spelling. To include both spellings, we will use Dragash/s.

Something Special Happened in Dragash/s

Dear all,

This is Cristina, writing from Prishtina on this sunny Sunday afternoon. I recently had the most significant experience since I came to Kosovo/a, and I would like to share it with you. Last week I taught English to our Albanian and Goran students for the first time. Our students (both youth and teachers) are really special and they immediately made me feel at ease by welcoming me with interested questions about where I am from, how old I am, if I am married or not, and if I like swimming. (They had just learned the verb "to like + ing" during the previous lesson!).

The best moment of the week happened on Wednesday when I went to the class on my own because my colleague, Kajsa, was confined to bed due to a terrible muscular pain in her neck. I went through the first lesson to our Goran students without any major catastrophe happening. I was alone in the class, tidying up my papers during the break before the lesson with the Albanian students, when four Goran boys came in and shut the door behind themselves. In any other European school I would have probably panicked - to be alone with four youngsters I didn't know, who were staring at me in an odd way, in a semi-deserted school. It's not exactly my ideal kind of setting. In this case though, the only feeling I had was sheer curiosity. .I must admit that I have never seen as many non-threatening looking, and well-behaved students as I have seen in the Secondary school of Dragash. This is probably the main reason why I didn't feel in danger at all. Anyway, the four guys each take a chair and they come to sit around me, without saying a single word. I smile at them, they sort of smile back in a half shy, half uncertain way. "Hello!" I say. "Hello!" they say - but still their smiles don't tell me much about their intentions. "Is there anything I can do for you?" I ask, testing the ground.

They look at me as if I had just spoken Gibberish. Then, they talk in Goranian among themselves for a few seconds, and finally ask me something in their language which I don't understand. I have been learning Albanian since I came, and there is only so much my brain can take, as far as difficult foreign languages go. "I'm sorry, I don't speak Goranian. Can you speak English?" I say. "A littel", says one of them.

I am relieved. At least we are not completely finished. But after a patient wait, I realise that our conversation might have come to a very premature end. In the meantime, the boys go on looking at me as if I was a strange creature from another planet. I feel that they would like to ask me things and talk to me but they don't know how. They seem to be looking for English words among themselves which might help us out of the ditch. They look at me in a way which says: "Hey, you could give us a hand here instead of staring at us!"

"What's your name?" I finally ask one of them. Their faces light up...finally something they understand. "Me nem is A." says one. "Nice to meet you A!" I say shaking his hand. It takes a couple of seconds for him to recover from the surprise of me taking his hand but eventually, he enthusiastically returns the handshake. The others do the same, telling me their names and very visibly relaxing. This seems to be the beginning of our real conversation. "How meny jears have you?" asks the most talkative of the four. "I am twenty-nine years old. And how old are you?" "I am one six" he says. One six? I guess that he means sixteen and I write it on the board for confirmation "Sixteen?", "Da, siixtiin!".

It's at this point that D., one of our Albanian students, opens the door of the class and peeps in. He is about to come in when he realises that I am in the company of four Gorans. He turns and prepares to leave again. "D.!" I call him. "Please come in, come in!" I try to sound as welcoming and reassuring as possible. I can see that the last thing he wants is to come in and find himself in the same room with four Goran students. But I don't give up: "Yes D., come in and join us, we are speaking English together." You should have seen D.'s face: torn between the sense of duty to meet the request of one of his teachers, and the wish to be ten thousand miles away from there. He lingers at the door for a few seconds and then gives in to the sense of duty, reluctantly coming into the room. He doesn't look at the four Gorans and he comes to position himself right beside me.

"Hello D., it's nice to see you a little bit early today. We were just practising our English together here.

Do you know each other?". I ask, addressing them all. They must have passed each other in the school corridors hundreds of times before, but they all shake their heads and say: "No". The atmosphere is quite strange now. The guys keep avoiding looking at each other. (This is the practice: Gorans and Albanians mostly ignore each other in Dragash/s.) I start introducing them to one another and then ask them questions. With the help of some silly drawings on the board to make myself understood, I ask them if they have girlfriends. They laugh and their stiffness seems to go away a little. I ask the same question to each of them, and they each take pride in telling me: "Yes, I hev a giirlfrind". They look at each other now, waiting for each to answer. I feel that they are relaxing. Even D.

doesn't look as suspicious as at the beginning. We go on with other questions and they try to ask me the same questions, mimicking my English. We draw, we try to speak English, and we laugh a lot. They laugh together and I think that this is the most beautiful thing that happened to me since I arrived in Kosovo/a.

We stay and talk together for fifteen minutes until the other Albanian students arrive for their lesson. They also look very uncertain about the situation at first, but eventually, they enter the room and sit down together with D. and the four Goran students. I confess I was tempted to invite the Gorans to stay for the whole lesson but I decided not to push my luck at that point. The Goran students had to leave us but not before having said "Goodbye" to everybody and receiving a farewell from all the others in a very nice, spontaneous chorus of "Byeeeeeeeee!".

That gave me a very good feeling and confirmation that it's not impossible to bring Albanian and Goran students together. They just need to feel that it is safe to do so, and that there is no danger in having fun with `the other'. BPT can provide them with this safe space because they seem to trust and like us.

We had our first, mixed English lesson and believe me, it was priceless. I hope I managed to make you feel a part of it too.

All the best,

Cristina

(Cristina Bianchi, BPT-Kosovo/a Team)

Dragash/s Youth Centre Project- Involving the Whole Family, the Whole Community

A compliment to our work

Enver (name changed) is the middle child in his family often an awkward position in which to be. He has to live up to his old brother's accomplishments and be a role model for his younger brother.

As a nineteen-year-old Goran who just graduated high school, he carries a far heavier burden than most. Although his father is employed as a shop assistant, he feels a personal and familial responsibility to support his family especially since his older brother is off at medical school.

I met Enver during our first set of English courses. He was shy and quiet but seemed to grasp concepts quickly. During my evening walks in Dragash/s, I often would see him walking back and forth by the road with his friends in a tradition called korzo. Sometimes he would teach me a few words in Gora, pointing out the differences from Serbian. Other times he would show me a tattered "new" book from which he was learning English.

He was a diligent student and was looking for any and every way to improve his English a skill that would give him a goldmine of opportunities in the Kosovo/a's job market.

When Balkan Peace Team began the second round of courses this summer, Enver came to every lesson. Looking through the student roster, I began to notice the duplication of certain surnames. Enver's last name appeared on a few class lists.

After a few inquiries, I realised that we had many of the younger siblings of the students in our first round of courses including Enver's younger brother. And in the course for Flaka, a local multi-ethnic women's organisation, we even had Enver's mother.

I was initially a bit resistant to conducting our outreach to members of the same families, but I soon realised that it was a compliment to our work. The combination of education and entertainment that we could provide was a welcome addition to our students' lives so much so that they wanted other members of their family to share the experience.

Although the Dragash/s Youth Centre project is intended for young people, the involvement of families is essential for the project to be sustainable beyond the period of BPT's presence in Dragash/s. In fact, the young people are more likely to eventually move away for school or work. It is their parents who will continue to live in the same community who are actually the ones to hold a long term interest in the Youth Centre and be able to shape it's future.

The family is the core of Kosovo/a culture. The process of building relationships with more than just the youth with their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers as well will prove invaluable in the long run. When families are involved, the community has a far greater sense of ownership.

People take more steps to ensure the project's success.

Seeing the value of family involvement

During the summer, we taught the classes at a location donated by community members who wanted to see that the Youth Centre programs continued. We had mentioned to our students our need for a place where we could provide more programming. One student in the classroom piped up and said, `I'll talk to my father.'

Class sizes are limited, so the involvement of siblings in the courses means we are reaching far fewer families. But this arrangement is actually encouraging the attendance of young women. With their brothers in the classes, the young women are more likely to attend the course. Parents do not have to worry for their daughters' safety. The trust between BPT and the community is growing as families perceive the Youth Centre as a safe place for their children.

In the past few months, the BPT-Kosovo/a has taken steps that are crucial to our future success. The slow process of building trust and long-lasting relationships is establishing the groundwork for the project. The Youth Centre project is progressing and the involvement of families like Enver's are instrumental in shaping the project.

By Liz Abraham, BPT-Kosovo/a Volunteer

Images, Sounds, Stories: Appreciating Kosovo/a

Jane Vernon, originally from the US, has been living in Germany for 25 years and teaching English in the German school. When she heard about BPT's Dragash/s Youth Centre project and the English classes being offered to the community, she volunteered her services and skills to Balkan Peace Team during her summer vacation. She spent five weeks with BPT-Kosovo/a team this July and August, teaching classes and providing team members with support in this aspect of the project. .

I am just a sneeze short of five weeks in Kosovo/a. What does that mean for a middle-aged American English teacher, a woman already culturally removed from her roots by having lived more than twenty-five years in Germany? My purpose was to teach two English classes but at the same time there was the personal adjustment to a new environment.

During my stay, here's what I have taken in:

Images

More than likely it is the influence of my life in Germany that determines that my first impression is dominated by the unresolved rubbish problem here. Wherever you look there are pockets of tidiness - not the other way around. And the inadequate and overflowing containers for the deposit of rubbish mean that much lands on the streets or along the otherwise beautiful mountain roads. Or the rubbish simply lands wherever it occurs to people to relieve their immediate personal surroundings of trash by throwing it elsewhere. Interestingly, I have felt a seductive pull to accept the situation, to fit in. When unnumbered empty plastic bottles lie along the road, it becomes a real effort to remember that it would be incorrect behaviour to toss that empty can in one's possession out of the car window. Many staircases of apartment buildings are similarly neglected.

The awareness and flexibility necessary to create a solution have not yet been found.

But from the intense activity visible on every side one can reach the conclusion that other priorities are of higher ranking. The population is up and working at seven in the morning and stalls and businesses in Prishtine/a do not close down until very late in the evening. Those who are not lucky enough to have a shop or a stall of their own wind their way between guests at restaurants, or walk through the aisles of buses just before departure, offering cigarettes, CDs, or telephone cards.

Unfortunately many of them are boys.Traffic is intense. It requires care to manoeuvre the intersections. There is a problem with reliable electric power which would account for some of the traffic lights not working. There are so many that do not function, and so many cars in the middle of the crossings negotiating who will be the next to get through. When I did see an operable traffic light, with cars actually waiting for a red light to turn green, gave me an elated sense of a victory for civilisation.

The other obvious presence on the streets is that of the international organisations. The huge white four-wheeled vehicles of UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo/a) and those of the hundreds of relief organisations, all with a purpose and intention of stabilising the situation here, are a marker of the traumas recently experienced.

There are numerous children. The evening hours are especially precious when the temperature has somewhat dropped. This is the time when the little ones can play in front of the houses. Or if they are lucky enough to have wealthier parents, they can run between the tables set up at the terrace cafe of the Grand Hotel. There is a gentle interest and politeness people show in their dealings with children, but also with one another in general. This is a balm to one who is used to the harsh distance that often seems to be the preferred method for dealing with the public or 'strangers' in Germany.

The sounds of Prishtine/a

In the evening, there are great numbers of wonderful circling blackbirds with their noisy calls to one another. (The word 'kos' means blackbird in Serbian.) One hears the humming sound of generators supplying that elusive good: electricity. There are the vibrations from motorised vehicles moving at swift speeds and car horns announcing every swing of intention and mood: that their drivers are either overtaking, or annoyed, or are just greeting friends. Then there is the occasional penetration, through the din of every day life, of the call to prayer from a mosque. This is best heard in the evening or early morning. During the day, the plaintive music of the Balkans is mixed with the latest sounds from Europe and America blasted from street vendors who are plying their wares. These copies of CDs sell for DM 5 each and are of surprisingly good quality.

Then there is the softer sound of the personal experiences, shared in various ways often at unexpected times. In an English lesson the task at hand was to describe a room using "There is ..." The students, secondary school teachers, were describing their living-rooms. One teacher hesitated, puzzled, apparently not knowing what to say, and finally said, "Everything was stolen."

To be there when opportunities arrive

This is a place of great activity, great friendliness, and great intensity.

Unfortunately, it is also a place of great belief in rumour and of great clinging to the negative stories told by others or promoted in the press.

After five weeks' stay and after listening to the sights and sounds of Kosovo/a and hearing numerous personal stories, I am beginning to understand more clearly the mission of the Balkan Peace Team: To be on the spot when opportunities arise, when people are able to let down their defences. To facilitate in the growth of the tender plant of a renewed tolerance.

by Jane Vernon, short term volunteer with the BPT Kosovo/a Team

Dragash/s Summer Program

During the summer, we offered six courses. Two courses were the continuation of the last round of classes for secondary school students, and two courses were new classes for young people in the Dragash/s community. In these early stages, the classes are still separated for Goran and Albanian youth. For our adult students, we have been providing mixed courses with Goran and Albanians together. We offered two intensive language courses: one for a mixed class of teachers from the secondary school with whom we had previously been working and an introductory course for a mixed class of women in the community (offered through Flaka). The adult students were taught by a temporary volunteer who worked for BPT during the summer.

DRAGASH / DRAGAS

Dragash/s town is the capital of the Dragash/s municipality, a mountainous, geographically isolated region in southern Kosovo/a. Dragash/s town has approximately 2.000 inhabitants. It is 30 kilometres south-west of Prizren and about 80 kilometres from Prishtina. Dragash is the Albanian spelling of the name and Draga[sinvcircumflex] is the name in Serbian/Goranian. In our reports, we use the name Dragash/s.

The municipality of Dragash/s includes 36 towns and villages. The municipality consists of two regions. Opoje is populated by ethnic Albanians and Gora is inhabited by Gorani. The Gorani are Slavic Muslims who identify their language, which is similar to Serbo-Croatian, as "Bosnian" or "Goranian". March 2000 population surveys found 24.856 Albanians (72% of municipal population) and 9.706 Gorani (28% of municipal population) living in the municipality. It is estimated that there are approximately 4.000 Albanian youth and 2.000 Goran youth. While Opoje and Gora are not ethnically mixed, Gorani and Albanians do live among one another in Dragash/s town.

Currently, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) defines Dragash/s municipality as Dragash/s town and Gora while Opoje is officially included in the Prizren municipality. This separation of Gora and Opoje into two different administrative municipalities was carried out by the Yugoslav authorities (or Serbian regime) in 1991. UNMIK is expected to adopt the pre-1991 municipal boundaries for Dragash/s (which include both Gora and Opoje) in the near future. Dragash/s town has in fact continued to serve as the administrative and cultural centre for both Opoje and Gora. For these reasons, this project considers Dragash/s municipality to include both areas.

Besides the usual infrastructure of stores, cafes/restaurants, and civic administration buildings, Dragash/s town has a post office, local radio station, and bus station. There is also a textile factory and a hotel. The textile factory previously employed more than 600 people from the region but now has only 86 workers. The hotel is currently used by the Turkish KFOR troops and is therefore not functioning.

The Dragash/s post office has not yet been reopened since the NATO bombing, although postal service within Kosovo/a has resumed. The NATO bombing also destroyed a mountain top microwave link that connected the region's telephone system to the rest of the world. As a result, even though the telephones work within Dragash/s town, one cannot ring anyone outside of the area. There are two private businesses which, through a radio link between Dragash/s and Prizren, are able to provide a very noisy phone connection to other parts of Kosovo/a and the world. After the transmitter was repaired, the local radio station was able to go back on the air.

On the main street in Dragash/s, next to a primary school, there is the cultural centre that is yet to be completed. Lack of funds halted the construction just after the new walls and roof went up. The secondary school, located behind the primary school, serves the entire municipality.

The town currently also houses the regional offices of UNMIK, which is responsible for establishing the legal status and structures of post-war Kosovo/a, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is responsible for developing democratic structures and instituting civil society in Kosovo/a.

Balkan Peace Team in Kosovo/a
Rruga Nëna Tereze 72-A/9 or Vidovdanska 72-A/9,
Pristina, Kosovo
Tel/Fax: ++381-38-42 708
E-mail: BPT-K@BalkanPeaceTeam.org

If you wish to use or require clarification of any of the information included, please contact Balkan Peace Team FRY at the above address. Please forward this report to anyone you think may be interested.


International BPT Office
Ringstr 9a,
D-32427 Minden,
Germany
Phone: +49-571-20776
Email: BPT@BalkanPeaceTeam.org