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Youth of Mitrovica pass the “bridges,” breaking the prejudices through joint activities

Mar 14, 2018

Forty youngsters, 20 Albanians and 20 Serbians, are learning the English language, near the bridge of the “Ibër” river. Since the end of war, the bridge separates the northern part of Mitrovica with mostly Serbs living in it, and the western part of Mitrovica with mostly Albanians living in it.

This 2-year foreign language course, which Mitrovica`s youth refer as CBM (Community Building Mitrovica), also has mixed staff from both communities. During the first year of work, CBM had two offices – one in north Mitrovica, and the other in south. The staff communicate in English; the language they are jointly teaching to youth from both sides of the bridge.

The initiative to soften the relationship among Serbian and Albanian was initially supported by the Embassy of Netherlands, while in the recent years it is also supported by the European Union, and additionally from the Institutions of Kosovo.

According to the director of CBM, Afërdita Sylaj, the main purpose of the project is building a dialogue and contact and also building trust between the two sides, “a trust which the war of ’98-99’ destroyed.”

“The generations that are born after the war do not have much knowledge about the ethnic problems of the Kosovar and the Serbs. They have learned their prejudices mainly from their relatives,” Sylaj says, and she adds that through activities she has initiated like organizing summer camps, they are aiming to eliminate prejudices and create a friendly relationship between the communities.

This is also the aim of the “Rock School,” which since 2008 acts as a gathering place for those who like rock music, which has been cultivated in Mitrovica for years. For years in row, the Women`s Center has been functioning in the “Minatori” neighborhood in north of Mitrovica, and also had an office in the southern part.

The bridge has divided both communities since 1999, and it is still a reminder of the late history of this city.

Natasa Saveljic, a project coordinator at CBM, thinks that the difference in the ethnic relationships before and now is noticeable, but…

“…concretely, people`s circulation from south into the northern part is smaller, whereas people`s circulation from north to south is much more noticeable. However, enabling people to pass over the bridge increases the circulation in both sides on the town,” she says.

According to her, by the passing of time, one can notice that serbian students have surpassed the old mindset of the fear they went through and the traumas of the after-war period.

Her colleague Sylaj also says that since 2011, the situation in Mitrovica is improving, despite the division of the city.

“There were problems and many incidents in the past, but now they have been reduced. The situation is more calm and youth can go to the northern part and talk Albanian freely,” she says.

Lulzim Hoti, the director of “7 Arte” Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), says that they support young artists, no matter what their ethnicity or religious belonging.

“…We have tried to engage the youth as much as we can, organize activities which help promote cultural values and various talents in several fields of art and culture.”

They are making efforts also to talk to the parents, who have often been an impediment to youth`s participating in these joint activities.

“We cannot say that we have achieved a lot since politics determines whether Serbs will participate in such activities or not. And… since politics determines that, it is impossible for us as organizations to make any more positive or concrete steps in this direction,” he expresses.

However, neither he nor the volunteers of the joint activities with the Albanians and Serbs are not giving up in front of politics.

Being conscious that they cannot gain success without cooperation with Serbs, Hoti started organizing joint activities with Global Initiative in Mitrovica – The Way Out, among them Green Fest as well, which has existed for seven years as a traditional music festival. The festival is followed by public debates in which public figures talk to the youth.

The volunteer Donjet Bislimi considers that the rapport between communities, even though not excellent, are however “good.”

“Since we all are from Mitrovica, we all belong to the same city, we are neighbors, we live together and share the same problems, and the integration in each other`s life is necessary,” this youngster from Mitrovica says.

Shkurte Berisha