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Building for peace in the aftermath of war

Small-scale peace teams have played an important role in supporting local groups and facilitating dialogue between divided communities. Robert Sautter reports on the work of the Balkan Peace Team in Kosov@.

I can speak both Serbian and Albanian, but which one I use sets me on one side against the other. There is no place for me here, I do not belong. As she finished speaking these words, Mersiha, a young Slavic Muslim from Prishtina, looked at me intently and demanded to know what the Balkan Peace Team was doing to address the tenuous situation in which she and individuals from other minority communities throughout Kosova are existing.

Kosova may have faded from the headlines, but Mersihas experience is a reminder that the conflict here is both unresolved and filled with complexity. While the original conflict may have been between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, today's post-war tensions exist between the majority Albanian population and the minority populations of Serbs, Turks, Roma, and Slavic Muslims. Responding responsibly to the complicated reality that characterises Kosova today, is a challenge that the Balkan Peace Team is taking very seriously. It includes responding to questions such as Mersihas and the many others whose lives have been altered beyond recognition since the events of 1999.

The process of recovering from the wars in Kosova is underway, with local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as inter-governmental organisations, working to reconstruct the region. The process of social reconstruction part of which is the building of inter-ethnic community confidence is one that the Balkan Peace Team believes must occur in conjunction with physical reconstruction.

Developing trust

One method through which community confidence can begin to be established is through small-scale cross-community interaction especially among young people. Therefore, one of the projects that the team is developing is the establishment of a youth centre in the remote community of Dragasha town comprised of two ethnic communities: Albanians and Slavic Muslims known as Goranci.

By founding a centre where youth from both communities can have access to locally identified needed services, such as computer training and English language lessons, BPT hopes that the young people can begin, at their own pace, to interact and that relationships of trust can begin to be developed.

With a vision of fostering a culture of peace and tolerance between the two communities of Dragash, the youth centre will be a safe space in which all young people can build skills, explore creative self-expression and most important, create support networks among themselves. The activities of the centre will be designed by listening to their views and incorporating their ideas. This will foster a sense of community ownership while encouraging the youth from both groups to co-operate with one another.

Facilitating peace-building is a process requiring a long-term commitment and a respect for the time that traumatised people need for healing. This is especially apparent in the war-torn society of Kosova, where the memories of repression are still vivid, the wounds of recent atrocities still festering, and inter-ethnic violence still rampant.

The BPT team in Kosova hopes to continue to listen to and work with all communities in the region. In this way, they seek to contribute meaningfully and responsibly to the construction of peace and tolerance so that no one will be made to feel that their home is no longer a place where they belong.

Balkan Peace Team, Ringstr 9a, 32427 Minden, Germany (+49 571 20776; fax 23019; bptio@BalkanPeaceTeam.org; http://www.BalkanPeace.Team.org).