Fostering interethnic cooperation and understanding in a context of growing ethno-political radicalization has been challenging, yet pockets of cooperation, and shared interests have emerged, offering a glimmer of hope for improved interethnic relations in Kosovo.
One catalyzing force for cooperation between Albanian and Serbian communities in Kosovo is the recognition of shared concerns. Instances such as the joint protests against a hydropower plant and pollution of the Lepenc River underscore that when the interests of both communities align, positive actions can be taken for the benefit of all. Environmental issues, it seems, transcend ethnic divisions, emphasizing that the well-being of all residents is at stake. A particularly illustrative example of authentic interethnic cooperation unfolded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with a common threat, Kosovo and Serbia set aside their disagreements and demonstrated a commendable level of cooperation. This included the liberalization of administrative barriers for the transport of goods, services, and people, exchange of medical aid, and coordination between health sector officials. This brief period of collaboration showcased the potential and benefits that can be achieved when priorities are reshuffled.
Despite intense political disputes impacting interethnic relations, grassroots social dynamics have acknowledged communal interdependency, leading to successful instances of cooperation. Initiatives like the Community Forums for Public Interests (CFPI) under the Fostering Interethnic Reconciliation and Cooperation (FIERC) initiative, with the support of German government, exemplify the potential for collaboration. These forums provide a platform for both Albanian and Serbian communities to engage in dialogue and jointly address community concerns, such as road safety and bicycle parking, enhancing human security. The civic sector in Kosovo has also been instrumental in fostering interethnic cooperation. The Reconciliation and Conflict Transformation Program (RCT), supported by USAID, plays a crucial role in renewing trust among communities by facilitating deeper engagement with the cultural and social context of Kosovo. The Barabar Centre, managed by two Kosovo NGOs with support from UNMIK, symbolizes hope for intercommunity dialogue. It offers a safe space for civil society and communities to host events and discussions, focusing on mutual concerns.
Efforts by educational institutions, such as the University of Prishtina and the International College of Business in Mitrovica, are contributing to the promotion of multilingualism within Kosovo society. These initiatives, like the introduction of a Bachelor’s Program in Balkan Studies at the University of Prishtina, hold great potential for positive transformation of interethnic relations through education.
While political normalization between Kosovo and Serbia is crucial for institutionalizing positive cooperation, it should not hinder the grassroots efforts already making a difference. The pursuit of political normalization should be seen as a necessary milestone, but not as an excuse for inaction or a barrier to progress. Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a vital role in building community resilience against ethno-political radicalization and political extremism.
These positive examples demonstrate that collective actions can address shared concerns and lead to tangible improvements. As Kosovo grapples with its challenges, fostering these instances of cooperation is essential for building bridges towards a more integrated society. By fostering dialogues and initiatives that transcend ethnic boundaries, civil society can bridge the gaps left by political disagreements.
RAMADAN ILAZI, HEAD OF RESEARCH, KOSOVAR CENTRE FOR SECURITY STUDIES (KCSS)
MIODRAG MARINKOVIĆ, DIRECTOR OF AFFIRMATIVE SOCIAL ACTIONS (CASA)