Week 2 - Discovering the Real Kosovo

After my first weekend, I felt significantly more comfortable with the layout of the city and the culture of my new summer home.  I was also able to finally adjust to my new time zone and overcome my jetlag.  My coworkers were kind enough to meet me outside of work and introduce me to more of the local cuisine.  In addition, they also took me to a championship basketball game between Pristina and a team from Prizren.  I had previously attended many college basketball games during my undergraduate tenure at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I thought many of those games were rowdy and atmospheric.  But nothing could have prepared me for this championship game; I watched two sets of “Ultras” cheer and whistle their team the entire 60-minute game, and when Pristina won, the Pristina Ultras set off flares inside the stadium and danced in celebration.  I have never experienced a sporting atmosphere like that in any US game, probably because the fire marshal would never allow it!

This week, I attended my first Tuesday Salon that was held on a Tuesday, which is the normal course of business for D4D.  Unlike the previous two salons that I attended, there was a translator which allowed me to get a fuller understand of what the panelists were discussing, as well as their discussions with members of the audience.  The topic of this salon was about the role of the media in elections, and the panelists were high-ranking journalists in some of Kosovo’s largest news outlets.  It turned out to be quite a contentious salon!  During the opening remarks from the panelists, I discovered that in Kosovo, journalists are recruited and can openly join political parties.  By doing so, they will write articles and editorials in favor of the parties they are a part of.  This was a subject that many members of the audience (primarily young, college-aged students) had an issue with.  A large swath of them decried this practice and argued passionately for an impartial media perspective; some even argued with the panelists themselves, saying that the new organizations they represented were biased.  The panelists seemed to take their complaints to heart and they answered them with insight about how the media structure works in Kosovo and what the factors were that compelled journalists to join political parties in the first place. For me, it was an insightful look at the structure of media in Kosovo, and an effective medium for young people to tell their opinion to people in positions of power.

My initial reaction to what I had heard at the salons was surprise.  I had a deep-seated belief that news media would strive to be impartial, not have reporters openly joining political parties and slant the news they report.  However, after a few days of mulling over and discussing this peculiar phenomenon, I realized that it was not so different from the media in the United States.  Whereas in Kosovo, reporters openly associate themselves with a political party, in the United States that association may not be so clear.  When I tune into a panel discussion of a news event on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News, they always have representatives from both sides of the aisle spinning the event in a favorable light for their party (and their political associations may or may not be clear at the outset of the discussion).  Perhaps Kosovo’s method, while open and blatant, may in fact be a more honest approach than in the US.  This struck me as a humbling moment; through Kosovo’s media-alignment system I was able to see the media in my home country in a different way.  I know that, throughout my internship here, there will be more perspective-changing moments like this one.  

The following day, I traveled with a co-worker to attend a panel on environmental law and environmental issues within Kosovo, which was held in the northern part of Mitrovica.  This location is significant as it is one of the largest Serbian enclaves in Kosovo.  My co-worker, an Albanian, even confided to me some of his safety worries for entering this side of the city; relations between Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbians are very strained, and it could be dangerous if we were caught up in the wrong area.  Thankfully, we had no such problems, and made it to the panel easily.

The panels hosted a number of interesting environmental topics.  The first topic discussed waste management issues within Kosovo.  I was surprised to learn that there was no developed infrastructure in Kosovo for collecting communal waste, and that the country was plagued with illegal pickups and illegal dump sites that hurt the environment.  These problems were starker in the northern municipalities, where many of Kosovo’s Serbian minority lives. The second panel discussed the prevalence of illegal logging in Kosovo, and it’s destructive effect on the forests.  Here, most of the discusses revolved around enforcing rule of law on the illegal loggers and again highlighted the unique difficulties of enforcing the law in the northern municipalities.  Finally, the last panel discussed Kosovo’s agricultural economy and how it can be further developed at a macro level to increase the country’s prosperity.  After taking detailed notes on each panel to report back to the office, I was left with two overall impressions.  First, I was again taken aback by the idea that waste disposal was such an important issue.  In the United States, waste management is an afterthought for almost everyone, but here it is a large problem that affects not only the environment but people’s daily lives.  Second, I felt like I had a sense of how divided and secluded the Serbian minorities in Kosovo really were.

After the panel, my co-worker and I returned to the southern part of Mitrovica.  We drove to the main bridge which was built over the river that divides the northern and southern halves of the city.  The bridge is closed to all traffic and is heavily guarded by international peacekeeping forces.  It was a symbol of the deep ethnic divisions that currently haunt Kosovo, and seeing it reminded me of the Berlin Wall: a monolithic symbol that keep people divided and cloistered.

I spent the rest of my time in the office continuing to pour over and edit the first draft of the Women in the Labour Force research paper.  The further that I read into the research, the more I began to understand the myriad of obstacles that women face in this country to become involved in meaningful work, and I am proud to be a part of an organization that is shining a light on this issue. 

This week I felt like I had truly seen and experienced a plethora of issues that plague not just Kosovo, but developing countries in general.  It has given me a new perspective on the problems in my home country as well as a newfound gratitude for the opportunities that I have in my own life.