11. November 2014

Macchiatos and Community Safety

I recently had my one month anniversary in Kosovo, a country that has already grown on me so much that I feel like I have been here for years. There seems to be nothing that quite compares to the Kosovo Albanian brand of hospitality. My arrival and first days were accompanied by sheer endless offers of help and support as well as what felt like enough macchiato to keep me awake for my entire three months stay here.

This is just as well as, despite having one of the longest post-conflict histories of community policing and safety, lots remains to be done. My main task is to write a report on the issue of building trust through community safety mechanisms in post-conflict environments. Even though Kosovo, to date recognized by 110 states, has not experienced open conflict in the last 15 years, the scars of the 1999 Kosovo War are still fresh and trust towards institutions remains to be a sensitive issue.

The interviews and community meetings show me that every community has its own history of grievances and problems. One of the main challenges is changing the mentality that cooperating with the police is the equivalent of spying or betraying one’s own community. Prior to the War, only Serbs were allowed to join the police force in Kosovo, a key factor when it came to fostering distrust within the Kosovo Albanian population. Nowadays the Kosovo Police is representative of the different elements of the population and strives towards inclusive, preventive and democratic policing.

Building partnerships between the communities and the police is central to the Community Policing Strategy of Kosovo. It seeks to provide the population with a voice and make the needs of the people the aims of the police. As a result, community safety forums exist (and continue to be established) on the local and municipal levels and enable Albanian, mixed and non-Albanian communities to communicate their grievances and avoid the escalation of problems. The issues raised are extremely diverse and can be surprising to an outsider; it is not unusual for the lack of traffic signs, theft, packs of stray dogs, illegal woodcutting as well as ethnically motivated hate crimes and vandalism to be mentioned within a single meeting. Ideally, the police and the people will take joint responsibility for community safety and livability issues and work together to find solutions.

Whilst the history of conflict, mistrust and inter-ethnic tensions provides the backdrop of my work here, it is undeniable that the most important thing for Kosovo and its incredibly young population is to step away from its past and into its future. Borders are still a major issue in this part of the world, getting into Serbia is complicated to say the least, applying for a visa to a European country can turn into a Kafkaesque situation. Every day on my way to work I see crowds of people queuing in front of European embassies, many want to escape one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. As a young European, it is sometimes hard to fathom the extent to which Europe is equated with the unconditional promise of employment and a bright shiny future in the Balkans.

At the same time, Kosovars have a deep-seated love for their own young country and seem to desire nothing more than for this tiny Balkan state to escape its national menaces of a history of conflict, unemployment, corruption and the crippling stalemate of the current government.

However, In light of having celebrated the 25thanniversary of the Fall of the Berlin wall last weekend, tearing down the walls of mistrust and achieving sustainable and peaceful co-existence in the Balkans doesn’t seem impossible to achieve. I really wish the people of Kosovo, be they Albanian, Serb, Bosniak, Turk, Ashkali, Egyptian, Roma, Gorani or any other minority, all the best for this endeavor.