Last Thursday, my colleague and I visited our partner organization in Mitrovica, the Mitrovica Women’s Association for Human Rights. The association brings women together from different ethnicities to raise the voice of women for human rights.
When we came to their office, they had prepared lots of homemade food and invited us to join them in a celebration. They explained that two of the members of the association had reasons to celebrate; one because two children had been baptized in her family and another woman because her nephew had been circumcised.
- Two totally different things but we respect each other’s cultures and religions and we are happy for each other, one of them said while we were eating a mix of delicious Balkan specialties; grilled peppers, pickled vegetables and “pite” (quiche) with cheese.
While enjoying the meal, they continued talk about how much the association has meant to them, and how by building trust they have overcome their prejudices and fear about each other.
- Before I would never have crossed the bridge to go to the northern side on my own, but now I feel confident to do it. This is why this kind of projects is so important, said Fahrije, one of the staff members.
Whereas the majority of the population would never go to the other side, the women in the women’s association are crossing the main bridge on a daily basis.
- Our association shows that it is possible to work together and build trust among each other and we believe that our model could be applied in the bigger society as well, she added.
However, the political situation continues to be a main challenge for the citizens in Mitrovica and the surroundings. Recently, Serbia and Kosovo have signed an agreement for the normalization of relations, which aim is to integrate the North of Kosovo into the Kosovo legal framework, although providing a certain level autonomy. If it will contribute to change still is to be seen.
- The worst thing is the lack of information, said one of the women from North Mitrovica, Gordana. In fact, we don’t know anything about the agreement and we were never consulted in the process.
All of the women around the table shared the view that the political deadlock has impacted their lives for too long and that the citizens of Mitrovica have been victims of the political interests of a few persons.
- We don’t care about politics, we just care about living in peace and that our children can be safe and have a proper education, expressed Natasha, another of the association members.
When asked about their expectations on the new agreement, the general feeling was that it could be a positive push for integration but it could also lead to an increased tension in the area.
- However, there is no alternative to peace, Natasha concluded and all the rest nodded in agreement.
Mitrovica is a town in Northern Kosovo, divided by the river Ibar into a Northern predominantly Serb inhabited part and the Southern predominantly Albanian inhabited part. Before the war in Kosovo in the late 1990’s, Mitrovica was known as a mixed town, where the different ethnicities lived side by side. Apart from Albanian and Serbs, Mitrovica is inhabited by Bosniaks, Roma and other ethnic groups as well. After the war the two main parts have grown more and more apart. Even now, 14 years after the Kosovo war ended in 1999, Mitrovica has continued to be a hotspot, supervised by NATO forces. Violence still sparks from time to time and the majority of the population never crosses the river to go to the other side. On 19 May, 2013, the Kosovo and Serbian government signed an agreement on “principles governing the normalization of the relations” as a result of the EU facilitated dialogue.
Lina Andéer, Field Representative Kosovo