By: Xhevat Kastrati
The story I am about to write is based on my personal experience and thoughts. Therefore, I wouldn’t like to be accused over facts, or if you name it, myths, either. I consider myself a lucky 21-year-old, who is trying to find a safe path in life and wants to be a positive factor in the society he lives in.
My journey abroad started last year in September when I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to study the last year as an exchange student in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
I hadn’t had much knowledge about the country, except for the fact that we once were a single country under the name of Yugoslavia – a name, which to most of the young citizens in Kosovo is related to the last war, which tore us apart. Kosovo is the last country along with Serbia to tear apart from that ‘mighty’ name that somehow still affects the consciousness of me and other young citizens of my country, kind of negatively.
As for the first time going to live for a whole year in the ‘cold people’ land, it was a bit of an idea that made my body shiver with the warm breeze of the afternoon. It was great news for my family. I felt pride, joy and all of the other comforting feelings that made me feel happy about being an Albanian student from Kosovo and a winner of the scholarship. Finally, the change in life I was expecting.
Along with all the other countries I travelled to last year, Slovenia offered me a unique experience. Ljubljana is a sweet little town with beautiful architecture. It also has some independent, urban nightlife in an ex-squat area filled with lots of graffiti, sculptures and a rusty playground around the tree in the middle of Metelkova, a former squat. There I met and befriended people from all over the world online and offline, and listened to wide varieties of music, from mainstream Balkan hits to Tom Waits’ old scratchy voice to trashy Hindu folk music.
The study programme at the University of Ljubjana was likewise, very culturally and educationally rich. My fellow students came from places like Kazakhstan, South Korea, Australia, Iceland and Spain. Slovenia didn’t turn out to be so cold after all. Or maybe I happened to be in a good year, as the Slovenian weather forecast scientists may call it. Since I was in EU territory I could finally travel freely. Every city of every EU and non-EU country that I visited had something completely new to offer to me. Stuttgart, Venice, Zagreb, Budapest, Novi Sad. New names of cities, different faces and another cute small bookshop by the river where some of the things I saw made me forget my nostalgia for my hometown.
Anyway, the ‘EU fairytale’ had an end. The year finished and I was travelling back in time and place. I came back home with a big baggage of new experiences, a few new pieces of clothing, new books and some small gifts for my family and friends.
Being on the streets I spent the most of my life on again feels kind of strange, but yet, it’s a comforting feeling. I witnessed that I was not the only one who changed; my country and its citizens had also changed, starting from my friends and family. A new job, a sold car, or new marriages were some of the stories I have been hearing since my time back in Kosovo. Everyone I know or don’t, trying to find a way to move on with the different seasons. However, travelling to other countries and meeting people from different cultures is one of the best experiences I have had, since it helps me reveal my own story. A lot of new questions arise on my mind. Are we finally free? Are we all equal, as we were born or are we unequally equal? Are we helping ourselves enough to recover from consequences of last conflict? Are we, the Kosovars, really using our positive national values or are we only focusing on the negative ones, to raise the children in a negative environment, one, which is full of prejudices?
Anyhow, however black may the past be, or as in my case, being back to square one, there’s a lot of payback we need to do, and a lot of progress we need to build up with our own hands using our own knowledge and skills, regardless of our nationality, skin colour, gender or age, as factors that may distinguish us.
With all my doubts about finishing the last exams back in my faculty, staying home or going out for a beer, I hadn’t taken enough of my time to find out why the past of my country was such a big burden to me. I thought things should be back in their right place since I didn’t see or hear a lot of sad stories back in my one-year journey.
Youth Reconciliation Ambassadors held in Belgrade was my last destination, which helped me discover the last jigsaw of this puzzle. There I met young, future ‘reconciliation ambassadors’ from Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia. During those five days, we went to see different legal institutions such as the Parliament of Serbia, hung out by the castle of Belgrade and debated on topics that prompted us all to react and talk. I got the chance to see another side of the same story; the right to know what happened and why, the level of reconciliation which is present and multi-perspective approach of interpretation of the same happenings in a point of time in history.
Meeting with random people on the streets of the city or the politicians in Parliament of Serbia, was the same as being in one of the other cities of the Balkans talking to my new friends. “There are good and bad things happening everywhere at this time and place as well” – I recall an old lady saying to us on the streets of Belgrade, while I, with my little understanding of her language, tried to read between her lines.
All people from countries that have had or are experiencing conflicts have similar stories. Thus, in order for us, the younger generations of Balkan countries be able to create a better society that has higher values and greater moral standards, we need to be able to learn from past mistakes in order to not repeat them in the future, make new friendships with ‘the enemies’ and be courageous to travel and educate ourselves, so we can build a new spaceship together, one that has enough room for everyone.