Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die,” is a constant reminder that every individual has the potential to contribute to the society and the world we live in; be it in very small and subtle ways. Contribution can have many forms; it can be a smile and “thank you” to the housekeeper in your school, an advice to your friend, a donation to the Red Cross; but contribution can also be active citizenship, taking responsibility, raising your voice and standing for what is right.
However, what I can contribute and will be contributing to the society is strongly related with my background and the way I was raised. I was born in Switzerland since political persecution had forced my parents into exile years ago. Although I was born there, I dreamed of the day when the war would be over and I would be able to return to Kosovo. To the “Land I belonged to.”
I was nine when the war was finally over. As a nine-year-old kid, coming from Switzerland to a post-war region, I felt determined to work hard and help people rebuild their burned houses. I did not want to see any bullet holes in the school walls, nor hospitals. I sure did not want to see people mourning their beloved ones. At the time, I was very angry. I blamed another country for all that had happened in Kosovo. I was full of rage.
Over time, I started to realize that you cannot blame an entire nation for what has happened to you or your country. The sad truth is that the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia sparked a series of ongoing wars during which all its constituents suffered. As Andre Gerolymatos says in his book, “The Balkan Wars”, “ The Europe of today needs to move past its bloody history, and the events in the Balkans are a reminder of a previous dark age of war, mass killing, and destruction” (Gerolymatos 4). This is where my contribution to regional reconciliation comes into play. I am not nine anymore nor mad; I am determined to work towards making sure that what happened during the 90’s in the Balkans won’t happen again.
The breakup of Yugoslavia could not have been prevented due to factors such as the continuous decline in living standards, the structural flaws in the system and what is more important the lack of a common historical narrative. In post-conflict regions, people often fail to analyze the factors, which in the first place led to the escalation of the conflict and eventually led to the war. Thus, it is crucial to comprehend what really happened and the events that led to war so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
Yet, as long as the leadership of the former Yugoslav countries is comprised of actors who have played a role in their respective wars, it is difficult for them to move from a hostile mindset to a peace – building one. The political discourse we witness everyday shows how difficult it is for the nationalistic sentiments (together with the biases, hate speech and the political myopia) to be surpassed. Therefore, I strongly believe that it is us, the younger generations, who should take responsibility to work towards state – building and reconciliation.
Although the current political myopia in the Balkans is inhibiting the more direct advancement of the younger generations and their potential contribution, there is still room to make a change. Volunteering, working for a non-governmental organization, raising public awareness, organizing debates and conferences on sensitive topics are all ways to contribute to the society by filling the gaps our politicians fail to do. At the same time, this gives space to others who think alike and want to make a change, to express their opinions and engage in active citizenship.
Even though it is of major importance for a democracy as well as for regional reconciliation to have an active civic society, it is also essential to have a good education system, judicial system and healthcare system. Unfortunately, some of the Balkan countries such as Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo are doing very poor in all of them.
In Bosnia for instance, children are divided into classrooms based on their ethnicity, and as a result, people are often prone to identify with their respective ethnic group (Withlock). The healthcare system is no better. In the European Survey conducted in 2012, the Balkan countries received poor marks regarding the healthcare system. According to the report, “Serbia, which was not included in the previous report, ranked 34th in this year’s Index, on the basis of its total score of only 451 points. Four other Southeast European countries […] were also ranked at the bottom of the table (Dimitrova).” The judicial system in all those countries as well is in dire need for reforms; restructuring in order to become more efficient and independent.
Therefore, it is of major importance to improve and strengthen education, healthcare and the judiciary. Without a good education system a country cannot expect to have smart and well-educated future leaders, public administration employees, nor an active civic society. Without a strong judicial system a country cannot expect its citizens to be and feel safe, nor can it expect foreigners to come and invest in the country. Lastly, without a proper healthcare system a country cannot expect to have a healthy population.
That being said, it is clear that the contribution of everyone towards the strengthening, development and regional peace building is important. My contribution towards regional reconciliation, however, has started in high school, when I learned English and improved my French and German. I did so because I liked the idea of becoming a diplomat, and a diplomat – I was told – should know many languages. A couple years later, I applied at American University in Washington DC., to study International Relations with a focus in Peace and Conflict Resolution. I was too young to make a change; yet, I invested money, time, energy and effort to get the best education possible so that one day I would be able to make a difference in the society I live in.
When I was nine I knew that I never wanted to experience war in any way again. Today, nevertheless, I know what I can do to prevent that from happening again. Peace – building and regional reconciliation is not an easy task but with good will and hard work it can be achieved. Building bridges with people from different cultural backgrounds widens ones’ perspective and helps in the process of understanding “the other”. Once we understand where the other is coming from, it is much easier not only to relate, but also to work together towards a common good.
This is where my contribution comes into play. I try to explain this to my family, friends and colleagues. I have had friends over from China, Bangladesh, the US, Bosnia, Serbia, etc. I also organize events, seminars and debates, where people from different backgrounds can join and discuss sensitive topics and issues. This is very important to me not only because of the issues being discussed, but what I believe is more important, people get to spend time and know each other and eventually become friends. The number one rule in international relations is that democracies don’t fight each other, I believe the same applies to friendships: friends don’t fight one another. This is why it is important to create bonds on a personal level. Regional reconciliation can best be achieved through interpersonal relationships, through common investments, and by having to work together.
Although most of the people are skeptic regarding the political spectrum in the Balkans, it is the younger generations who need to change this status quo. The Balkans of today is tired of oratoric speeches and nationalistic leaders; instead, the Balkans needs energetic, pragmatic and open-minded politicians who will advocate policies of regional cooperation. As a young women living in Kosovo, I will make use of the knowledge I have gained abroad, of the connections I have created throughout the world and the will I have to make a change in the society – will enable me to contribute to regional reconciliation.
Gerolymatos, By Andre. The Balkan Wars. New York: Basic, 200. Web
Whitlock, Craig. “Old Troubles Threaten Again in Bosnia.” Washington Post – Politics,
National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines – Washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post Company. Web. 02 Dec. 2010.
Dimitrova, Svetla. n.d., n. pag.