Focus Group with Fisnik Kumnova and Mehmet Kaçamaku, social activists in Mitrovica, Kosovo
by Gianmarco Pisa, IPRI (Italian Peace Research Institute) – Rete CCP (Civilian Peace Corps Net)
We find ourselves, in a cloudy October afternoon, in Hit Bar in Mitrovica, Kosovo, in the so-called “Confidence Area”, just in the middle, on the passing line from the South to the North. We are with Mehmet Kaçamaku and Fisnik Kumnova, social activists engaged in many different cultural and social projects in Kosovo, with the aim of improving the situation and empowering the relations among all the parts and all the communities living in this place, in the so-called “Kosovo scenario”.
In the first part of this exclusive interview, we would like to find an arrangement among us to focus the main topics of this discussion, even considering this interview will side and support one more publication which will be firstly published on-line to address and to update the current situation in Kosovo, and in Mitrovica in particular, on this very specific moment in the middle between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, being also such a crucial moment, historical for some extent because of the progress of the association of Kosovo towards European Union and the up-coming dead-line of the administrative election of November 3rd, 2013. So, first of all, let’s present yourself to all the readers of the different peace-oriented and nonviolent agencies and on-line newspapers.
Thank you. I’m Fisnik Kumnova, I come from Mitrovica and I’m working here since I was 16 years old and I’m now 25. I’d like to mention this, because, since I was in secondary school, I’ve been engaged in voluntary campaigns, voluntary activities and social projects, in order to have a better society and a more open and prosperous community and also have a better educated, stronger and committed youth, in the way that peaceful manners and human rights approach become the proper ways in dealing with disputes and conflicts. I’ve been several times engaged in civilian NGOs and I’m currently working on mediation projects, which is something pretty new and innovative here in Mitrovica. I also had lots of experiences in international representation of our society, especially through youth and cultural programs throughout Europe and every time I had a chance to present Mitrovica as a city and Kosovo as a society, also to fill a gap in knowledge about the situation here.
I’m Mete Kaçamaku I’ve been working since I was 20 years old, most of the times “illegally”. After the war I started working into an IT Department, and I was like an administrator there for four years then I started working as a free-lancer as well, in doing consultancy and support for IT development and programs, also with the Catholic Church, here in Kosovo. Last job I had was as free lance for M-M@G (Mitrovica Magazine) where I spent my time as a translator in three languages, also I worked sometimes as a volunteer for Handikos (an organization for support to children with different kinds of disabilities, also inviting kids with no disability at all) and used to be active in social projects and initiatives related to IT and communication, development and empowerment, citizenship and volunteering. I just graduated in International Management and I want to go on running this social engagement.
You spent great part of your life and your time and you’re going on spending your work and your efforts here in Kosovo. Mostly in Mitrovica. So, let’s talk about Mitrovica, why do you think Mitrovica is a sort of special feature here in Kosovo and why do you think international community should have a special regard and a special focus in a city like this, with all its characters and features? Which are the feelings and the meanings in a city like this, in the Balkans, like Mitrovica?
FK: This is one of the most complex places in Kosovo and this also was one of the most multi-ethnic areas in the entire former Yugoslavia, on that time with 60% Albanians and 40% mostly Serbs and then many other nationalities and, inside this 40%, something like 30% Serbs and something like 10% more different communities, as Bosnjacks and Roma, Ashkalij and Egyptians. Before the war of 1998-1999 and in the previous system, we had both economical power and social power; when I say economical power, I mean the presence here of Trepça Mines, which employed over thousands workers, and we have social welfare and people’s power as well, since we had very broader diversity, and we know very well that diversity is a richness and a value. Whenever you’ve diversity, you have richness, values, competition in a positive way. So, being in the middle, you can usually get your pragmatic view to focus things and address your goals. After the war of 1998-1999, Mitrovica is one of the poorest cities in Kosovo and entirely in Balkans, and this contradiction is now a major feature and a relevant meaning for Mitrovica itself, having been, before the war, the most industrialized city in the region, with a rich economic, social and cultural environment, while now, after the war, we are being the poorest city in the area, with lots of problems and mis-functions. As a consequence, this is also the place in the region (and one of the places in the entire Balkan area) with the highest number of unemployed young people, mostly 60% of young people here. For me, Mitrovica represents now a wound of conflict which is still “frozen” and paralyzing the society, because anyone is settled in their own way, their own mood and their own home; maybe the rest of Kosovo is settled in diverse ways and is going to develop time by time but Mitrovica, as I use to say, is like a place where “time is stopped”. This is the real meaning of Mitrovica, and you can see here and easily feel that time is not passing and that everything seems not going to change in any way.
MK: Mitrovica for me represents “all the world”, is something which is in my heart and that I cannot live without. Earlier I know Mitrovica was recognized for many different things, for example industry, museums, cinema, sports and rock, and I can easily say, since I’m a bit older than Fisnik, Mitrovica was like the first place in entire Kosovo to have a Sport Center, such as the “Minatori Sport Center”, where K.B. Trepça used to play, and those things were an interesting feature and an important part of everyday life in the city. From all those things, the city doesn’t have anything and we have nothing now.
I see here many interesting features and issues, like the presence of Ibar river, the situation about the different communities living here, the wounds of the war and the consequences of the conflict, affecting the past and especially the present situation here in Mitrovica. So, how is now the situation about the division of the two major communities (Kosovo Albanians and Serbs of Kosovo) living here?
FK: After the war of 1998-1999 and NATO bombing in 1999, Mitrovica is divided geographically into two parts: the Northern part, where majority of the population are Serbs, and they do not accept Kosovo institutions and are living like a sort of “parallel life” in the structure organization and the administrative way; and the Southern part, which is also part of administrative and institutional framework of Kosovo, where majority of the population are ethnically Albanians. In this way, this division, being a geographical one and portrayed by the conflict and the power, is also a division in minds and in perceptions, since each community, in the last fourteen years, has been developed inside and not outside. For this, I can say they have been blocked and barricaded from outer impacts, without knowing what has been happening ten meters across the river or fifty meters across the bridge. Virtually the two communities are exchanging and sharing for certain extent, ideas, thoughts, values, but not in Mitrovica: they have to go in Rome, Vienna, Bruxelles, to discuss about them-selves, but not in the city and in the place where they are living. That is more and more feeding the conflict rather than helping the peace resolution and the active nonviolent reconciliation in the country.
MK: In my opinion, the two communities are like the same, they want or desire, basically, the same things, they want to live together in a peace situation and in a better way than the one they actually live, but the politics and certain political leaders want them (or need them) to do the opposite. I talked with several guys, facing the question how can we do, how can we handle the situation, how can we live together, and the problem is to “get over”, to overcome (and find a way to do that) the actual situation. It’s like we really want to look for a better future and to live together and, in the same time, we’re not allowed to do, because, from other levels of the politics, they are doing reverse.
How can we make it become possible, feasible, concrete? Personally, I’ve been here in Kosovo, following activities and projects, since the year 2004-2005, till now, and I’m seeing that it’s like, time by time, there’s even less and less attention to programs and projects for community building, confidence building and reconciliation process among the communities and across the division. It seems like the attention is moving towards development issues, labor market, economic take-off, very basic and concrete issues for everyday life of people and society, but even less and less attention for more issues important the same for civic and social development, like trust and confidence building among persons and groups. Do you think there is a real need for reconciliation, here and now, and how do you think possible to improve and to do concrete steps forward in the right direction? How can, you and we, do, in a very concrete way in order to search for and finally achieve that basic goal?
MK: I think creating jobs to work together across the two sides and the different communities can be positive, but we can also try to do that through projects. Here, from this point of view, nobody implements anything, so the situation should be better and better; as I said earlier, the fault is primarily into politics, because people don’t have what they deserve to have and they should have better politicians than the ones they actually have. So, my opinion is to turn away mind of people from this kind of bad politics and to make them act in a direct way to find solutions to join together.
FK: You put a very sensitive question also because we have the same perceptions here. Let me start with, as same to you, saying what are the needs of people, here and now. The needs of the people, especially after the war, were basically the reconstruction and the development, which was also called, immediately after the war – let’s say from 1999 to 2004 – “to develop building Kosovo” or “to build a State”, the one they usually call as “State Building”. From 2004 till now, the magic word is “transition” toward a self-sustainable State, especially after the declaration of independence of 2008.
All these phases were effectively based on the people needs, and also on the perceptions of what the people needs are (or should be): in the sense that, if we succeeded in the very first phase, then we could go to the second; if we passed successfully the second phase, than we got the third, but, if we didn’t successfully pass the crucial second phase, then we remained in that one for years. So, at a certain point, the question is: what did cause this? and the answer, here in Kosovo, is: corruption, nepotism, lack of rule of law, weaknesses in capacity (especially in administrative and institutional level), and deficiency in participation and assertiveness of civil society and the world of the NGOs.
In the beginning we properly had a need to have a roof, a house, just a place to stay, after the war and the destruction; now the main need is economic development; and people are saying, quite sure, that if we will have economic development, we won’t have tensions or inter-community problems, because the things that are uniting us, as Albanians and Serbs, are the problems, since both parts, apart from extremism, ideology and political affiliations, have the same need for job, employment and socio-economic development, as both parts have the same aspiration to a better future rather than the very negative present situation. Just after the war, you couldn’t find Serbs and Albanians working in the same office, having salaries and properly driving their lives; but, on the other side, if you succeed in finding them working, eventually working together, having their salary and positive conditions for everyday life, you won’t find them fighting, because all the basic needs are fulfilled.
They shall work together for the common interests on the same project and on the same aspiration towards a better future. Why is that political support and economic ground for projects in community building, confidence building and reconciliation, going to be reduced since the past few years? It’s because civil society is not seen or perceived here as the proper agent to do that. The reconciliation process already went up to the political level and this should be the difference in comparison with the very recent past, since politics, administration and institutions seized the support for reconciliation and trust previously led by civil society and civilian NGOs, trusting them directly to Pristina or Belgrade.
After the bilateral agreement of April 19th, 2013, between Belgrade and Pristina in order to solve concrete issues on the ground (like the institution of a Community of Serb Municipalities, the reform of Serbian institution in Kosovo, issues about supplies in water, energy, communication etc.) and to normalize the relations between the two capitals, Belgrade got the Association and Stabilization Agreement with the EU coming into force since last September 1st, 2013, while Pristina entered the pre-accession phase, paving the way for its own Association and Stabilization Agreement. Which is your perceptions about this arrangement and to a feasible future for Kosovo in its European path?
FK: Both parts, no matter if they recognize themselves and they actually don’t recognize each other, entered this process because one of the conditions was that one. If you need to go into EU, then you must dialogue. It’s like a pre-condition. On the same time, Kosovo prime minister, Hashim Thaci, has said that this dialogue confirms the stability, the sustainability and the “statehood” of Kosovo, which, personally for me, is not completely true. An ASA can be signed, according to Lisbon Treaty and European Regulations, by European Union and any Entity or Territory, according to certain conditions, no matter if it’s recognized or not. Kosovo is not recognized, and if our Government says this is a “recognition” of Kosovo statehood, we can reply this is confirming quite nothing, since Kosovo had the right to negotiate its own ASA, this being a very important step since we are now in the second phase even “frozen”, but we are in the last position on the list of the competition for the next one after Croatia in joining EU, and only Kosovo and Bosnia had no visa liberalization.
We ought to have European integration by our merits, not because we do compromises or because we conceal concessions in Bruxelles, we ought to have visa liberalization because we have reduced the amount of corruption, and finally we ought to enter European accession phase as a consequence of getting a proper statehood, a functioning rule of law and a fair economic system and development. Society in Kosovo needs, first of all, to dialogue between each other, then, when it will be prepared to dialogue with the neighbors, there will be a proper dialogue, since dialogue is the only way to settle the problems and to face the issues when they raise. You can easily see frozen conflicts all around the world, but if you’d want to remain frozen in Europe as well, this is not the time to do that.
That’s the reason why I am for the dialogue, but with certain premises, after some conditions and criteria are reached and fulfilled. Now I can say Kosovo made a lot of compromises and also painful compromises, at least on certain issues. For example, the “footnote”: Kosovo will be represented in regional and international sessions as Kosovo «without prejudice to positions on status, and in line with UNSC Resolution 1244/1999 and ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence»; or the external representation of Kosovo; or the re-establishing of Serbian institutions in the form of a “Community of Serb Municipalities”. It’s not a formal but a substantial issue, since we accepted Athisaari Plan (the 2007 status proposal which, even not mentioning the word “independence”, included several provisions widely interpreted as implying statehood for Kosovo, such as the right to apply for membership in international organizations, to create a Kosovo Security Force and to adopt national symbols) and we adopted it as a base for Kosovo Constitution (2008), then the agreements reached in Bruxelles (2013) are not in line with Athisaari package and interfering with the Constitution itself.
So, the implementation of the agreements will be not simple and the process itself of the negotiating rounds is quite complicated, because Kosovo has accepted pretty lots of compromises and Serbia is showing instead all its strength; and I’m convinced and aware that Serbia could say exactly the same, they are making lots of compromises, they have done lots of concessions on vital issues etc. That’s the reason why both parts are unsatisfied and there’s a common need to fix some pre-conditions and criteria for the dialogue, as I said before, also to properly go on this European path.
MK: We can say Serbia is at least one step forward in its road to Europe and, as we said before, we are “new-born” State, so we need years for our institutions and leadership to drive better and in the same time they are in front of an alternative choice: standing in front of the demands, questions, and needs of people, or staying side by side the request, dialogue and compromises to please others.
The last question is also to center the point and to open a wider comprehension for Italian readers of the horizons for Kosovo as a society and a new-born state. How do you see Kosovo in ten years?
MK: If politics will remain the same and politicians continue to act in the same way, I hardly see any step forward. I hope in the future everything will go in a better and positive way, Kosovo will go towards EU; but I don’t believe that we can effectively do that now, according to present situation.
FK: My prediction is 50-50%: I hope in sunny days for the future, because Kosovo is a young society, it has lots of youth and huge potential in youth and society, in youth capacities to over-come the challenges. Many youth think in a right way, problems are not threats but challenges, so we must say we want now stop acting as fools, we want now look into the future; but, in order to do so, we have to do on ourselves, to have more stable institutions, to welcome the European values not only in the forms but really in the substance and to be young European by merits and not just to be called in such a way. In future may be, Kosovo democracy will improve, more direct investments will enter the country, more Italian people will join Kosovo people, and I’d like to see more business to invest and more organizations to share projects and support local communities to overcome problems and face challenges. I will welcome everyone and feel free to share ideas for more cooperation between our civil societies, Italian one and Kosovo one, as major partners for the future.
Mitrovica, Kosovo: October 4th, 2013