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Finding common ground in Kosovo

Kosovo, June 19, 2002

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    Mercy Corps has hosted a series of conferences that have helped to bring together Serb and Albanian business leaders in Kosovo. Photo: Scott Heidler/Mercy Corps 2000. Photo:

Caring for bees is more than just a job or a hobby to Metush Maxuti. It is his passion.

Maxuti, a beekeeper and head of The Beekeepers Association in Cernica, Kosovo, believes that people living in Kosovo can learn an important lesson from the insects he loves.

"Bees don’t know about boundaries or borders," he said.

In Kosovo, many divisions remain as its people slowly begin to recover from years of conflict and economic isolation. Chief among them are lingering tensions between Kosovar Serbs and Albanians.

In a small, impoverished territory where various components of the economy were once designed to cut across borders and ethnicities, fear and mistrust between Kosovar Serbs and Albanians is, in some cases, severely impacting businesses and communities struggling to move forward.

Mercy Corps recently hosted the third in a series of conferences that have brought together agricultural and business leaders of both ethnicities to examine and discuss areas of economic cooperation.

For many of the participants, the conferences were the first opportunity they had had in years to talk with former business partners and associates.

"Before the war, I worked with Albanians. But during the war we stopped cooperating. I was so excited when I saw the Albanians I knew before the war, and also when I saw how pleased they were to see me," said Zoran Cvetanovic, manager of the Silovo Refrigeration Plant. "It was as if the war never happened. This was very positive for me."

In addition to enabling the participants develop common grounds for business, the conferences have also helped some to break down a wall of mistrust that developed following the conflict.

"Before the conference I had very little contact with Albanians. After the conference I cooperated much more and felt much freer to move around. I also trusted people much more," said Miroslav Jovanovic, a feed mill owner in Partes.

"After the conference I was able to give an Albanian product on credit and trust them to pay me later. Even my neighbors are more trusting now than before because of what’s happened to me."

Participants in the conference said that they are hopeful that cooperation and business ties between Kosovar Serbs and Albanians will continue to improve in the future.

"Communication and information is critical for beekeepers because bees don’t recognize boundaries. If one swarm gets sick it can infect swarms anywhere," Maxuti said. "Relationships are getting better because people are communicating and greeting each other, and also trading with each other."

Mercy Corps has been working in Kosovo since 1993. In 1999, Mercy Corps responded to the refugee crisis created by the conflict in the former Yugoslavia by providing food aid to 200,000 people in the northwestern part of Kosovo. As the conflict waned, Mercy Corps has transformed its presence from relief to recovery, focusing on longer-term social and economic development.