Mercy Corps initiative builds multi-ethnic peace in Kosovo

Kosovo, May 28, 2004

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    Through peace-building efforts coordinated by Mercy Corps, roads destroyed during the Balkan conflict are being rebuilt and ethnic ties strengthened. Photo: Mercy Corps Photo:

Violent protests in Kosovo in mid-March highlighted the need for multi-ethnic collaboration to continue at the municipal and community level. Such cooperation is critical as that country’s citizens work to build connections between their villages and the government that serves them. Mercy Corps’ Kosovo Municipal Infrastructure and Support Initiative (MISI), a program working to increase local government ownership of the process of refugee returns and reintegration, is currently one of the on-going interventions in Kosovo striving to build such connections. Despite the recent turmoil, program staff has been able to continue the program’s work in a number of minority and multi-ethnic sites throughout Kosovo.

One important step took place on March 30, 2004 in Rubovc/Rubofce, a village located near the city of Lipjan/Lipljan. Humanitarian workers, municipal officials and MISI staff met with the multi-ethnic Community Working Group from the village to implement a project aimed at rehabilitating the road connecting the village to Lipjan/Lipljan. Rubovc's/Rubofce's population is composed of 45% Kosovo Serb and 55% Kosovo Albanian residents – a multi-ethic mix that makes collaboration a challenge at times.

During the meeting, participants discussed the recent protests that occurred throughout Kosovo. All members of the Community Working Group voiced the opinion that the events of mid-March were regrettable. Residents went on to state that before the conflict of 1999, there were no problems in the community. In fact, during the conflict five years ago, the village remained relatively peaceful despite violent events in nearby Lipjan/Lipljan and surrounding areas.

When the fierce protests began two weeks ago, the Kosovo Serb residents opted to leave the villages for fear of their safety, despite promises from Kosovo Albanian neighbors that they would be protected. However, the greatest fear of the Kosovo Serb residents of the village of Rubovc/Rubofce was not that they would encounter threats from their Kosovo Albanian neighbors, but rather, they feared outsiders who might enter the village. Once the Kosovo Serb families left the community, the remaining Kosovo Albanian households organized a schedule of persons willing to guard the Serb houses around the clock. Despite their best efforts, one Kosovo Serb family’s house was burned during the chaos. Unfortunately, no one in the community knows who is responsible.

The Kosovo Serb committee representative said his community would continue to work to ensure implementation of the infrastructure project, as it is much needed by both ethnic groups. Kosovo Serb families in the village have no plans to leave. Both groups believe in their ability to live together peacefully in this multi-ethnic village, and both parties hope and trust that the recent events will not negatively effect their relationship.

Even the owner of the burned house is hopeful about the future: he and his family are staying in Rubovc/Rubofce. Municipal officials have already assessed his home, and he believes that it will be soon rehabilitated.

Now that the Kosovo Serb residents have returned to the village, both ethnic groups are doing their best to ensure that the events occurring across Kosovo do not impact the village’s peaceful environment. Life is slowly returning to normal around Rubovc/Rubofce: children are playing together and neighbors are talking. This progress is remarkable, considering the turmoil and violence that erupted across Kosovo only two weeks ago.