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Structured Encounters in Post-conflict/Post-Yugoslav Days: Visiting Belgrade and Prishtina

Part of the Springer Series in Transitional Justice book series (SSTJ)


This chapter analyzes encounters taking place between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs from Serbia proper in the form of the Visiting Program, a project initiated and facilitated by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), a Belgrade and Prishtina-based non-governmental organization (NGO). By analyzing data collected in 2009–2011, including interviews and participant observation, this chapter offers the reader an insight into local peacebuilding and transitional justice practices generating exchange of perceptions and firsthand experiences between young people from Kosovo and Serbia in relation to the recent war in Kosovo, the past relations and the present state of affairs. This chapter therefore aims at contributing to our understanding of the conflict, its legacies today, and the way it shaped Serb–Albanian relations. Additionally it aims at broadening the literature and discussions on dealing with the past and transitional justice in the Balkans by analyzing projects of encounters in the context of today’s post-Yugoslav states looking at Kosovo–Serbia in particular.


  • Young People
  • Civil Society
  • Civic Engagement
  • Transitional Justice
  • Firsthand Experience

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  1. 1.

    For a discussion distinguishing between anti-war and anti-Milošević activism in Serbia in the 1990s see (Fridman 2011). The distinction between civil and uncivil society groups is also important in this context (Kopecky and Mudde 2003; Kostovicova 2010, pp.289–290).

  2. 2.

    The fall of Milošević paradoxically also led to the proliferation of uncivil society and ultra nationalist groups in Serbia promoting illiberal ideologies, including anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism (Kostovicova 2010, p.290).

  3. 3.

    For additional discussion regarding developments and scholarly trends in the field of transitional justice see for example (Teitel 2003; McEvoy 2007).

  4. 4.

    For additional literature analyzing such processes see (Shaw and Waldorf 2010; Hinton 2010). I thank Olivera Simić for introducing me to these texts. For a discussion about transitional justice mechanism and truth telling to ensure a real political engagement and agency to a population that has been subject to violent conflict see (Lundy and McGovern 2008 ).

  5. 5.

    In Religion and the Politics of Identity in Kosovo, Duijzings captures realities... that in many ways no longer exist in Kosovo after 1999. I particularly think of the author’s postscript comment in the Preface, as he explains that his manuscript was finalized before the start of the NATO actions against Serbia and therefore were not included at his account: “although these developments have put my work in a completely different light, I could not include them in my account. It is sad that this book now bears testimony to a world that may have ceased to exist” (Duijzings 2000, p.12).

  6. 6.

    By pedagogical discussion I refer for example to debates among practitioners and educators in encounters between Israelis and Palestinians who over the years have come to criticize the “contact hypotheses” model of encounters. This model assumes that the act of bringing together people who belong to groups that are in conflict, cutting them off from their group affiliations, and introducing participants on a personal basis, can reduce both their alleged hatred for one another and the stereotypes they have about each other. Such an approach was highly criticized by some practitioners as it became clear that such encounters, not only disregard the controversial issues that are in the heart of the conflict, but also generate the same inequalities existing in the realities from which participants are coming, and therefore depoliticize the encounter and the issues between them. Approaching such encounters as political education offers an approach that understands any of such encounters to be a mean for political/social change, and not an aim in of itself (Halabi and Sonnenschein 2004).

  7. 7.

    Most of the available work and the writings focus on the triangle of Serbia-Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, not including Kosovo. See for example (Franović 2008). The work of the Center for Non-Violent Action (Centar za nenasilnu akciju (CNA)) with former combatants is framed in terms of Peace Education (Vukosavljević 2007). An exception to that is a text about the work of the Nansen Center (Steinar 2011).

  8. 8.

    While the visits and interviews took place in Belgrade and Prishtina, some participants were born and raised in other towns or cities in Kosovo and Serbia, but currently attend universities and reside in the capitals.

  9. 9.

    The data collected for the unstructured daily encounters portion of the project also includes interviews conducted in Prishtina and Gračanica with young Serbs from Kosovo working or studying in Prishtina and daily crossing imaginary borders by entering the city.

  10. 10.

    See for example in the interview with the chief negotiator of the Serbian team upon his return from Brussels from negotiations with the Kosovar team who referred to Albanians as to “people from another planet” in an interview on Blic daily newspaper (Spaić 2011).

  11. 11.

    See for example transcripts available from a seminar that took place in Prishtina in 2008, titled: “Cultural Policies as Crises Management?” (Heta and Osmani 2008).

  12. 12.

    Karabeg also published his conversations between Albanians and Serbs (Karabeg 2000).

  13. 13.

    The shift in the asymmetry of power relations in Kosovo has created a new reality on the ground, which culminated in Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008. However, much of the discourse on intergroup relations in Kosovo, shaped by the massive presence of the international community, is frequently reduced to the term inter-ethnic society, a phrase which in my opinion is emptied of the political context of minority-majority relations and identities whose power relations have been reversed. Terms such as inter-ethnic society and inter-ethnic cooperation shape meetings hosted by international organizations, constitute structured and planned facilitated encounters between local politicians as they focus on an open discussion that may “encourage cooperation on non-status issues … and provide assistance in building a stronger multi-ethnic society in Kosovo” (Strengthening Interethnic Political Dialogue in (Kosovo 2008)). My question here is can such encounters help address the issues stemming from the change in power relations between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo?

  14. 14.

    According to the organizers, more than a thousand young people, students, activists, journalists and professionals from various fields have gone through the Visiting Program, and for all of them it was the first time they saw Belgrade, Pristina and later Sarajevo.

  15. 15.

    The Prishtina meeting point for the departure to Belgrade is Hotel Victory, while the Belgrade meeting point of departure to Prishtina is the train station. This is set in accordance with the existing Belgrade-Prishtina-Gračanica line.

  16. 16.

    Later on, the visits from Prishtina to Belgrade were put on hold, as participants who after the declaration of independence carried Kosovar travel documents (while before they carried UNMIK passports or still the Yugoslav passports), could not enter Serbia who refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence and all symbols generated from that unilateral move, including the new passports. Serbs are still able to enter Kosovo with their travel documents (ID is in fact sufficient). Following the February 2012 round of negotiations, it seemed like Serbia will allow Kosovar Albanians to enter Serbia with their Kosovo IDs. At the mean time YIHR were able to receive special permits for the visits, and the visitors had to leave their travel document at the border, and receiving them back upon their return to Kosovo.

  17. 17.

    About Silence breakers in Serbia see (Fridman 2011).

  18. 18.

    I heard reference from activists, referring to themselves as people who “professionally are dealing with the past” referring to that as to more than a job, more as a way of life a matter of values. Images of civil society in the Serbia vary among ordinary people but are mostly negative: as if it is common knowledge outside of these circles, that NGOs have a lot of money, but since the results of their work are not seen, they must be doing nothing, or as earlier addressed to, still in the 1990s, they are anti-war profiteers (who should be therefore seen just as culprits as the war profiteers). In a conversation with one of the YIHR coordinators, she explained how prior to joining YIHR she had a very bad image of NGOS in a very abstract way: “yes I was aware of their anti-war action, but even that was not enough for me; during my studies, in the late 1990’s and even after 2000, I was not in these circles, I didn’t know much about what they were doing, but I knew that a priori they were bad. I think it had to do with my ignorance and lack of knowledge. And this is still the connotation people have with NGOs” (Interview with the author, Belgrade, July 19, 2009).

  19. 19.

    The importance of seeing in one own eyes is crucial in the approach to raising awareness and generating change in the process of knowing and breaking the silence. See also projects as the Helsinki committee for Human Rights School.

  20. 20.

    This as a motivation I especially noticed among the organizers of the program. Some of them joined activism in YIHR through first participating in the Visiting Program.

  21. 21.

    More on memories of Socialist Yugoslavia in post-war Kosovo see (Schwander-Sievers 2010). The biography of Adem Demaçi is illuminating in portraying the images and of Yugoslavia in Kosovo (Gashi 2010).

  22. 22.

    Similar sentiments towards the Yugoslav days were heard in Serbia prior to the abolishment of the visa requirement to enter the EU in December 2009.

  23. 23.

    For example she kept referring to names of the streets and buildings that have changed. The Lepa Brena Building, which is now called the KEKS building, Kosovo’s electric distribution company seemed as a marker for her to find her way around. For a discussion and analysis of changes in space and landscape modifications as related to citizenship and identity in Kosovo see (Krasniqi 2012).

  24. 24.

    For further discussion on Serb stereotypes towards Albanians see (Marković 2003). Slobodan Naumović’s analysis on popular narratives on Serbian disunity also sheds light on those dynamics (Naumović 2007).

  25. 25.

    My thinking about engaged forms of citizenship is shaped significantly by the work of Ariella Azoulay (Azoulay 2008).

  26. 26.

    See endnote 5.


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The fieldwork and research on which this chapter is based was supported by a grant provided by the Berghof Foundation. I would like to thank Lea David, Jelena Tošić, and Nenad Porobić for their comments and helpful conversations with me on earlier drafts of this chapter. I would also like to thank Dana Johnson for her help in editing the first draft of this chapter and for her helpful comments and Dunja Resanović for her work and help as a research assistant at earlier stages of this project.

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Fridman, O. (2013). Structured Encounters in Post-conflict/Post-Yugoslav Days: Visiting Belgrade and Prishtina. In: Simić, O., Volčič, Z. (eds) Transitional Justice and Civil Society in the Balkans. Springer Series in Transitional Justice. Springer, New York, NY.

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