Structured and unstructured daily encounters in Kosovo

While political processes and politicians are in the media spotlight, policy analysis and other writings about everyday realities and peoples’ lives in Kosovo have been overlooked or forgotten.

By Orli Fridman

In the past decade, an extensive number of publications have analyzed the Kosovo conflict, the future of Kosovo, the unilateral declaration of independence and the international presence in Kosovo. Often, when analyzing Kosovo, more attention is given to the territory itself than to the people of Kosovo and the changes they have lived through in the last decade. While political processes and politicians are in the media spotlight, policy analysis and other writings about everyday realities and peoples’ lives in Kosovo have been overlooked or forgotten.

Additionally, while the Albanian population in Kosovo receives most of the attention in research and analysis, the Serbian minority in Kosovo is discussed in a way that does not reflect their everyday lives. Therefore, in this paper I attempt to capture the everyday lives of young Kosovar Serbs whose stories and realities are almost hidden in the context of the Kosovo declaration of independence. To this end, I look at daily encounters between Serbs and Albanians from the perspective of Serbs in Kosovo who attempt to interact in today’s society, in what is now an Albanian space. Such interactions, which I refer to here as daily unstructured encounters, are almost non-existent and take place on a very small scale, as Serbs in Kosovo are completely segregated and disconnected from the newborn state. I then contrast such daily unstructured encounters with structured encounters occurring between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs from Serbia in the form of the ‘visiting program’ initiated and facilitated by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) (1). By structured and planned encounters I refer to meetings and projects initiated and facilitated by local or international groups.

In making this comparison I highlight the shift in power relations that has occurred in Kosovo as a consequence of the 1999 international intervention. I understand this shift as a crucial one for reshaping intergroup relations inside Kosovo and between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as in transforming the everyday lives of both Serbs and Albanians during the past decade in Kosovo.

In focusing on intergroup relations in Kosovo and on the issue of balance of power, I do not claim that Kosovo is a region torn between Serbs and Albanians only, nor do I wish to oversimplify other existing divisions and issues in Kosovo’s population today or ignore the rich history of other communities in Kosovo (2). I do, however, focus my study here on Serb-Albanian relations in the  context of the new post-Yugoslav states, and more specifically in the reality created in Kosovo after June 1999. I am interested in the ways the shift in power relations between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo has transformed identities and the everyday lives of ordinary people.

A note about the Research and the position of the Researcher

As an Israeli researcher, my entry point to studying the Serb-Albanian conflict in Kosovo stems from my interest in the comparative analysis of the internal dynamics of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and between Serbs and Albanians. In my research I analyze dialogues between groups in conflict with the aim of thinking critically about concepts such as reconciliation and peacebuilding encounters. While the literature on encounters between groups in conflict tends to focus on planned encounters and facilitated dialogues (3), here I also look at the unstructured daily encounters that I began noticing on my frequent visits to Kosovo and that may tell us more about the everyday lives of Kosovo’s ordinary people.

This paper is based on data collected from 2002 to 2009: during a pre-dissertation fieldwork visit (2002), while conducting dissertation field research in Serbia (2004-2005) and while continuing to reside in Belgrade (since 2005), during which time I often visited Kosovo and the cities of Prishtina and Gračanica in particular. During these years, data collection was mostly in the form of observation, participatory observation in structured planned encounters, and unofficial conversations with young Kosovar Albanians and Serbs, some of whom I know through my previous work as a facilitator of encounters of groups in conflict. The paper also makes use of data collected in semi-structured interviews conducted during two visits to Kosovo in June 2008 and January 2009. This research is a work in progress and as such, data collection and analysis have not yet been finalized.


Ten years have passed since the departure of the Serbian State Administration from Kosovo and the Kumanovo agreement that ended the NATO bombing, during which Kosovo’s population has been through tremendous changes. In the aftermath of the 1999 NATO bombing and UN resolution 1244 (4) Albanian refugees returned to their homes in Kosovo and the Serb population either began to leave (choosing not to live under an Albanian dominated state), or became a minority, living in isolation or in enclaves (5). The situation is slightly different in Mitrovica, a town divided by the Ibar River where Serbs north of the riverbank constitute a significant majority and have territorial continuity with Serbia. In other parts of Kosovo, however, the space is now dominated by Albanian symbols, language, institutions and culture, with Serbian language and symbols restricted to very limited areas.

It is estimated that nearly 130,000 Serbs live in Kosovo today (of an estimated 2 million total inhabitants) (6), which represents two-thirds of the pre-war Serb population. Of this number, almost two-thirds live south of the Ibar in enclaves surrounded by Albanian areas or in mixed villages. According to the European Stability Initiative (ESI), while almost all urban Serbs have left Kosovo (with North Mitrovica now the last remaining urban outpost); many of the rural Serb population have never left their homes (7).

Power dynamics in Kosovo – reversed asymmetry

A reversal of the former asymmetrical power relations has significantly changed the lives of Kosovar Serbs and Albanians, transformed the intergroup relations between them, and created the sense of a frozen conflict in Kosovo. After a period of Serbian domination and oppression (8), Kosovo is now largely an Albanian space, dominated by Albanian politicians, Albanian language and symbols (9), and is heavily engaged in the process of state-building. Backed by politicians from Belgrade, most of the Serb minority in Kosovo has refused to adjust to and accept these changes, which were created on the ground over almost a decade of UNMIK control. Serbs in Kosovo do not speak Albanian and are ultimately absent from the newborn state and the process of its creation, leaving the question of their integration into Kosovo society an open one.

This shift in the asymmetry of power relations has created a new reality on the ground, which culminated in Kosovo’s unilateral 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 interethnic society, a phrase which is emptied of the political context of minority-majority relations and identities whose power relations have been reversed. Terms such as interethnic society and interethnic cooperation shape meetings such as the one between local Serb and Albanian leaders held in Prishtina just days before the declaration of independence, with the goal of “improving interethnic trust…to reduce interethnic tensions, encourage consensus on local issues, and ultimately help political elites of both communities take ownership and responsibility for the future of their communities.” (10)

Such 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 multiethnic society in Kosovo.” (11) But can such encounters help address the issues stemming from the change in power relations in Kosovo? One thing is clear – as a result of such meetings and activities, it seems that many Albanians and Serbs share the opinion that Kosovo is treated like a laboratory experiment, an attitude that only produces more cynicism towards the top-down discourse of multi-ethnicity (12).

By focusing on young people who are part of the Serb minority and looking at a number of sites of daily encounters stemming from everyday needs, I attempt to underline the current dynamics of power and interaction between Serbs and Albanians. I became interested in those from the Serbian enclaves who choose to explore (even if cautiously) integration into life in Kosovo over isolation, those who choose to stay in Kosovo and not leave to Serbia, those who are searching for forms of present as well as future existence in Kosovo. I explore here some sites of informal unplanned encounters that shape the everyday lives of those who leave the Serbian enclaves and attempt to integrate into a now Albanian-dominated space.

In my analysis, I chose the following sites as spaces of daily encounters: a) the Albanian side of the Podujevo border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo, controlled by local Kosovar Albanian forces; b) the American University in Kosovo (AUK) campus in Prishtina; and c) the KFOR (K4) inter- ethnic radio station in Prishtina. At these sites, some local Serbs experience daily interactions which I refer to here as to unstructured encounters with Albanians. Although these encounters are also facilitated by the presence of the international community and might not be possible otherwise, they still constitute more casual interactions that are worth our attention.

These spaces of daily unstructured encounters raise some acute questions: what do such encounters tell us about the future of Serbs who still live in Kosovo? What might such interactions suggest in terms of the future of a multiethnic society in Kosovo? Given the reversal of power relations in Kosovo, what will be necessary to create a space where the Serb minority can become an integrated part of society? Is it only the responsibility of the majority to create these conditions? What might happen once the international community leaves Kosovo? Will Serbs choose to integrate themselves in the new Kosovo by learning Albanian, using Kosovo license plates, etc.?

At the end of this paper I will contrast such unplanned, unstructured daily encounters with planned facilitated encounters initiated by a local NGO – the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) that take place on a small scale between Serbs from Belgrade and Albanians from Prishtina. In making this comparison I ask, can such planned encounters contribute to the transformation of the frozen conflict in Kosovo, created as a consequence of the international intervention Kosovo, and even more so, after February 17, 2008?

Locations of unstructured daily encounters

a. The Border

The first site that caught my attention was the border control in Podujevo, now one of the border crossings between Serbia and Kosovo. In June 2008, almost four months after the unilateral declaration of independence in Prishtina, I took the daily transit van from Belgrade to Prishtina. As on many other such occasions in recent years, the minivan, run by a private company from Gračanica, was a reminder of the number of people who continue to commute between the two cities on a regular basis. Over the years, I have met various passengers on this ride: Serbs from Serbia who work for international organizations in Kosovo, Kosovo Serbs who live in Serbia and return to Kosovo every month to collect their pensions in their former municipalities where they are still registered, Kosovar Albanians visiting colleagues in Belgrade, and others. On this occasion, as we approached the border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo, some of the passengers became more alert in their seats and make sure to have their travel documents ready (Serbian ID cards or UNMIK passports) (13). Across the border there is now a big sign welcoming passengers to the Republic of Kosovo; some of the passengers comment on this with dissatisfaction, almost disdain.

The driver, a young Serb man from Gračanica crosses this border every day. He knows the Albanian border policemen who now ask him to step out of the car and present his travel documents. They proceed to inspect the bags in the back of the van and I listen carefully to their conversation (in Serbian). The driver asks if they can speed up the inspection that day. The border policeman smiles and replies: “if you recognize Kosovo’s independence right away, we can skip this entire process, and you can go ahead.” The driver relentlessly smiles back and once the inspection is over we are on the road again. I get off in the outskirts of Prishtina with another young man who had been visiting some colleagues in Belgrade. The rest of the passengers continue to the last stop, Gračanica.

For some years now, my frequent van rides from Belgrade to Prishtina and back draw my attentio as I try to give meaning to and analyze the interactions between the drivers, the passengers, and the border policemen. I think of these daily interactions as symbolic of the shift in power relations between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo that has occurred in the last decade. Those who used to be stopped at checkpoints, or who were expelled from the province in 1999, are now the ones in power and in control of what now seems to function as an international border.

In contrast with the common media portrayal of relations between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo focusing on violent events in Mitrovica, everyday interactions of necessity, such as the one at the border described above, may indicate a more complex picture if we focus on the reversal of the former asymmetry of power. With this shift, while Albanian identity is fully celebrated in Kosovo, Serbian identity in Kosovo is now subordinated, especially south of the Ibar River14.

b. The American University in Kosovo (AUK) campus in Prishtina

I came to the campus of the AUK to meet and conduct an interview with Ksenija, a young female student from Gračanica who received a scholarship to complete an undergraduate degree at AUK. I have known Ksenija for a number of years now, and have visited her in Gračanica. I now met her in a different space, which she refers to as a safe one. Ksenija awaits me at the university gate and as I approach her she greats me in Serbian and introduces me to a few other students from Gračanica. They feel at home on campus and unlike in Prishtina, they also feel safe communicating in their language. I conduct the interview with Ksenija at the school’s cafeteria. As we order food I notice that Ksenija lowers her voice as she tries to order her meal in Albanian. She explains to me that the guy serving the food already knows her and allows her to practice what is, according to her, her broken Albanian and doesn’t make fun of her. The language issue becomes crucial if one wants toexpand his/her boundaries/limits be able to leave the enclave, and have a sense of daily normalcy. Public spaces, once they become familiar, such as a shopping center on the outskirts of Prishtina, can generate some sense of ‘an allowed space’ but always “in the back of my mind,” as Ksenija explains, “is the fear of the unknown…it is hard to enter [a shop] only once but if I go there frequently, they know me already…the young girls who work there speak English, and the security guy greets me with ‘Zdravo’.”

The sense amongst Serb at the university is that it is their responsibility to meet Albanian students and break down the barriers. As Ksenija explained, “I feel like this is Kosovo, and we are here, and we exist, and we are trying to be equal; I am treated equally here. I don’t feel threatened to be here…but after I cross the gate of the campus, outside, I feel threatened. When I come with a cab here and stop here I feel, ok, I’m breathing again.” This is important because in the broader context of reality outside the gates of campus the feeling is quite different, especially when passing by the house where she was born: “on the way to airport I saw my house [which is now empty], I saw nothing, I saw my childhood that was destroyed, deleted. I mean I don’t exist in that place anymore, they deleted me…and, all these projects and so many donors, and so much money from the world just going nowhere.” But most of the time, Ksenija is determined not to submit to the great sense of frustration and anger that is consuming people all around her, which is how she refers to the atmosphere amongst her peers in Gračanica. She elaborates: “I was only a child when the war happened, and I cannot have my life back, but I can try and be here, and not leave, this is the easy way out.”

Ksenija and her friends did not quite know how to react to the unilateral declaration of independence – they thought they were going to quit their studies at AUK, but this did not happen. However, the need to avoid political discussions with students and professors is taking its toll on the students’ level of participation in both academic and student life: “there was a class discussion about Obama and McCain, and their position regarding independence in Kosovo…they [other students] were trying to get my reaction, see my facial expressions…I was on my laptop just trying to stay calm, not to react…I choose not to, also not on Facebook discussions, I know I cannot make a difference, and if I enter a fight, the next day they would not say hello to me in the corridor.”

c. The KFOR (K4) Radio Station

Serbs and Albanians working at the KFOR (NATO-led forces in Kosovo) radio station in Prishtina meet each other every day. They work for a multiethnic radio station that broadcasts music along with a message of tolerance and respect in both Serbian and Albanian. Jelena, who works at the radio station, says of her workplace: “it is a station run by military standards, but we are civilians who work there. No one pushes me during the breaks or after work to go with my colleagues and have coffee; it is one’s personal choice.” This is another space where people who are otherwise completely segregated may interact, yet even under such conditions the reality outside is difficult to discuss openly and frankly. Last year, right after the declaration of independence, I visited Jelena in Gračanica and she spoke about her experience on the day of and the day after the declaration of independence. She had hoped that she would not have to go to work those days because while some of her colleagues were celebrating, she was not. She was sad and terrified. She still had to go to work, broadcast, and according to her, amuse people in her afternoon program. That day she could at least point her finger at KFOR policy: “why did they push me to work that day, we could just play music instead…I couldn’t talk normally that day, I could not read the information like nothing was happening outside. They [internationals who work for KFOR] make billboards and messages [for tolerance], but they have no idea what it means to our culture, they are confused, they don’t know where they came to.”

Last year, after independence, Jelena decided to accept an invitation from a colleague to attend her birthday party in Prishtina on a Saturday night. Serbs from Gračanica do not generally hang out in Prishtina; in fact most of them no longer go there, especially not to the city center. Jelena’s decision to go was not an easy one. Returning home after that night made it all even harder for her: “I went there and I saw hundreds of people, having the time of their life, enjoying…I couldn’t but think to myself ‘they took this place from me…they occupied it from us, it used to be mine and now it is theirs only…” Given these emotions, she did not feel safe there, and she spoke about the fact that she couldn’t just be there normally: “with all the music and everything, I felt they are celebrating for what they took telling us ‘it’s ours not yours anymore.’”

In some ways the choice to get outside of Gračanica, to get a job in Prishtina, even to go out on a Saturday night and experience everyday encounters with Albanians makes Jelena and the few others like her see and experience what many inside the enclaves choose not to. This is possibly a more difficult path they chose in their struggle for normalcy. The question remains – can these realities and identities coexist given their grievances towards each other and given the deep sense of loss not only of lives and property but of power, experienced by the Serbs who remained in Kosovo.

Contrasting unstructured with structured encounters

Given this segregated reality in Kosovo, it is possible that a Prishtina-Belgrade dialogue, even though quite rare, is more feasible and easier to conceive of right now. Radio Free Europe, in its program Most (Bridge), has initiated a series of dialogues between prominent individuals from Serbia and Kosovo on the question of ‘how to unfreeze Serbia-Kosovo relations.’ On January 5, 2009 the interlocutors were two writers, Migjen Kelmendi in Prishtina and Vladimir Arsenijević in Belgrade. The exchange between the authors was far more political and direct than any of the structured or unstructured encounters I have observed so far. They were free to talk about real issues with a high level of self-confidence and self-criticism. Additionally, they were not bound by the language of the international community, in the sense of using the paradigm of multi-ethnicity and multiethnic society – a discourse that I claim does not leave much room for meaningful discussion on issues of the past as well as the present. The two writers spoke as equals, as two statesmen from their capital cities of Belgrade and Prishtina and no longer as the oppressor and the oppressed. This possibly allowed them the freedom (which is lacking in Kosovo itself between Serbs and Albanian) to be self-critical from a position of security in their identities.

While the recognition of Kosovo’s independence is experienced as a direct threat by young Serbs from Kosovo such as Jelena and Ksenija, for Arsenijević with his perspective as a Belgradian the declaration of Kosovo’s independence has created “the first serious basis for a complete redefinition of Serb-Albanian relations, and thus for a new future.” (15) Accordingly, the interactions between young Kosovar Albanians and Serbs from Serbia as part of the ‘visiting program’ of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) (16) are interesting to study as structured planned encounters aimed at redefining future relations between two countries. The aim of the program is “to offer young people the possibility to become familiar with the social situation in Serbia and Kosovo; to connect with their peers ‘from the other side’, meeting people with similar interests and establish new relations and communication between the two societies.” The visiting program also aims to establish a network of young people with various interests who will remain involved in civic activism (17). This is a significant achievement considering the current context in which, according to YIHR, there is a complete lack of official communication between the Kosovar and Serbian state institutions and a refusal to actively engage in solving the social problems that exist between the two societies. The change in power relations in Kosovo after 1999 therefore created the possibility for these young people to meet and interact in such structured encounters as equals, while in Kosovo itself, this change has created the sense of a frozen conflict.

Breaking prejudice, one of the program’s aims as defined by YIHR, is a challenge in many such encounters between members of societies in conflict. According to some practitioners and researchers, such prejudices cannot truly be broken; instead, participants of facilitated encounters can only become aware of them and of their manipulation (18). In the case of Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue, it might be easier to address such prejudices and even transform them, than in the case of Serbs and Albanians from Kosovo. In the latter case, it is not only the past but also everyday reality that is still contested, even when going out on a Saturday night. According to YIHR’s statement: “Prejudice, hatred and a history of violence and conflict mark relations between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, in the past and in the present. Serbian society’s perspective of Kosovar society is extremely negative, due to aggressive state policy toward Kosovo Albanians. The current tense relations between Serbia and Kosovo caused by Kosovo status issue are perpetuating traditional hatred and prejudice. Serbia is totally ignoring the existence of modern Kosovo society and its citizens. Serbia’s attention is directed only to the territory of Kosovo and the possibility of losing it. Such politics has led to the complete dehumanization of people that live in Kosovo,which strongly affects public opinion in Serbia.”(19)

While such discourse exists among liberal alternative circles in Belgrade, from the point of view of Serbs in Gračanica, they too are the subjects of Belgrade prejudice. As one Kosovar Serb interviewee who participated in a dialogue group in a summer peace camp that took place in the United States (between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs, and Serbs from Serbia) in 2001 attested: “they [in Belgrade], think the bombing was the worst thing that happened, they should have been here…I don’t want their compassion but I also don’t want them to treat me and my friends here as if we are all on the developmental level of a ten year old child. There are many smart people here who try to educate themselves and cross all boundaries, and try to remain sane.”

I discovered that those young Serbs from Kosovo, those who choose to cross daily boundaries and experience everyday encounters, are actually more confused or even overwhelmed with dissonance than their counterparts who do not venture out. Their realities can no longer be characterized as black and white only. They meet their Albanian peers, and be it at AUK or at the K4 radio station they try to do so on equal grounds. They share the common need for electricity, running water and a functional system, but they cannot accept Kosovo’s new independent status, which they see as destructive to their identities. They therefore cannot share the vital, positive energy and sense of hope currently so prevalent among young Kosovar Albanians. The decision to become a part of Kosovar society and identity, as opposed to looking towards Serbia only, is made of very small decisions such as which license plates one will put on his/her car or which TV channels one will have access to at home.

When Prime Minister Hashim Thaci declared Kosovo’s independence on February 17, 2008, he gave a speech in both Albanian and Serbian to the Kosovo parliament. However, many Serbs in Kosovo did not even have the opportunity to watch the speech as it was not broadcast on their TV channel. Some perceived Thaci’s act of speaking in Serbian to parliament very cynically. As one interviewee told me: “I don’t have the Kosovo channel on my TV selection of channels. Where could I hear him? He addresses the Albanian parliamentarians, speaking in Serbian to whom? Just to pretend everything is fine, in front of the international community?”

Juxtaposing such a sense of anger and the rejection of cooperation amongst Serbs in Kosovo with the visiting program participants to Prishtina is interesting. As one participant from Belgrade wrote about the sense of openness from Albanians he encountered: “it is not just that everyone understands Serbian, but grabs every opportunity to speak it perfectly, even those who have never learned the language, are trying hard to speak it.” (20) Such visits are a matter of choice and not a matter of survival. They stem from a sense of openness and curiosity, from a desire to cross boundaries between two societies that are in many ways very far away from each other. YIHR activists and others attest to the fact that most people in Serbia today are not even interested in Kosovo (or in visiting Kosovo).

Closing remarks

By analyzing unstructured and structured encounters with a focus on Serbian perspectives from both Gračanica and Belgrade, this paper attempted to shed light on intergroup relations in Kosovo as compared to relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Given the limited length of this paper, I chose to focus my analysis on data collected from Serbs in Kosovo only and did not include Kosovar Albanian perspectives in my analysis. In so doing I hope to begin to analyze the meaning of the change in power relations and its influence on identities as well as on future developments in Kosovo’s society. In this sense, YIHR’s new project to initiate structured encounters between young people from Prishtina and Gračanica will be an important one to study in the context of comparing structured and unstructured encounters in Kosovo and those between Kosovo and Serbia.

Orli Fridman is the academic director of the SIT Study Abroad program in the Balkans (Post- Conflict Transformation in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia) and a lecturer at the MA program in Conflict Studies at the Faculty for Media and Communication (FMK) at the Singidunum University (Belgrade). Orli received her Ph.D. at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) at George Mason University.


1) The Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) was formed in 2003. It is a regional non-governmental organization with programs in Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. YIHR was formed by young people from these countries in order to enhance youth participation in the democratization of society and empowerment of the rule of law by driving the processes of facing the past and establishing new progressive connections in the post-conflict region of the former Yugoslavia. The Visiting Program started in 2004, as an exchange program for journalists between Serbia and Kosovo and later developed into a broader exchange program for young people of various profiles from Serbia and Kosovo. For more information see

2) See for example: Ger Duijzings, Religion and the Politics of Identity in Kosovo (London: Hurt & Company, 2000). This book captures realities that in many ways no longer exist in Kosovo after 1999. I particularly think of his 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, p. xii.

3) The rich experience of dialogue groups between Israelis and Palestinians ranges from the contact hypothesis theory to a more critical approach that looks at the asymmetry of power relations between the occupier and the occupied. The frozen conflict as created in Kosovo and the reversal of power dynamics offers us a fascinating opportunity to think about the possibility of conflict transformation as an ongoing process that by definition requires a significant political change (i.e. end of Apartheid).

4) Security Council Resolution 1244 was passed on June 10, 1999. According to the Resolution, Serbian forces were to withdraw from Kosovo and be replaced by a NATO-led force (KFOR) and a UN administration (which created the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Tim Judah, Kosovo: What Everyone needs to Know (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 91.

5) The biggest enclave is Gračanica (in Albanian Graçanica) and a string of villages around Prishtina. Other enclaves are Štrpce (Shterpce), Goraždevac (Gorazhdevc) in the west (near Peč/Peja), and mixed villages around Gnjilane (Gjilan).

6) After 1999, Serbs probably comprised 50 to 60 percent of the total number of non-Albanians in Kosovo. Other minorities include Serbian-speaking Slavic Muslims, many of whom since 1999 choose to identify themselves as Bosniaks, and a large number of whom live in and around Prizren. Other minority groups include the Roma, Ashkali Egyptians, Turks, Gorani and a small number of Croats (most of whom left in the 1990s to Croatia).

7) Judah, pp. 102-104.

8) I refer here to the late 1980’s and 1990’s. However, this period should be analyzed in the broader context of the collapse of Yugoslavia, the rise of nationalism and nationalist projects, and Yugoslavia’s political framework in relation to Kosovo. For patterns of Serbian state violence in Kosovo see James Ron, Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), chapter 4.

9) The issue of the language and public space is fascinating both for what is apparent on the surface (e.g. villages now only know by the Albanian version of their names and road signs on which the Serbian version has been erased) and for what is hidden, i.e. the meaning of such changes and the effect they have on local Serbian identity and existence in Kosovo. The issue of control over both geographical and cultural space as a consequence of the change in power relations is also fascinating from a comparative point of view. For example, for a case study in Israel, see Jonathan Boyarin, “Ruins in the Road to Jerusalem,” Studio no. 37, 1992 (in Hebrew).

10) Project on Ethnic Relations, “Strengthening Interethnic Political Dialogue in Kosovo” Meeting Report, Prishtina, January 31 – February 1. 2008.

11) Ibid.

12) As one interviewee from Gračanica told me: “sometimes I feel like I’m in a laboratory; outside there is an entire world and somebody is watching me…so they are pushing things inside, so they will see how I’m going to behave.” I heard the most thought-provoking criticism of this sense of laboratory as created by internationals in Kosovo in conversations with the members of Vetevendosje — the movement for self-determination, and in the group’s activism and writings. See

13) After 1999, Serbs in Kosovo continue to carry Serbian passports and ID cards but most Kosovar Albanians (who had been stripped of their documents by Serbian forces either before or during the NATO bombings) were issued UNMIK passports. After February 2008, the Kosovo government began to issue local passports, which are only recognized by states that officially recognize Kosovo as an independent state. This remains an unresolved issue.

14) In thinking about border crossings and checkpoints, I draw on an ethnographic study about the political economy of the Israeli Green Line: Avram S. Bornstein, Crossing the Green Line Between the West Bank and Israel(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002). In Israel-Palestine, where checkpoints and border crossings play a crucial role in institutionalizing the imbalance of power relations between the occupier and the occupied, we haven’t yet witnessed such a reversal as in Kosovo. I believe the potential for such a future change is one of the deepest fears of those in power today. Researching the meaning of the shift in power relations in Kosovo after UN Resolution 1244 and even more so after the unilateral declaration of independence may teach us something useful from the perspective of comparative conflict analysis.

15) ‘Belgrade is a Far Away Place for Albanians from Kosovo,’ Omer Karabeg in conversation with Migjen Kelmendi and Vladimir Arsenijević. Available at:

16) See footnote no. 1.

17) From Youth Initiative publication Visiting Program, 2006, p. 47.

18) Rabah Halabi (ed.), Israeli and Palestinian identities in Dialogue: the School for Peace Approach (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004).

19) Visiting Program, pp. 48-49.20. Darko Soković, ‘Land of the People,’ Visiting Program, p. 54.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons