A group of eight Kosovar Albanian women visiting the U.S. for six weeks said reconciliation is progressing in parts of Kosovo, and they expressed hope that a historic agreement this year to normalize relations with neighboring Serbia might ease tensions in majority Serb North Kosovska Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zvečan and Zubin Potok.
The National Albanian American Council and the U.S. Agency for International Development had brought the group to the United States in hopes of strengthening the role of women in policy and decision-making in Kosovo. Representing Kosovo’s civil society sector, government, private firms and volunteer advocacy groups, they were welcomed to USIP for an open dialogue, to discuss ways women can help further peace, particularly in divided areas of the country.
The women spent a week observing members of Congress, and said they were impressed how hard U.S. lawmakers work on a daily basis.
Venera Kabashi, a senior legal officer at Kosovo’s Ministry of Justice, told a USIP audience on June 25, “My time on [Capitol] Hill made me realize, no matter how difficult it may be to pass an initiative, everyone still manages to work hard.” She was also struck by how lawmakers and staff of different ethnicities and backgrounds work together to reach common goals. Serbs and Albanians already work side-by-side in Kosovo’s national government structures and cooperate in areas outside the most divided parts of the country, the women said.
The women said the main lessons they gleaned from their time visiting different organizations in the U.S. were best practices for how to bring different groups together and how to implement the new laws stemming from the normalization agreement.
The April 19 accord calls for abolishing parallel institutions and establishing an “Association/Community” of Serb-majority municipalities within Kosovo, which would function according to Kosovo’s laws. In effect, Serb areas get a measure of autonomy, such as in policing, in return for recognizing certain authorities of the central government, which is led by the majority ethnic Albanians. Most Serb nationalists strongly oppose the agreement, and its implementation remains uncertain. Some Kosovar Albanians also worry that the pact might encourage Kosovo’s Serbs to secede and join Serbia.
Kosovo had declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, but the Serb minority boycotted the proceedings, and Serbia sought support for its stance that the declaration was illegal. On July 22, 2010, the International Court of Justice determined that the declaration did not violate international law.
The U.S. and some European Union countries immediately recognized Kosovo’s independence while some nations in the EU have continued to refuse recognition.
The dispute over independence still lingers, especially in the predominantly-Serb north.
The delegation said they hope this year’s agreement will help ease the tensions, but there is still lot of work to be done at the grass-roots level.
“Top-down reconciliation without the bottom-up approach complementing it will not succeed,” said Meliza Haradinaj, a local councilor at the Municipal Assembly of Prishtina.
Doruntina Ukimeri, co-founder of a civic organization based in the southern Kosovo town of Prizren, said young people particularly are in favor of the new agreement between Kosovo and Serbia.
The women said they are optimistic that, by working closely with Serbs and women from other ethnic groups living throughout Kosovo, they can cement a lasting peace and bring progress to their communities.
Asia Frotan works in USIP’s Centers of Innovation.