Dear Self-Determined Area of Kosovo,
You are wonderful. How did I get so lucky as to visit you with my Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict class for our long study tour?
You’ve had a rough time over the past twenty years, dear, sweet Kosovo. To be quite frank, I knew next to nothing about you until I enrolled in this class.
Now I know that you are a self-determined country that formally declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. In the late 1980s, amidst a communist regime in Yugoslavia, ethnic tensions began to rise between Albanian and Serbian ethnic groups, largely fueled by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. Many ethnic Albanians were forced to flee the country or face cultural oppression by Milošević’s regime, and by 1998, the Kosovo Liberation Army took up arms in resistance to Serbian oppression. Only in 1999 with NATO intervention did the violence subside, and Kosovo was placed under UN administration until its independence in 2008. But of course, you already know all of this. You know the violence that existed on both sides of this conflict.
It is still unclear how many lives were lost during your war due to the thousands of Albanians, Serbians and Roma still classified as “missing”, but estimates reach as high as 11,000 dead and over 1 million displaced by the war. With less than 20 years since the war, you still bear the scars of that violent and hateful conflict. But, you are so alive, Kosovo, teeming with youthful energy and vibrancy.
I have to say, my classmates and I didn’t quite know what we were getting into. As students of humanitarian law and armed conflict, we were excited to observe a post-conflict environment firsthand. Are tensions still alive between the Serbians and Albanians? How are you, Kosovo, adapting to your new and fragile statehood? What does the future look like for you? As we drove through the eerie fog that clung to your decrepit buildings and unorganized infrastructure, our expectations began to crumble. I didn’t know what to think of you then, Kosovo. I felt like you were weeping and still bleeding from the war.
But then we met your people, Kosovo, and everything changed. Everything changed when I saw your children, young and old, laughing in the streets, studying at your universities, chatting in your coffee shops. Everything about you, Kosovo, cries out, “We are still here. We are alive.”
You spoke to us through NGOs, through political leaders, through students, through ambassadors, and through the people we encountered in restaurants and on the streets. You spoke to us through countless meals filled with countless pieces of the most delicious bread I have ever tasted in my life. You spoke to us through open spaces and mountain-side trails and 600-year-0ld monasteries.
Thank you for bringing my classmates and I together. Thank you for giving us a place to explore together where we felt safe, welcomed and at home. Thank you for helping us to band together to have our questions answered, our expectations defied and our hearts changed. Thank you for welcoming us.
I don’t know if I will see you again, Kosovo. I am so far away from you, and it’s hard to say when our paths will diverge again. But I’m placing my confidence in you, Kosovo. It’s been a long road, and the road ahead is still rocky. You’ll have to face the challenges of corruption, a budding economy and a politically unstable status. And still, I have confidence in your future because of the hearts and dedication of your people. Thank you for welcoming a rag-tag group of American students; I am forever grateful for your generosity.