October 03, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - The long trek to peace 

A Whistler student is part of an international effort to establish a Balkans Peace Park

Page 3 of 9

Things are far from back to normal, however. When the Albanians returned following the NATO bombing a small group took retributive actions against the Kosovar Serbs. The tiny Serb minority that remain in Kosovo live segregated from the Albanian majority. Serbs live in NATO-protected enclaves and also in the north side of the divided city of Mitrovitca. While reconstruction proceeds with haste in the Albanian areas of Kosovo, Serb villages have been destroyed and abandoned, and remain in the same state today as they did at the end of the war. When, if ever, the two ethnic groups will be able to live together again is impossible to tell, though any reconciliation in the near future seems doubtful.

Today Kosovo is a "UN protectorate." This uncertain status is frustrating for locals and discourages foreign investment, adding to the economic woes of the region. There is no apparent resolution; the Kosovar Albanians, who make up more than 90 per cent of the population, are unlikely to accept anything short of independence. Serbia, on the other hand, is unlikely to grant Kosovo anything more than limited autonomy. At the moment the UN maintains that now is not the time for discussions regarding Kosovo’s status.

Life in Kosovo

While Kosovo’s political future is unclear, life goes on for Kosovars and the international community stationed there. The region has its particularities, many stemming from the tension between the desire to modernize while maintaining local traditions. Old men and women in traditional clothing walk the streets alongside teenagers in Europe’s latest provocative styles. The UN’s ubiquitous white Toyota Forerunners and the bulky NATO army vehicles find themselves sharing the road with the locals in their cars, tractors, bicycles and horse-drawn carts. To add to the chaos, cows and sheep wander on and off the road, unperturbed by the honking and general recklessness of the drivers swerving around trying to avoid the potholes.

Both NATO and the UN are deeply involved in the post-war reconstruction process. NATO’s 46,000 military personnel, from 39 countries, form the core of the international peacekeeping force, known as the Kosovo Force (KFOR). The KFOR troops we encountered were mostly bored Italian teenagers protecting the Serbian Patriarch outside of Peja (Serb: Pec). One afternoon while we were on a run past the Patriarch, the Italian soldiers, living up to their national stereotype, drove by and offered us flowers from the window of their army vehicle.

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