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 5 of 9

Unfortunately, young people are increasingly choosing to leave their families for better economic opportunities. With a 60 per cent unemployment rate, it isn’t difficult to understand why.

I met a 17-year-old boy whose uncle had moved to Vancouver and had sent him a picture of the city. It seemed that his only goal for the future was to go to Canada.

"It is beautiful in Canada," he told me. "There are no problems, no beggars, no garbage in the streets."

I tried to get him to understand that we have our problems too. I told him that our family ties generally aren’t as strong, that we have garbage and stray dogs and homeless people too. He would have none of it. He had no hope at all for any future in Kosovo. His attitude was not uncommon. It makes me wonder who will stay to help rebuild Kosovo and to solve the problems that drive so many away.

Most people who had dreams of leaving wanted to go to the United States. Kosovar Albanians generally like foreigners, but they adore Americans. As far as most locals are concerned, it was Clinton and the Americans who liberated them from the Serbs with the NATO bombing. The main street in the capital, Pristina, is named Bill Clinton Boulevard. A huge poster of a waving Bill Clinton hangs on the side of a building overlooking this street. American flags fly alongside Albanian flags in cars and in shop windows. Hotel Liberty in Pristina has a mini Statue of Liberty perched on the roof. The second largest American military base in Europe is in southeastern Kosovo, and the locals wouldn’t have it any other way.

While working with the environmental NGO we learned about the distressing state of the environment in Kosovo. Litter is absolutely everywhere. People water the streets to clean them, only to face water shortages later in the summer. Air quality is poor due to the use of leaded diesel fuels and the unfiltered smoke pouring out of a massive ore smelter outside Pristina. Steps are slowly being taken in the right direction, but changing the state of the environment in Kosovo will only come about with a change in the mentality of the locals. The sense of community and shared property that we take for granted at home is largely absent in Kosovo. It will take years to clean up the damage that has already been done.

In Mitrovitca, a city now ethnically divided by a river that separates the Serb north from the Albanian south, a lead smelter outside the city was shut down only three years ago. Until then it had been pouring out unfiltered smoke over the city for decades. The high level of lead in the atmosphere has caused birth defects, stunted childhood development and increased aggressiveness. In a divided city, increased aggressiveness doesn’t help to improve the already tense situation.

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