“Young Albanians from the other side of Mitrovica do not go to school, they attack people openly on the streets, just pursuing this one goal: Creating disorder in the city.” We could not believe what we were told when we were sitting in the bus from Belgrade towards Kosovo. We asked the young Serbian couple sitting behind us: “But how many Kosovar-Albanians do you actually know?” Answer: none. The essence of ongoing ethnical conflicts in Europe packed into two sentences.
We as “Team Enemies” went out in order to look for ethnic conflicts, their deeper lying causes and the effects of hatred on the young generation’s way of thinking. Divided cities seemed to be adequate places to investigate. Therefore we decided to go to Nicosia (Cyprus), Mitrovica (Kosovo) and Vukovar (Croatia).
Ethnic conflicts have a lot in common. First, their origins are deeply rooted in historic events, which today’s youth mostly has not witnessed itself. In parts of Kosovo and Croatia young people are growing up, having already established a worldview that excludes rather than integrates the other ethnicity. The narrative of hatred between affected communities is repeatedly reproduced, through media, education, politics, family and socialization in general. Symbols like flags, memorials and sayings on the walls reinforce the separation of minds over and over again. It is literally inherited hate.
Of course, we met people along the way who fight for a peaceful coexistence in an environment of constant clashes between ethnical groups. However, we realized that this fight is lonesome and sometimes more, often less successful. Playing basketball or music together – active community-building thanks to sharing experiences is considered to result in change. But does changing minds result in a change of the situation? This may be true for the Cypriot case, a situation that improved over the past 40 years. In Cyprus there is a basic common Cypriot identity of the two communities, who are steps ahead of the political reality. On the contrary, we saw a different picture in Mitrovica and Vukovar. Here, progress is slow, open war wounds are still demanding their tributes and mistrust is continuing. This is unfortunately the environment in which young people grow up.
Three architecture students (PhD) from the Turkish-Cypriot community fight with the Famagusta Ecocity Project for a reunion of their home country.
The only chance to overcome prejudices for the youth is meeting people from the other community – like in the Mitrovica Rock School.
Ethnic divided classes are the reality for the children in Vukovar, Croatia. Because most parents still want it that way.
Did we find a „generation separation“? Yes indeed, but the reality is way more complicated than that. In all of these countries we met various young boys and girls who are living in constant separation. For some of them – the Cypriots – it’s rather a formal conflict with a border running through their country. In fact though, they did overcome the hatred and today can live together in peace. For other young Europeans it’s a dead serious conflict and a matter of pure hatred. A simple truth for all the regions is: Where you go to in life depends strikingly on where you come from.
Croatia is the newest member of the European Union, the Kosovo and – to a less extent – Cyprus are still dependent on the means of European or international assistance. In addition to that, socio-economic changes are promised by the European idea. However, economic development does not take place in an adequate way, although European institutions would be able to do so. Missing economic perspectives open up a vacuum in which hatred among different communities is able to flourish. As a result, stillstand beats progress, the status quo outweighs the promises.
If ethnic separation is determined by national elite-driven ethno-politics, a dangerous mixture of parenting-school-media-politics circle sets into play. As long as this is the reality for following generations, parts of Europe have to face one separated generation after the other. Like the Serbian couple we have met on the bus, they just do not know any better.