Bridging Divides in Mitrovica: Education, Arts, Culture, and Social Activities as Catalysts for Youth Connection
by Berna Xhemajli
Civil society activist
Mitrovica is one of the few cities in Europe known for its division. Mitrovica stands divided, not just by the Ibar River but by ethnic lines that have historically fostered mistrust and division. The bridge that usually symbolises unity and connection, in Mitrovica marks the ethnic division of ethnicities, mainly Albanians and Serbs. This city, however, was a home of cultural vibrancy and even nowadays the potential for unity and cohesion lies primarily through the avenues of education, arts, culture, and social activities. These domains, rich in their diversity and depth, offer more than just opportunities for self-expression and learning; they are vital instruments for bridging the gaps that have long segregated communities. The initiatives to foster communication and unity of different ethnic youth groups started in the early 2000s and did not stop. Their work is admirable, considering they are constantly affected by political incidents and tensions, and thus resulting with insecurity and panic among the communities. However, the number of activists who care enough to bring positive changes in the city and connect different ethnicities through activism is growing constantly and it is even more impactful when youth led initiatives are the ones aiming this.
The role of youth
In Mitrovica, the youth are not mere spectators in the unfolding narrative of their city; they are its scriptwriters and directors. Their engagement in educational endeavours, artistic expressions, cultural explorations, and social gatherings serves as a dynamic force for fostering mutual understanding and respect among the city’s diverse ethnic groups. Numerous actions such as social gatherings on sharing positive practices and experiences, cleaning actions in the city to promote environmental protection, creation of music bands from different ethnicities, organising and gathering youngsters in cultural events are taking place regularly in our city. By actively participating in these spheres, the youth of Mitrovica are challenging the status quo and rewriting the story of their city, one of unity and shared destiny.
Education Activities, Arts and Culture, Social Activities
At the core of Mitrovica’s transformation are educational initiatives that emphasise intercultural dialogue and understanding. There is a wide network of associations and foundations, and a business college that focus on promoting empathy and respect for diverse cultural backgrounds. Education programmes on intercultural learning, promoting diversity, overcoming prejudices and stereotypes are tackled from many organisations in the city. This educational approach is complemented by a vibrant arts and culture scene. Music festivals, art exhibitions, and theatrical productions in Mitrovica have become melting pots of creativity, where young artists from different ethnicities collaborate, creating art that reflects the city’s rich tapestry of cultures. As a young person from Mitrovica, I had the chance to be involved and to be part of organising team in many of such activities since 2015 and have felt the positive energy and impact directly by working with and for young people.
Moreover, social activities like community service projects, and youth clubs provide a common ground for interaction and cooperation. They serve as an integrated part for friendship creation and youth connection. In our activities and projects we could have seen how a short communication between youngsters of different ethnicities have made them realise that they are more similar than different from each other. This includes the way how we are raised and educated, traditions and habits, music that we like, the way how our parents scolded us during childhood, common words used in our daily vocabulary, common expressions and phrases that are part of our traditions and culture, and so on. These activities are not just recreational; they are platforms where stereotypes are broken, and a new sense of community is fostered. Similarly, through some short term language courses that were recently provided on Albanian and Serbian languages, I have personally witnessed the creation of new friendships between Albanian and Serbian youngsters.
Civic Activism and its Impact
The effect of these educational, artistic, and social engagements is a rise in civic activism among the youth. The participation and involvement in such activities have encouraged young people in Mitrovica to organise community events that celebrate diversity, participating in local governance to ensure inclusive development, and advocating for mutual needs and rights. This activism is a testament to their commitment to not just envision a harmonious future for Mitrovica but to actively shape it. Such endeavours not only empower the youth but also significantly contribute to the social fabric of the city, promoting a sense of belonging and a spirit of community.
As Mitrovica passes through its complex ethnic dynamics, the role of education, arts, culture, and social activities in forging a cohesive and harmonious future is highly important. These are not mere extracurricular activities; they are essential tools for bridging gaps, building understanding, and fostering lasting connections among the youth. The young citizens of Mitrovica, through their active engagement in these areas, are not just connecting with each other; they are laying the foundation for a united and vibrant community. A future where diversity is not just tolerated but celebrated and cherished is within reach, and it is the youth, armed with the power of education, art, and culture, who are leading the way.
The call to action is clear: Mitrovica’s youth must continue to be the bridge that connects divided communities. Their engagement in civic life is crucial for fostering understanding and cooperation. The vision of one unity Mitrovica is attainable, but it requires the commitment of every individual, especially the youth, to actively participate in building a cohesive and vibrant community. In the meantime, each activity and effort should be recognised as valuable, be celebrated in order to encourage youth activism and unity among youngsters in our city.
“The development and publication of this op-ed article has been supported by Kosovar Civil Society Foundation (KCSF) program ‘EJA Kosovo’, co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Sweden. The content of this op-ed article is the sole responsibility of the REC – Reconciliation Empowering Communities and does not necessarily reflect the views of the KCSF, SDC or Sweden”