Prishtina, Kosovo, May 28 – 30 2015
Donald Reeves writes:
This is the fourth Interfaith Conference organised by Kosovo Interfaith. I have spoken at 3 three, and helped to arrange one. This conference’s theme was social media in the struggle against Radical Islam. This is particularly relevant for Kosovo. The average age of the population in Kosovo is 27. There is 60% unemployment among those between 16 and 24. 80% of the population have the internet – even in the poorest, remote villages. Kosovo has the highest number of IS supporters per head than anywhere else. Fertile ground for the growth of extremism fuelled by several imams from neighbouring Macedonia. The despair of many led to a mass exodus earlier this year in which up to one thousand people a day were leaving via Serbia then smuggled across forests and swamps into Hungary, and from there hopefully to Germany where there seemed to be the promise of jobs. Most have been returned from Hungary to Kosovo, often to destitution since they had sold everything to pay smugglers to get them out of the country.
Staying in a comfortable hotel and enjoying Kosovo hospitality felt like being in a gilded cage.
As I was writing this report I came across a twenty minute well crafted film by IS which calls on Muslims in the Balkans to join them or kill unbelievers in their country, and suggests ways in which this could happen. It is chilling. Published at the time of the Pope’s Visit to Sarajevo it can be found via the Serbian agency B92.
Petrit Selimi is the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs in Kosovo. He has established interfaith dialogue as part of the profile of this young republic. Thanks to his efforts the Kosovo Interfaith project is able to invite participants from all over the world. This time there were many more people under thirty. There are not many conferences where people go clubbing each night. Long ago I abandoned the semi-academic style of presentation and talked as directly as I could from the heart as well as the head. Many younger people warmed to this approach – and there is certainly interest in the idea of a College of Mentors.
The Annual Conference has a strong PR character and that is right. In practice this means what happens on the margins is most significant, and we were handing out business cards like shelling peas.
I attended one workshop led by Geoffrey Nice, a former judge at the Hague prosecuting Milosevic. It was inspiring and hard work as he involved us all in looking at concepts like reparation and reconciliation. I wish we had known of him in some of our work in Prijedor. It was excellent both in content and presentation. He would now like to meet me to see how we can work together. For more information about the conference and speakers see www.interfaithkosovo.org
I have suggested there should be a review of conferences to see how they can develop.
Other news. I have been invited to be a Patron of the Orgelbüchlein Project, along with Gillian Weir. This is an international composition project to complete Bach’s collection of Chorale Preludes. In my presentations on Bach and Peacebuilding I will play one of these commissioned pieces (provided they are not too demanding).
Peter Pelz writes:
A small young country like Kosovo is far better suited to this kind of conference than larger older countries which are more set in their ways and where there is too much competition for attention. That became clear during this conference, but I felt the same about all four of them. Besides which the Kosovar welcome and hospitality is exceptionally warm and generous. How can anyone not want to return time and again to be involved with this country and its friendly people? On top of all this Petrit Selimi, the charismatic Deputy Foreign Minister and advisor to the Prime Minister, despite his heavy work schedule, managed to bring the best people in their fields to take part and inspire the conference. As usual at such events, the busiest and most productive discussions and connection were made between the sessions, particularly with the high proportion of young, dedicated activists from across Europe and North Africa and the Middle East. Such wealth of youth representation is rare at such events anywhere in Europe, and bodes well for future conferences in Kosovo.
I bear out Donald’s observation about the reality of life for so many Kosovars beyond the comfortable confines of the conference. Former colleagues, always keen to meet us, told us about the poverty and difficulties living in a country with high unemployment and an uncertain future. This is why we took time to research new projects there, starting with a desecrated Serbian Orthodox graveyard outside Mitrovice. Tensions between the ethnic communities need to be resolved, as was the case in our Bosnian projects. Stability will bring confidence. Conferences for me are great to meet new people with experience in similar fields, but it is grassroots action which inspires me most. We took several enthusiastic and impressively intelligent and thoughtful young people to visit the desecrated graveyard and forged strong links with them. They will take part in future projects.
A member of the older generation, the Chief Rabbi of Norway, made a challenging proposal at the first evening session. He focused on how to deal with the rise of Radical Islam. He had come to the conclusion that the only way to counteract the nihilistic violence was to create a strong alliance between all faith groups, in a way that has not happened before. From someone who had been a member of the Israeli Knesset, this represented a formidable challenge to his own country. His proposal begged many questions. But that is the purpose of these events. He spoke in stories and anecdotes rather than theory, so his contribution to the conference turned out to be one of the most productive and inspiring.
All thanks to Petrit Selimi for gathering such high quality contributors, and to his dedicated hardworking group of young organizers, headed by Marc Perry, who is now our Soul of Europe representative in Kosovo: http//perryeyes.blogspot.co.uk. There were many pleasures at this conference, and one unforgettable one happened on the final night, when at a reception laid on by Petrit Selimi, all the organizers and young activists stopped their intense discussions and began to dance.