Segregation of ethnic groups in the Balkans a warning sign for new conflicts, says Norwegian expert

GENEVA, March 18, 2015 – Dr. Steinar Bryn, senior adviser at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue and a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, warns the increased segregation among ethnic groups in the Balkans is a warning sign for new conflicts in the region, reports the Albanian news agency Presheva Jone.

“The Nansen Centers are working for integration, that the new generations should grow up with respect and understanding of each other.

“We are working for desegregation of segregated societies. Kosovo and Serbia are multi-ethnic countries, but the ethnic groups are clearly separated.

“This is a warning sign for new conflicts. This is not only a Serbia and Kosovo problem. We see the same in Croatia, Macedonia – as well as Belgium, France, England and Norway (Oslo).”

The Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue plays a fundamental role in breaking down and building bridges among ethnic groups in the Balkans.

With the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNDP, UNICEF and other partners, the Nansen Center has successfully set-up bilingual schools in the Balkans mainly in ethnically mixed areas.

Similar schools have also been established in the Presevo Valley in the town of Bujanovac, involving Albanians and Serbs and in Vukovar, Croatia aiming to increase cooperation among Serbs and Croats.

At these schools, confrontation has been turned into cooperation through long-term dialogue initiated by the Nansen Center.

Dr. Bryn points out to Presheva Jone that segregation among various ethnic groups in the Balkans, who experienced lengthy wars as part of the break-up of Yugoslavia, needs to be addressed.

He states the governments in the region can play a key role in addressing this issue.

“My advice to the governments would be to take desegregation more seriously. To accept the current level of segregation where people know very little about each other is dangerous.

“Children must learn each other’s languages, culture and traditions. Such dialogue arenas must be created within the fields of sport, culture and political life.”

Former Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova was positive to our work

According to Dr. Bryn, the Former President of Kosovo, Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, expressed his support to the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue pointing out he met Dr. Rugova and “had a nice communication and he expressed positive support to our work.”

Shortly after the outbreak of Kosovo conflict, Dr. Rugova advocated for a peaceful solution and a pacifist approach to end the Kosovo dispute.

Dr. BrynDr. Bryn states “Rugova was perceived as more of a pacifist. He was participating in the Rambouillet talks, but his role was clearly reduced.”

In accordance with Dr. Rugova’s vision, the need for dialogue and interpersonal communication among various ethnic groups in the Balkans are methods advocated by the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue.

In order to improve inter-ethnic communication, the schools currently ran by the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue are considered as role-models to ease inter-ethnic tensions and build bridges across ethnic groups.

“We the people have to learn how to live together. The segregation of Serbs and Albanians are bothering me.

“The fact that they grow up completely separate limits their knowledge of each other and they do not have a common language. In this situation it is too easy for parents and teachers to communicate enemy images of the others,” underlines Dr. Bryn.

Respect for human rights is fundamental to improve inter-ethnic relations

With regard to the EU brokered bilateral talks between Serbia and Kosovo, Dr. Bryn states “the progress of the talks between Serbia and Kosovo has been surprisingly good. However, the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee believes the communication on the top level between Serbian and Kosovar politicians “does not reflect the communication on the ground level.

However, Dr. Bryn encourages both Kosovo and Serbia to continue the dialogue to create a more positive attitude on the ground and encourage inter-ethnic cooperation among Serbs and Albanians, which is influenced by mistrust following the end of the 1998/99 Kosovo War.

“The improvement of the relations between Serbia and Kosovo on the top level has created a more positive attitude toward communication and cooperation across ethnic division. It is therefore easier today, less government resistance, than it was some years ago.”

The European Union (EU) has on several occasions made it abundantly clear to both Kosovo and Serbia that normalization of relations is a key requirement before entering the EU.

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has hinted that a territorial exchange between Serbia and Kosovo could be the ultimate solution to normalize relations between both states.

This would allow Northern Kosovo to join Serbia and the Presevo Valley to become part of Kosovo.

Dr. Bryn is of the opinion that swapping territories is not a viable solution to end the Kosovo dispute.

He rather advocates that both governments needs to better respect human rights in order to improve inter-ethnic relations in the region.

“We live in the 21st century. I do not believe that changing borders is the way to solve human problems.

“In other words ideally speaking it should not matter whether a Serb or an Albanian lived in Kosovo or Serbia.

“If human rights are better in one country than the other, I rather believe in changing the conditions for human rights, than to swap borders,” Dr. Bryn says to the Albanian news agency Presheva Jone./ Blerim Mustafa

Photo credit: Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue

* This article was written by the author in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the view of Leidar

Link to original article (Presheva Jone, also available below):

Nansen Dialogue Center Skopje

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