My career as an Ambassador of Switzerland will soon come to an end. In all these years, working for the diplomatic services at home and abroad, I was repeatedly confirmed one important lesson learned: do not believe the stereotypes - instead meet ‘the other’ people, listen and talk to them.
As simple as the message sounds, in reality it often does not happen, neither here in Kosovo. An important pillar of Switzerland’s engagement in the Republic of Kosovo is therefore the promotion of a multicultural and multilingual society. We work towards a society in which Kosovo’s communities meet each other, listen to each other, and try to understand each other.
Still today, many people living in the North of Kosovo have not made one step across the river of Ibar since more than 20 years. They are afraid as their perception of ‘the other’ is based on negative prejudices and stereotypes displayed in social media and politically partisan tabloids. With astonishment these people listen to those who travel on a weekly basis to Pristina. People who actually make a step towards the other community, and face no problems in doing that.
There are a number of Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians from civil society organizations working together for many years already. They made this important step to meet, listen and talk to each other. When listening to them it becomes obvious, their understanding of political developments is more profound, more differentiated. They are not caught in their own bubble, but understand the different realities in Kosovo. Over time, many of these activists and analysts have become friends. When they meet, there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. This provides them the ground to intensively debate on politics in Kosovo or the relationships with Serbia. They are able to challenge each other in a constructive way, which only reinforces the trust they’ve built up over the years.
While these people from different communities sometimes only agree to disagree, there is a common feeling they share with each other - the lack of trust into the institutions of the state. The past years have left their marks especially on the younger generation in Kosovo. Too often their expectations towards the government on providing them with quality education, a functioning health system or a perspective for the future have been disappointed. Many of them are not willing anymore to further accept this.
On 6 October 2019, the majority of people have voted for change. Now the new Government has to prove that it fulfils its pledges towards the people. It has to show that Kosovo institutions become worth being trusted. Switzerland offers its support on this journey, so that trust among people and towards institutions can be built up for a bright future of all communities in Kosovo.
Jean-Hubert Lebet is the Ambassador of Switzerland to the Republic of Kosovo since September 2016.
This project is supported by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and is implemented by the New Social Initiative. Expressed opinions represent the authors’ views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, UNMIK or New Social Initiative.