The Republic of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 and has since gained recognition as a sovereign state by 108 UN member states. Though Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state, it has recognized the legitimacy of Kosovo institutions and its special status as an autonomous region within Serbia. Kosovo's ethnic make-up is approximately 88% Albanian, 8% Serb, and 4% other groups.
In 1998-1999, open conflict between Serbian forces and Kosovar Albanian separatists expanded into the Kosovo War, during which NATO and the country of Albania intervened on behalf of the separatists. The conflict caused the deaths of between 9,000 and 12,000 people, the vast majority of whom were ethnic Albanians. More than 800,000 Kosovar Albanians were forced from their homes during the war, with many seeking refuge in neighboring Macedonia and Albania. After the war's end, expelled Kosovar Albanians returned to a devastated country and shattered economy. Together with the remaining Kosovo Serbs and other ethnic groups, they faced an uncertain future in terms of Kosovo’s political status and the treatment of an increasingly dwindling Kosovo Serb population.
Kindergartens building a culture of ethnic tolerance
In December 2006, Karuna Center was invited by Save the Children and Search for Common Ground to train kindergarten teachers to lead multi-ethnic, multilingual kindergartens. This program was based on the success of Search for Common Ground’s Moziak kindergarten program in Macedonia for Albanian and Macedonian children. In Kosovo, depending on the region, Albanian, Serbian, Bosniak, or Turkish children were to be taught in bilingual classrooms. Karuna Center’s training focused on ways teachers could use this program to build a culture of tolerance among the children and their parents - as well as on team-building for the teachers, who would have to heal from their own vastly different experiences of the war and its aftermath.
Training Albanian and Serb young adults in peace leadership
At the invitation of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Karuna Center traveled to Kosovo, Serbia and finally Montenegro three times from 2000-2001 to facilitate dialogues between Serb and Albanian young adults, all involved in UMCOR projects in Kosovo. We trained each group separately in skills of conflict analysis, open questions, recognizing prejudice and stereotypes, and finding an alternative to the cycle of revenge that had become so strongly entrenched in Kosovo.
When we then brought the two groups together, they learned to listen to different perceptions and narratives of the war and its aftermath, increasing their understanding and acceptance of each other. When they returned to their communities, they were able to work together more effectively in implementing UMCOR’s projects for inter-ethnic tolerance. These projects included operating inclusive internet cafes, cooperative work in training other youth in their own communities on the issues of tolerance and cooperation, communication with the UN authority in Kosovo, and joint journalism projects.
Building a Multi-ethic Future for Kosovo