On Friday, my European Defense Policy professor told my class a story I’d heard before. It was the story of Zvornik, a town in Bosnia where a war crime so grotesque was committed that I can’t bring myself to describe it here. If your morbid curiosity has to be satisfied, you can look it up. The first time I heard this particular war crime story was several years ago in a large lecture class on civil wars. I was one of three people who fainted during that lecture. This time around, I didn’t faint, but I did feel dizzy. When I looked around the room, I saw some of my classmates swaying in their chairs, eyes fixed, mouths agape.

Later in the day, my professor sent me the link to a BBC news story about how a new mass grave with 100 bodies has been unearthed near the site of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, where more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed. Yesterday and today, the families of missing victims have been picking through the clothes and bones to identify their loved ones. It’s a grisly task I can’t even begin to imagine, and my heart goes out to them.

I will be in the Balkans on an academic trip for two weeks, starting on Tuesday. I’ll be heading first to Cyprus for a few days, and then to the countries of the Former Yugoslavia. On Thanksgiving, I will be in Sarajevo. During my trip, I will meet local government officials, ordinary people, UN, NATO and OSCE staff, and probably many others. Though I haven’t received my final itinerary yet, I can safely assume I will be visiting Srebrenica, Zvornik, and other places where major war crimes took place. That will be difficult.

There is no war in the Balkans now, but as my professor so succinctly put it, “the war is everywhere.” The countries of the Former Yugoslavia are still weighed down by depression, poverty, instability, and intense resentment. Things are improving, slowly, but it will be a long journey. The political status of Kosovo has yet to be decided (its currently under UN administration), and, if the Kosovars vote that it should become independent (instead of being a province of Serbia), there is a possibility that violence may break out again. This prospect has many people worried.

But, until then, life must go on, and the rebuilding must continue in all senses. The European Union is pouring money into places like Bosnia. The OSCE is heavily involved in a range of projects in the region (its largest mission anywhere is in Kosovo) and is committed to remain indefinitely.

Recently, I read about the following hopeful OSCE project in Kosovo.

Digging for a Source of Unity in Kosovo

Marigona Ademi and Jehona Ferati took part in an OSCE-supported multi-ethnic archaeological youth camp, which aimed to help 50 Albanian, Roma and Serb students learn about their common past, 23 September 2006. (OSCE)

"The aim is to make young people understand that the history of Kosovo is not just a matter of the last hundred years and to help them see how much they all have in common." -Kemajl Luci, archaeologist from the Museum of Kosovo and the camp’s co-ordinator

The archaeological camp

Charged with strengthening democracy in Kosovo, the OSCE Mission is an integral part of the UN administration. It is helping build inter-ethnic confidence to enable members of all communities to live peacefully side by side. Part of these efforts is an annual multi-ethnic archaeological youth camp.

For three years, young Albanians, Serbs, Roma and others have gathered for two weeks at the beginning of the school year in September to dig for remains of the ancient Roman city of Ulpiana.
"Every time we come back to the camp, we learn about our common cultural heritage," says Kemajl Luci, an archaeologist from the Museum of Kosovo and the camp’s co-ordinator. He set up the camp with OSCE financial support.

"The aim is to make young people understand that the history of Kosovo is not just a matter of the last hundred years and to help them see how much they all have in common," says Kemajl.
He explains that many different groups have occupied this territory over time and the people living there now should be proud of and preserve their common cultural heritage.

Jehona Ferati, an 18 year-old Kosovo Albanian, was one of the first teenagers to attend the camp in 2004 and she keeps coming back. "For me this is a unique opportunity to learn more about our common history and find concrete evidence of ancient cultures."

At this year’s camp, 50 young people – 33 Albanians, 12 Roma and 5 Serbs – unearthed remains of Ulpiana’s public works such as cemeteries, a basilica with mosaic flooring and the city gates.

"As we uncover more, we get a better picture of how people once lived here," said Marigona Ademi, who also attended the camp. "The old structures we find are common to all people living in Kosovo."

Jovan Cepkenovic, a Kosovo Serb from Gracanica, a village midway between Pristina and Ulpiana, joined the camp for a second time this year. He heard of the opportunity through the Red Cross office where he volunteers. "I come here to preserve the history of the area," he says.

Old hatreds die hard, but this is the work the future is built on. Treaties end wars, but they don’t amount to peace. Peace is made person to person, face to face, between individual people –you and me. One day, I hope to be involved in community peacebuilding projects like those the OSCE runs in Kosovo. I can think of few things more important than helping the next generation create a culture of peace.

Una Hardester, Senior Political Analyst