Kosovo marks 10 years of independence but its people remain divided

Riot control exercises are carried out by Austrian troops inside “Villaggio Italia” near Pec, the headquarters for the Multinational Battle Group-West of KFOR, a NATO-led international peacekeeping force that is responsible for establishing a secure environment in Kosovo. (TerraProject)

Photographs and text for this story were produced by TerraProject Photographers, a collective of documentary photographers founded in Italy in 2006.
Its members are Michele Borzoni, Simone Donati, Pietro Paolini and Rocco Rorandelli.On Feb. 17, Kosovo celebrates the 10th anniversary of its independence from Serbia. Still not recognized by about 100 nations (including Russia, Spain, Greece and China), Kosovo is struggling to exist. Its population has lost hopes of a transparent governance structure, and international missions and military presence are still necessary to strengthen the state’s capacities and control the territory. The country with the youngest population in Europe also has the highest unemployment rate (33 percent), which reaches a global low when it comes to its youth (60 percent). Even today, national identity seems at times more a foreign-imposed undertaking than a true bottom-up acquisition. Kosovo’s six main ethnicities (Albanians, Serbs, Turks, Gorani, Romani and Bosnians) stand close only in the official country flag, represented by golden stars, while in real life they carry on separate lives. For example, most children attend only mono-ethnic classes, where not only the teachers but also the janitors belong to the same ethnic group.

Kosovo has just entered the double digits, but it is already plagued with complex, apparently unsolvable issues. Our photo collective, Terra Project, wanted to document some of these issues, leading us to travel to this Balkan country half the size of Massachusetts a number of times over the past 10 years.
In 2010, just two years after its declaration of independence from Serbia, we visited the country in an effort to uncover the truth behind the contamination caused by depleted uranium weapons used during the 1999 war. We returned in 2016 looking for another vile killing agent: land mines. Kosovo is one of the Balkan countries affected by this curse. More than 100 locations along borders, rivers, village roads and forest paths are seeded with unexploded ordnance, and demining, relying on international support, is running behind schedule.

Our collective traveled to Kosovo yet again in 2017. Each return brings back a cozy feeling of home, and at the same time an apprehension for unaddressed problems. In Mitrovica, a city divided between Serbs and Albanians, there is a small music school that is endeavoring to address some of them. For the past 10 years, its teachers have tried to employ the unifying power of music, putting together Albanian and Serbian mixed rock bands. Today, the school is a consolidated entity, and its bands have been invited to international festivals and received awards. A crucial gap remains: being able to perform in the very same city where everything was born. Mitrovica is not ready yet to see Serbs and Albanians together on a stage. When this happens, then and only then will Kosovo begin to exist.

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